Do You Really Need to Wash Your Hair with Shampoo?

The Doctor Weighs In
8 min readFeb 18, 2020

By: Fayne Frey, MD

There is no good evidence that using shampoo has any health benefits or risks. However, shampoos have made it easier to get cosmetic outcomes that are pleasing.

Photo Source: iStock Photo

Do you really need to wash your hair with shampoo? At first blush, you might reply with a resounding ‘yes’ to this question. But let’s take a closer look at the evidence. Is shampoo really necessary to have a healthy scalp and clean hair?

The recent history of shampoo

Shampoo, as we know it today, is quite a recent invention considering the now daily reliance on it. According to the National Museum of American History, Drene, the first synthetic shampoo, was only introduced in the United States in the 1930s. Prior to that, hair was typically washed with bar soap.

Traditional bar soap is made from animal fat and lye. When mixed with hard water, it left a difficult to rinse soap scum on the hair. This resulted in hair that felt rough and dry. It was also unmanageable. And, because traditional soap didn’t lather well, there were plenty of marketing opportunities to promote new and improved hair cleansers.

By the 1960s, products like Breck, Prell, and Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo were found in many homes.

Shampoo is a hair care product that is designed to clean, remove sebum, desquamating skin cells, oils, dirt and sweat from the scalp and hair. It is also designed to beautify.

It is simple to formulate a shampoo that will remove unwanted oil and dirt from the hair and scalp. However, it is more challenging to formulate one that will also leave the hair soft, smooth and manageable.

To be cosmetically pleasing to the consumer, today’s shampoos are expected to do several things:

  • clean the hair and scalp
  • condition the hair
  • beautify the hair
  • give it shine
  • make it manageable

Formulating shampoo is a balancing act between removing enough of the unwanted oils and dirt so the hair appears clean while leaving the hair conditioned and aesthetically pleasing to the consumer.

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