Shampoos are hair cleansers. But, what does it mean to have clean hair? What does it feel or look like? Soft? Shiny? Dry? Our experience with our hair constitutes a part of what it means to have “clean” hair, as crazy as that sounds.
Before getting into things, you should know that conditioners play a large part in stopping the action of the shampoo, and they help in rinsing away any residue that water alone cannot. It is highly advised to follow every shampoo with a conditioner.
For the most part, shampoos are meant to clear your hair of oils and dirt. These are general terms that could mean dead skin, sweat (saline), sebum or external oils and other people/animals’ whatever.
Oils are needed. In fact, your body is constantly producing them to build your mantle (see The Mantle), which is basically your skin and hair’s armor and has a slightly acidic pH (4.5 – 5.5). Some view sweat and other particles as nature’s hair products. Saline and dirt can provide volume and hold. Many people swear their hair behaves the best on the second day after a washing. If you use a brand name or generic styling product, then you are introducing substances to your hair and scalp. Are these cleaner than dirt or oil? Maybe they feel cleaner.
The presence of “oil and dirt” are not necessarily dirty. In the beauty industry, the term “dirty” often means one to three days after a shampoo, but is this dirty? Considering preservatives are required in beauty products because water and oil together make environments ripe for yeasts, fungus, molds, and bacteria, it stands to reason that cleanliness is the regular disruption of said environments when it comes to your scalp and hair. When a heavy layer of oil sits on your scalp for extended periods, health risks may become an issue. If you can strike a balance with your scalp and hair, you might be able to go a week or more without detergents. How often is individual, but one thing is across the board: We should wash our hair.
There are so many shampoos. The following covers many, but not all.
Clarifying shampoos are usually more alkaline, and are required in some chemical processes. These aim to strip the hair of oils and dirt, and other tough surface substances like product buildup, including what can be left behind by daily shampoos and conditioners.
Color shampoos may be closer to the mantle’s pH and often contain proteins and heavier moisturizers to increase the longevity of a color.
Moisture shampoos are also usually closer to the mantle’s natural pH and may contain humectants and emollients.
Dandruff shampoos are usually alkaline, drying out the scalp because dandruff is often both dead skin and hardened oils.
Swimmer’s shampoos may neutralize chlorine and deposit proteins and moisturizers. Vitamin C neutralizes chlorine. You can purchase crystals in bulk at natural food stores and create rinses that will stop the chemical from weakening your hair structure (and your skin’s surface). Start with ¼ tsp to 4 ounces of water. You can increase the amount of Vitamin C if needed.
Styling shampoos may aim to create volume, sleekness, curl uniformity, etc. These may coat the hair or force open the outer layer of each strand.
Sulfate-free shampoos are popular because sulfates (specifically Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) are said to be dangerous. While it can be irritating to the eyes and skin, there is no scientific evidence of danger from cancer or other major organ malfunctions. Some experts say that sulfates are required to really clean the hair, and that sulfate-free shampoos do not do much to rid your hair of oil and dirt. But, there are other experts with the opposite opinion, or that oils should be used to remove oils, or that a basic soap like Castile does just as a good a job.
If the job is cleaning the hair of oils and dirt, shampoo will work, but they are not enough to remove other kinds of buildup. Certain kinds of product can cling. Metals embed in the hair from water or other external sources. Medications and minerals present in or on the hair can affect wear and/or chemical services. All shampoos, even clarifying shampoos, are limited in the amount of buildup it can clean. To remove buildup like this, chelating agents are needed (see Treatments).
Body changes, climate changes, water source changes and more can impact what your hair and scalp need for optimum performance. If you want or have to change your routine, experiment with skipping days between shampooing, and give your hair a few weeks with it. It takes time for the hair and scalp to adjust before it can tell you how it will behave. If you are interested in moving away from shampooing every day, here are a few tips:
- Water draws out water and can dry out your scalp. Don’t let your scalp stay wet, whether it dries on its own or if you have to blow-dry your roots.
- Because conditioners are not alkaline detergents, these can be used to help detangle, rinse, and moisturize your hair between shampoos, but it won’t remove oils and dirt. Same with a water rinse.
- Brushing your hair with a boar bristle brush will pull oils away from your scalp, cleansing your hair, distributing moisture to the ends, and smoothing your hair’s cuticle. If you experience static, keep brushing. It should settle down. If it doesn’t, you can mist your hair down after brushing it. The brushes are also good for massaging your scalp and hair follicles, which some believe increases hair strength and growth. Whether or not this is true, it should feel good. A variety of bristle stiffness should be available at your local Sally’s Beauty Supply.
- Adding oils to your hair regimen can help your scalp adjust (see Oil Theory).
- Erratic climate can change your hair’s behavior, so if your hair and skin are feeling dry, or if your curls are out of control, consider the day’s weather. A person’s ideal humidity level is individual. What makes your hair behave or cause you problems? Often, it can depend on the day, especially in Colorado. Overly dry or overly moist can result in static or frizz. What goes into finding the balance? In large part, this has more to do with your preference: products, updos/braids, oil treatments, etc.