The idea that hair grows faster when it's dirty is one of those myths surrounding Black hair that won't go away. While the concept of never wetting your hair again is outrageous, there is actually some merit to this myth. So what's the truth about dirty hair and growth?
Part of the reason why Black people of yesteryear didn't shampoo as often (or go swimming) is because—before relaxers and even after they hit the mainstream haircare market—the primary method for hair straightening was by using a hot comb. After spending several hours shampooing, drying, and straightening the hair with a hot comb—which can cause severe burns to the scalp—it's no wonder they wanted their hairstyles to last as long as possible.
Then, other people just aren't as adept at caring for their mane. They wait for their stylist to cleanse and condition their hair, and if their beautician is booked solid for the next four weeks, they wait until they're available. We get it, but taking your hair into your own hands is essential for its health.
Disclaimer: This "never washing" idea does not include co-washing. The co-wash process includes plenty of water, and even women who steer completely clear of traditional shampoos can have clean, healthy hair.
We spoke with haircare expert and celebrity stylist Kim Kimble and trichologist Precious Rutlin to dispel these myths. Ahead, we investigate whether washing your hair less can make your hair grow faster.
Meet the Expert
- Kim Kimble is a celebrity hair stylist and star of WeTv's hit reality series, L.A. Hair.
- Precious Rutlin is a virtual trichologist and owner of Precious Rutlin Hair & Wellness Consulting
Does Dirty Hair Grow Faster Than Clean Hair?
The fact of the matter is that hair needs to be cleansed pretty regularly. Never putting water on your hair is unsanitary and may lead to odor, buildup, and even dryness and breakage. Kimble says, "It is actually a big myth that dirty hair grows faster than clean hair. Having dirty hair can cause bacteria growth and scalp irritation. The bacteria growth can cause scalp diseases which can in turn cause your hair to fall out or not grow properly."
With that out of the way, it's important to address why the notion of dirty hair promoting hair growth is still so prevalent. As Rutlin told me, "A lot of people with kinky, curly, and coily hair textures have not been taught how to properly maintain their hair at home. And social media, oftentimes can be misleading. Many times when you go on social media you see Black people mainly with long, sleek, shiny, “good” hair. There is very little positive messaging to reinforce to love the hair that you do have." And part of loving the hair you do have is taking care of it by washing it.
One of the reasons some people believe not cleansing hair promotes growth is because too-frequent washing encourages dryness, brittleness, and breakage—all of which happen to be some of the same issues you may face by not washing enough. If you shampoo too often (for Black hair, too often could be daily with a harsh, sulfate-laden cleanser), yes, your hair will dry out and break. Anyone's hair may become damaged if they shampoo every day.
Why Skipping Washes Can Hurt Your Hair
While too frequent washes can cause breakage and dryness, not washing at all can also cause a myriad of issues. As Kimble told me, "It can cause bacterial growth and cause other scalp diseases and irritations. The buildup clogs the pores on the scalp." Natural oils, hair products, sebum from your scalp, and even air pollution can all build up on your hair. Think about what happens then when you never wash it out or only wash once a month or so. The gunk probably isn't helping where growth is concerned.
Rutlin also detailed some scalp conditions you can get if you don't wash your hair often enough:
- Trichodynia (Scalp Dysesthesia): A painful sensation on the skin of the scalp or the hair itself and becomes more intense when hairs are touched.
- Malassezia (Yeast Overgrowth): This is a monophyletic genus of fungi found on the skin and associated with a variety of conditions, including dandruff, atopic eczema/dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and folliculitis.
Once or twice a week, shampoo or cowash with a gentle product on a regular schedule to keep the scalp clean and healthy.
How Often Should You Really Wash Natural Hair?
This question doesn't really have a correct answer, since the number of washes is really dependent on your particular scalp and hair. Kimble's advice? "You should really wash your hair at least once per week, if not every 2-3 days."
And if you're more active and are prone to a sweaty scalp, Rutlin suggests that everyday washing isn't as bad as you think. "There is nothing wrong with shampooing your hair on a daily basis. Co-Washing would be a great substitute in this case, because you are cleansing the hair and [moisturizing] at the same time. The key is paying attention to the ingredients in the hair products you are using and sealing in the moisture to keep your hair strands from drying out."
Hair usually grows roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch per month, although some people might notice more growth when they cleanse their tresses and scalps more often than they did in the past. The more you moisturize your hair and scalp with water, the healthier your head will be. Hair growth flourishes from a clean, healthy scalp. The bottom line is that dirty hair doesn't grow any faster than clean hair, so you may as well have a clean scalp and fresh tresses. Your strands will look better, feel better, and be healthier, too.
Try These Shampoos For Natural Hair Growth
These shampoos are so good that you'll wonder why it took you so long to cleanse your hair regularly.
Avocado oil, rosemary leaf extract, shea butter, rose flower extract, oat extract combine to create a luxuriously creamy, sulfate-free formula. It's perfect for those with type 4 hair types.
The Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo is formulated with a blend of tea tree oil, pro-vitamin B5, black cumin, tumeric oil and a touch of spearmint for a tingly fresh scalp.
Natural ingredients like proteins, avocado, jojoba, and coconut oils are meant to moisturize and help cleanse your hair and scalp without stripping your natural oils. It's also paraben, sulfate, and phthalates free and helps add volume and shine to your hair.
This gentle clarifying shampoo is chock full of good-for-your-hair antioxidants like matcha green tea, panthenol, cucumber and rosemary leaf extract, and ultra-hydrating aloe vera.
Qhemet Biologics' wheatgrass-infused shampoo promises to help treat itchy, inflamed scalps, thinning edges, and damaged ends. It's also formulated with barley, alfalfa and aloe vera meant to help nourish and soothe stressed hair.
Yes, this nearly $50 shampoo is a splurge, but it is certainly worth it if you crave supermodel-worthy hair. The brand's signature blend—watermelon, lychee, and edelweiss flower extracts—prevents your dye job from fading and smells as delicious as you could imagine. Mediterranean cypress extract, argan, and maracuja oil are meant to tame frizz and replenish your dry, thirsty strands.