While the idea of leaving your hair unwashed for weeks on end is a classic tenet of bad curly hair advice, there is something to be said for going a little bit longer between shampoos, if not washes. Is there a difference? Sure...
Why would I shampoo less?
Most shampoos are sulfate-based. Sulfates are usually the most effective cleansers, which is why they are used so widely in the cosmetics industry, as well as a range of other sectors. The downside of sulfates is that most of them are composed of very small molecules that can abrade the hair shaft if used too frequently. That risk is multiplied when the product is used on naturally dry, fragile hair; a description which fits most textured, tightly curled tresses. Contrary to popular belief, non-sulfate shampoos can sometimes be harsher on the hair than their sulfate-containing counterparts, due to many manufacturers using high levels of other surfactants to make up for the absence of sulfates and their special cleansing powers.
And there are other benefits to shampooing less: many alternative methods are much less drying to the hair; some are even net moisturizers. Plus, a lot of curly hair, particularly damaged tresses, can be more prone to tangling after shampooing, largely because the hair tends to shrink up more with strands wrapping themselves around their neighbours. Shampoos also tend to rough up the cuticle, which creates an even more perfect tangle-weaving environment. As well as being a pain in the neck (or more accurately, the scalp) to unravel, tangles are one of the biggest barriers to attaining long hair, as knotted hair often breaks or has to be cut off within the detangling process, sacrificing length.
What do i do instead?
In the space between shampoos, hair can be washed as frequently as required with suitable natural herbs or with rinse-out conditioner (take care that your cleansing conditioner doesn't contain ingredients prone to build up on the strand; petrolatum, mineral oil, most silicones are a no-no, as are conditioners rich in natural butters like shea.) These conditioners can still be used in the traditional post-wash way if they work well for your hair, the idea is not to use them for cleansing as they will have more of an emollient, sealant effect than a cleansing one. It's also worth noting that most conditioners will have a hard time removing some of these ingredients, meaning you will have to shampoo more frequently than if you avoided them completely. As with all things, choose what works best with your hair; it might be counterproductive to drop a product that keeps your hair in great condition just to get a couple of extra shampoo-free washes in, for instance.
Some people are able to eschew shampoo totally, and cleanse their hair exclusively with conditioners, herbs or other natural cleansers like bicarbonate of soda. But most styling routines include products that can accumulate on the strand, including oils, butters, silicones, gels, even very rich conditioners and cationic conditioning ingredients, so most hair types can do with a thorough shampoo every now and again. Not only is this a welcome clarifying for your strands, but it also makes the hair easier to moisturise, by removing debris that might be getting in between the conditioner and your hair shaft.
Is all this hygienic?
Of course. Stretching shampoos doesn't mean not washing at all in between. As we like to emphasise on DHA's DIY, water is your hair's best friend. Contrary to popular myth, curly hair, as typically the driest hair type, probably benefits the most from being soaked in water on a regular basis. In addition to water's inherent purifying capabilities, several herbs have natural cleansing properties and were used for millennia before soap and shampoo were invented. Plus, all conventional conditioners contain cleansing agents; this is how you are able to rinse the conditioner from your hair instead of being left with an oily, slimy gloopiness on your strands that you would get from rinsing out say, a hair butter or pomade.
So how often should I shampoo?
Finding your ideal ratio of shampoo to shampoo-free washes, is a matter of trial and error. It all depends on a number of variables, from the porosity of your hair to the types of product you use (i.e., the harder your product is to remove from the hair, the more frequently you'll have to shampoo) and the amount of product you use ( the more product you use, the closer together your shampoos should be), and how often you cleanse your hair ( the more often you wash shampoo-free, the longer you can stretch your shampoos). A figure that works for a lot of heads of hair is limiting shampoo to once a month, while cleansing the hair using other methods 1-3 times a week. But only you and your hair can work that magic number out. Have a go and see how skipping a shampoo or three can add that extra vitality, not to mention an extra couple of inches to your mane!
DHA Hair Care Experts