simple routine for natural hair

How Often Should You Wash Afro Hair? 6 Tips for Wash Day

How to wash 4c afro hair
Before we dive into the answer to perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions about natural hair – let’s navigate through the rules, misconceptions, myths  so that we can map out an effective routine for your wash days.

This won't be just any routine, it'll be one that can really work with you and for you so that you can truly indulge in your natural hair journey. By the end of this post, you will be able to answer the question:
"How often should you wash afro hair?"
...and upgrade your natural hair routine with 6 simple wash day tips.

Nothing worth doing ever comes easily, but that doesn’t mean that caring for your curly, kinky, or coily natural hair has to be difficult. It can actually be a way of investing in yourself and learning about the versatility of your hair.

The natural hair and curly girl movements have gained in popularity over the past decade – as well as attracting new membership during lockdown making it easier than ever to build a new routine or improve on your existing one.
So, whether you are transitioning, have done a big chop, or are just looking to improve your existing routine – there is support, inspiration and education available for you to explore.

Granted – there are more resources, products, and communities than ever. They are all available at our fingertips... but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier – in fact, sometimes it can make it harder to know where to start!

From decoding terms and abbreviations, deciphering the must-haves from the must-avoids... it can all be challenging to get to grips with! Not to worry though, because at ODYSSEY BOX we are here to help guide you on your way.

Almost a decade ago, we were exactly where you are, and we were asking the same questions:
  • Which products should I be using or avoiding in my natural hair routine?
  • How often should I be washing my natural hair?
  • Can I really get away with water only washing?
We have made a lot of mistakes, discoveries and changes over the years, not just in our routines, but in some of yours too – both in person and through our online consultations. So, we’re confident that we can continue to support you.

For us, natural hair is less about the “rules” and how closely you follow them, and more about not just accepting your curls, kinks or coils, but embracing them and enjoying the journey that is taking care of them.

When it comes to creating your natural hair routine and deciding how often you should wash your afro hair, it is particularly important to consider both cleansing and conditioning.

In this post we will also be looking at:

  • Why both cleansing and conditioning are important

  • The techniques you can use to cleanse and condition more effectively

  • How you can adapt your routine to suit your lifestyle, and circumstances

  • How you can make your routine more personal.


Why is cleansing your natural hair regularly so important?

Healthy hair growth and maintenance start with a healthy scalp. This means that cleansing both your hair and scalp well, and cleansing them regularly lays the foundation of any effective natural hair routine.

Why is this?

Well, we already know that each of our hair strands grows from our scalp, but there is more to it than that...

Each individual hair strand grows from its own individual follicle on the surface of your scalp. These follicles contain sebaceous glands, or oil glands, which produce sebum to protect your scalp from environmental damage and infection.

Sebum also travels down the length of your hair shaft and plays an important role in keeping curly, kinky and coily hair remains both hydrated and moisturised… But how does this affect how often you should wash afro hair?

Well, it is just as important that our follicles, and our scalps remain clean so that our hair can really thrive. Prolonging our wash days for an extra day, or skipping shampooing completely during a quick refresh, it isn’t the end of the world...

...but neglecting cleansing in our routines in the long term can cause our follicles to become clogged with sebum, or blocked with dead skin cells, and this can in turn have an effect on the health of our hair and its growth.

In the same way as the rest of our skin, our scalp is always regenerating and creating new skin cells. So, the dead skin cells need to be washed away regularly. Our scalp will also give us signs that let us know that it’s time to get cleansing.

How do you know when it is time to cleanse my natural hair and scalp?

Have you ever restyled your hair between wash days only to find that your scalp has produced noticeable flakes? Or perhaps, you have worn a protective style that became itchier and itchier as the weeks went on?

These are just a couple of the experiences that we have in common, and that our scalps share with us to let us know to clean it well. The time that it takes does vary from person to person but you can work out how long it takes for you.

For example, if you lead an active lifestyle and you wear your hair in loose styles such as wash and gos, twist outs and braid outs –you might find that you need to wash your hair more often.

Whereas, someone who is less active and so produces less sweat between wash days and wears their hair in protective styles (allowing for easier access to refresh and maintain scalp care) may wash their hair less often in comparison.

So, what is our recommendation for how often should you wash afro hair? For us, cleansing weekly means that we all avoid any tightness or itchiness that comes from a dry scalp.

It is also the optimum time for each of us to cleanse our hair strands before they start to feel brittle or weighed down too. This point might come twice a week for some, fortnightly, or even monthly for others.

What techniques can I use to cleanse my hair?

When you actually get down to cleansing your hair, your approach may vary depending on its length, and the styling products you use:

  • If you have longer hair, you may want to work in 2-4 or more sections, cleansing each one in turn, or even wash your hair in twists.

  • If you use heavy oils, butters and gels, you may want to shampoo your hair twice.

Regardless of the method you choose, ensuring that your hair is saturated, and that you lather the shampoo into your scalp well. Then rinsing it from your strands thoroughly is essential.

So, here is what you need to do when cleansing your natural hair:

  1. Look out for signs in how your scalp feels to decide how frequently you want to cleanse your hair. A week is a good starting point for many and from there, you can determine whether you need to cleanse more or less often.

  2. Find a method to cleanse both your hair and scalp that works for you. You can also consider tools such as a scalp massager brush to remove heavy build up, or butterfly clips to keep your hair sectioned. Lastly, be prepared to adapt.

  3. As your hair grows, or as you become more or less active, and the seasons change, your cleansing routine will change too.


Why is it important to condition your natural hair regularly?

Now we have taken care of our scalp and laid our foundation, let’s build on it for healthier hair strands too. Conditioning supports stronger and smoother hair, not to mention the emotional support we get from a good dose of slip in our detangling sessions.

But if the scalp is the foundation of healthy hair, can conditioning really be that important? Well, you can be the judge of that! Let's look at two types of conditioner that you might encounter during the wash day process.

Rinse out conditioners and deep conditioners can help to balance the pH of your hair. When you shampoo your hair, it raises the cuticles, or outer layer of each hair strand which can create frizz and tangling.

Applying conditioner can help to smooth these cuticles as well as nourishing them with natural oils, butters and extracts. So, how does this affect how often you wash your afro hair?

Although conditioning is an extra step, it is a powerful one. By helping to smooth your hair strands, conditioning can help to minimise mechanical damage, the damage that comes from brushing, combing and manipulating your hair.

This helps to minimise breakage, and in turn you can retain more length. There will be times when we aren’t able to sit down for a full deep conditioning session, or worse – when our favourite masks are running low.

In times such as these a rinse-out conditioner such as the Avocado Smoothie Conditioner might come in handy. Or perhaps you like to alternate between the two types. Fortunately, these aren’t the times that will make or break our routines.

However, if conditioning never features in your routine, or only instead of other steps, namely shampooing... this is where problems may arise. So, if you need more frequent conditioning, this can impact how often you should wash afro hair.

Let's look at an example:

Have you ever seen your hair transform after weeks of missed deep conditioning treatments come to an end? Or saved time detangling with a good slippery rinse-out conditioner?

These are definite high points in our hair care journeys and it’s an experience that we see so often across social media because of how satisfying it is! Like anything, what works well for one person, may work differently for the next.

For example, if you have a lot of hair, and thick hair strands, or coarse, high density hair – you may find that your hair can tolerate more frequent deep conditioning sessions without feeling weighed down.

However, you have finer hair, you might find that rinse-out conditioners serve you better without having to compromise on bounce and volume. Despite the “rules” telling you to deep condition every wash day, or on a weekly basis...

... you actually only have to deep condition as much as your hair needs you to. In some cases, a rinse-out conditioner may even work better for you too. That's why we offer wash day sets – to help you explore what gets you the best results.

For us, conditioning does mean deep conditioning on a weekly basis with heat for our high density, low porosity coils, or those of us with high density high porosity curls can also get away with using a rinse out conditioner on a weekly basis.

A week is the amount of time it takes before our strands start to feel dry, our styles need a refresh and applying extra product to our hair doesn't have the same affect...

Plus it aligns with our cleansing routines and when our scalps feel irritated and dry, and so it makes sense for us. Just remember: what works for you might look different!

What techniques can you use to condition your natural hair?

When it comes to conditioning hair, your approach may vary depending on the length of your hair and the condition it’s in:

  • If you have longer hair, you may want to work in 2-4 or more sections, applying conditioner to each one in turn, combing or brushing for more even distribution before leaving it to sit.

  • If your hair is particularly damaged, you may leave your conditioner in for longer (up to an hour).

Regardless of how you choose to conditioner, it is important that you apply your conditioner to your hair, not your scalp and coat all sections of your hair strands – including the ends.

So, here is what you need to do when conditioning your natural hair:

  1. Decide how frequently you want to use your deep conditioner vs your rinse out conditioner. It is recommended to condition after every cleansing session, but you can change what type of conditioner you use to do this.

  2. Find a method to condition that works for your hair length and its current condition. You may also want to introduce heat to enhance the benefits of the conditioner, but we would recommend against overnight conditioning.

  3. Once you have this down. You will be more than ready to adapt should you choose to dye your hair, or as we transition from cooler to warmer weather and visa-versa.

If you can incorporate these steps into the cleansing and conditioning stages of your routine, you will be 6 steps closer to building or improving your natural hair routine.

You will also be able to learn from your own mistakes and experiences, discover new qualities in your hair and how you feel about it and observe them as they change, just as we did.

Your natural hair journey doesn’t have to be long, complicated and daunting, it can be an odyssey – a long exciting adventure with lots of activities. So, let’s summarise those activities:

  1. Look out for signs to determine how frequently you want to cleanse your hair.

  2. Cleanse your hair and scalp with or with out sections, twists or a scalp massager brush.

  3. Adapt how frequently you cleanse and how you cleanse from summer to winter and as your hair grows.

  4. Decide how often you want to use your deep conditioner vs your rinse out conditioner. Use a comb, brush, or your fingers to evenly distribute your conditioner, in sections or without them.

  5. Condition more often in cooler months if you need to, or incorporate more deep conditioning treatments.

  6. Be mindful of how changes such as dyeing your hair will impact how much you condition.

Now you are well on your way to establishing a routine that you can make your own and use as a well-deserved self-care experience. Take it one step further and download our FREE 11 Step Guide to Building and Improving Your Natural Hair Routine.

What changes are you looking forward to making on your next wash day? Tell us in the comments.



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