There's a Better Way to Wash Your Hair

The secret to shiny, bouncy, well-behaved hair is basic but key: Shampoo it right. And we all need this little refresher course!


The shower is where we do our best thinking… about nearly everything except what we're in there for. Shampooing deserves your attention, though, because it actually lays the foundation for great-looking hair, says Francesca Fusco, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The right cleaning technique (along with the right product) can make your hair a breeze to style, give it more oomph if it tends to fall flat, help smooth frizz or split ends, and solve a multitude of other hair probs. We'll unlock the perfect shampoo strategy for you (so you can go back to solving the world's problems while you wash).

How do the pros do it? Here are three steps to a smarter clean.

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1 Detangle Before You Shampoo

Hair can break easily if you attack snarls post-shower, so before you even get wet, gently brush through it with a soft, boar-bristle brush. But if you've got a ton of tangles, wait until your hair is wet and apply a little conditioner from midshaft to ends. Then work through knots with a wide-tooth comb before shampooing, says Fusco. This can save delicate or damaged hair from being roughed up or dried out during the shampooing process, because conditioner smooths and protects the outer cuticle layer of the hair shaft.

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2 Shampoo Your Scalp, Not Your Hair

Do you heap your hair on top of your head and scrub like it's a pile of dirty laundry? Tweak your technique: "All that friction can cause breakage and frizz," says Jet Rhys, a hairstylist in San Diego. Instead, use the pads of your fingertips to rub your scalp back and forth in vertical motions (circular scrubbing can create tangles).

Do this for at least one minute to loosen product buildup and dead skin cells; if you have a very oily scalp or dandruff, tack on an extra 30 seconds. Then rake your fingers through the length of your hair to distribute suds to the ends. A half-dollar-size dollop of shampoo is enough for most heads of hair, but if yours is extra-long and thick, or you wash only once a week, double that amount or repeat the process to make sure you get clean, says Kyle White, lead colorist at Oscar Blandi Salon in New York.

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3 Don't Skimp on the Rinse Cycle

Water temp matters — you want it to be warm, not hot, which can strip out natural oils. A steamy shower also swells the cuticle, the shingle-like surface layer of the strand, making it more vulnerable to moisture loss, damage, and color fading, says Rhys. When you're rinsing, use your fingers to separate hair gently and get out all those suds. Then give your hair a good squeeze before applying conditioner. "Too much water dilutes the conditioning ingredients," White says.

After you've conditioned and rinsed well, your hair should feel smooth, not slippery, to the touch. And that tip about rinsing with cold water to make your hair shinier? It actually works: This helps to flatten the cuticle, so strands reflect light and look glossy, says Rhys. It's also a big waker-upper!

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4 Quick Question: What's the Deal With Sulfates?

So many unpronounceable ingredients on those labels. Here's a quick primer: Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate, are cleaning agents in traditional shampoos. "These are very effective cleansers that remove dirt and excess oil," says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson. But if you use one every time you wash, it may strip your hair of natural oils and dry it out, not to mention fade your color and dim your shine.

Milder sulfates such as sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate (yes, they sound the same but they're different) were designed to clean without the harsh side effects, and you can use them every time you shampoo. Sulfate-free washes contain even gentler cleansers, such as cocamidopropyl betaine (derived from coconut oil), that are less drying and better for damaged, parched, or color-treated hair.

This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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