The Best Way to Wash Your Hair

Woman washing her hair
 esp2k/Getty Images

Do you remember that iconic scene from Lizzie McGuire, where resident hot guy Ethan Craft shared that his secret to perfect hair was to not repeat when shampooing, because "they only put repeat on the bottle so that you buy more shampoo." Well, it turns out that may have misled a whole generation of young people. By now, you definitely recognize "lather, rinse, repeat" as the infamous and widely-ignored directions on the back of the shampoo bottle. But why "lather, rinse, repeat?" Is it really that particular of a process, to shampoo your hair? As it turns out, yeah.

The idea of the first step ("lather") is actually not to wash the strands of your hair, but rather to clean your scalp and remove the oil and product that has accumulated since your last shampoo. Rub a quarter-sized amount of shampoo between your palms. Apply the shampoo to your scalp using your fingertips, and work the shampoo vigorously into your entire scalp (especially the back) for about 30 seconds. Lots of people wash the tops of their heads but neglect the back, and it can get gunky back there if you miss it a few times. If your hair is really long, try bending over and tip your head upside down for easier access to the back—although you might need a little more shampoo when you do it.

It is important to know that the shampoo will likely not produce a ton of lather during the first step. The type of shampoo you use will determine the amount of lather, and professional shampoo brands and sulfate free shampoo will lather less than drugstore brands. Drug store brands typically include more "bubble making" agents to create lather. People like lather. We've been taught to believe that lather means clean. Instead, though, try to focus less on lather and more on really working the product onto your scalp. 

Although rinsing your hair seems simple enough, the truth is most people don't rinse properly. This leaves hair with unwanted sebum, product build-up, and leftover shampoo. The minimum you should be rinsing for is 30 seconds, and you should be working your fingertips through your hair while rinsing. 

Now it's time to re-shampoo, and rinse the remainder of your hair. Pour a bit of shampoo into your hand—the amount you need depends on the length and density of your hair, and the brand that you're using. Professional shampoos are more concentrated, and allow you to use less. Drug store shampoos, which are more watered down, will require more product.

Work the shampoo into your hair from scalp to ends for 30 more seconds. You'll notice that the shampoo should lather up more than it did in the first step, although some professional products are so concentrated and sulfate-free that they never create significant lather. Rinse the shampoo well for at least 30 seconds. If you have extremely long or thick hair, you might need to rinse it longer. It's crucial that no shampoo stays in your hair. When shampoo isn't properly rinsed from your hair, it acts as an adherent for dirt and oil, which is the opposite of what you want.

If there's so much build-up you can seemingly never clear it out, you'll want to invest in a clarifying shampoo and use it once every month or two. It gets everything out, but overuse will damage your hair, so be careful. Sachajuan's Scalp Shampoo, ($28,) is great for clearing your hair without drying it out.

Watch Now: Wake Up to Younger Looking Eyes