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8 Hair Washing Mistakes You Didn’t Realize You’re Making

Updated: Jan. 19, 2024

Shampoo. Rinse. Condition. Rinse. It seems so simple, but if that's all you're doing, you could be cheating your hair out of shine, bounce, and great style. Here, hair industry experts share tips on how you can have your tresses looking their very best.

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You’re using the wrong shampoo

The wrong shampoo can strip your dry hair of much-needed moisture or leave your fine hair weighted down. Instead of picking a shampoo for your hair type, select one that matches your texture, Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley tells Prevention. That’s either fine, medium, coarse, or African/Caribbean. “Fine hair, for example, needs a lightweight, protein-rich shampoo to add body,” Kinglsey says. While, “Coarse hair needs moisturizing, smoothing agents to keep it soft, manageable, and frizz-free.” Confused? Ask your stylist, suggests Kate Jotzat, salon owner and master hair colorist and stylist at Chicago’s Chroma K8 Beautique. “They should be recommending what’s best for your hair, while taking into consideration your lifestyle and maintenance needs,” says Jotzat. Here’s the best shampoo for your hair type.

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You don’t brush your hair before you wash it

Sure you know to comb out your hair after you wash it, but what about before? Taking an extra minute or two to brush your hair before shampooing will break up any residual product and prevent your hair from becoming a tangled mess in the shower. Make sure to avoid these nighttime habits that ruin healthy hair.

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Your shampoo technique could use some fine-tuning

Shampoo from the top down, says Yasmine Ishmael, chief scientist of the vegan-friendly hair care line, NIUCOCO. “Most people apply shampoo to the roots and lather, and then apply additional shampoo to the rest of the hair,” she says. Instead, apply shampoo to the scalp and massage into a lather. Work the product down the hair to the ends without applying additional shampoo. “Hair tends to be dirtiest on the roots and drier on the ends, so this is a good way to treat dry ends,” she says.

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You pile your hair on top of your head when you wash it

A firm don’t, states Ishmael. “This will only create knots,” she says. Jotzat adds that she tries not to play around with the hair too much when shampooing. (That means those shampoo-hawks of your youth are out.) She suggests her clients shampoo their locks in the natural position their hair falls to keep the hair cuticles laying flat for softer, smoother hair. Find out the secrets your stylist won’t tell you.

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Your shampoo contains harsh chemicals

Ishmael points to sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, synthetic fragrances, ammonia, and bleach as harsh chemicals to avoid when searching for the right hair products. These compounds can strip your hair of its natural oils, irritate the scalp, and increase the likelihood of developing split ends and breakage—not to mention damage that pricey dye job. (Find out how the wrong products can even be one of the causes of dandruff.)

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You go overboard with the conditioner

Sure, you want healthy hair, but being heavy-handed with the conditioner may not be the way to get it. “Always condition from the ends and work the product upward,” advises Ishmael. “If you have normal to oily hair, work the product halfway up the strands and skip the roots as this can weigh them down.” Dry or coarse hair? “Work the conditioner all the way up to the roots,” she says. “Parched hair needs nourishment.”

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You wash your hair too often

Both Jotzat and Ishmael agree that the answer to how often you should wash your hair depends on your hair type. If you have oily hair, you may need to shampoo your hair every day—or add a dry shampoo to your routine. “It soaks up oil and adds volume to your hair,” Ishmael notes. For normal hair, shampooing two to three times per week is usually sufficient. “There needs to be a balance between cleansing and moisturizing your hair.” Jotzat says. If your hair is dry or damaged, shampooing once a week might be your best bet to help you strike that delicate balance with your hair. Find out the truth behind these surprising hair myths.

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You’re addicted to deep conditioning

In general, most people can benefit from a deep conditioning treatment once a month, says Jotzat. However, individual recommendations vary depending on how damaged your hair is. It’s best to consult with your stylist for specific suggestions or try one of these home remedies for dry and damaged hair.

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You’re locked into your routine

You don’t always have to shampoo first and condition second, and you don’t always need shampoo. If your hair is fine, consider reverse-washing. It’s a technique where you condition first, then apply shampoo and lather, before rinsing it all out. “Reverse shampooing is a game changer for fine, dry hair that needs moisture but gets weighed down by many conditioners,” says Adam Broderick, owner of the Adam Broderick Salon & Spa in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “The secret is to leave it on long enough to be absorbed, up to 15 minutes.” This cleanses the hair, leaving the roots fresh and clean, and allows the conditioning benefit to remain where you need it most, he says. (Note: reverse washing isn’t recommended for oily hair as it can leave it greasy.) If you have extremely dry hair, Ishmael recommends skipping the shampoo altogether. “The conditioner has some natural cleansing properties that will also moisturize hair, leaving hair refreshed.” she says. Experiment to see what works best for you. Clean hair is always just a shower away.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest