The Art and (Non) Science of Not Washing Your Hair

As the owner of a head of hair for nearly thirty years now, I’ve developed this sneaking suspicion that my feelings about washing and styling it are similar to the vast majority of women out there: mostly, it’s the worst (ugh, hairdryers; ugh, trying to pretend you know how to use a round brush). Of course, hair has its perks: the prospect of needing to wash it and do all the things post-workout is sometimes (or all the time?) a valid reason to skip the gym, and getting your hair washed by a professional may very well be the greatest sensation known to sentient beings (every time my hairdresser lays my head back in that sink and goes to town, I have to make a concerted effort not to propose). And then there are those rare days when Mercury is out of retrograde, you just ate a bunch of carrots, you’ve been wrapping your locks in kelp sourced off the coast of the Jeju islands every other night, and you catch your magnificent mane in the mirror and it’s like, “Giselle who?” 

But mostly, it’s the worst. Washing and styling your hair is a freaking pain and the less often you have to do it, the more time there is for running the world, eating cake, etc. Enter the miracle of dry shampoo. Though it wasn’t really put out on the mass market until the 1940s, using powder to soak up scalp oil and disguise that scalp-y smell has actually been traced all the way back to 15th century Asia. It became a mainstream hit in the ’60s and ’70s with products like Psssssst, but fell out of favor some in subsequent years. Thankfully, the last couple of decades have seen a glorious reemergence of the product, and the technology is getting better and better; it’s been years since the white powder-ness of the product was such that a user would very often leave the house accidentally resembling George Washington. Nowadays, the best dry shampoos are nearly invisible, and with a couple of quick sprays here, a little rubbing-in there, you can take the fact that your hygiene practices are similar to that of a 13-year-old boy with you to the grave.

Of course, when something seems to good to be true, it often is. The Atlantic published an essay in June by a writer who suspects her hair loss had something to do with her liberal use of dry shampoo and damage to the hair follicles on her scalp. But as media tends to go these days, the bark of the headline (“The Unfortunate Reality of Dry Shampoo”) is worse than its bite: The evidence is anecdotal, and though she “unscientifically polled 11 hair experts,” only three of them were definitively wary of the matter at hand. 

But the principle function of the product is to soak up oil, which is necessary to skin and scalp health. So what’s the takeaway from all of this for the suds/blowdrying/styling-reluctant among us? 1.) Everything in moderation, including moderation and dry shampoo. 2.) The science behind hair washing is scant and inconclusive.

A hassle from day 1.

A hassle from day 1.

And as long as we’re on the subject of dubious science: Most hair experts seem to agree that washing your hair every day with a heavy-duty shampoo will generally dry out your scalp and  consequently, your hair. It varies person to person, of course. But you might remember a few years back when certain corners of the Internet were abuzz with this very funny article about the “no-poo movement” and her subsequent follow-up a few years into being a practitioner of said movement. There’s a method to the madness, but essentially, it involves “training” your scalp to produce less oil: “Shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils, which makes your scalp overproduce more oil to compensate. After you stop shampooing, it takes some time for your scalp to recalibrate and reduce oil production. But don’t worry, after about a week without shampoo, your hair will get closer to reaching its natural balance, and you’ll no longer look like you’re in the throes of puberty.”

As with dry shampoo, there hasn’t been much in the way of endorsements from dermatologists. But hey, maybe it’s just the Big Shampoo lobby blocking all the research. We’re a fan of Refinery 29’s "5-Step Routine to Wash Your Hair Less," which pulls advice from hair stylists who work on the locks of Jaime King, Gwyneth and Jenny Slate, which seems like science enough, no? 

All of which is to say: Once you strike that little-effort-as-possible + bearable-odor combination, stick with it, lady, and take comfort in the fact that the luscious-locked Adele sometimes goes two months without a wash; make that blow out do work, and squirrel that extra 45 minutes away for being a bad mamma jamma.

 -Deena Drewis