Are you washing your hair correctly? Here’s the expert guide

Posted by
Stylist Team

We use shampoo and conditioner more than any other hair product but are we using the right ones for us? Stylist’s expert hair panel answers the questions getting us in a lather…

Words: Natalie Lukaitis
Photography: Alexandra Straulino

How often should I wash my hair?
Leonora Doclis, trichologist at The Belgravia Centre, London, says: “There’s a lot of debate about whether you should wash your hair every second day or just twice a week, but it depends on your hair and scalp type. Frequent shampooing, even daily, is recommended if you have a flaky scalp to get rid of dead skin cells as they may cause problems with the production of natural scalp oils. If you have a healthy scalp with hair that gets oily, wait two days before washing.

If your hair is dry and highly porous (you’ll know this if your hair almost immediately dries when you get out of the shower) it should be shampooed no more than twice a week as it’s capable of soaking up large amounts of water which weighs down each strand, resulting in loss of elasticity and leading to breakage. In most cases, your hair is your best indicator. If it looks slightly oily at the roots, leave it for a day, but if it starts to look very lank at the roots, wash it.”

I have coloured hair – are there any ingredients I should avoid?
Nicola Clarke, creative colour director at John Frieda, says: “It’s no secret that colouring your hair can sap it of moisture, which is why people choose shampoos with conditioning ingredients, such as silicones. The problem is, they leave a film on the hair which makes colour look washed-out. On the other hand, clarifying shampoos will fade colour quickly as they contain acetic acid for removing the build-up of products. You should also avoid sulphates as they swell the hair shaft, allowing your colour to leach out – look for a gentle, sulphate-free shampoo like Color Security Shampoo, £9, Color Wow.

Coloured hair is weaker and more prone to damage and breakage so it’s essential to use an intensive conditioner [try Moisture Repair Conditioner, £18, Moroccanoil].”

I have oily/dry hair. When I use a normal shampoo my ends are dry but if I use a conditioning shampoo my hair is lank afterwards. Help!
Dr Karla Webb, global shampoo technology leader at Unilever, says: “This common hair type is a result of hyper-seborrhoea at the roots, which occurs when the sebum is not evenly distributed throughout the lengths, producing oiliness near the scalp and dry ends. Lather shampoo only at the roots, where you will have the most build-up of scalp oil and styling residue, with a pH-balanced shampoo [such as SP Balance Scalp Shampoo, £15, Wella] to regulate the acidity of your scalp oil and avoid over-stimulating your sebaceous glands. To cleanse the ends, let the shampoo run down your hair as you rinse.

Follow up with a deep conditioner containing humectants, emollients, or conditioning agents, like gluconolactone or trehalose [try Daily Moisture Conditioner, £2.69, Dove] to seal the cuticle, so you don’t lose moisture. But only apply from the mid-lengths to the ends. Your scalp naturally produces enough protective oils for it to remain healthy on top without using conditioner there.”

Can my hair become immune to the same products after a few months?
Charlotte Mensah, British Afro Hairdresser of the Year 2014, says: “We’ve all heard this rumour, but your hair won’t get used to a shampoo or conditioner and stop working. However, you should change them seasonally because alterations in your environment affect how your hair reacts to ingredients.

During summer, the heat can leave your scalp oilier than normal, while the dry air can cause frizz. To combat the two, you’ll need a shampoo that cleanses your scalp while nourishing the ends. Look for ingredients like citrus extracts and astringent herbs to gently remove oil build-up, and calcium and zinc, which help strengthen your hair. Try Phytocitrus Color Protect Radiance Shampoo, £12.50, Phyto.

In winter, the air isn’t as dry, but indoor heating will open the cuticles and sap moisture from the hair. Opt for a shampoo that promotes low pH balance, like PureLuxe Shampoo, £23, Harmonic, and a conditioner with humectants and emollients to keep moisture locked in. Try Oil Conditioner, £18, Manketti.

Should I choose shampoo and conditioner based on my hair type?
Anabel Kingsley, trichologist and haircare expert at Philip Kingsley, says: “Don’t buy shampoo based on ‘normal’, ‘oily’ or ‘dry’ hair types. Instead, pick one based on hair texture. People with fine hair tend to have more oil glands on their scalp, so it becomes lank easily. Use a shampoo rich in hydrolysed keratin and thickening proteins to add bulk to individual strands [try Ultra Gentle Shampoo, £24, Oribe]. If your hair is medium in thickness, use a shampoo that will sustain the moisture ratio along the length of your hair, like Moisture Balancing Shampoo, £18, Philip Kingsley, and only condition from the mid-lengths down.

Coarse hair is more porous, so it will be prone to moisture loss, hence it’s often dry and frizzy. Use a hydrating shampoo with anti-static ingredients such as cocamidopropyl and glycerine [try Ever Straight Brazilian Keratin Smooth Shampoo and Conditioner, £6.99 each, OGX].

Afro-Caribbean hair is the most prone to damage due to it being highly porous as weak points form along the hair shaft where twists and knots occur. Choose a shampoo with moisturising ingredients like coconut oil [try Damage Reverse Restorative Shampoo, £21, Ojon].

Choosing a conditioner is more simple because the wrong one won’t harm your hair, it just won’t look its best. If a conditioner is too heavy it will weigh it down; too light will leave it dry so dial the intensity up or down. For light ingredients look for wheat proteins or for more intensity, look for a blend of oils, like almond, avocado and babassu.”

Does the amount my shampoo foams affect how well it cleanses my hair?
Dr Jeni Thomas, principal scientist, P&G Beauty, says: “Technically, no. Shampoos foam because some of them contain detergent agents, such as sulphates or sulphate alternatives. However, lather is such an important expectation from consumers that a lot of research goes into developing the right lather in addition to cleansing.

The foam can also signify how clean your hair is. Dirt and oil breaks down the lather, so if there is lather remaining after working the shampoo into your hair and scalp, you know your hair is sufficiently clean. If a thick, rich lather disappears as you shampoo your hair, it’s a signal that your hair is still dirty.”

If my hair is chemically straightened, what should I be aware of when washing it?
Sonya Park Howie, hair straightening specialist at Taylor Taylor London, says: “When you chemically straighten or curl your hair, you break down the natural structure of each strand and reseal them in a different way, so you don’t want any ingredients in your shampoo or conditioner undoing this process. Most detergents in regular shampoo have an alkaline pH, which causes hair shaft swelling and loosens the protective cuticle, disrupting the resealed bonds and leaving the hair shaft open to damage.

Look for shampoos and conditioners that contain argan oil to improve the protection and manageability of hair by moisturising to prevent breakage. Try Kai Shampoo, £28, Kai By Gaye Straza. Also avoid products that contain sulphates because they can strip the straightening chemicals from your hair.

Your hair will be extremely dry, so aim to deep-condition it once a week after treatment. And wait at least three days before washing after having it chemically altered so you don’t disturb the bonds.”

My hair goes flat if I use conditioner, but I’ve heard that reverse washing (conditioning pre-shampoo) can help?
Aaron Carlo, celebrity hairstylist, says: “If you have fine hair, conditioner can weigh it down. Using conditioner before washing provides moisture without residue.

There’s a certain way to do reverse washing though. First, your hair needs to be saturated with water before you apply conditioner. Second, if you normally only apply conditioner from the mid-lengths down, in this instance you need to apply it from the roots to the ends (try Beauty-Full Volume Pre-Wash Conditioner, £4.99, Tresemmé). Most importantly, after one minute, apply shampoo on top of the conditioner, massage at the roots then use the shampoo to wash away the weight of the conditioner.”

Who, what, wash

Joanna McGarry

Guardian Of Colour Precious Blonde Shampoo, £12.50, Josh Wood,
This is the first blue shampoo I’ve used that softens any warmth without knocking out my blonde colour entirely. And it hasn’t stained my bath.”

Elvive Extraordinary Clay Rebalancing Conditioner, £2.89, L’Oréal Paris,
I have oily roots and dry ends – this formula nourishes my hair without weighing it down or leaving it sticky. Plus, it adds shine like no other.”


Jessica Perfect

Full Shampoo, £21, Living Proof,
“With this shampoo I have found I need to wash my fine, oily hair less often, and over time my hair has become stronger, more manageable and feels incredibly healthy.”

Full Conditioner, £21, Living Proof,
“With a patented healthy hair molecule that smooths, conditions and strengthens, this makes hair more manageable without weighing it down, so it's ideal for anyone with thin hair who doesn’t want to compromise on keeping their hair hydrated.”


Tina Kunakey

Moisture Extreme Shampoo, £18, Philip Kingsley,
“Most shampoos sap moisture from my curls and make my hair feel rough and dry, but this leaves it silky and shiny. I also find that
I only have to wash it twice a week, which is great because it can take quite some time.”

Moisture Extreme Conditioner, £21, Philip Kingsley,
“A lot of conditioners seem to sit on top of my hair and just weigh it down, but this one penetrates the hair to give it the moisture that it needs without ruining the shape.”

Fleur de Force

Perfect 4 Platinum Shampoo, £16, Pureology,
“We all know that dyeing your hair can leave it dry and lead to breakage. This shampoo doesn’t fade my colour and it’s intensely moisturising, so leaves my hair really soft and glossy. It smells incredible too.”

Blonda Conditioner, £19, Unite,
“I also use Pureology for my day-to-day condition, but I use this conditioner once a week when I need a more intense colour-correcting product to help keep any brassy tones to a minimum.”


Lyndell Mansfield

Cleansing Crème Shampoo, £35, Purely Perfect,
“It’s a game changer. I swear by the way it purifies, while caring for my dry, thick hair with aloe vera and essential oils. Don’t let the fact it’s suds-free fool you.”

Strength Cure Conditioner, £20, Pureology,
“This contains astaxanthin, a powerful natural antioxidant that protects colour like no other, plus ingredients to restore strength and softness to hair. It’s also sulphate free and vegan, which appeals to me.”


Nadia Foster

BC Repair Rescue Shampoo, £10.55, Schwarzkopf,
“With just one wash, this shampoo repairs the damage in my coloured hair to make it smoother and softer. It works with the natural structure of your hair, so is ideal for both thick and fine textures.”

BC Color Freeze Sulphate Free Conditioner, £12.90, Schwarzkopf,
“This repairs the cells within the hair to optimise the level of health, while also smoothing down the cuticle so your hair looks and feels silkier.”

Photography: iStock

Share this article


Stylist Team

Other people read

More from Beauty

More from Stylist Team