A hundred years ago, even people in major metropolises considered washing their hair a sporadic luxury. Women never shampooed their hair on their own; they waited for their monthly trip to the salon to get it washed and then set. In the long span of history, it wasn’t till after the 1950s that shampooing weekly, much less daily, became commonplace. Society just didn’t mandate excessively clean hair, in part because biology doesn’t. Our culture has decreed mandates about cleanliness that are completely unrelated to our health. Shampooing, in particular, has for the first time in history become applied as often as soap. Dermatologists do debate the frequency with which you should use eco friendly shampoo, but most agree the current standards are excessive.
Except on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, beneath every square inch of your skin lie sebaceous glands. Often connected to hair follicles, these glands are most highly concentrated in your head, where most of your hair grows. Their purpose is to convert fats in the body into oils, which they secrete onto skin and hair. It’s a natural and protective system of recycling. The oil keeps skin cells moisturized and waterproofed; when it’s stripped away too often, cells die quickly and flake off. A hundred years ago, that almost never happened. Today, with people showering two to three times a day and using shampoo (even eco friendly shampoo) during at least one of those submersions, our hygienic standards can be extremely detrimental.
Every time you scrub your skin or scalp with soap or shampoo, you’re scrubbing off this layer of protective oil. People out on farms and in machineries need to clean off dirt and grime, but most Americans shower daily so their skin and hair isn’t oily. It’s part of a culture that has declared oil dirty and gross. The reality is, that oil is important, if not essential to healthy skin. Using eco friendly shampoo and soap is great for the earth, but when people use it as frequently as our society dictates, it’s worse for you.
If this sounds completely doom and gloom, it’s not. Some people have gone without shampooing for months, even years, and experienced few adverse side effects, but no dermatologist recommends complete abstinence. Sebaceous glands excrete oils continuously, which is only protective to a point. When too much accumulates, it can cause bacterial infections like acne, and hair can become matted into dreadlocks. That’s fine for reggae artists and snowboard instructors, but everyday people need to purge their hair and skin to avoid these fates. Eco friendly shampoo is important for maintaining a healthy scalp and skin. The frequency of washing with it varies with each person, but you should try to strike a balance between protecting your skin and clogging your pores.
Like many rechargeable batteries, sebaceous glands have a memory. Depending on how often you wash your hair with eco friendly shampoo, they’ll secrete different amounts of oil. If it’s daily, every 24 hours they’ll churn out enough oils to completely protect your head; if it’s twice a week, they’ll work at a much more moderate pace. Because your skin and hair is healthiest when it maintains some natural moisture, you should train these glands to produce oil slowly. If you shampoo every day, the first time you go without, your hair will feel oilier than it’s ever been. After awhile, though, the glands will sense that your scalp doesn’t need as much protection, and you can shampoo once or twice a week without looking like Bob Marley.