Is It Healthy To Never Wash Your Hair?

Josh Sims

2.5 min read

With several high-profile celebrities claiming to not wash their hair at all, MOJEHMEN examines the pros and cons of the ‘no-poo’ lifestyle.

When Gary Barlow recently announced the launch of a new TV show in the UK, it was a passing comment from the one-time front man of the boy band Take That that really stole the headlines. He had, he noted, just washed his hair – for the first time in 14 years. Imagine the groupies recoiling in horror; the teen favourite pop star was not so squeaky clean. The name of the new TV show? ‘Let It Shine’.

But Barlow’s hair grooming routine (or that of the actor Robert Pattison, also a no-washer) was not as questionable as it might at first seem – not even in a culture that sells us some or other kind of chemical to cleanse every inch and crack of our bodies. Indeed, a ‘no poo’ movement – as in, no shampoo, in case anyone was wondering some kind of willed constipation was the in thing – is on the march, more notably among women.

Yes, they say, for the first few weeks, unwashed hair is pretty rank. But then, as though some biological nano-tech had come into play, it effectively becomes self-cleaning, fuller, glossier. Those who suffer from hair and scalp-related complaints – from dandruff to unmanageable locks – claim their problems are over. 

Former Take That star Gary Barlow claims to have gone 14 years without washing his hair.

Former Take That star Gary Barlow claims to have gone 14 years without washing his hair.

Unsurprisingly, the gargantuan hair products industry refutes the claim that hair will clean itself. It typically points out that your hair grows out of your scalp, which is skin, with pores. And, like that organ anywhere else on your body, it requires active periodic cleaning to maintain its best health. Yeasts, (bad) bacteria and dead skin cells build up and need to be scrubbed off. That dandruff? It will only get worse, it says.

Yet by the same token, it generally acknowledges the growing desire to avoid using harsh chemicals, both for one’s personal wellbeing and, since most of it goes into the water supply and hence the food chain, for the environment. This is, after all, why parents are encouraged to use much gentler, specialist shampoos when washing a baby’s hair, even though, biologically-speaking, it’s no different to an adult’s.

And small wonder. Look at a shampoo’s ingredients and you’re likely to find the likes of sodium lauryl sulphate, for example, which makes shampoo foam up but which is also a skin irritant; or diethyl phthalate, used to help shampoos and other hair products smell nice, but which is also a suspected carcinogenic. 

Left to right: NeuHair Hair Enhancing Formula | Kiehl's Amino Acid Conditioner | English Laundry Pomade | Phytojoba Intense Hydrating Mask | Tom Ford Conditioning Beard Oil

Left to right: NeuHair Hair Enhancing Formula | Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner | English Laundry Pomade | Phytojoba Intense Hydrating Mask | Tom Ford Conditioning Beard Oil

The answer, of course, may be not to forego shampoo altogether, but to be much more judicious in your choice of shampoo – shampoo tech, so to speak, is much better today than even five years ago, employing more efficient hydrating biolipids rather than spherical blobs of moisture that can build up.

And yet, ‘no poo’ advocates still argue that, if you can hold out altogether, eventually your scalp will produce less sebum – the oils that build up and which require shampoo to remove them, but which, in doing so, also encourages the scalp to produce more oils in a lucrative (for someone) little vicious circle. Or at least, that’s how it seems – apparently there are no studies proving that sebum works on a supply and demand basis.

Quite how the back and forth of the two sides of this follicular fight can be squared remains to be seen: trichologists say don’t go there; yet those who do become exponents, even the likes of Gary Barlow, who surely has had his hair styled more frequently than most men.

So, again, perhaps when you have found your chemical-lite shampoo, the secret is in using it more judiciously, too. Get to understand your own hair’s particular needs: if you typically wash it every day, maybe out of some misguided idea of good hygiene, experiment with washing it every few days instead. Not ‘no poo’ but ‘less poo’. And plan what you can do with all that spare time in between.

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