“Do you poo or don’t you?” Surprisingly, this is a common question on hair care forums. Since the start of lockdown, the ‘no poo’ movement has gained a new crop of followers. For the uninitiated, going ‘no poo’ encourages people to stop washing their hair with shampoo for a period of six weeks, rinsing it with water alone. This, they claim, will allow the hair to ‘clean itself’ and by resisting using shampoo, it will allow the oils on the scalp to regulate.
There’s even a six-week challenge on Instagram, with more than 7,000 posts on the #nopoomethod. Susannah Constantine, the British stylist and author, is among those documenting their lack of hair washing, using #projectselfclean.
Many have seen lockdown as an opportunity to take a break from the pressure of maintaining grooming habits. Last month Unilever released figures that showed shoppers are buying less shampoo and deodorant since the start of the pandemic.
But experts have warned of the dangers of not washing your hair. “It is not possible to train your hair to be less oily and wash itself,” says Anabel Kingsley, a leading trichologist. “Apply the same logical thinking to your scalp as you do to other parts of your body. You can’t train an oily face to be less oily – nor can you a scalp.
“If you don’t cleanse your scalp frequently, excess oils, dirt, pollution and dead skin cells are allowed to build up,” she adds. “This can result in pores on your scalp becoming clogged, and can lead to the formation of pimples on the scalp.”
You wouldn’t go days without washing your face, so why would you do that to your hair? An accumulation of dead skin cells can cause irritation to the scalp, because yeasts (called malassezia) thrive in an oily environment. This can lead to visible flakes and dandruff.
“I often wish the term ‘hair washing’ was changed to ‘scalp cleansing’,” says Kingsley. “The aim of shampooing is to clean your scalp, which is a living tissue.”
Kingsley recommends those with fine-textured hair shampoo daily, as they have more oil glands on the scalp, and their hair becomes greasy faster. For medium-textured hair, wash every other day, and coarser, curly hair textures should leave no more than three days between shampoos.
A new report by beauty analysts Mintel shows a decline in the number of people washing their hair daily, but although hair-washing routines are disrupted because of lockdown, this won’t continue. It’s one thing having unwashed hair behind closed doors; an entirely different situation once you return to work.
Kingsley warns that if you don’t wash your hair regularly, bacteria starts to break down sweat, which can cause an unpleasant and musty smell.
Apart from the health impact of not washing your hair, there’s a cosmetic issue, too. ‘No poo-ers’ claim your hair will start to look more bouncy and shiny once the oils start to regulate, but experts disagree. “By refraining from washing, you are not stimulating the scalp, which causes a huge build up of dead skin cells, which stops healthy hair from growing,” says Zoe Irwin, a top stylist.
If you do want to go for longer without washing your hair, you can use a dry shampoo in between washes, however, Kingsley warns that it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for real shampoo.
As for how you style your hair if you’re going longer between washes, Irwin recommends wearing it in a loose top knot, ensuring it is kept away from the front hairline, or braid a ‘halo’ around the hairline to help disguise overgrown, greasy roots. Irwin also suggests paying attention to how high up you place face moisturiser, because it can get absorbed into the hairline.
“I have never met anyone who has successfully found that their hair improves by refraining from washing,” adds Irwin. “Some people go for many weeks or months and their conclusion is that it hasn’t made that much of a difference. It’s definitely not worth the length of time with dirty hair.”