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A woman washing her hair in the shower.

The beginning of the year is a time when many look to hit the refresh button and improve upon their regular routines by going after big goals. Sometimes, though, it’s the seemingly simplest actions that could use our attention — like learning how to properly wash our hair.

This may seem like a no-brainer task, but for optimal hair and scalp health, shampooing requires more than just slathering on suds and rinsing. Poorly cleansing your hair can lead to strand breakage, dry ends, and scalp issues such as an overproduction of sebum, which can cause oily hair or a dry scalp with possible lacerations from harsh scrubbing.

Nikki Gnatzig, a blonding specialist at the LifeSpa in Brookfield, Wis., explains the proper steps and techniques to washing your hair so it looks and feels its best.

Double Cleanse

“Lather, rinse, repeat” is a phrase that’s referenced often in the hair industry. Double cleansing is a tried-and-true method that has become popular with skincare enthusiasts — and one that can benefit your locks, too.

“Through the lather, rinse, repeat approach, you will get your hair fully clean,” Gnatzig says. “First, shampoo your hair with a detoxifying shampoo such as K18 Detox Shampoo. This will break up the haircare products on your strands and any oil buildup on the scalp. Rinse, then shampoo again with your daily or specialty shampoo to remove the buildup that was loosened from the first shampoo. The ingredients in the second shampoo will also work better on hair that’s been detoxified.”

For both shampoos, ensure your hair is wet and then apply a nickel- to quarter-size amount of shampoo from the scalp to the ends of your hair. The amount of product you use will vary based on how much hair you have. A good rule of thumb is that you want to feel that your hair is evenly saturated with shampoo with little excess of product.

Clean Gently

The act of shampooing needs to be done with care to avoid hair breakage or scalp damage. Consider this wash time a moment of self-care in support of your hair health.

To shampoo correctly, use your fingers and the palms of your hands to gently massage the shampoo throughout your strands. Be careful to not overly rub or vigorously scrub in any way, as this can cause damage. “Never use your nails when shampooing because it can harm the scalp and your hair,” says Gnatzig. “Always use the pads of your fingertips.”

Massage the shampoo into the scalp for 10 to 20 seconds. This technique helps to stimulate blood flow which helps with hair growth.

Seal It In

Once your hair is cleansed twice and fully rinsed, use a hydrating conditioner to seal your hair with moisture. For a focus on hydration, our stylists recommend trying Aveda Nutriplenish, Kérastase Nutritive, or Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner. Apply only from the mid-lengths of your hair to the ends. “Avoid putting conditioner on your scalp as that will cause an oily scalp,” Gnatzig notes. “Remember it this way: Conditioner is for your hair, not the scalp.”

Gnatzig says there is one exception to this rule: “If you have an extremely dry scalp, it’s OK to condition the scalp while giving yourself a scalp massage, especially during the winter, when skin is much dryer than usual.”

In terms of how long the conditioner should remain on the hair to be effective, that depends on the specific conditioner you’re using. Look to the directions for length time, but in most cases it’ll be between one to three minutes.

Should I Shampoo Daily?

There’s a lot of information — and opinions! — around how often we “should” cleanse our hair, but Gnatzig points out that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.

“How often you shampoo depends on your lifestyle,” Gnatzig says. “It’s all about balance and keeping your scalp healthy for optimal hair growth. If you’re frequently working out and breaking a sweat or using lots of products, I suggest washing your hair every other day to every two days to cleanse your scalp of the sweat, oils, and product buildup. If you’re not extremely active, have a dry scalp, or aren’t using much product, then you can usually get away with shampooing every three to four days.”

Waiting a few days between shampoos allows the oil from the scalp to provide natural hydration that is beneficial to the scalp and hair. Cleansing too often, when not needed, can also result in scalp dryness, split ends, and frizz.

If you’re a daily hair-washer but you’re ready to embrace a less-frequent shampoo routine, Gnatzig says dry shampoo can be your new best friend. A dry shampoo, such as Kérastase Fresh Affair or Moroccanoil Dry Shampoo, helps to increase time between washes as it’s designed to soak up oils at the scalp before they reach the strands.

A dry shampoo can be used on non-wash days to absorb oil buildup or on the first day of shampooing to help extend a fresh wash. For the latter, Gnatzig suggests applying dry shampoo to the roots after hair has been washed and dried, and to brush the dry shampoo through or use your blow dryer to work the product in better.

Jolene Turner
Jolene Turner

Jolene Turner is a beauty writer and social media strategist focusing on the salon, spa, and professional hair care industries. She currently works with the Life Time LifeSpa team on social media marketing and content development. Turner’s background includes working as the senior editor for American Salon, as a head writer for beauty blogs, and as a communications and consumer engagement professional for a global beauty brand. She’s worked with leading beauty brands including Aveda, Hotheads Hair Extensions, HiBar, Wella, and more.

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