As far as hair wash­ing trends go, the one cur­rent­ly catch­ing fire for the last year or so is the water only wash. BGLH writ­ers Por­tia and Chin­we of course have it cov­ered! You can see their arti­cles here for 4c hair and here as a review of Naptural85’s take on it.

In short if you have nev­er heard of it, the method invari­ably involves the  two sim­ple steps below
— rub­bing the scalp with the soft pad of your fin­gers to dis­lodge sebum and any shed scalp cells
— rins­ing hair with warm water and smooth­ing the nat­ur­al oil (sebum) of the hair down the strand

Will this method get your scalp and hair clean?

In short, yes and no. Yes, if your scalp is nat­u­ral­ly not very oily and you are gen­er­al­ly not sus­cep­ti­ble to dan­druff. Yes too for your hair strands them­selves, if you are gen­er­al­ly not using any oth­er prod­ucts heav­i­ly. No, if you are a heavy oil user and if you gen­er­al­ly get dan­druff, then this method may or may not work.

Why would a heavy oil user not be able to clean their hair and scalp with this method?

Water main­ly just dis­trib­utes the oil fur­ther down the strand. It is strict­ly not real­ly cleans­ing hair, cer­tain­ly not any­where to the capac­i­ty that a sham­poo or even hair con­di­tion­er can. This is because water lacks the abil­i­ty to actu­al­ly force the oil to dis­solve, which sham­poo and hair con­di­tion­er can.

Micro­scop­ic view of oily hair washed with only water

Is water only wash­ing going to make my hair smell?
There is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that your hair/scalp may smell dif­fer­ent but it should not real­ly be a bad smell. A bad smell is like­ly to indi­cate that the nat­ur­al bac­te­r­i­al pop­u­la­tion on your skin (scalp) in this case has changed. It is gen­er­al­ly safe to cor­re­late a bad smell to a bad effect as bad smells are intend­ed to alert us to pos­si­ble prob­lems. If this does hap­pen, do recon­sid­er mov­ing to a less strict water only wash­ing (e.g as with cow­ash­ing, the odd sham­poo ses­sion will help with pre­vent­ing build up and equal­ly for water only wash­ing, throw­ing in some sham­poo or a co-wash on occa­sion may help con­trol bac­te­r­i­al lev­els).

What bac­te­ria on my skin, should I get rid of it?
Yes we are all cov­ered in mil­lions of bac­te­ria and cer­tain types are nor­mal, nat­ur­al and even help­ful. There is even research to say that per­haps we may be over-clean­ing our skin (or scalps in this case) because prod­ucts such as sham­poos and soaps may unnec­es­sar­i­ly change the types of bac­te­ria and also par­tial­ly remove help­ful bac­te­ria. Of course going to the oppo­site extreme of not using any cleans­ing prod­uct what­so­ev­er will like­ly impact those bac­te­r­i­al lev­els too.

So, is water only wash­ing unhy­gien­ic?
My answer would be no with a very strong stip­u­la­tion that you should mon­i­tor the health of your scalp active­ly.

1. Emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases, pp 225 — 230, 2001 
2. Chem­i­cal and Phys­i­cal Behav­ior of Human Hair by Clarence Rob­bins, pp 193–310

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4 Comments on "A Scientific Look at Whether Water-Only Washing is Hygienic for Natural Hair"

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Younique by Girl Friday

I total­ly agree.. Ive not used sham­poo for 3 years now, and have noticed a tremen­dous increase in the mois­ture and poros­i­ty my hair holds

Francis Grimes

I agree with the con­clu­sion you came too. While I may only sham­poo typ­i­cal­ly once a month, I do cow­ash more fre­quent­ly when I desire to hydrate and cleanse my hair a bit. I don’t think just water would work…

T. Thomas

Most nat­u­rals use prod­ucts that need some sort of cleanser to remove. Also, sebum buildup can cause its own set of issues. Hap­py for any­one that finds this method help­ful. Just not for me…


Great read. I’ve seen plen­ty of women online who praise water only but I just can’t clean my hair like that.