Showers are a balancing act, especially when you wear extensions. You need to shower frequently enough to keep your hair clean and in good condition, but not so frequently as to strip your hair of its natural oils. But that’s not even the half of it—once you’re there, it only gets more complicated. So how can you conquer your showers so that your hair ends up looking as fabulous as possible? Here, we offer you some tips for getting the most out of your wash time.

Plan ahead.
Step one of mastering your shower routine is establishing a rough schedule. This schedule will take the guesswork out of your hair care process, making it easier to manage your hair in the long run. It doesn’t need to be strict, but it should be personalized, depending on a number of things including your hair texture, scalp oiliness, extension method, exercise schedule, and general preferences. We recommend that hair extension wearers shower no more than twice a week, especially if you’re using I-Link or Tape-In extensions. But if your hair is particularly oily, naturally fine and straight, and/or you have a grueling exercise regimen, you might need an extra shower here and there. It helps to know how you like your hair to feel—ideally clean, hydrated, and bouncy with a hint of shine—and to maintain your hair so that it feels and looks its best on your second or third day post-wash. A little trial and error may be necessary to arrive at the perfect routine, but the time and energy will be worth it when your “good hair day” hair is your everyday hair.

Try a pre-treatment.
Pre-shower treatments, or pre-shampoo treatments, are designed to give you a head start on the hair maintenance process by prepping your hair with the equivalent of a moisture-filled appetizer. This enables your go-to shampoo to do its job better, while preventing it from stripping the hair dry of moisture. We also recommend brushing your hair with the Hair Extension Brush pre-shower to untangle any existing knots. This will allow the products that you use in the shower to move easily down the hair shaft for total distribution.

Set the right temperature.
Warm showers feel oh-so-nice, but they can wreak havoc on your hair. That’s because hot water lifts the cuticle of your hair, making it vulnerable to tangling and breakage. Cold water seals the cuticle of your hair, keeping the nutrients and conditioning agents you add to it safe inside the shaft. It also makes for a beautiful, shiny mane once your shower is complete. If you absolutely can’t stand cold showers (which, by the way, boast a number of other benefits), wash just your body with warm water, and reserve cold or lukewarm water for your hair, rinsing with a shot of cold water at the end.

Use the right products.
Picking the right products for your hair type and condition is so vital for healthy locks. We’ve talked about this curation process in other posts, so here we’ll just reiterate the basics: professional quality products are almost always the best bet for hair extensions, and sulfates in hair care products should be avoided at all costs. Here’s the breakdown: professional hair products reap professional results. That’s why your post-salon day hair is inexplicably smoother and more modelesque than your hair on any other day. Boutique products can also be good, particularly if they come from companies with a commitment to natural ingredients. Remember, always read the label on your products! And if you find the terms “sodium lauryl sulfate,” “ammonium laureth sulfate,” “myreth sulfate,” or any other kind of sulfate, don’t use it. While sulfates are certainly good at removing buildup from the scalp, they are generally too aggressive for hair extensions, stripping the hair of its natural oils to the point of impaired hydration and even breakage. Not great for a sustainably healthy look.

Clean and condition the right places.
The rule here is pretty simple: shampoo only at the roots, condition only from the midshaft down (focusing on the ends). Applying shampoo to the lengths of your hair will dry them out, and applying conditioner to the roots of your hair will make them appear greasy, and potentially cause hair extension slippage. If you are used to using a co-wash or cleansing conditioner, we recommend that you pre-wash your roots with a water and apple cider vinegar mix and save the cleansing conditioner for the areas south of the extension bonds. Just in case!

Employ best practices.
Best practices include: washing your hair in only one direction, not scrunching your hair or rubbing it between your hands as you wash it, treating your hair gently at all times, letting conditioner sit and absorb into your hair for 5-10 minutes before rinsing, combing through wet hair with just your fingers, etc. Best practices may vary slightly depending on your products, so consult the label and familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s recommended process.

Don’t linger.
Nobody needs a 30-minute long shower, not even if they’re washing their hair and shaving their legs in the same session. Using up too much water is bad for the environment and bad for your hair extensions, which need to return to dry ASAP to avoid matting, mold, or slippage. We get that showers can be relaxing, but if you really need a dose of watery relaxation, please opt for a bath, and wear your hair up in a protective style to keep it dry. When it comes to washing your hair, as soon as you’ve finished the shower (a.k.a. rinsed with cold water), gently wring out the water so your hair isn’t dripping wet, step out of the tub, and wrap the hair in a microfiber towel or cotton shirt to expedite the drying process.

Follow up.
Once most of the excess water has been removed from your hair, apply a heat protectant to your roots and shoot a hair dryer at it until it’s fully dry (a modest heat setting will do). For extra smooth hair, add a leave-in conditioner from the midshaft down, combing through any tangles with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb. The lengths of your hair should be left to air dry. Pro tip: once your hair is 2/3rds dry, tie it into a braid, bun, or twist to curl it overnight—or throughout the day, as the case may be. Heatless styling is the best kind of styling for any hair type, and post-shower is the best time to do it.

Troubleshoot.
In-between washes, correct any damage as it springs up with a good dry shampoo, leave-in conditioner, or scalp treatment, depending on your needs. Troubleshooting spot treatments are a great way to cut down on showers while keeping your hair looking and feeling great. They’ll also extend the life of your hair extensions in the long run!

What is your shower routine, and how does it leave your hair and hair extensions feeling? Let us know in the comments below!