Asking For A Friend: Is there a right way to wash your hair?

From how much shampoo you should use to technique, a hair expert weighs in on how to get the most out of your hair washing routine.

Karen Hawthorne 5 minute read May 20, 2022
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Factors like age, hair length and ethnicity can also impact your hair washing routine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. GETTY

Dear Asking For a Friend,

I am wondering how to properly wash my hair. Is it better to leave the conditioner on while I am soaping up? And how much is a good amount of shampoo and conditioner to use? And do I need to use conditioner every day?

Signed, Better Hair Days


Dear Better Hair Days,

There’s a reason your hair looks and feels so good after a trip to the salon. Yes, you get any unruly split ends cut off and maybe try a flattering new style (classic bobs are back). But you also get a well-executed wash and condition, which makes a difference.

Washing your hair properly is important, say hair experts, along with specifics like the amount of product and frequency of washing and conditioning.

There’s also concern about over-cleaning which can lead to a dry, flaky scalp and dry hair, or under-cleaning which could result in the buildup of grime from dirt, oil and hair product and slow hair growth and cause dandruff. Research by Procter & Gamble published in the journal Skin Appendage Disorders found that participants who washed their hair five to six times a week experienced overall satisfaction.

Your washing routine depends on a lot of things

Factors like age, hair length and ethnicity can also impact your hair washing routine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Oil glands, for example, are controlled by male sex hormones known as androgens. Younger people typically have more active oil glands, while women after menopause have a decrease in androgens, so less active oil glands.

For people with long hair, oil from the glands in your scalp needs to travel further down each hair strand to the ends to moisturize it, which is why longer hair tends to get dry.

Another key point to healthy hair is knowing how to wash for your specific hair type.

Dhaval Patel, research and development senior scientist at Unilever in Toronto, has helped create advanced haircare formulas to meet different consumer needs. The company recently announced the discovery that vitamin B3 in products can boost the skin’s natural defences against harmful bacteria that can cause dandruff and other unpleasant conditions like eczema and body odour.

How much shampoo should you use?

Patel is an expert when it comes to hair science, structure and methods to keep it healthy and strong.

“For good cleaning and conditioning of the hair and scalp, using the right amount of shampoo and conditioner is essential,” he says.

Determining that amount depends on your hair type and length. “Thick-textured hair generally requires a little more shampoo and conditioner,” says Patel, “compared to thin or fine hair because of the structural differences between different hair types.”

For shampooing short hair, work in a dime-sized amount, short-medium hair needs the size of a quarter, and for long hair, the size of a loonie should be sufficient to cover the entire hair length, Patel explains.

Also, fingernails-on-scalp scrubbing isn’t required.

Lather and rinse thoroughly. For conditioner, use a little more than the amount of shampoo.

“For conditioners to work efficiently, it is essential to have a good, clean surface for your hair,” he says.

Technique is also important for conditioner to be most effective. Patel recommends massaging the product gently from roots to the tip of the hair and leave it on for at least one minute, which allows for better distribution and coverage throughout the entire hair length.

Do you need to condition your hair after every wash? No and yes, depending on the type and condition of the hair.

“If the hair is extremely dry, it is prone to breakage and is less manageable,” he says. “Conditioning provides the extra hydration your hair needs to make it manageable and healthy-looking.”

Should you wash your hair every day?

And what about washing your hair daily?

“Excessive washing with a harsh cleansing shampoo has the potential to strip hair’s natural oils,” Patel cautions, “so it is important to use conditioner if you wash your hair on a daily basis.”

Ideally, he recommends opting for haircare products that are designed for your hair type and need — try different ones to see which work best. For coloured hair, for example, look for products that provide mild cleansing while protecting the colour.

His last haircare tip?

There’s no need for long, hot showers when it comes to healthy hair.

“Avoid using hot water for hair washing because it can potentially remove your hair’s natural oils which leads to dryness,” says Patel. “Instead, use warm water to protect your hair.”


Karen Hawthorne is a Toronto-based writer.
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