I'm Almost 30 & Just Learned How I Should *Actually* Be Shampooing
Proper shampooing technique has always baffled me. I have long, dense, curly hair. It's also easily tangled—like, a gentle gust of wind will turn it into a rats' nest. I don't brush it out pre-shower, as it's not good for curl patterns and usually causes breakage for my brittle strands. (As curly girls know, you need a hefty detangler or conditioner and a wide-tooth comb to get through it.) So in the shower, it becomes this glob of wet hair that's hard to separate—making an impossible task of working in the shampoo evenly across the scalp. I usually really only end up getting the top of the scalp clean.
Well, I recently met editorial hairstylist Helen Reavey (and co-founder of clean scalp and hair care brand Act + Acre, which is formulated cold-pressed actives). She explained to me how I should actually be shampooing my strands: Take it in two phases. She gave me an explainer, and I jetted home to the shower to test it out.
Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a game-changer. Even if you have straight strands, textured hair, or a pixie, this will work for you.
In phase one, take your sulfate-free shampoo of choice (some of my favorites below), and dispense half of your normal dose. With a splash of water, prebuild the lather in your hands. As I've chatted about before—but Reavey confirmed—sulfate-free shampoos need a bit more attention to lather properly. You can't just run it through your hair and expect foam as you might from traditional shampoos. From there, start at the back of your head, going underneath and up—massaging as you do. And, depending on how dense your hair is, I found you might want to alternate going between under and starting behind the ears, heading in. But in this phase, you're really only focusing on the back, bottom part of the scalp. And take your time, really massaging your head. There's no shame in a good head massage.
Phase two was more like my normal shampooing routine. I used the second half of my shampoo dose, prebuilt my lather, and worked it in gentle across my hairline, crown, and sides of my head. If you feel you need a bit more product, you can add as you go—but remember, less is usually more.
Rinse thoroughly, and give it another pass. I was never one to lather, rinse, repeat in my past life—but that was back when I was using really stripping shampoos and doing so daily. Now I go a few showers between washes and am using really gentle surfactants that have hydrating actives, so another rinse is actually needed to get my scalp clean.
It worked so well for me because I was being thoughtful about my entry points. I wasn't just plopping on product and swirling it around sloppily. This not only made the product more effective at covering lots of space, but my hair was less tangly when I went to condition—and therefore, less shedding. It also forces you to spend more time shampooing1—a task we could all probably stand to take a moment longer on, regardless. (Scalp buildup is on the rise—something I've heard time and again from hairstylists and dermatologists.)
In the end, it's a good reminder of a simple beauty philosophy—one that I often need to remind myself of: No products, no matter how special and expensive, can make up for careless technique. Take time to do it right—even if it feels a bit indulgent in the moment, a daily care ritual is worth it.
Heal Your Skin.
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Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.