The 21st Century Herbalist

Washing your hair…you're doing it wrong!

So maybe you’re not doing it all wrong, but there might be things you can do to reduce the amount of damage that something as innocent as washing your hair can cause.  When I first started studying herbalism about 7 years ago, I couldn’t read enough books on the subject.  I devoured them one after another.  After a while I started to notice that they almost all had a section on hair care and within each of those chapters was at least one paragraph dedicated to the proper way of washing your hair.  I usually skipped those paragraphs (or in some cases, pages) of instruction. I found them to be kind of insulting –  surely I can wash my own hair.  Then one day I actually read one of those paragraphs and wouldn’t you know it…I learned something.

For the third week of DIY Hair Care Month I’ve compiled all of my hair washing tips, some of which you may already know and some of them you may not.

  • First things first, most of us shouldn’t be washing our hair everyday.  I covered all of the reasons why and the dry shampoo solution to those greasy roots in last week’s post: Dry Shampoo: Yea? Or nay?  As far as my own hair care goes, I used to wash everyday because my hair gets really oily, really fast.  I would be mortified to go to work without thoroughly scrubbing my tresses – it would make me feel very “People of Walmart”.  As an experiment for you dear readers, I’ve been taking one for the team and trying to go the entire weekend without washing.  I’ve got to admit, so far, so good.  Which is saying something because I have really oily hair!  Like, super oily; like gas companies should be trying to harvest this stuff, oily.  I have noticed that on Monday mornings before my shower, my hair is not as oily as it used to be.  It’s definitely ready for a cleaning but it’s not as dire as it used to be.
  • So once I do start washing, what’s the best way to prevent damage?  Wet hair is vulnerable hair, so gentleness is key.  When washing your hair, lather the shampoo in your hands before applying it to your head.  This lubricates your hand and fingers and reduces damage when shampooing.
  • When shampooing your hair, you only need to wash the roots.  Start at the roots and gently massage the shampoo on your scalp using your finger tips, not your nails.   Little to no scrubbing is required for the rest of the strand, so stick to the scalp area.  The only reason that you should deliberately apply shampoo to the lower part of your hair is if you have product in it.  In that case, lather in your hands first and gently move the shampoo over the strands.  Don’t pile and knot it up on the top of your head like the lovely lady above.  If you’ve ever been to a nice salon, you’ll notice that they don’t typically do the “knot and scrub”.
  • Rinse with cool to cold water.  I just love the way hot water feels running over my scalp but this is bad for my hair, especially super hot water. Remember, we’re trying to be gentle with the hair.  Rinsing in cool water also tightens the cuticle, which adds shine to your hair.
  • When applying conditioner, only apply to the hair shaft, you don’t need to apply it to the roots.  And you know that section on the conditioner’s use instructions that tells you to leave it in for 3-5 minutes?  Well, they mean it.  Leave it in for a few minutes.  Wash your face or  shave your legs while you wait but let it do it’s job and leave it there.
  • Once you’re out of the shower, pat your hair dry.  Don’t scrub it with a towel.  Scrubbing should never be associated with  cleansing your skin or hair, save the scrubbing for shower tiles.
  • Finally, the best thing you can do for your still vulnerable wet hair is to comb it through with a wide tooth, preferably smooth-wood, comb.  Don’t be tempted to brush it or use your fingers.  Both of these can pull and tug on your fragile hair and create weakness in strands, which eventually leads to breakage and split ends.

So, how did you do?  Are you 7 for 7? 6 for 7?  Let me know in the comments!  And may you have a lovely hair day!

image via:

  • Katie Remaly

    How often do you use the dry shampoo? I find myself wanting to spray it in my hair more than once a day. I’ve got the kind of hair that gets greasy in 2 hours, so I usually spray it on after I style every morning. Is this over kill? Help!

    • Katie Glenn

      I usually just use it once in the morning but you can use it more than once a day. It sounds like your hair gets oily pretty quickly, so you may benefit from an apple cider vinegar rinse once or twice a week. It will reset the pH of your hair/scalp which should help your sebum glands better regulate how much oil they produce. I wrote this article a while back that should help. Thanks for your comment!

  • Nikolina Serdar

    Yej, I’m doing it right! 😀 Additionally: if you have rather oily hair but very sensitive skin, shampoos based on tea tree oil are a very good solution! I once had to undergo cortisone-treatment that really messed up my skin and this helped sooo much!

    • Katie Glenn

      Tea tree oil is great for hair. If you can’t find a shampoo and conditioner that already contains tea tree oil, you can purchase it from a natural foods store and add it yourself. I’d keep it in the shower and add one drop to your shampoo, mix it together in your hands, then shampoo as usual. Great suggestion Nikolina!

  • Valerie Rausch Spagnuolo

    Thanks for reaffirming that what I’m doing is right! The pre-lather is a great idea… the only one I don’t do (but will start). One other thing I do is use an old T-shirt instead of a towel to dry my hair. Towels can be kind of rough, but jersey is soft and doesn’t snag hair.

    • Katie Glenn

      I’ve never tried that but it sounds like a good idea, I’ll have to give a try. Thanks for sharing!

  • Caroline Jeffery

    thank you for enabling my poor hygiene! now when somebody cringes when i tell them i didnt shower today i’ll say “i can’t, it’s not good for my hair!” 😉

    • Katie Glenn

      Hahaha! And you’re saving water, which helps the environment. You’re kind of a saint. :)

  • Lindsay Leete

    I wash my hair probably 2-3x a week. At first, it takes some getting used to, but you can always do the 2nd day in a ponytail! Or, curls will keep longer with slightly dirty hair.
    Also, if you’re working out, take your hair out IMMEDIATELY after the gym to dry your scalp. Naturally if it was a grueling, sweaty workout you’ll probably want to wash your hair – but if you’re just going for a walk or a hike, then just pull the pony out. Get the hair away from the scalp so it can dry.
    I also use the drying towels you can get at Marshalls/TJMaxx/Homegoods to wrap my hair to get most of the dampness out before drying.

    • Katie Glenn

      Really good point Lindsay! If you want to skip the washing but still refresh your hair, you can sprtiz the roots with some water that has a few drops of lavender or rosemary essential oil in it. Those will help disinfect your scalp, prevent potential fungus AND make you smell lovely. :)

  • Nicole Szymanski

    I used to do the knot and scrub and wash my hair everyday. I was reading an article one day, I forget where, but it reaffirmed what you said and that you should only use shampoo on your scalp and roots not the ends because it dries them out. I took that advice and tried it and my hair actually looks better….its been a few weeks now. I have to wash my hair every other day…I don’t like that it looks dirty and greasy, but that’s just how my hair is. I’ve also been using Aussie’s Miraculously Smooth shampoo and conditioner and their new 3 Minute Miracle Deeeeep Conditioner (yes there are that many E’s in the name) and this combo works wonders!

    • Katie Glenn

      I used to do the same thing because that’s what all of the commercials did! Glad I wasn’t the only one. :)

  • Megan Alexander

    I use baking soda as shampoo and apple cider vinegar as conditioner and it really works! It may not be the best for everyone but I would highly recommend it, especially people with curly or wavy hair.
    If you’re interested, try google ‘no poo’.

    • Katie Glenn

      Thanks Megan! I’ve always used apple cider vinegar as a rinse once or twice a week but I’ve never thought of replacing my conditioner with it. I’ll have to give it try.

  • Becca Danger Mosbarger

    Thank you for the tips! I also use coconut oil in my hair weekly (put in for at least an hour, then wash out), which I absolutely looove! Protects hair from some of the damage caused by washing AND seems to make it grow more quickly. Heyhey.

    • Katie Glenn

      I do love coconut oil for my hair. Not sure if you saw the hair mask recipe from a couple of weeks ago ( but I always put coconut oil in it! Also, for those with dry hair: coconut oil reduces the amount of oil in your hair and on your scalp, so this is not always a good choice for you.

  • Tedi Smith

    Hooray! I love this! I wash about once maybe twice a week.

    Also to prevent damage — let your hair air dry as much as possible before blow-drying it. a) Takes less time to dry b) You can be getting things done instead of drying it and c) I can actually feel my hair not being as dry when I do that.
    Sometimes I’ll sleep on it wet, and then a 2 min. blow-dry in the morning. Eases my guilt about flat-ironing. 😉

    • Katie Glenn

      Good tips! The dryer your hair is before you start blow drying, the better. Especially if you’re going to flat iron it anyway. If there’s any waviness or frizziness from letting it air dry a bit, that’ll all go away when you iron it out. So you may as well reduce the damage a bit and let your hair dry naturally before you blow dry.

  • Catherine Green

    do different hair lengths factor into how often you should wash your hair? I have some pretty long hair, so I don’t know if I should wash more, or less… also does it just apply to shampoo, or conditioner also?

    • Katie Glenn

      The biggest reason to wash your hair is to get rid of some of the oil on your scalp and roots because that’s what makes your hair look greasy. You’re also cleansing the scalp to reduce the possibility of fungal growth. That’s primarily why it is based on hair type (dry, oily, normal, curly, ethic, etc) rather than hair length. That being said, because your hair is so long, it will take longer for the oil produced at your scalp to reach the ends of your hair. To help it along, brush your hair regularly to help distribute the oils. Try washing every other day at first and see how your hair reacts but I would try to go 3, even 4 days without washing if you have really long hair.
      You can still put conditioner in your hair because it doesn’t strip the hair of its natural oils. So go for it! Also, one of my readers above said that she uses apple cider vinegar instead of conditioner. That would be a great option to try between washes because it will balance your scalp’s pH levels. Good questions!

  • Kattya Jimenez

    hi! have you tried rosemary shampoo and conditioner? it’s supposed to get a longer hait. what do you know about it?

  • Gea Marín

    Hullo! have you heard of Aussie shampoos & conditioners? I recently bought the Aussie ‘for everyday use’ which is meant to be used, like its name says -everyday. It has some aloe and kangaroo paw flower, and other fancy things. As long as I’ve been using it, my hair’s gotten less oily, and now it looks fresh and more healthy. Also, it smells like candy and that’s a GOOD point.

  • Patricia O’Hara

    I have been doing it all wrong. Will try as advised :)

  • Brienne Nicole Coughlin

    Good stuff to know. I teach swimming lessons, so I wash my hair every day since I’m in the chlorine every day. I try to keep it away from the chlorine as much as possible but sometimes it’s just inevitable. I think the only thing I’m really good about is rinsing with cool water – I typically don’t take hot showers, so that’s an easy one for me. Thanks for the great tips!

  • Maggie Costello

    Such great tips, Been gettin about half right, at a push, Thanks! :)

  • Seemal Karthik

    thank you so much for this! and i thought i was very gentle with my hair, turns out i knew about two of those points above!

  • Bonnie Supergleek Crawford

    I haven’t been doing the very first one, thanks for the tips!

  • rose

    Great post!

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