Is Shampoo Bad for Your Hair? Common Shampoo Myths (2023)

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By Andrea Munguia Figueroa

Hairstory was founded in 2015 as a result of a years-long search for a better way to wash hair. Director of product development Jackie Bauer spent years testing cleansing formulas to soothe painful psoriasis and discovered that shampoo was part of the problem.

Jackie made it her goal to develop a product that effectively cleans while easing – and even preventing – flare-ups. While Jackie’s story is one for the books, what readers should note here is that the hairdressing community suspected for decades that there had to be a better way to wash hair than with shampoo.

Do you know what is in your shampoo bottle? This article might convince you that shampoo is bad for your hair. We’ll briefly touch upon the social history of washing hair and how it shaped our modern relationship with shampoo; take a closer look at the ingredients found in shampoo and their effect on the scalp; and finally, bust some shampoo myths that keep us seeking a sudsy scalp whenever we shower.

(Video) Water Rinse VS Shampooing your Hair - TheSalonGuy

The Social History of Shampoo

Modern shampoo as we know it did not come about until about 100 years ago. Soon after, conditioners were developed to soften hair in ways that early shampoo couldn't manage to do. Learn more about the (chemical) history of shampoo here.

Although shampoo was different at the turn of the 19th century, it was still perceived as drying and damaging. Early options were mainly soaps made from lye and lard, both of which have high alkalinity (pH) levels. A high pH is great for washing dishes and clothing, but too harsh for the body, and shampoo washing is extremely drying and taxing on the hair.

Using soaps that led to dry, flaky scalps and fluffy hair with the “natural life” taken from it was even less desirable to some than natural oiliness. Early advice columns recommended washing NO MORE than once a week, and leaving hair unwashed for as long as 6 weeks. Lived-in hair was also welcomed to keep often complex hairstyles in place.

Sodium lauryl sulfate was developed in the 1930s. What is sodium lauryl sulfate exactly? Often referred to as SLS, it is the first man-made detergent. It was originally developed to wash laundry but became popular as companies added it to all types of cleansing products because it was inexpensive, easy to manufacture, less harmful to hair and skin than lye and lard, and, most importantly, it lathered like crazy, which became associated with thorough cleanliness.

It’s important to remember that as times have changed, so has the degree to which we find oily hair acceptable. SLS made it easier for businesses to produce and sell more products and encourage consumers to use them more often.

Imagine this all in the context of American history. In the 1930s, the US government introduced the New Deal to encourage economic spending to get Americans out of the Great Depression. During WWII (1941-1945) women entered the workforce and began supporting their families while men were overseas. With the purchasing power in their hands, they began investing more heavily in personal care and beauty products.

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After the war ended, the 'American Way of Life' was celebrated, and exercising democratic freedom by spending money at home was a way to enact revenge. America prospered, ushering in the golden age of advertising which helped the beauty industry as a whole flourish.

Is Shampoo Bad for Your Hair? Common Shampoo Myths (2)

Why You Should Never Use Shampoo

Today, many shampoos are still made with sodium lauryl sulfate and its close cousin sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) – and such detergents are very likely the root cause of your hair problems.

Detergents are amphiphilic, meaning they form super strong chemical bonds with both oil and water. When we wash our hair using detergents, they not only grab onto grease and dirt, but also our scalp’s natural protective barrier. Made from sebum, this barrier keeps our scalp hydrated and protected from allergens, the sun, and dryness. Detergents then grab onto water, which pulls dirt and both good and bad oils out of our hair and down the drain as we rinse.

Do you color treat your hair? Detergents also grab onto color pigments and remove them!

While we may FEEL clean after shampooing, we’ve actually overcleaned and put our scalps in danger. In fact, feeling “squeaky clean” means that you have successfully washed away that natural protective barrier. That squeaking you hear is the friction of hair between your fingers, and if your natural barrier remained intact, your fingers would glide instead.

In stripping the scalp, shampoo leaves it dry and irritated. Sometimes the scalp is left so dry that it flakes. Dry hair is also more prone to tangling, which is why washing with shampoo requires a moisturizing component to make hair smooth again. We know this as conditioner. You may have already realized that the natural oil barrier does exactly what conditioner does, yet we wash it all away and then replace it with a bottled substitute.

Shampoo damages our hair with every wash. The worst part? Because shampoo strips hair of the natural oil layer, our bodies recognize this as an attack and work overtime to replenish protection. Translation: Oily hair. Shampooers recognize this as dirty and jump back in the shower to wash it away, and the vicious cycle continues.

Shampoo is harmful in many ways:

• It dries out and irritates your scalp.
• It strips your hair of color
• It causes tangles (which require conditioner)
• It promotes sebum over-production

Common Myths About Shampoo That Keep You Coming Back For More

There are many myths created by shampoo salesmanship to keep us coming back. We’ve tackled this rhetoric to help us see through the suds in our eyes:

Is it OK to just shampoo your hair (without conditioner)?

As we explained earlier, it’s never okay to shampoo your hair because it is drying and damaging. It’s even more harmful to shampoo hair without following up with conditioner because hair becomes vulnerable and at risk of breakage and damage.

(Video) Historical hair myths debunked : How often should you wash your hair— daily shampoo or no shampoo?

Lather, rinse, repeat

This bit of marketing magic is a genius way to get us to do one thing: use more shampoo. Don’t believe us? Look it up.

‘Dirty’ hair makes for better styling.

This is true, which is why we often add texture products to make hair less glassy, slippery, and unmanageable when freshly washed with shampoo. This is why so many people are seeking to wash less frequently: less clean hair is simply more cooperative.

Squeaky clean

You never want to hear squeaks coming from your head! This means that your hair and scalp has been stripped of its natural protective barrier of sebum. Without it, you risk dryness and skin irritation.

Is Shampoo Bad for Your Hair? Common Shampoo Myths (3)

Shampoo Alternatives: The Modern Way To Say No to Shampoo

Your hairdresser may have urged you to wash as little as possible, and that’s because there are so few detergent-free options that actually clean hair – until now. Sure, there are so-called gentler detergents, but buyer beware of wolves in sudsy sheep’s clothing.

Sulfate-free shampoo

Some shampoo makers want you to believe they are doing right by your scalp by offering ‘sulfate-free’ shampoos. But sulfate-free shampoos still have detergents and they still strip your hair and scalp. To learn more about the types of detergents and sulfates, click here.

The bad: Shampoo bars

At best, they are a rebranded bar of soap that contains SLS. At worst, they are made with sodium hydroxide which is the same highly corrosive material found in Drano. You’ve seen what Drano does to hair that clogs your shower drain in a few hours, imagine what small quantities are doing to your scalp over time. Pass!

The good: New Wash

New Wash is completely detergent-free. It cleanses with a proprietary blend of essential oils that keep your protective barrier intact, while removing dirt and oils from the scalp. New Wash does not strip away good oils, meaning hair stays moisturized without using an additional conditioner.

The good: Dry shampoo

Nowadays there are other ways to manage oiliness. Dry shampoo is a great alternative to a full wash, but it’s important to recognize that it can contain harmful minerals like talc, which are known to cause cancer. Plus aerosol cans are not good for the environment. We recommend trying our aerosol-free and talc-free formula, Powder.

Conclusion: Is Shampoo Bad For Your Hair?

Since the advent of modern hair washing, we have known that shampoo is not ideal. It strips hair of its vital oils while cleaning, leaving scalps irritated, flaky and strands dry and prone to breakage. An oily scalp is the main reason why people wash their hair and consider it ‘dirty.’ But the product you think is ‘cleaning’ your hair is actually stripping it.

(Video) TOP 5 HAIR CARE MYTHS | Dr Dray

Consider New Wash the end-goal of all hair care, as we have developed three formulas that offer what hair washers have been seeking for centuries.


Is shampoo ruining my hair? ›

Since the advent of modern hair washing, we have known that shampoo is not ideal. It strips hair of its vital oils while cleaning, leaving scalps irritated, flaky and strands dry and prone to breakage. An oily scalp is the main reason why people wash their hair and consider it 'dirty.

Does using shampoo everyday damage your hair? ›

Shampoo traps oils, so if you do it too frequently, you may dry your hair out, leaving it prone to breakage, says Angela Lamb, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Is using shampoo unhealthy? ›

Shampoo is designed to clean the scalp and remove excess oil. But if it's overused or if you work it all the way down the length of your hair, shampoo can damage your hair. Shampoo strips the important oils the scalp produces and can leave the hair and scalp too dry.

Is it really necessary to use shampoo? ›

For most people, there is no medical need to shampoo at all, as rinsing with water can remove dirt and dandruff. However, some health conditions can benefit from regular shampooing. People with parasitic infections of the scalp, particularly lice, may need to use special shampoos to get rid of the bugs.

What can I use instead of shampoo? ›

How to wash your hair without shampoo
  • Co-wash. A co-wash is a conditioner that is formulated to also clean the hair. ...
  • Conditioner. Some also say that simply using your favorite conditioner can help combat shampoo-imparted dryness. ...
  • Apple cider vinegar.
Mar 1, 2021

How often should hair be washed? ›

When to wash. Rossi generally tells his patients they should wash their hair once or twice per week. But if you've had chemical treatments that can make your hair drier — such as bleach, perms or relaxers — you might want to wash it less than once weekly to avoid breaking or brittle hair or split ends, he said.

What are the pros and cons of not washing your hair? ›

Not washing the hair regularly with shampoo has certain advantages like cost and time saving, reduced exposure to chemicals, and less risk of hair damage. However, it may increase the risk of scalp irritation and infections due to the buildup of sebum, dirt, and sweat.

Why is it good to not shampoo everyday? ›

Washing your hair every day can strip away more oil than it should from your hair, which leaves your hair drier and more likely to break. Washing your hair every day can cause dryness, and that makes your hair much more prone to split ends. Split ends are the enemy of happy and healthy curls!

What happens if you don't shampoo? ›

Prolonged periods of not washing can cause cause buildup on the scalp, damaging hair and even impeding its ability to grow, Lamb said. Grime from dirt, oil and hair product can show up within four to six days for people with finer, straighter hair.

What happens if you stop shampooing? ›

Shampoo and Greasy Hair

Once you stop using shampoo on a regular basis, as the theory goes, oil production slows down and you naturally produce less. (You may experience a few greasy days or weeks of "transition period," proponents say, but eventually, your body finds balance again.)

What are the cons of not using shampoo? ›

Side effects of not washing hair
  • It could slow hair growth. The main factors that affect hair growth and the growth cycle are: ...
  • Oils and grime can be trapped, creating odor. When you don't wash your hair, oils may accumulate on your scalp. ...
  • Hairs may become ingrown. ...
  • Dandruff. ...
  • Itchy scalp.
Aug 10, 2021

How do you shampoo your hair without damaging it? ›

Here are some basic steps you should follow.
  1. Wet your hair thoroughly. Don't jump straight into applying your shampoo. ...
  2. Apply your shampoo. Remember: This shampoo should be the right kind for your hair. ...
  3. Go easy on your scalp. ...
  4. Rinse thoroughly. ...
  5. Apply conditioner. ...
  6. Rinse again. ...
  7. Dry.
May 24, 2021

How do you know if your shampoo is stripping your hair? ›

After washing your hair with shampoo, if your hair feels brittle, hard and lackluster, chances are your shampoo is sucking the moisture out of your hair. Conditioner can only do so much with solving this problem. You're shampoo should be stripping the dirt, yes, but not completely drying out your hair.

Why is my hair so bad after shampooing? ›

Washing your hair too often: Shampooing too often means that you don't give your heads natural oils enough time to nourish your hair follicles. Chemical Ingredients: Using a shampoo with harsh ingredients, such as alcohol and sulfates, will dry out your scalp and hair follicles.

How do you shampoo without damaging it? ›

To avoid damage, use a gentle shampoo on your hair and then rinse the shampoo out with water. This will ensure that the right amount of soap and dirt is removed without stripping away important nutrients in your hair. Additionally, try not to rub or scrub too hard when rinsing your hair.


1. Hair Experts Debunk 15 Hair Myths | Debunked
(Insider Science)
2. What are the Shampoo Myth
(Blowout Professor)
3. Dermatologist Debunks Haircare Myths: Oil Training Your Scalp, Biotin for Hair Growth, & More!
(Dr. Sam Ellis)
4. Could Your Shampoo Cause Hair Loss?
(The Doctors)
5. Hair Myth -- Your Hair Gets Used To The Same Shampoo
(Philip Kingsley)
6. Why You DON'T Need to Switch Up Your Shampoo & Conditioner (Hair Myths) | Lina Waled
(SKLPT'D Hair)


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