Years ago, when I first began my hair journey, I quickly discovered that some of the widely accepted and practiced methods for growing long healthy straight hair did NOT work for me at all. In fact, sometimes it made it worse. One of those practices is stretching the time between washes (as in, don’t get your hair wet in the shower) so the natural oils will have a chance to soak in. Another is to apply oil to the ends of the hair where the natural oils never get a chance to reach. I tried this for a few months. It made my hair look and feel awful. What I hadn’t yet learned was that curly hair is generally dehydrated by nature, and that my hair actually NEEDED the water I had been depriving it of in the shower. I do try to shampoo only once a week or less, and I use a gentle shampoo, to keep from stripping away all the natural oils on my scalp and hair. But I still get it wet, even when I don’t wash it. Doing this improved the health significantly.
This article does a good job of explaining why.
Written by Jonathan Torch, owner of Curly Hair Solutions
At the base of every hair on every human, there is a gland that secretes a waxy material called sebum. The sebum is essential for supplying nutritious minerals to the follicle that moisturize and protect the skin and hair. The sebum has a tiny molecular weight that allows for deeper penetration and absorption of these minerals without blocking or clogging any other pores and cuticles – and to make it even better, the sebum evaporates without any residue.
When it comes to oils and our hair, we have had quite a long track record of using them! All around the world, humans have been using and bathing in oils; to try and replenish the missing moisture that preserves youthful glow and energy. Cleopatra, the infamous Queen of Egypt, was constantly in search of a more miraculous oil to preserve her beauty. The more exotic the oil, the bigger the price tag, and therefore, the more in demand it was. It was seen and believed to be cosmetic elixir.
To this day, oils are still extremely popular in hair care and therapy. Sales of oil-based products continue to grow every year, as more and more exotic and potent oils enter the beauty industry – and it`s completely understandable, as the benefits of oil on hair are so easy to notice. In particular, the look and feel of soft, shiny, and supple hair is most appealing to everybody who uses oils.
When I started to focus on naturally curly hair as my specialty, it became increasingly obvious to me that while oils make the exterior of hair look beautiful, there is a tremendous difference in the quality of the hair when comparing oil-based products and water-based products. My focus was on the end results: Style Management is incredibly easier to have when there is absolutely no silicone or oils coating the hair. Water is the healthiest moisturizer in the world – it is what makes up our atmosphere, it is what our bodies are made of, and it is an integral part of the hair. Water is essential to life, and hair automatically responds as a natural moisture magnet – it sucks up all the moisture it can, particularly when water is involved.
By understanding this common-sense fact, it became obvious that eliminating oils from the styling process makes it far easier to moisturize and style hair. Oil and water do not mix. While they both have their proper roles and benefits, they are very far apart in what they do. Oils act as a lubricator, cosmetically softening – and weighing down – the hair. When there`s a coating surrounding the hair, it becomes very difficult for each hair to group with other hairs to make a beautiful curl or a ringlet. Because of this effect, any movement to the hair causes flyaway hairs, essentially encouraging frizz. On the other hand, water fills the hair cuticle, encouraging grouping and joining of each hair, and this automatically creates a frizz-free curl. Water works every time in every scenario of curl formation in all weather conditions – and it`s the most natural thing I could base my products on.
Silicones are polymers (long, stringy molecules made up of similar pieces all strung together) made of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements (e.g. carbon). (Note the difference between the element SILICON, the compounds called SILICONES, and SILICA which is SiO2 the compound that makes up both sand and glass. The vast majority of people don’t know there’s any difference, let alone which is which, but they’re really quite different things.)
As far as hair is concerned… Silicones coat the hair shaft. This often provides a smoothing effect, but depending on the type, they can build up and cause drying and tangling in the long run. There doesn’t really seem to be a consensus on whether
they’re bad for everyone. Personally, they don’t work well for me, but I know people who swear by them. As with so many other things, it seems to depend a lot on hair type.
Certainly some are less damaging than others. Whether they’re more or less hydrophobic (literally "water-fearing", as opposed to hydrophilic which is "water-loving") makes a big difference. All other things being equal, silicones that are more hydrophilic will wash and rinse out more easily, causing less buildup.
Sticking to all-organic products will not necessarily be best for your hair, although there are some excellent all-organic products out there. I’m personally a big fan of Aubrey Organics, not for ingredients reasons, but because they work well FOR ME. (This doesn’t mean anything about how well they’ll work for anyone else, of course.) There are plenty of organics that would be bad for your hair.
Things to avoid, in general, are strongly alkaline substances (this is a big one!), and chemicals that tend to build up on the hair
shaft. To be used in moderation are detergents (which can strip hair of oils or even damage the proteins if overused, but which must be used to clean the hair unless a soap is being used) and oils (we all know, of course, that too much oil is yucky!).
A few words on detergents, since this is a big topic in lots of long hair discussions, and so much misinformation exists. Detergents are not necessarily bad. Actually, they’re quite useful. To remove excess oils and dirt and so on from hair, it’s necessary to use either detergent or some form of soap. They serve essentially the same purposes, and have
essentially the same effects in a general sense. Soaps tend to build up more than detergents (or, to put it another way, detergents tend to rinse out more completely). This is actually why detergents were originally developed – to counteract soap scum. Detergents are often more effective than soaps at removing oils and dirt, which makes them easier to overdo it with (leaving your hair stripped and dry and possibly damaged).
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS, more properly referred to as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS) is a detergent. Contrary to much misinformation out there, it is not dangerous (check with NIH, for example – the claims that is causes cancer are just so much nonsense!), nor is it necessarily harmful to your hair or skin. Like any other detergent, it can be drying if overused, but so can soap.
Personally, I use castile-based shampoos by Aubrey Organics. This is not because I think soap-based shampoos are necessarily superior to detergent-based shampoos, but because I’ve tried them and they work well for me. (They’re also convenient, don’t make my allergies act up – a real challenge anymore, since I have so many – and smell nice without being
overpowering. For me, they’re cost-effective, because I don’t have to wash my hair as often as I used to, and it doesn’t take much.)
In the end, what’s most important is, of course, what works for you. The few hard-and-fast rules I’d suggest are watch out for strongly alkaline (basic) chemicals and watch out for peroxides. Be careful if you choose to use silicones, and keep an eye out for buildup, which may or may not be a problem for you. Some alcohols can be drying (some aren’t – it’s not really a simple "alcohols are drying" situation, in spite of what you may hear).
who probably told you much more than you wanted to know
As you likely know, the scalp has sebacious glands that constantly produce its own sebum (a waxy ester sometimes referred to as oil) that when hair is left unwashed coats the hair for approximately 4-6" down the length from the roots. This natural production of sebum has much to do with age really meaning hormones and to an extent, a response to frequency (or not) of washing.
It is understood that if one washes daily thereby stripping the hair of its sebum, this sebum produces a little faster to replace what’s missing from the scalp skin and the hair. In my opinion, sebum production is not so much something our bodies do to benefit our hair — that just happens to be an aside — rather, it is intended to keep our scalp skin healthy.
However, it’s possible to go too far in the nonwashing. At a certain point, sebum will break down. On our skin (scalp skin included) is ever present bacteria that at a certain point begins to break down sebum. This bacteria can get into hair follicles/roots and cause early release of hair. An indicator of sebum buildup gone too far is a rather pungent odor, and of course, the hair is rather cake-y in appearance on the top of the head.
Locating the balance point between allowing some sebum buildup to occur and the next hair washing. Obviously, one does not want to encourage early release of healthy hairs.
It is also possible, in the process of allowing a longer duration between hair washings to also get clogged hair follicles/roots from sebum buildup. The hair follicles/roots are not unlike the rest of our skin which does have little hairs sticking out all over our bodies (some thicker and easily visible; others are finer and not as easily seen). All skin can get a pimple or an ingrown hair and often these are due to a clogged pore from dirt, grime, and yes, even our own sebum on our scalp.
Hair washing is, in my opinion, more about cleansing the scalp than washing the hair. Notice that hair length does not require the same cleansing schedule as the scalp hair might, or the scalp itself might. This is why some of us scalp wash: to get at the scalp and the hair on top of the head more frequently while leaving the length alone.
In my opinion, being able to grow beautiful hair has much to do with the health of the skin of the scalp since hair itself is dead yet the skin is a very alive organism as are the roots/follicles under the surface of the scalp’s skin.
So, typically, in scalp washing, the first wash is to get the grime off of the scalp hair–the hair. The second wash is to create a slightly larger lather (now that the grime/buildup of sebum is removed), and this lather should be massaged into the scalp skin. Some find they need more than 2 shampoo’s to adequately cleanse the scalp and the hair on the top of the head.
Yes, the scalp does to a degree regulate its flow according to frequency of washing. (For those who do indeed need frequent washings, using a gentler shampoo is required.) Follicles/roots can indeed become clogged from not washing, and although the likelihood increases with less frequent washings, it can occur with frequent washings, too! Not unlike acne. We wash our faces daily yet acne happens even so.
The key in washing the scalp’s skin is massaging the lather into this skin.
With this new consideration of paying attention to work the lather into the scalp’s skin, it may be a while before you notice any increase in hair’s density (hairs per square inch on the head)….but keep aiming to cleanse the scalp and in time you should definitely notice some increase in new growth.
Do not use "clarifying" shampoo at every single washing. Use it when you need it. You might find occasion to use it repetitively two times in a row, but it should not be used as your shampoo choice on a regular basis if it’s a "clarifying" shampoo. These shampoos strip the hair of all oils and leave the hair quite dry. When this occurs, you must replace as immediately as possible what has been removed.
Allow your sebum to manage the top hair down to around the earlobes (give or take). Wash hair, I’d say, approximately every 3 days if you can go that long, depending on your sebum production. (Of course you can scalp wash). Use oil in your hair length to coat the hair with a protective layer that imparts a pleasant shine and supple softness.