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For years, social media has been abuzz with conversations about “hair training.” The idea is that the natural oil from your scalp is the basis for strong, healthy hair. Each time you shampoo, though, you’re removing those oils, and if you shampoo too often, you’re stripping your scalp, which then causes it to compensate by producing even more oil. Soon, you’re in a cycle of stripping and overproduction that causes your hair to be greasier than it would be if you just cut back on shampoo.
The thought of achieving longer, stronger, and healthier hair by doing less is certainly alluring — especially for anyone who struggles with dryness and breakage, or anyone who’s looking to reinvigorate curly or color-treated hair (both of which are subject to more damage). Then, there’s the thought of all the potential time and money you could save. After all, fewer wash days translate to less product usage and time spent drying and styling. So, yes, it all sounds great, but what do the experts think? Is training your scalp and hair to be less oily a real, scientific possibility? If so, what’s the best way to go about it? Does it depend on hair type and texture?
Ahead, find answers to these questions and more from the big three of the hair industry: a trichologist, a dermatologist, and a hair stylist.
The Trichologist’s Take On Hair Training
Dr. Dominic Burg, trichologist and Chief Hair Scientist at evolis Professional, says that although there are many vocal advocates for hair training, it’s not as cut and dry as people think. “It’s quite difficult to get to the bottom of the truth with this one, as everybody’s oil levels are different and will vary with age, hormone levels, and time of year,” he says.
To better understand the concept of hair training, you must first understand scalp and hair biology. As Burg explains, “Each hair pore contains a sebaceous gland that produces special waxy sebum. The oil production by the sebaceous glands is mainly determined by hormones in the body; so, if you are on contraceptive medication, going through menopause, are pregnant or at a specific point in your monthly cycle, then your oil levels may be varying.” He adds that factoring in hormones and your unique oil levels means that the frequency of your hair washing routine is less likely to impact your oil production levels, if at all. This is because hair care products, like shampoo, impact oil levels on the hair fibers and scalp — in other words, they remove oil that has already been produced. They don’t necessarily impact the actual production of oil by the sebaceous glands. In this way, Burg says, “it can be hard to determine what our natural baseline is — be it oily, dry or in between.”
So, what’s the deal with proponents of hair training claiming they see a major improvement after pairing back shampoo use? Burg says it might be a kind of confirmation bias. “People attempting to ‘train’ the hair may be observing their hair more closely than they previously did and potentially noticing a normal pattern, or even a worsening of quality, as a positive change because of the change in routine,” he says. In other words, it may be a lot more psychological than people think.
The Dermatologist’s Take On Hair Training
Dr. Nava Greenfield, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, has a slightly different perspective. She says that there is indeed evidence that hair care products can have an effect on the actual production of oil by sebaceous glands. “Scalp oil or sebum production is primarily a result of your specific genetics,” she says. “But, depending on your genetics and hormonal makeup, oil glands on the scalp can be responsive to external stimuli or inhibitors. The concept of sweat gland responsiveness indicates that ‘training’ a scalp is indeed a possibility under certain circumstances.”
It all comes down to the sebaceous glands and their receptiveness to certain “signals” that monitor oil levels on the scalp and hair. “By leaving the natural oils and hydrating factors produced by your scalp sweat glands on your scalp, you are allowing signals to be sent to oil glands to down-regulate oil production,” Greenfield explains. “Shampooing too frequently can send the opposite — signals that encourage sweat glands to up-regulate oil production because of the sense that the scalp is too dry.”
So, while hair training certainly isn’t an exact science, Greenfield says it can be beneficial in certain circumstances — especially for people with curly and color-treated hair. “[These hair types] have a stronger potential to dry out easily and could benefit more from natural oil and sweat production to keep the scalp and hair moist and healthy,” she says.
The Hairstylist’s Take On Hair Training
Erinn Courtney, hair expert and stylist from StyleSeat, believes that the oiliness of the scalp is unchangeable. However, creating the right hair care routine can help manage it, and the first step is to consider your hair type and texture. “How often you shampoo definitely depends on hair texture. Someone with thinner, straight hair would need to shampoo way more often than someone with thick, coiled hair,” she says. “Curly hair and color-treated hair need to be moisturized constantly to maintain health. Frequent shampooing would dry the hair out and cause brittleness and breakage.” On the flip side, frequent shampooing might be necessary for fine hair, as going without it “may cause it to be oily and a bit weighed down, not allowing for it to be light and bouncy.”
How To Try Hair Training
Clearly, hair training can not easily be summarized with a “yes it works” or “no it doesn’t” answer. At the end of the day, it may be worth trying, especially if you suspect that you’re shampooing too often. “Depending on what you use, washing too often will most likely lead to dryness and brittleness in the hair and dryness and irritation of the scalp,” Burg warns. It all comes down to the products you’re using, as “some gentle cleansers if used with a good quality conditioner can be used daily.”
And if you want to try it for yourself, the experts say go for it. “There is no harm in trying,” Burg says. “See what works best for you. Invest in a good dry shampoo to help with any excess oiliness. If you start to notice excess flakiness or itchiness, particularly if these are large clumps or sticky, go back to more frequent cleansing as this may be the first signs of dandruff developing.”
All three experts agree that finding a gentle yet effective shampoo is the key, whether you’re hair training or not. Greenfield recommends finding a shampoo that’s formulated without sodium lauryl sulfate or fragrance (both of these common ingredients can be harsh and strip oil). “I don’t recommend stopping shampooing cold turkey, but I do recommend switching products to something that is more gentle and then titrating down the number of washes per week slowly until you reach one to two hair washings per week as the goal,” she says.
Courtney has similar advice. She recommends putting yourself on a wash schedule and going from there. “Try shampooing once a week and see how that works. If you need more shampoos, try every few days. If you find that you could go more than a week, try two weeks!”
Ultimately, the goal with hair training isn’t to go without shampoo altogether — it’s to find a frequency that works for you and your hair, whatever that may be.
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