What Happens When You Stop Washing Your Hair?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Arshiya Syeda

The clean, fragrant feeling of freshly shampooed hair is undoubtedly a great experience. Yes, indeed. Some folks happen to enjoy this feeling daily, which sets their mood rolling for the day.

However, more people are buying into the no-poo movement to reduce chemical use in their life. Shampoos containing sulfates strip moisture away from your hair, leading to a dry, flaky scalp and dull tresses. By ditching the ‘poo, you retain your hair’s natural oils to keep it moisturized. So, it comes as no surprise that alternative hair cleansing methods are gaining popularity.

If you want to find out whether ditching the shampoo works for you, check out this article where we deep-dive into the science behind what happens when you don’t wash your hair.

Let us first get to the root of the problem and understand how frequently you should wash your hair.

How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?

When you stop washing your hair, the first thing that shows up on your scalp is sebum or oil, followed by grime and dirt. It may even include residue from hair styling products and bacteria build-up. However, the experience differs across hair types.

Many factors determine how often you need to wash your hair. Some common ones include:

  • Genes

Your genetic composition is the principal determinant of the type of hair you possess. It indicates how much sebum your glands will produce. Ultimately, it will also decide when your hair needs a wash.

  • Climatic Conditions Of Your Area

If you live in a hot and humid area, you may have to wash your hair more frequently than those living in a dry region. This is because the humidity in the air tends to weigh down your hair, making it greasy and hard to manage.

  • Hair Texture

Those with curly locks are more susceptible to an oily scalp and dry hair. Buildup on the scalp can weaken hair roots and even lead to inflammation. You may want to wash your hair at least twice a week to avoid dandruff and hair loss (1). In contrast, oil build-up in people with straight hair can start showing up within two days of washing.

  • Hair Styling Products

If you use styling products like hair gel, conditioner, and dry shampoo, their residue can build up on your scalp. Often, the only way to rinse them off is with shampoo. Simply put, the number of hair products you use also determines when your hair needs a wash.

  • Exercise Routine

People who follow an intense exercise routine may have to wash their hair more often than others. Physically active people sweat a lot and are more prone to dirt build-up, scalp inflammation, and infections. Skipping hair washes for too long can make their hair smell foul.

  • Hormonal Fluctuations

The hormonal changes in the body are also responsible for deciding how much oil your scalp produces. For instance, the sebaceous glands produce extra sebum at the time of puberty (2).

  • Medications 

Sometimes, even the medication you take can affect how often you require a hair wash. Some medicines alter the way your body produces sebum, leading to an oily scalp.

These determining factors influence when your hair starts looking oily enough to require a wash. But, will shampooing every day give you soft and silky hair? Let us find out!

What Happens When You Wash Your Hair Every Day?

On the whole, shampooing your hair every day or too frequently does more harm than good. It removes the layer of oil and good bacteria from the scalp (3).

Contrary to popular belief, over-greasy hair is also usually a result of over-washing with conventional shampoos. The chemical additives used in most shampoos are rough on your locks. They completely strip away all the natural oils from your hair, drying it out and causing it to break (4). As a defense mechanism, your scalp starts producing more oil to combat the dryness. This creates a cycle of more washing and more sebum.

By prolonging the period between hair washes, you can give your scalp time to adjust to its natural way of producing oil. Essentially, you give your mane some breathing room to detoxify from the chemical-laden hair products, thus keeping it healthy.

If you want healthier hair and are considering joining the no-poo movement, here are some benefits to keep in mind.

Perks Of A Shampoo-Free Life

The benefits of forgoing a shampoo hair wash include:

  • You avoid harmful chemical-filled shampoos, thus preventing your hair from further damage.
  • You do not rob your tresses of all the natural oils that your scalp produces. Therefore, your hair retains moisture for longer.
  • You use less water in the shower.
  • One of the major appeals of the no-poo movement is that it is low maintenance. You save money that you would otherwise spend on expensive shampoos.
  • You also cut down on the time spent washing, drying, and styling your hair daily.
  • After the initial adjusting period, you may end up with a healthier-looking and shinier mane.

Extending the periods between hair washing can be healthy for your hair in many ways. But, what happens when you stop washing your hair? Find out in the next section.

Side Effects Of Not Washing Your Hair

Be it natural rinses, co-washes, or simply stretching your wash period – not washing your hair comes with some drawbacks. Let’s find out the challenges of skipping the shampoo.

1. Oil, Dirt, And Product Build Up On The Hair And Scalp

As mentioned earlier, the first thing you will notice after some days of not washing your hair is oil.

The scalp’s natural oil (sebum) makes the hair softer. However, as you transition to the no-poo way of life, the oil will gradually attract dirt and dust from the surroundings into your hair.

Furthermore, with no shampoo to rinse them off, all the hair products you use will start building up on your scalp. Not only will they make your hair clump together but also make it a home for a whole lot of bacteria. In other words, your hair may become a dirty mess.

2. That Annoying Smell In Your Hair

One downside to not washing your hair is that you will notice a foul odor after a few days. With all that grime and oil on your scalp, your hair may start giving off a musty, sour, or milk-like smell.

Though the smell is harmless, it can bother physically active folks who sweat a lot. If you spend hours at the gym, you may find that your hair starts smelling within just a couple of days of a hair wash.

3. Your Scalp Starts To Hurt

After a few days of not washing your hair, your scalp may become tender and painful to touch. Even a little pulling of hair can hurt your scalp. However, there is little empirical evidence that explains the pain, and the reasons may vary.

It is possible that the scalp oils weigh down your hair, and adding a tight updo or ponytail to it can add more pressure on the nerve endings near the hair follicles.

Even yeast or bacterial build-up can result in scalp inflammation and tenderness. A greasy scalp is the perfect breeding ground for a specific fungus called Malassezia furfur (5). This fungus feeds on sebum and can potentially irritate your scalp.

If you are concerned about scalp pain, try using a boar bristle brush to distribute the oil evenly throughout your hair. A loose braid hairstyle may also help in combating scalp discomfort to some extent.

4. Ingrown Hair And Slower Hair Growth

When you stop using shampoo, you do not get to massage and scrub your scalp as usual. It may result in debris and clogged pores that cause ingrown hair, which can be an annoying and painful experience.

Moreover, the longer you go between washes, the more dirt and oils build up on your scalp, which can cause ingrown hairs.

This scalp build-up also has the potential to congest your scalp. As a result, it can cause impeded hair growth and even stop your hair from growing completely after a while (6).

5. May Result In Dandruff And Itchy Scalp

Though dandruff is usually a dry scalp issue, even a normal scalp can develop some degree of flaking within 1 or 2 weeks if it is not washed (6).

Shampoo helps to clear off the yeast that is often present on the scalp. However, when you stop washing your hair, there is an increase in yeast formation. This increase in yeast promotes the occurrence of dandruff flakes.

An itchy scalp is either the consequence of scalp inflammation that comes with dandruff or your head simply re-adjusting to the new hair care routine.

Reducing the frequency of hair washes can yield better results for your skin, hair, and scalp, provided you give it enough time. But, the initial grease and grime may discourage you from going ahead.

Here are some ways you can prolong the time between washes and keep harmful chemicals out of your hair.

How Can You Stretch The Time Between Hair Washes?

If you are someone who washes hair daily, try this step-by-step guide to make your transition easier:

  • Start by washing every other day.
  • Then, you can gradually keep increasing the gap by another day.
  • If your hair only feels greasy or dirty, keep going as you are not harming your hair.
  • If you notice an itchy scalp or redness, contact a dermatologist.

You can try out the following tips to further extend the time gap between hair washes:

  • Embrace The Oil In Your Hair

Our minds are habituated to the fact that only squeaky clean, freshly washed hair looks the best. As a result, we overlook the significance of well-moisturized hair.

Hair that has no sebum at all tangles easily and looks dull and rough (7). But, a little natural oil in the hair works best for its health. So, you need not wash it off the moment you see it.

  • Massage And Brush Your Hair

The oil build-up on the scalp is heavy on your roots. The sebum does not move down the length of your hair initially, thus resulting in flat hair on top and frizz towards the ends.

To prevent your roots from going limp, you need to distribute the oil evenly throughout your hair. Massage your scalp with your fingertips and brush your hair, starting from the roots and moving to the ends.

This practice will improve the hair’s texture and appearance for a few more days before it is time to shampoo.

  • Go For Natural Rinses In Between Washes

You can rinse your hair with plain water. This allows you to rinse away some dirt without disturbing the natural oils on your scalp.

  • Be Patient And Only Wash Your Hair When Needed

It is hard to resist washing your hair, particularly when you are not used to even a slightly greasy feeling in your locks. However, for the health of your hair, wash it only when it needs rinsing rather than whenever you feel like it. Not giving up and being patient will help you push another day without a hair wash.

When you stop washing your hair or extend the time between washes, your scalp will ultimately re-adjust to the new routine. With a little patience and time, your scalp can reach an equilibrium with the natural oil-producing ability of your body.

However, bear in mind that you may develop scalp infections and inflammation if you do not wash your hair enough. Ultimately, it is up to your hair type and personal discretion when deciding how often to wash your hair.


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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).