7 Common Shampoo Mistakes That Can Cause Hair Loss (and Other Scalp Issues)

Chances are you're probably making at least one.

We learn how to wash our hair around the same time we learn the ABCs but, unlike the alphabet, this everyday ritual isn't that elementary. Even small missteps in your sudsing process can have big consequences for your scalp and hair (such as hair loss). Add types of shampoos, water temperature, and washing frequency to the mix (Did we mention co-washing?), and you've got yourself a real headache.

There is always room for improvement, once you know you're making mistakes. With that in mind, we polled professional hairstylists for their most common hair-washing mistakes.

1. You shampoo too often, or not enough.

Ah, the age-old debate of how often to wash your hair. Infrequent washing can leave your scalp itchy and irritated, but too-frequent washing can leave your scalp dry, producing more oil to compensate.

According to the experts, there's no universal answer because hair-washing frequency depends on a variety of conditions, such as hair texture and lifestyle. "If you have fine, oily hair, I would suggest washing every other day. This is also the best practice for people with dandruff," says Paul Wintner, professional hairstylist and educator for Alterna Haircare. "For people with a normal-to-dry scalp, or curly/coily hair, you should stretch out your wash days to one or two times a week maximum." Regardless of hair type, try to avoid washing every day.

2. You OD on dry shampoo.

Dry shampoo is a godsend for greasy, second-day hair; but overusing it can cause buildup, leaving strands limp and hair follicles clogged. "I usually suggest only using dry shampoo one to two times between washes," says Wintner. To extend time between wash days, he recommends Alterna Meltaway No Rinse Micellar Cleanser ($29; ulta.com), a no-rinse cleanser that uses micellar technology to trap oil and sweat from the hair, allowing you to easily brush it away.

3. You're not completely wetting your hair first.

It's easy to get impatient in the shower (especially if you're a chronic alarm snoozer) but, to achieve a deep clean, every strand needs to be soaking wet. "Not doing so will make it more difficult to spread the product through your hair and cause you to overuse shampoo," says Wintner. So, to allow your shampoo to emulsify, make sure your hair is completely wet.

4. You massage too hard.

We all love a vigorous head scrub at the salon, but don't do it every day at home. According to Wintner, massaging too hard can cause breakage, and scratches on the scalp can result in scarring. "The best practice is to use the pads of your fingertips, and not your fingernails, to scrub your scalp," he says. Using circular motions with slight pressure will be enough to cleanse the scalp and hair."

5. You're shampooing the ends.

Focus on the roots, not the ends. Intentionally emulsifying the ends can cause unwanted tangling and knots. What's more, not thoroughly cleansing clogged hair follicles can lead to hair loss if not careful.

Lather and massage the roots to mid-length, and then let the water naturally drive the soap down when you rinse.

6. You're not shampooing long enough.

Fast and furious is a great tagline, but not a great motto for washing your hair. If you're in and out of the shower in five minutes, you're probably not doing it right. "It's important to take enough time to scrub and massage the scalp well," says professional hairstylist Gina Rivera. "This is important because massaging generates blood flow, which contributes to a healthy scalp. A healthy scalp makes for healthy hair." Wintner says a good practice is to shampoo with circular motions all over your scalp for two to three minutes.

7. You use the same shampoo year-round.

Your hair needs shift with changing seasons, styling habits, and coloring. For example, a smoothing shampoo might come in handy during humid summer months, while a volumizing shampoo is probably better for the drier winter season. To reduce buildup, Wintner recommends switching off between a clarifying shampoo and moisturizing shampoo, and throw in a color-treated shampoo if your hair is dyed.

How to Wash Hair

Now that we know what not to do, follow this stylist-approved, step-by-step tutorial for washing and conditioning your hair.

  1. Soak hair with warm water before shampooing. Water is the first step of loosening up oil, dirt, and product buildup on your hair. Water is also vital for getting a rich lather, notes Lorean Cairns, co-founder and creative director of Fox & Jane. "Most shampoos are similar to a concentrate, so water helps dilute it so you're able to easily spread it across the scalp." Use warm water at this step to open up the cuticle.
  2. Start shampooing at the roots. Wintner suggests using a dime- to quarter-sized dollop of shampoo, depending on hair length and density. Since oil is produced at the scalp, start lathering up at the hairline and then massage down toward the ends.
  3. Scrub your scalp—not your hair. A vigorous scrub is great for scalp health but can be too much for strands. You don't want to rough up the cuticle, so try to gently "massage" the shampoo into your stands, not "scrunch" it.
  4. Rinse and repeat if necessary. If it's been a while since you last washed your hair, the first shampoo application might not be as effective. Do it twice if you started with very greasy or product-laden hair. A good indicator of it's still dirty after the first shampoo is if it doesn't produce a robust lather.
  5. Rinse shampoo thoroughly. Your conditioner won't be able to do its job if you have leftover shampoo lying around. Rinse thoroughly for at least three minutes—focusing on the back of the head and nape of the neck—to make sure all residue is gone. Cairns also advises wringing out hair thoroughly before applying conditioner so as to not dilute it.
  6. Apply conditioner on bottom half of hair. No matter your hair type or texture, keeping conditioner strictly on your ends is the best practice. After applying conditioner to your ends, use your fingers like a comb to rake the product through the length of hair. This will help evenly distribute product and remove tangles.
  7. Rinse conditioner with cold water. We all prefer warm water, but experts recommend dialing down the temperature for a final rinse. If you can stand it, rinsing out conditioner with cool water helps seal in nutrients and smooth the cuticle for shiny, smooth hair. It might not be the most comfortable, but your post-shower sheen will thank you.
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