8 Things That Happen When You Don't Wash Your Hair Enough

Less 'poo, mo' problems.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When news broke that hundred of women were filing class-action lawsuits against Wen by Chaz Dean's cleansing conditioner due to severe damage to the hair (opens in new tab), hair loss, hair breakage, and scalp irritation, it shed new light on the no (or perhaps less) shampoo movement.

Over the past few years, I haven't given up on shampoo per se, but I'm washing my hair less than I ever have thanks to the blowout-prolonging powers of dry shampoo.But during my most recent root touch-up, my hairstylist suggested that the Wen situation might be a tipping point for women who don't cleanse their often enough while getting too liberal with hair products like dry shampoo. I got nervous...and then pensive.

Was I really giving my hair and scalp the same due diligence I do my face? And, if I wasn't, could it lead to similar symptoms experienced by those using Wen or products like it....

I decided to investigate by talking to Living Proof's (opens in new tab) resident hair scientist Eric Spengler to find out what really happens when you wait too long in between shampoos.

Your scalp gets pretty gnarly

The cold hard truth is that dry shampoo, while being an undeniable haircare game-changer, can only do so much for the grime that collects on your scalp as the days go on. "If cleansing frequency is not often enough, the dirt and debris could lead to discomfort," explains Spengler. As far how often you should wash your hair, he's adamant about the fact that there's no magic number of days and it varies dramatically for each individual.

So does the hair itself

Hair is a non-living fiber, which means what it attracts stays there in between washes. I'm as guilty as anyone for loving what lived-in hair does for my texture, but the fact of the matter is that it's a slippery slope. "If not cleaned, the hair may hold excess sebum, which may attract more dirt," he says.

Things get itchy

Excess debris often leads to itching, which leads to scratching—which is abrasive to the scalp and hair follicles, which in turn causes dandruff-like flaking. This can be even more of a problem during the winter time, when the scalp is more prone to dryness.

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It doesn't smell great

The skin on your scalp is like that on your body, it has oil and sweat glands, which leads to naturally-occurring bacteria that can cause excess odor, reveals Spengler. Fortunately dry shampoo, like Living Proof's Perfect Hair Day (opens in new tab) formula (Sephora's best-selling kind, FYI), absorbs oil and sweat while neutralizing odor. A healthy washing schedule teamed with proper use of dry shampoo (see our guide here (opens in new tab)) = a perfect marriage.

It's losing volume by the day

When shampoos are too few and far between, chances are the hair contains excess styling products, which weighs the hair down, says Spengler. Not to mention, lack of buoyancy can make the hair look greasy, too.

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It becomes dull and lacks shine

Dirty hair is filled with dust particles, which cloud out the color and reduces the hair's natural shine. Additionally, dirty hair tends to be dryer and coarser, which makes it less likely to reflect light. This is why it's important to wash your hair with a conditioner, which smooths the hair cuticles, particularly on your thirsty mid-length and ends.

You're losing more hair at once when you do wash it

"If an individual extends their cleaning frequency for a very long time and is not brushing often, they could see a couple of days worth of hair fibers being washed out on cleansing day," he explains. This is "normal" and isn't to say that you're losing excess hair, but as some of this may know, it can be a bit daunting when it looks like you're losing more hair than usual. I mean, it is for me.

It can make your head hurt

When hair is suuuuper dirty, you're more likely to throw it up in a bun or ponytail—especially if it's long. The problem with this is that your oily, product-ridden hair is heavier and thus putting a strain on the nerve endings around your hair follicles. Not only is it painful on the fateful day you untie your pony, it can also contribute to a receding hairline in the long run.

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Lauren Valenti
Beauty Editor

Lauren is the former beauty editor at Marie Claire. She love to while away the hours at coffee shops, hunt for vintage clothes, and bask in the rough-and-tumble beauty of NYC. She firmly believes that solitude can be a luxury if you’ve got the right soundtrack—that being the Rolling Stones, of course.