Getty: Stockbyte

Getty: Stockbyte

The no-shampoo movement has millions of women, especially African American women, dropping detergent-based shampoos in an effort to cleanse hair in a way that leaves it softer and less likely to break off or develop split ends.

The idea is that we are all just one Wen commercial away from fabulous hair. As Wen’s inventor, celebrity stylist Chaz Dean, says shampooing is “abuse to your hair.” In some cases perhaps, but not all.  As reports of Wen-related hair loss increase and dermatologists report patient complaints with other no-poo regimens, dumping the shampoo altogether may not be the healthiest choice for everyone.

There are many situations, expert dermatologists report, when hair needs to be washed with at least a gentle detergent. The idea behind washing hair only in conditioner (co-washing or no-poo) is that you avoid stripping your hair of natural oils, which prevents dryness and damage. Unfortunately, “it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” said Angela Lamb, MD, director of Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology in New York City, in a new Mount Sinai interview about the no-shampoo related issues dermatologists are starting to see among patients. “There are some hair types that would tolerate it better than others.”

Current alternatives used to clean hair without shampoo range from mixes of essential oils and over-the-counter conditioners, to potions containing baking soda and apple cider vinegar (a bad idea for African American hair) to a variety of new products that contain natural ingredients like the exotic Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment.

When to Shampoo

There is definitely a reason for the trend. Hair is made of protein, and at the root of every hair is an oil gland, Lamb explained. The oil produced by this gland coats the hair and protects it from becoming brittle.

Hair products like gel, mousse or hair spray are one reason why people need to wash their hair regularly, Lamb said. “You don’t want to leave products in for a month,” she said. “Those are things you want to wash out, or the hair can become brittle and break.”

However, there are other reasons why people need to use a detergent shampoo on a regular basis, some health care experts contend.

For example, the scalp beneath the hair needs to be regularly cleaned of oil, dried sweat, dirt and dead skin cells, said Robert Dorin, MD, a board-certified hair transplantation surgeon in New York City.

This may be especially true for women who have weaves or wear wigs on a regular basis. Chemicals associated with hair extensions, such as glues, along with perms and dies are a stress on hair and scalp. Wearing weaves and wigs also increases the amount of sweat and bacteria on your scalp, a sure route to damaged hair. Gently shampooing once a week is needed to help keep scalp and hair healthy.

People who don’t use detergent shampoo to clean the scalp also run the risk of developing fungal and bacterial infections, Dorin said. Those using no-poo products “aren’t really cleaning their scalp. They’re not taking off the environmental impurities. They also might suffer from irritation of the scalp, flaking and pimple-like lesions.”

Lamb added that regular shampooing also helps control and treat scalp problems, such as psoriasis, eczema and dandruff.

Protecting Your Hair and Scalp

Still, experts agree, there’s no one perfect no-poo/shampoo prescription for everyone. The only way to know how often you should wash your hair is to experiment.

“You’re not putting your hair at risk by trying this,” Lamb said. “Try it and see. Frankly, I have some patients who love it, and say their hair is the healthiest it’s ever been. And I have other patients who say their hair has too much build-up; their scalp is too oily; their scalp is itching.”

The true secret to healthy, beautiful hair at any age is to find a gentle mix of natural cleansing, styling, and moisturizing products that will work best for your hair type, style and texture.