What’s bad for the hair might, in fact, be good for the scalp. Harsh shampoos are regularly brought into question and it’s understandable therefore that some people conclude that the chemical stripping sulfates and compounds in their daily wash might be contributing to their hair loss.
But aside from running the risk of smelling pretty bad in the office, should you stop washing your hair for the sake of saving it? Read on to find out.
What we're going to cover in this article
Washing your hair, what’s the big deal? Sebum, that’s what.
As we covered in this article, washing your hair provides an opportunity for two things to happen:
- To clean the scalp and hair of dirt and oil
- To give any active ingredients in your shampoo the opportunity to be absorbed by the scalp
When you’re washing your hair, knowingly or not, the task you embark on each time in the shower is removing the oily substance known as sebum from your scalp and hair.
Sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands. They are commonly found located around the lower shaft of each hair, deep in the hair follicle itself (this is why men tend to have more oily skin than women).
Sebum plays a key role in lubricating the hair and skin (maintaining the integrity of the skin as a barrier), protecting the body against microorganisms, and maintaining the PH level of the skin’s surface. These glands alone provide 90% of the lipid (fat/oil) content to the skin.
In general, men are hairier hence more oily and are more acne-prone than women, but on the upside, they typically have fewer wrinkles than women due to having a naturally better lubricated (read as ‘moisturised’) skin barrier.
However, this also comes at a cost. Aside from the ongoing internal fight against DHT, sebum takes the DHT fight outside, literally. Sebum itself contains DHT. This means our hair follicles are under attack both internally and externally from DHT!
Why do some people suggest not washing your hair?
The worry around shampoos centres around their sulfate content. Broadly speaking, sulfates are responsible for the familiar foamy lather most household washes have, as well as acting as potent cleansers of oil-based dirt.
One of the most common sulfates found, not just in shampoos, but also in moisturisers, body washes, and even detergent cleaners, is sodium laurel sulfate. Sulfates are even found in most ‘sensitive’ or ‘moisturising’ body washes which is one reason we’re very sceptical of most beauty product marketing, but that’s a topic for another day.
The effectiveness of sulfates at stripping oils from the surface of our skin results in some people reacting badly to them, this condition is known as contact dermatitis, which is identified by areas of red and inflamed skin.
Not only that, but sulfates gobble up proteins too, which is pretty unfortunate for our hair which is made up of approximately 95% protein. The main protein in hair is keratin, and in the presence of sulfates, hair has been shown to lose up to 7 times more protein content than when exposed to just water.
So what does this all mean? Sulfates can leave us with dry, itchy scalps and more brittle, weaker, and drier hairs. Not pleasant. However, one bad ingredient in shampoos shouldn’t give the act of washing hair a bad name.
Washing Confusion: Hair vs Scalp.
Although some shampoos may be rough on your hair, we mustn’t forget that we have a large surface area of skin sitting right under that hair, our scalps. Washing that is perhaps even more important if we want to stop hair loss.
Repeat after me. DHT causes hair loss.
This statement holds the answer to debunking this myth. Regularly washing your hair provides one crucial function; removing the skin of dirt and oily sebum from the scalp.
Washing away DHT-carrying sebum is important in keeping your scalp free of DHT. Less DHT on the scalp means less chance of DHT interferring with your hair follicles for the worse which means potentially more hair.
Also repeat after me. Inflammation causes hair loss.
This is the other vital of shampooing your hair. Removing that exact sebum as well as any other oil, dirt, or sweat helps keeps the natural regulation of the skin on your scalp in order. Sebum, which is nearly 90% made up of fat and wax compounds, if allowed to sit on the scalp, clogs pores and can lead to less ‘breathing’ of the skin. This in turn could lead to inflammation on your scalp, which is ultimately bad for hair.
Furthermore, yeast cultures such as Malassezia love your warm, oily, dirty scalp and they thrive in environments such as those on your head, so keeping a basical level of hygiene on your scalp really is crucial for having healthy hair.
So I’ll wash my hair three times a day…
Woah, hold your horses right there a minute, we didn’t say that!
As with all things, you can have too much of a good thing. Washing away DHT-containing-sebum is only one fight in the war on hair loss. The main battle is still an internal one, so although regularly washing your hair will help, it’s not going to make the biggest changes to the amount of hair on your head.
All things considered, here’s our top 4 things we’d recommend taking into account when about washing your hair:
- Choose a good quality shampoo. Choosing a sulfate-free shampoo will help support your hairs’ keratin content. Consider choosing a shampoo such as Nizoral which we covered in detail in this article here. It’s largely sulfate-free and better yet, research suggests that it actively helps to fight hair loss.
- Don’t condition too often. Conditioning is great for returning moisture back into your hair (soft hair huh), but if you have oily hair already it can contribute even oiler hair and an oily scalp, which can, in turn, cause inflammation. This is one to judge for yourself, but if you have a more oily head, perhaps go easy on this stage of washing.
- Wash your hair regularly. Clear that DHT away!
- Take washing your hair as an opportunity to massage your head. Massaging is a topic we will return to but it appears to be a true hair loss preventative. It increases blood flow to your scalp, reduces inflammation, and relieves tension across the scalp area, so take a couple of minutes in the shower to relax and gently massage your head whilst your are shampooing.
So let’s summarise this interesting debate on hair washing, who knew it could be so controversial!
- Washing your hair is good for your scalp. It removes sebum from your skin which contains hair-killing DHT.
- Less dirt and oil on your scalp means a happier less-inflamed scalp
- Go gentle on your hair, pick a softer shampoo that is sulfate-free. This will keep your hair moist and protect key hair protein keratin
- Sulfates can be harsh on your hair, in particular in the protein which makes up your hair, keratin
- Consider reducing the amount of conditioner you use if you tend to have more oily hair
- Don’t overwash. Washing too much won’t remove any extra DHT and may contribute to more brittle hair and a drier more unhealthy scalp.
References Used in this Article