No More Shampoo??
Tonight I tweeted that I stopped using shampoo on my hair. It’s been 4 weeks, and I’m having the greatest experience with it so far. I’d like to discuss this in more than 140 characters since I got many replies and questions about it, and maybe someone else out there can benefit from hearing my experience.
To be honest, hearing someone say they stopped using shampoo sounds really gross. It sounds like bad hygiene.
And you may be wondering, “Isn’t your hair oily, gross, and smelly?!”
Nope. In fact, it’s the opposite. (I’m shocked, too.)
I heard about the “no poo” movement from others online. There are a bunch of YouTube videos and beauty blogs of personal accounts, and online communities full of people dedicated to stop using commercial shampoos. Many people go “no poo” for various reasons: they are vegan, they want to train their hair to stop producing as many oils, they want to cure a scalp condition, they want to limit the amount of harsh chemicals going down the drain and into the earth, or they want to avoid harsh chemicals affecting their bodies in unintentional, negative ways. These are all valid reasons, and I respect all of them. However, none of these reasons are why I decided to stop using shampoo.
I decided to stop using shampoo because I wanted truly healthy hair. All of the commercial products that promised they would give me healthy hair just didn’t work, and I learned why: shampoo is completely unnecessary and ultimately hinders the health of our hair. I was ready to try something different to reach my goal.
At the time of this post, it’s been 4 weeks since I stopped using shampoo, and to my surprise, I have CLEAN, nice smelling, completely low-maintenance, truly healthy hair for the first time in my life. And I’ll never go back.
I’d like to preface this by saying I did a lot of research over the years trying to find the best combination of hair products and techniques to achieve healthy, nice looking hair.
Growing up, I didn’t receive much guidance on beauty; my mom is naturally pretty– she rarely ever wears makeup and doesn’t do much to style her hair– and I didn’t have grandmothers in my life to give me any old-school beauty pointers. I had to learn everything on my own, and for the first decade after puberty, I learned the hard way (via trial and error). Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge resulted in years of bad hair habits, giving me over-washed, dry, frizzy, heat damaged hair. And I must have tried to fix it with what seems like every bottle of hair crap the drugstore sold, without much improvement.
At some point, I realized what I was doing wasn’t working, and I was tired of having crappy hair. I wanted long, healthy hair, and I became very determined to reach my goal. Up until this point, I had learned everything via trial and error, so I started reading articles and blogs, watching beauty gurus online, and asking tips from professional stylists. I watched just about every “how to get long, healthy hair” video on YouTube, and practiced just about every healthy technique that worked for others (e.g. only detangle with wide toothed comb, do a final rinse with cold water to seal the cuticles, pat your head dry with a t-shirt instead of a bath towel to eliminate frizz, etc.). I went through what seems like every method in the book to get long, healthy hair.
Needless to say, I learned a lot, and prior to starting the “no poo method”, I had developed a hair care routine that I’d consistently used over the past two years which gave me the “healthiest” hair I had ever had. Basically, I was doing everything “right” and was under the impression this was the best my hair was ever going to get.
My 2-year “healthiest” hair routine before going no-poo consisted of:
- washing my hair only every 4-5 days with a sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner
- a macadamia nut deep conditioning hair mask once per week
- a wide toothed comb, not brushing/damaging hair while wet
- a dry shampoo between washes which trained my hair to not look oily until at least day five
- a heat protectant before using a hair dryer & again before using other heat tools
- only flat ironing or curling it twice per month, max
- taking vitamins and changing my diet to include lots of fish, nuts, fruits, and veggies
All of this did help my hair hair finally grow past the dreaded, stagnant collarbone-length, which is the length it gets for many people before the ends start to split and it will never grow past that. It was decently long for the first time in my life, and it appeared pretty healthy aside from the ends, which would still get dry and start to split after a few months without a trim (which seems to be normal for most people).
At this point, my hair was the longest and healthiest it had ever been, but it still wasn’t nearly as healthy as I knew my hair could be. For all the work I was doing, there were still signs of dryness, breakage, and damage at the ends. And I wasn’t about to give up just yet.
Hair Needs Oil
All the ladies and beauty gurus on YouTube with wonderful, luscious, incredibly long hair offered differing tips on how they got their hair so healthy to the point that they could grow it long. But there was one thing in particular that seemed be the common factor between them all, the one tip that seemed to separate the ladies with truly luxurious hair from the rest: They added oil to their hair.
These ladies were slathering coconut oil, argan oil, olive oil, etc daily or weekly on their hair. Some would focus it just on their ends to avoid damage, while others would put it all over their hair and scalp. They would boast about the hydrating benefits these oils would give their hair, leaving it soft, silky, and shiny, better than any other product. Their reasoning for it was that we needed to add oils back into our hair that would otherwise be there naturally to keep it healthy, hydrated, and protected from the elements. I learned that oil is great for hair.
This makes sense to me since our natural state as humans never relied on the chemicals found in today’s commercial shampoos & conditioners to keep a healthy scalp & head of hair. The natural oils our bodies produce would do that all by themselves. But we aren’t uncivilized or running around in the jungle anymore. We need something to wash away the dirt and excess oil from our hair.
Sulfates & Silicones – The main ingredients in most commercial hair products
Except, we don’t just gently wash away dirt and excess oil from our head. A main ingredient commonly found in modern, commercial shampoos is sulfates. And they’re terrible for your hair.
Sulfates are the harsh detergents that create the soapy lathering effect in modern shampoos, and they cleanse your hair by stripping the natural oils off your scalp and hair. Without our hair’s natural oils, our hair becomes dry, unprotected from the elements, and susceptible to damage. Sulfates are too harsh for hair and cause dryness (which leads to frizz), scalp issues like itchiness and dandruff, fading hair color, and hair loss. And when the scalp and hair are stripped of their natural oils, our bodies kick into overdrive to produce more and more oils to compensate. Cue us shampooing more. Cue our bodies overproducing oils. It becomes a vicious, greasy cycle. (More on sulfates here.)
But the ridiculous cycle doesn’t end there. Conditioners were put on the market to counteract the drying effects of sulfates in shampoos. Many modern commercial conditioners and styling products contain silicones which attempt to restore the appearance of hydration to our hair after stripping all of the natural oils off of it. Silicones sort of act like what the natural oils on your hair would normally do: they coat your hair with a waterproof barrier, smoothing out the cuticle and giving it shiny, “anti-humidity” properties, which many of us so desperately need to counteract our otherwise dry/frizzy hair (caused by the sulfates in shampoos). The problem is commonly used silicones are not water-soluble and can build up in your hair over time if not washed out properly. If silicones do build up on hair, the silicone barrier can prevent hydration from ever reaching the hair shaft, ultimately leading to dried out hair (that’s prone to breakage). But it’s okay, because silicones won’t build up in your hair– as long as you are using a sulfate shampoo regularly to wash them out. *Sigh…* Rinse and Repeat.
Gosh, this is a lot of work. And we could really get into an entire discussion about how profitable this ridiculous cycle is for the cosmetics industry, but we’ll save that for another day.
**Note: There are alternative ways to cleanse your hair of silicone buildup, but generally speaking, a sulfate shampoo is required.
**Second Note: Some people who go sulfate-free don’t have issues with silicone buildup, while many others do. This may be due to the fact that there are different types of silicones (some are water-soluble, but the most commonly used ones are not).
**IMPORTANT Note: I highly recommend checking out this list of sulfate/silicone/alcohol ingredients to avoid/not avoid in your hair products.
Gee, wouldn’t it be nice for our hair to just chill out on the oil production so we don’t have to use all of these expensive products that do nothing but diminish the quality and health of our hair/scalp and throw our oil production out of whack? We’ve all thought it, but we stick to shampoo because we’re worried we’d end up with hair looking like this:
And we aren’t about to go full-on Neanderthal when we have day jobs and relationships to look and smell presentable for. As I said earlier, I switched to sulfate-free & silicone-free hair products about 2 years ago, and they really did make a difference for me.
At that point, I was doing everything “right” to my hair, but my hair still wasn’t where it should have been. Genetics do play a factor at some point, but I didn’t care. I wanted Disney Princess Pocahontas hair. I wanted next-level hair. And that’s where oils come in.
What happens when you stop using shampoo
While browsing the web for hair tips, I read about a woman who stopped using shampoo all together. The images that appeared in my mind of what she must look like resembled much of Lord of the Rings’ Aragorn in the midst of battle with greasy, gritty, wet looking hair.
Instead, I saw a girl with long, blonde, soft, clean, healthy looking locks that I was truly envious of. She claimed her hair had never felt better, her scalp’s oil production slowed way down, it didn’t smell bad, and she only rinsed her hair once per week with water. HOW?! I kept searching the net to see if others had similar results. I quickly found out she’s not the only one.
There’s an entire movement of people supporting “no poo” with personal accounts of their success. Many people who stopped using commercial shampoos and switched to natural cleansers that don’t strip hair of its natural oils (like raw honey, baking soda & apple cider vinegar, or just plain water) got the same results after a while: soft, silky, clean-looking hair with volume, increased manageability, faster growth, less fallout, less oil production, better curls & waves, and they claim friends and family swear it doesn’t smell. The pictures of their awesome looking hair is pretty eye opening.
So… I don’t want to flat out say we were lied to, but… we were lied to.
The truth is, you can absolutely cleanse your hair of excess oils and make it smell good without using a harsh shampoo that messes up the balance of oils on your scalp. And no, you won’t look like Aragorn from a LOTR battle scene. You’ll just look awesome.
What happens when you stop using shampoo: Once you stop stripping your hair & scalp of its natural oils with harsh chemical shampoos, your scalp can begin to normalize and will eventually stop over-producing a stupid amount of oils. The small amount of oils that the scalp should produce don’t have to sit on the roots making them look oily. Brushing with a boar-bristle brush will help pull the oils from the roots down the hair shaft to the ends of the hair, making the roots look less oily and coating the rest of the hair with natural oils. These natural oils are so essential for healthy hair; they act like a nourishing conditioner on the hair shaft, keeping the hair & ends from drying out. These natural oils hydrate and protect the hair from the elements, promote hair elasticity, eliminate frizz, reduce breakage/split ends, increase manageability, promote hair growth, and won’t strip color from your hair. And it’s produced by your body for FREE. In my opinion, the best cleanser is warm WATER and your fingertips. That’s it. Conditioner is not really necessary… If you need extra hydration, just dab on a few drops of coconut oil on the very very tips of your hair while damp.
The Transitional Period: I’m not going to lie to you, if you go cold-turkey & switch to cleansing your hair with only water after years of using shampoo, there will be an oily adjustment period depending on how badly out-of-whack the oil production of your scalp is when you start. For me, it took about 2 weeks to get my hair’s oil under control, but I also started with a mostly-under-control scalp. Others claim it took them up to 6 weeks. If you don’t want to go cold-turkey and skip straight to using only water, there are other things you can do to keep your hair looking perfectly clean and smelling good (that won’t strip your hair of its oils) while you let your scalp normalize through the transitional period, and you never even have to take the leap to water-only if you don’t want to! (Washing with raw honey is the bomb!) One of the best parts about going “no poo” is that there are SO many ways to go about it, so many methods to try, and there’s a method that works for every hair type.
For years, I had dreamed of a world without routinely oily hair, without the need of damaging my hair with heat to get my dry ends to behave, without constantly losing the battle of humidity and frizz, without the overwhelming costs of professional shampoos & conditioners, hair masks, heat protectants, dry shampoos, styling creams, hair sprays, etc… Imagine my face when I realized this dream was completely real and had been totally obtainable this entire time…
I took the plunge 4 weeks ago. My hair has never looked or felt better. My hair has truly made it to the next level. And I’ll never go back.