Here's What Happens When You Skip Washing Your Hair

And why it could be good for you.

Originally Published: 
When it comes to not washing your hair, there's pretty much an endless list of things that can happe...

When it comes to not washing your hair, there's pretty much an endless list of things that can happen. On the positive side, shampooing less often means moisturized strands, and way more time in the morning. But what happens if you don't wash your hair as frequently as you need to?

Of course, what happens when you go without shampoo is totally dependent on your hair type. As celebrity hairstylist Scott Yance tells Bustle, everyone's texture is unique, and therefore every type of hair will require different care.

Matrix Global Artistic Director Michelle O’Connor agrees and says not washing hair for two — or more — days is very normal. “There isn’t a set standard for hair washing frequency,” says O’Connor. “It truly depends on what kinds of products you are using, your lifestyle, and how oily your hair gets on a day-to-day basis. It also depends on how long your hair retains moisture.”

She adds that the washing window can be anywhere from daily to once a week. But if you aren't sure what's best for you, ask your hairstylist.

The general consensus, however, is that shampooing every day isn't a great idea. In fact, according to Robert H. Shmerling, MD, the faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing, the common idea of "lather, rinse, repeat" — and shampooing every day — may be more of a marketing scheme to sell more shampoo than an honest health or hygiene recommendation.

If you’re already in the habit of daily shampooing, read on for what happens when you don’t wash your hair as often.

1. Your Hair Can Look Thinner

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For some folks, going a day or two without shampoo results in gloriously thicker and voluminous hair. But for others — especially those with fine hair — even just a touch of excess oil can have quite the opposite effect. When fine or thin hair goes unwashed, it can start to stick together and look even finer, Richard Mannah, the global artistic director for Joico, tells Bustle.

You can always resolve the issue in between real shampoos with a spray of dry shampoo, which helps soak up excess oil while also adding volume to your hair. Or, you could simply style it differently.

2. Ingrown Hairs Can Crop Up

It's possible you've experienced ingrown hairs on your bikini line, or in your armpits. But did you know you can get them on your scalp, too?

These ingrown hairs aren't caused by shaving, but oily hair and leftover product. "The longer you go between washes, the more dirt and oils will build up on your scalp, which can [...] cause ingrown hairs — dry shampoo can also be a culprit," Yance says.

3. You May Turn Into A Dust Magnet

If your hair has been looking a bit lackluster as of late, it could mean your unwashed strands are attracting dust. Even though looks like dandruff, those white flecks may actually be debris from things like your hat or pillow, Mannah says. If this starts happening on the regular, it may be time to dip into the shower.

It's also possible to simply brush the lint away with a comb; a little fuzz never hurt anybody.

4. Your Hair Might Stay More Hydrated

O’Connor says that curly and coily hair patterns benefit most from not washing daily as they have a propensity to dry out. Natural oils from the scalp, she explains, don’t travel down curly and coily strands as efficiently and contribute to its dry nature. “The goal here [with not shampooing every day] is to preserve moisture, and therefore, spreading out your wash days helps to maintain moisture levels,” she says.

She likes to look for products with humectants — like honey and glycerin — to attract moisture from the air and help prolong the days you don’t need to wash hair. But once you start to feel your curls get dry, it’s probably an indication that it’s time to shampoo.

She adds that putting hair in protective styles will help prevent breakage and prolong the days you are going to shampoo.

5. Hair Dye Can Slide Right Off

If it's been a second since you washed your hair, keep in mind unwashed strands can affect your dye job. "When coloring with demi-permanent color, hair needs to be clean and toweled-dried, per manufacturer directions," Jeff Stump, the salon owner of Artkiteks, tells Bustle. "Oily hair won’t allow the color to penetrate through the build-up evenly."

Be sure to ask your stylist for tips. They can point you in the right direction in terms of how and when to dye your hair (it’s better not to wash your hair before bleaching, for example), as well as what might be best for your hair type.

6. Things Can Start To Smell Different

Go a day or two without a good shampoo, and you may notice your hair starts to smell a bit different. "It's a musty and oily smell," Mannah says. And it might be something that starts to bother you, especially if you aren't used to going a few days between shampoos.

Of course, this odor, should you notice it, is not the end of the world, and certainly doesn't mean you have to rush to the shower. But if the smells starts to get to you, a quick spray of dry shampoo should absorb any extra oil, while also freshening up your scalp.

7. Your Nail Polish Will Last For Days

While it seems completely unrelated, washing your hair can strip off your nail polish faster, Thumbtack event hair and makeup pro Chantelle Hartshorne, tells Bustle. "I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished up in the shower only to find those little chips missing from the tips of my nails," she says.

So it stands to reason that you might notice your nail polish lasts longer if you go a few days between shampoos. It's just a small benefit to add to the don't-wash-your-hair-every-day argument that may be worth considering.

8. Your Hair May Actually Feel Smoother To You

Hannah Burton/Bustle

If you can go two days without washing your hair, you may be able to reach that perfect level of oiliness for smooth hair. As George Gonzalez, the owner of George the Salon in Chicago, tells Bustle, "This is very hard for most people, but try to rinse your second day and only condition." Cleansing conditioners or “co-washes” are a great alternative to shampoo.

Of course, there are lots of other ways to make your hair feel smoother, and it all depends on your hair type. After making a few adjustments to your daily routine, you may be able to get your hair of your dreams.

9. Highlighted Hair Can Be Magically Rehydrated

Yes, greasy hair can make dyeing your hair more difficult. But there's also evidence to suggest oily hair can be good for dyed hair. (Yay, for another benefit.)

"M​y own hair can hit a dry spell ​after highlights, s​o​ I​'ll​ ​let it ​get all oiled up from my own oils​ — which is like a natural conditioning treatment," Nicole Descoteaux, a stylist at Janet St. Paul Studio for Hair and Beauty, tells Bustle. Your natural oils can condition your hair, even if it isn't dyed or highlighted. If that's something your hair needs, then washing it every other day may be the way to go.

10. Dandruff Can Develop

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Since dandruff is often caused by a dry scalp, it may not make sense that oily hair leads to flakiness. And yet, experts say going a few days without a hair wash can make this condition worse.

According to Yance, dandruff can also crop up if you skip conditioner, which is again why hopping in the shower and giving your strands a good dose of moisture, may help clear up the problem.

It'll be necessary to see a dermatologist, though, if the dandruff doesn't go away. Sometimes there's an underlying condition causing this skin condition that needs to be treated.

11. You May Start Collecting Scents

In the same way oily hair can attract dust, it can also attract various odors from the air. "So, if you’ve been out at a bar or to the gym recently, your hair is going to let everyone know," Hartshorne says.

Think about all the times you've come home from work and could still smell the odors of the day in your strands. Or if you've gone out for dinner and left with the scent of pizza or pasta wafting from your hair. It's definitely not a problem, but it can be a funny side effect of not washing your hair.

If you're concerned about odors, freshen up your hair with a hair perfume or leave-in conditioners, or pull it back so it isn't hanging in your face and reminding you what you had for lunch.

12. Your Hair Can Start To Fall Out

While your hair isn't likely to fall out in clumps, if you overuse products and then don't wash them out, it can lead to an unhealthy buildup on your scalp. "A congested scalp will [...] bring on loss of hair," Jenna Mast, a NYC-based stylist, tells Bustle. Cleansing regularly can help prevent this from happening, especially if you use lots of product to style your hair.

Remember, though, that it is natural to lose up to 100 hairs per day. If your hair is actually thinning, it might seem more noticeable, or you may see more hair in your brush than usual. If you're concerned, let a dermatologist know so they can figure out what's wrong.

13. Things Can Get Downright Itchy

If you aren't used to going a few days without shampoo, you might notice a tingling itchiness creeping its way across your scalp. As Jen Bennett, a stylist at Rudy's Barbershop, tells Bustle, this happens because skipping shampoo can come with a bit of an adjustment period.

Thanks to the oils, it'll change your texture and the overall feel of your hair, which will seem vastly differently from your usual freshly washed hair. If you feel itchy, simply wait a few days and you should be able adjust to the change.

14. Your Roots Might Get More Oily

This applies more if you have straighter or finer hair. O’Connor says these hair types are more prone to oil production which causes oilier roots and limp hair.

An easy fix to this is to use dry shampoo or a quick oil-absorbing spray. She recommends something like the Matrix Miss Mess Dry Finishing Spray to remove any of the excess oil on those roots when you decide not to wash your hair every day.

15. You Might Just Like It

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If you're already in the know about not washing your hair, then this one won't seem surprising to you. But, if you've never gone a day or two without shampoo, you might just find that you’re happier with the look and feel of unwashed hair.

Additional reporting by Audrey Noble.


Michelle O’Connor, Matrix Global Artistic Director

Scott Yance, celebrity hair stylist

Richard Mannah, global artistic director for Joico

Jeff Stump, salon owner of Artkiteks

Chantelle Hartshorne, Thumbtack event hair and makeup pro

George Gonzalez, owner of George the Salon

Nicole Descoteaux, stylist at Janet St. Paul Studio for Hair and Beauty

Jenna Mast, NYC-based stylist

Jen Bennett, stylist at Rudy's Barbershop

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