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How to wash your hair (the right way) in 7 stylist-approved steps

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Ever wonder how to wash your hair properly? You should. The real reason your hair looks (and feels!) so darn good after a trip to the salon is because the pros understand that the key to happy hair is a well-executed wash — and that's why we consulted with the pros to find out exactly how to take our shampoo game to the next level.

Turns out, washing your hair isn’t as intuitive as you’d think (which is maybe in part because — spoiler! — shampoo commercials have definitely been lying to us). For locks that are as silky and shiny as they are healthy, a lot of it comes down to knowing how to wash hair for your specific hair type. Below, you’ll find stylist-approved tips for washing hair that’s straight, curly, thin, thick and everything in between, plus the tips that’ll work no matter what texture of tresses you’ve got. We’ll also lay a couple common hair wash myths to rest, too, so that you don’t bring them with you the next time you’re lathering up your locks.

1. Less Is More: Avoid Washing Hair Every Day (Or Even Every Other Day)

The not-so-secret secret of the world's best-tressed? They don't wash their hair nearly as often as you'd think. “Overwashing your hair will strip it of the natural oils produced by your scalp,” Keri Duncan, a hair stylist at Amoura Hair Group, says. “Over time, your scalp will work double time to produce even more oil — well, you did wash it all off, after all! — to catch up, leaving you with an oily scalp.” To break the cycle, Duncan recommends that you “retrain your hair” by using a dry shampoo in between hair-washing days: “Of course, if you have a sweaty gym sesh, go ahead and wash it, but day-to-day activity doesn’t require a wash.”

If not daily, though, how often should you wash your hair? Tiffany Young, CEO of ThinHairThick, says it depends on your hair thickness and type. Although it’s still a good idea to go a bit longer if you’re able, Young says fine hair can be washed every other day, since it “usually shows scalp buildup more quickly, because there is less hair to absorb the oils.” Those with thicker, coarser hair, meanwhile, should “aim for infrequent washings — every five to seven days if possible.” Since curly, coarse hair tends to be dry, it can especially benefit from the natural oils that the scalp produces over a few days, she adds.

2. Use Filtered, Lukewarm Water

As relaxing as a steamy shower may be, exposing your strands to super-high temperatures leaves them looking dry and lifeless (not to mention leads to faster color fade for those with dye in their hair). Though there's no exact temp that's been proven ideal, it’s best to stick to warm water rather than hot, according to hair stylist Mallory Jones. “The warm water opens the cuticle and aids in rinsing out built-up dirt and debris,” Jones says. “The No. 1 mistake people make when washing their hair is washing with super-hot water. Over time, regular hot water usage when washing can cause your hair to become brittle.”

Just before stepping out of the shower, you can rinse off with one cool (or even cold!) round of water, too. Hair stylist Rashuna Durham explains that, while warm water opens up the hair cuticle, a “cold water shot” will seal it shut. “The cold water rinse is one of the most critical steps for getting lush, shiny hair after each wash,” she says. “Cold water closes the cuticle, leaving a smooth surface that reflects light and makes your hair look glossy.”

Finally, it’s not a bad idea to consider investing in a water filter, as well. Shower filters eliminate chlorine and synthetic chemicals that can be found in shower water. Not only will filtered water leave your hair healthier, it's also good for your skin — a win-win!

3. Choose a Shampoo That Suits Your Hair Type

Shampoo isn't in your hair for that long, so it doesn't really matter what kind you use, right? Wrong, according to the pros. As with skin care, it's all about identifying your hair type and choosing a formula that’s best-suited for your needs. As Jazmin Alvarez, Founder of Pretty Well Beauty, put it, using products “for the hair you wish you had versus the hair you were born with” never tends to end well.

“A lot of people have hair crushes — myself included — and will buy things they see from social media that someone else is using but that is completely inappropriate for their hair type,” she says. “Get intimately aware of your hair type, texture, and porosity, and select products specifically for your needs.”

What, exactly, are the best shampoos for your hair? If you have fine hair, celeb hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons recommends products with naturally derived elements, like caffeine and rosemary oil. “Caffeine stimulates hair follicles, which increases hair growth,” he says. Meanwhile, for those with curly or coily hair, it’s important to “look for very hydrating and non-stripping shampoos” that can reduce frizz without weighing down curls. Fitzsimons recommends creamier formulas that feature ingredients like amino acids, and if you need a no-shampoo to cleanse between washes, try a moisturizing co-wash.

Colored hair? Give it some extra hair wash TLC with “bond-rebuilding shampoos and sulfate-free shampoo and conditioners,” Young advises. For bleached hair, a clarifying shampoo may be a good idea, too, as it can help ward off unwanted yellow tones. Just be sure not to use it too often, since clarifying products can pretty majorly dry out your hair.

4. Shampoo Twice, And Use Gentle Pressure to Massage Your Scalp and Roots

Knowing how to cleanse your scalp and free it of product buildup is of utmost importance since healthy hair begins at the scalp — literally. The biggest tip? Be extra gentle. "Don't use your nails or massage the scalp too harshly," Oscar Blandi, the brains behind the Oscar Blandi hairline, says. "You want to apply minimal pressure. Your scalp might naturally feel it, but it's not as dirty as you think." That said, according to Blandi, two rounds of (gentle, non-abrasive) shampooing usually does the trick to clean your scalp — the first is purely to remove build-up. There's no need to rush this process: Devote one to three minutes to massaging. As an added bonus, the massage will boost blood flow to the scalp, which can help stimulate hair growth.

One more #ProTip: To give your fingers a break, invest in an inexpensive scalp cleaning brush. “It’s a circular disk-like brush with one-inch plastic teeth,” Young says. “Using this helps the shampoo to penetrate more effectively through to the scalp area and helps lift debris from the roots.”

5. DON’T Shampoo Your Hair In a Circular Motion

If shampoo commercials were your only guide for how to wash your hair, it’d look something like this: Pile all your hair on top of your head, then rub it around in big, sudsy circles, right? In reality, that’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

“If you're shampooing your hair in circular motions like your favorite shampoo commercial, you're making a huge mistake,” Ghanima Abdullah, a hair expert with The Right Hairstyles, says. “Shampoo should be smoothed into the hair in one direction, worked in by sliding the hands down the hair shaft and then rinsed in the same direction. Of course, you'll scrub your scalp, but that should also be done in the same direction.”

And, unlike the commercials, you really shouldn’t be shampooing the full length of your hair anyway. If you want to nail how to wash your hair properly, stick to the roots alone, Alvarez says: “The ends will be gently cleansed when you rinse the shampoo off. When you rub shampoo on your ends, it can cause dryness, frizz, and can strip the hair.”

6. Leave Your Conditioner in for Five to Seven Minutes

Patience is a virtue — especially when it comes to conditioning. Unlike shampoo, it's not about a quick massage and rinse. "You should start applying conditioner, mid-shaft downward towards the ends," says Anthony Cole, lead stylist for Sebastian Professional Haircare, who warns against ever conditioning at the root. "While the product is still in your hair, use a wide-tooth comb to detangle. You can leave the conditioner in and wrap your hair in a towel for five to seven minutes." Nailing that timing is the tricky part, according to Cole: "Any longer than that will leave residue in your hair."

If you’re here on a how-to-wash-curly-hair info hunt, know that now’s also a great time to lather in some curl-specific hydrating products. “Applying curly products in the shower is a game changer,” hair stylist Aoife McCarthy says. “Curly hair craves moisture, and most products geared towards curls work best when your hair is soaking wet. I keep my amika Curl Corps Enhancing Gel and Curl Corps Defining Cream inside the shower so after I detangle with conditioner, I can go ahead and scrunch the products in.”

7. Towel Dry Your Hair and Follow Up With Protectant

You may be out of the shower, but your job isn't done just yet. The way you treat your strands after a hair wash is just as vital to their overall health and appearance. “When your hair is wet, it is at its most vulnerable because the hydrogen bonds that make up your hair structure are wide open,” McCarthy says. “Aggressive brushing right out of the shower will literally shred your hair, so remember to take the time to be careful.”

In addition to brushing, you should avoid rubbing your hair dry with rough materials, including some towels. Instead, gently squeeze or pat your hair with a soft towel, and let it air dry as much as possible. “After you towel dry, it's always good to put some sort of heat protectant in, especially if you plan on using a hot tool," says Blandi. "Remember, if you do plan on using a hot tool, you should never use it on hair that is even slightly damp. Hair needs to be fully dry before applying such heat." But you knew that.

This article was originally published on Teen Vogue.

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