Hairstylists who advise their clients to quit washing their hair admit it's a tough sell
In a salon in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville area, Irish-born hairstylist Paul O’Brien uses his fingers like a pair of scissors to examine the brittle split ends of a new client. When the client tells O’Brien she shampoos daily, he indicates his disapproval, lowering his voice to explain: “The vitamins, the oils. Shampoo strips your hair. If you’re washing it every day, you’re taking out everything that would be good for the hair that’s produced by your body. The hair just gets drier and drier.” O’Brien’s theories about not shampooing are rarely greeted warmly by his well-heeled clients, he says. “They’re amused, but they never really go for it.” He also suspects that the owners of the salon where he works might not appreciate his renegade philosophy on the pitfalls of “aggressive” shampooing. His advice could well lead to a drop in product sales, not to mention fewer visits from clients for damage control.
For six months, O’Brien didn’t wash his own hair. It began as an experiment, in part thanks to a TV chat show he remembers seeing years ago in Ireland. The guest on the show hadn’t washed his hair for “years and years and years,” recalls O ’Brien. “It caught my attention. I was interested in the natural aspects: if you don’t wash your hair, really, what is the worst thing that can happen? ” Recently, when he set out to grow his naturally curly hair long, he noticed that it suffered from dryness, a result, he figures, of the “machinery” he was using to straighten it. “I was concerned, because I was growing it, that I wasn’t going to achieve what I wanted.” So he stopped washing it. First two days, then three days. “It built from there” to six months. The only person who knew was his hairdresser.
“Certain times I would ask her to cut it and
she was a bit grossed out,” he admits. “So on those times I would lightly run shampoo over the hair, let it sink in and rinse it—no manipulation.” His hairdresser’s not the only one to be “grossed out.” “When people think of not shampooing, they think, ‘Dirty! Oh my God! Disgusting!’ ” he says, “but I’ve managed with some of my clients who have colour work to slow down their shampooing.” Certain “things”—cold water, hot water, any stimulant-increases oil production more quickly, he tells them. When not shampooing, rinse the hair with lukewarm water. “You’ll be fine.” These days, he washes his own shorter hairstyle once a week—or every two weeks.
If the female bloggers on the website The Long Hair Community are any indication, O’Brien’s got the right idea. A 26-year-old woman from Texas wrote, “I began washing less frequently partially because I wanted to minimize damage but mostly because of laziness.” Until recently, she says, she shampooed once a week. On other days, she rinsed with conditioner. “The third to seventh days I would have to wear my hair in an updo because it was gross down. However, it looked really good when put up. I really couldn’t tell you if my hair smelled bad—I have a very poor sense of smell. Over the course of five months it got to where I could wear it down on the third day, then fourth, eventually seventh. [Now]
I can wear it down all through the cycle. I’m beginning to extend my [not shampooing] to every 10 days—I don’t know where I’ll go from there.” A 42-year-old from California replied, “I’m on day four of my hair wash schedule. My husband complimented my hair, saying how great it looked today, and I got lots of looks from people on the street. The first time you go an extra day, your hair seems greasy and yucky—just braid it and ignore it.”
When asked if any of his colleagues in Yorkville share his views, O’Brien comes up with one person, a young Irish guy, Caleb O’Donovan, who used to work with him until he took a job in Limerick, Ireland. O’Donovan is 24. “He doesn’t wash his hair ever!” says O’Brien. “I was amazed that, being so young, he would have latched on to something like this. Him being in a major city, the focus is on sharp looks! Look amazing! Be clean la-la-la! And here he is presenting himself like everyone else but with a twist.” Reached in Limerick, O’Donovan says he’s currently wearing his hair short, which requires product, which means occasionally he washes with shampoo to remove the goop. Still, O’Donovan spreads the word about not washing to clients. He too admits that in this day and age, it’s a “hard sell” to get women to not use shampoo or conditioner. “But the reason I started doing it was because years ago I had a customer who always had the softest, most amazing, shiny, best-conditioned hair I ever saw. He never washed his hair. That’s what he said.” M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.