Like baking a cake or riding a bike, washing your hair is something that should be easy. And it is—in theory. But there’s so much more to it than wash, rinse, condition, and dump on as much dry shampoo as you can. Do it the wrong way (and there is a wrong way) could lead to faded color, greasy roots, and flat hair. The good news: Getting healthier, shinier hair might be as easy as tweaking your shower routine.
Mistake #1: Not soaking your hair well with water.
If you’re in a rush, or your shower is less of a luxurious step in your AM routine and more of a thing you just want to get over with, you might be tempted to cut corners. But quickly dunking your head under the water isn’t enough to get your hair sopping wet—and that could make your shampoo less effective (and kind of defeat the point of washing your hair in the first place). “A lot of times, hair hasn’t thoroughly soaked through—especially if you’re trying to get a quick wash in the sink,” says Fatima Sheikh, a stylist at Cutler SoHo. “The shampoo can’t lather up and cleanse hair as well without enough water.”
Mistake #2: Using water that’s way too hot.
We know, we know: Nothing feels better (or more cathartic) than a long, steamy shower. But while it feels good, it could be fading your ombre. “Too hot water opens the hair cuticle, allowing keratin proteins, natural moisturizing factors, and color molecules to escape, so hair loses strength and the color fades,” explains Nicola Clarke, celebrity colorist and Creative Color Director at Color Wow. Even if you don’t color your hair, hot water still does a number on it. “When the hair cuticles are opened, hair tends to frizz,” says Stephane Andre, stylist and co-creative director of Fekkai Fifth Avenue. Cooler water keeps the hair cuticle sealed, so hair doesn’t frizz and the color stays put. If you’re not into taking a cold shower (so, all of us) even making it lukewarm is better than nothing.”
Mistake #3: Scrubbing your scalp like a maniac.
If the only reason you show up for a haircut is because you love the scalp massage during the rinse portion, you’re in good company. But going ham on your scalp in the shower isn’t the same (or as good, if we’re being honest). “Wet hair is weak and more prone to breaking, so be gentle when washing your own hair,” says Dove celebrity stylist Cynthia Alvarez. “Stroke your scalp from forehead to nape, on the sides, and along the hairline rather than rubbing aggressively.” Plus, if you’re too harsh, your scalp might overproduce oil (in the same way that super-harsh scrubbing on your face can leave it feeling dry and tight, causing your skin to go into oil-production overdrive).
Mistake #4: Applying shampoo and conditioner all over your hair.
Shampoo and conditioner serve completely different purposes—and therefore belong on different areas of your hair. Shampoo is your cleanser, so you only really need it on the areas that get dirty and grimy (a.k.a. your roots, especially if you’re obsessed with dry shampoo). “If you have bangs or if your hair is slightly oily on the top of your head or around the hairline, just shampoo those areas,” says Suave celebrity hairstylist Marcus Francis. “That way you have that great texture from it being slightly lived-in with those spots feeling oil-free.” Conversely, conditioner belongs on the drier areas of your hair—that is, the mid-lengths of your hair to the ends (Why? Check out the next mistake.)
Mistake #5: Skipping conditioner altogether.
Conditioner kind of gets a bad rap, in part because some blame it for weighing hair down and killing any natural volume you might have. That only happens if you rub it on your roots, and it really belongs anywhere but. “After cleansing, your scalp regains its natural oils, but your ends are still susceptible to drying out,” says Alvarez. “That’s why you need a conditioner.” Plus, it gives hair slip and silkiness that reduces friction, so there’s less chance of breakage when you go to brush or style it. She recommends applying it first to the ends (since that’s where hair is most prone to breakage) and then spreading it up the hair to the mid-shaft.
Mistake #6: Still using a shampoo with sulfates.
Sulfates (surfactants that give shampoo its foamy lather) have gotten a ton of bad press in the past few years, thanks to rumors that they cause cancer (no) and strip skin of oil (true). Studies have deemed them perfectly safe—but even so, they’re worth avoiding if you color your hair. “Sulfate-free shampoos are much gentler and keep the cuticle tighter so color doesn’t fade as quickly,” explains Clarke. Longer time between trips to the salon? Totally worth the switch.
Mistake #7: Rushing through your routine.
Those mornings when you just don’t have time (so, every morning?) you might not feel like spending a full two minutes rinsing out your hair. “Women tend to overuse shampoo, so you really need to pay a lot of attention to rinsing it out of the scalp,” says Andre. If you let product hang out until your next wash—and pile on styling products and dry shampoo all the while—it’ll turn into buildup, which can irritate the scalp and even slow growth by clogging up the hair follicles.
Mistake #8: Going for a tricked-out, top-of-the-line shampoo.
It’s tough to turn down the nourishing, shine-boosting, volumizing-to-Beyonce-proportions promises of a souped-up shampoo. The thing is, though, that your conditioner should do all of that—not your shampoo. “Most people don’t realize that conditioning agents and silicones in shampoos leave behind a film, which can dull hair, says Clarke. “And, worse than that, those ingredients can block their follicles, impeding new hair growth and even cause hair to fall out.” Your shampoo has one job and one job only: To cleanse hair gently. Ask it to do too much and it’ll probably backfire.
Mistake #9: Shaking out your ponytail and hopping straight into the shower.
Looking at you, dry shampoo devotees. Taking a few extra seconds to brush out your hair before you get in the shower will pay off once your hair is wet. “It’ll help to loosen dirt, remove any stray hair, and untangle knots,” says Nate Rosenkranz, creative team stylist at Alterna Haircare. Since you don’t have the added weight of water in hair, it won’t put as much stress on the hair follicles (which means less breakage). Plus, it’ll make the oil and dirt that’s built up—especially if you go a few days between washing—easier to wash out.