When You Stop Washing Your Hair, This Is What Happens

You probably know at least one person who has embraced the "no poo" movement, which encourages people to limit (or completely stop) shampooing their hair. If you're someone who rarely goes a day or two without washing your locks, this might sound completely illogical. Here's what really happens when you stop washing your hair.

Let's start by noting that long periods between washing isn't a new trend. Angela Lamb, M.D., director of dermatology and an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, explained to Well + Good that taking a break between washing is actually taking a step back toward our ancestors. "Hundreds of years ago, people didn't wash their hair the way they do now," Dr. Lamb said.

Of course, skipping a day or two between washes is different than giving up shampoo completely. So what happens when you stop washing your hair at all? For most people, things will get worse before they get better. You probably won't notice any side effects other than some greasiness until about three days. This is when the dirt and oil that has accumulated on your strands will start to show, especially around your scalp where sebum is produced.

The long-term effects of not washing your hair

After about 10 days of no shampoo, you may begin to notice a funky smell coming from your scalp. This is from the bacteria that is thriving in the extra moisture on your scalp. The buildup of skin cells on your scalp may also cause itching and irritation. The smell and itching will likely get progressively worse if you're not using any cleansing agent in your hair.

Although the adjustment period can be rough, many people who stop washing their hair say that they eventually have a sort of breakthrough where their hair becomes used to their new lifestyle. This can result in silky, shiny, and moisturized locks that don't get dried up from modern-day shampoo. Jeni Thomas, a principal scientist for P&G Beauty and Grooming, told Best Health that the sebum on your scalp is good for your hair. "Scalp oils have a naturally protective quality–they're nature's conditioner," she said.

Although healthy hair is a great potential benefit, throwing your shampoo away will have different effects for everyone. Your hair type, genes, scalp health, and how often you exercise will all have an impact on how your hair reacts to limited washing. The best way to decide if you should stop washing your hair is to try it out and see what happens.