Lather, Rinse and Repeat: This has to be one of the best-known and most misunderstood pieces of hair advice out there. I sometimes wonder what people who have never learned good shampooing technique make of that familiar phrase from their shampoo bottle. Why are they giving directions about how to wash your hair in the first place? Is shampoo really so difficult to use? You may find it surprising to hear that you have been washing your hair the wrong way for all these years.
First, the lather…
Step 1 in shampooing is not intended to clean your hair, but to clean the sebum (natural oil) and accumulated hair product from your scalp. Take a quarter-sized quantity of shampoo and rub it between your hands to emulsify it. Now use your fingertips to apply and massage the shampoo all over your scalp. Take approximately 30 seconds for this step, and remember to wash the back of your scalp as well as the top. Many people forget about what is going on back there. If you have very long hair, bend forward and hang your head down to get good access to the back of your head. Add a bit more shampoo if necessary.
Don’t expect much in the way of lather at this point. Some types of shampoo lather more than others, and depending on what you want the shampoo to accomplish, you will see more or less lather. Shampoo that is sulfate free or comes from professional lines generally doesn’t lather much. Store brands include lathering ingredients that are not actually very good for your hair, because people expect rich bubbles and see them as a sign that the product is working. Don’t worry about lather, just be thorough when you are working the shampoo into your scalp. You may also want to look into sulfate-free products and learn about why they produce fewer bubbles.
This is another step that seems pretty simple, but most of us don’t rinse for long enough, and some of the sebum and hair product gets left behind. Rinse for about 30 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing the Alphabet Song twice. Work your fingers through your hair as you rinse.
Repeat – Once more with feeling
This step isn’t exactly a repeat of what you’ve already done. This time, use a very small quantity of shampoo and rub it between your hands as before. Longer hair of course will require more shampoo, and some brands require you to use more or less as well. Professional shampoos can be used more sparingly because they are more concentrated.
Apply the shampoo to your hair, starting at the scalp and working your way down to the ends. You will probably notice more lather this time, although if you are using a professional brand there may be very little lather even at this stage.
Again, rinse very well for a minimum of 30 seconds (very long hair may require an extra repetition of the Alphabet Song). Any shampoo that is left behind will attract oil and dirt to your scalp and hair, so don’t skimp on the rinsing.
If you have very oily or dirty hair, or if you’ve been using lots of product, you may even need one more repeat of the last step again. Waiting longer between shampoos means you may need an extra “wash cycle” as well. If you shampoo your hair every day, you may be able to skip both repeats. Once you’re finished shampooing, use a conditioner that is suited to your needs. Again, rinse well.