Every autumn, it’s the same thing: I have the all-consuming urge to watch When Harry Met Sally. I buy an obscene amount of apples from the farmers market and then must scramble to eat them before they turn to mush. And...my hair starts falling out at an alarming rate.
Like a fluffy golden retriever, I leave a trail of DNA wherever I go and it’s, well, mortifying. I start vacuuming more (seriously it looks like someone got a trim on my couch), breaking out the lint roller (aka hair roller), and averting my eyes when I clean out the drain in the tub (it’s too tragic to watch).
So what’s the deal, really? After catching myself brushing my hair more gingerly as if that would help—spoiler alert: it makes no difference whatsoever—I decided to get to the bottom of things.
The good news: It’s 100% normal to lose anywhere between 50 to 100 hairs a day. That’s nothing to sneeze at either, so let yourself breathe a sigh of relief. And of course, the more you agitate your hair, the more the already-loose strands collect at the bottom of the tub. But washing isn’t the culprit. In fact, it’s one of hair loss’ saving graces.
Factors like how many times you work out, hair texture and type, age, and the harshness of the products you use all contribute to your unique cycle of growth and shedding, so there’s no one-size-fits-all washing schedule to follow. Your shampooing frequency is unique to you and might take some trial and error before you get it just right.
The meh news: Sebum oil (produced by our sebaceous glands) in balanced quantities coats and protects strands as they grow, providing strength, moisture, and elasticity so your hair will bend rather than break. It’s a good thing—in moderation. But if you go for too long without washing your hair, buildup occurs. And at this point, it’s not just sebum but dead skin cells, pollutants, dirt, and product residue that’s gumming up the works. In short? Going for too long between washes clogs your pores, jeopardizes the health of your hair follicle, and messes with your hair growth cycle.
Now for the question on everyone’s mind: How often should I wash my hair to avoid making a tiny bird’s nest of hair in the drain? (OK, that was dramatic.)
Hair experts recommend finding your own personal sweet spot when it comes to sudsing up, usually around two to three times per week. That said, the frequency depends on several other factors:
Your cardio routine: Folks who sweat a lot often assume they should scrub their scalps after every workout, but the answer is...no. Too-frequent washing can strip away those natural oils we talked about and leave you with a dry, unhappy scalp, often leading to more hair loss.
Your hair texture: For those with curly or thick hair, over-washed locks can become brittle and, well, crunchy, leading to breakage. With straight or fine hair, washing a little more frequently keeps greasy do’s at bay.
Your hair length: If you’ve got the Rapunzel thing going, the ends can be a challenge to keep moisturized. That’s because the sebum oil must travel the length of your hair shaft to reach the tips and prevent breakage (the real culprit for most long hair damage). Even better? Invest in a customized conditioner to keep fibers free of tangles and full of shine.