How to Transition to No-Poo Without Looking Oily / How to Train your Scalp’s Overactive Oil Production [Initial Oily Transitional Phase FIXES]
So you’re convinced you want to stop using shampoo and reap the benefits of natural hair care– great! But maybe you haven’t started yet because you’re dreading the daunting “initial oily transitional phase,” or maybe you’re already there but struggling through it. Maybe you have a day job or classes to look presentable for each day, and the whole point of over-washing your hair in the first place was to avoid looking oily. And maybe having a greasy-looking head for a month or two is out of the question… ain’t nobody got time for that.
Normalizing your scalp’s oil production is crucial for a successful shampoo-free routine. The benefits are well worth it: your hair will look cleaner for longer so you won’t have to wash as often, as a result you’ll spend less time and money on hair care, and you’ll have to damage your hair with heat less often (if you use a hair dryer every time it’s wet). And I promise you, anyone can do it, including you, and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you’d think. I went from needing to wash my hair once per day to only once per week, many others have as well, and you can too!
Here are some tips I highly recommend you follow to get through the oily transitional phase as quickly, seamlessly, and as oil-free as possible– to get you closer to beautiful, truly healthy (and clean!) hair.
Two rules to follow
I have found that the two most important rules to follow to successfully normalize your scalp’s oil production are:
- Stop stripping the natural oils off your head with harsh, overly-cleansing shampoos and
- Wash your hair less often to allow your hair’s natural oils to sit on your scalp.
Obviously #1 is covered if you’ve switched to a no-poo method, but I really can’t stress #2 enough. You really want your hair’s natural oils to sit on your scalp as much as possible during the transitional phase so your scalp can take the hint sooner than later that it’s adequately nourished and can stop over-producing oils. The best way to do this is to avoid washing your hair every day, and wait longer and longer between each wash. Even a method as gentle as washing your hair with only warm water certainly won’t strip your hair of its natural oils, but it will wash away a lot of the excess oils off your scalp. So avoid washing your hair, practice the tips below between washes to keep your hair from looking oily, and then wash your hair only when it gets to the point where it still looks oily even after practicing the following methods. Then try to go at least that same amount of time or longer before the next wash. Repeat.
Your goal here is to be able to go 7 days before your hair starts to look oily again, and then at some point your scalp will get used to this routine and cease to look oily anymore. (I went from oily roots on day 2, to not looking oily even on day 10. It is an obtainable goal!) Once you reach this point, your scalp has normalized– woohoo! From that point going forward, I recommend you do a thorough no-poo hair wash once every 7-10 days. I just use warm water and scrub really well once every 7 days, and that is thorough enough for me and many other people. If you exercise or get sweaty during the week, you can rinse your hair with cool water with little to no scrubbing, just to rinse away dirt and sweat (but not oils) between your weekly no poo washes.
Here are my tips for not looking oily between washes:
Tip #1: Distribute oils away from your roots
I’ve talked about this in previous posts (here and here), but I will also include this here because it is so important. One of the most essential tips for managing the oils on your head is to make your primary hair brush either a boar-bristle-brush or a wooden hair brush (100% boar bristles or wooden bristles, no nylon bristles). These natural bristles are porous and will soak up hair oils, allowing you to pull the oils away from your roots and down to the ends of your hair with each brush stroke. Using one of these brushes will make your roots look softer and less oily, and will utilize your hair’s natural, hydrating oils to nourish the ends of your hair which are further from your scalp and susceptible to dryness. Your hair’s natural oils are the BEST at conditioning your hair, so your ends will thank you for the hydration, especially since you won’t be getting it wet and slathering conditioner on it every day anymore. This is your new conditioner, and trust me it works better than anything else!
To properly brush away oils: Section your hair into about 1-inch sections and brush from root to tip. Sectioning your hair will help get the brush really close to the base of your roots and reach all areas of your scalp. After you finish each section, brush through the ends of your hair to get all the oils off the brush and on to the tips where it’s needed most. Brushing this way may take a little bit longer than you’re used to, but it helps avoid an oily buildup near the roots so much during the transitional phase. I love doing this right before bed since it’s calming, tires me out a bit, and when I wake up the next morning, my hair had time to soak up the oils overnight so it looks even less oily in the morning (8-12 hours later). A natural brush will ultimately help you go longer and longer between washes and will keep your ends hydrated and your roots from looking oily. You can brush every day or every other day during the transitional phase. Just make sure your boar bristle brush is clean before every use, especially during the transitional phase, otherwise you’re not really soaking up oils, just moving around last week’s hair oils with the ones currently on your head.
Curly hair? You probably hate me right now if you rock natural curls, since brushing most likely unravels your curls & gives you a crazy lion’s mane. But don’t worry, you can skip daily brushing this since it’s a bit harder to see oily roots on curly hair! Instead, you can wait to brush until right before you wash your hair, so you can hop right in the shower and reset your curls. (You can also brush and then just wet your hair with cool water without scrubbing, as this won’t really wash away hair oils, but can help you reset your curls.) But please still use a natural brush! Brushing oils through your hair really does help move the oils away from your roots so you can get a more effective hair wash. You can also try out a wide-toothed wooden comb or a wooden brush since these bristles are generally further apart, and wood is supposed to work just as well as boar-bristles. More info via Step 2 from this post.
Tip #2: Switch to a Silk Pillow Case
Another way to distribute the oils on your hair– effortlessly– is to use a 100% silk/satin pillowcase. Unlike cotton, silk pillowcases help distribute the oils through your hair while you toss in your sleep. Bonus: Silk pillow cases can help keep your hair from frizzing and looking like a hot mess in the morning.
Tip #3: Dry Shampoo?
Dry Shampoo is a powder that you can rub into your hair to soak up excess oils and refresh the scent of your hair. It’s literally magical, and the perfect solution to a morning time crunch when you just don’t have enough time to wash and dry your hair or properly brush all the oils away from your roots. Dry shampoo is used without having to get your hair wet, the oil-free effects last all day, and it can help you wait another day before having to wash your hair. I recommend using as little dry shampoo as possible since the powder does soak up the oils on your head, and you really do want those oils to sit on your scalp as much as you can so your scalp doesn’t compensate by producing more oils. I recommend just using it along the hairline for up-dos, or just along the part line and on fringe for hair that’s styled down. This way, only the parts seen by everyone else looks clean, but the underneath sections of hair can stay oily but hidden.
Dry shampoo doesn’t actually remove excess oils, it really just adds a powder to your hair that soaks it up. The powder does stay on your head until the next time you wash/rinse it out, so aim for a gentle, non-irritating and non-drying formula. I definitely prefer and highly recommend using a natural DIY dry shampoo, but you can use a store-bought dry shampoo if necessary. Just watch out for and avoid silicones and drying alcohols in the ingredients.
For a simple, cheap, and natural dry shampoo, consider using arrowroot powder (found in health food stores) or cornstarch to soak up excess oils on your scalp. These powders are white like most dry shampoos, and blend excellently into blonde hair. For dark hair, mix together a ratio of 1/2 arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and 1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder. This is the mixture I use. The cocoa powder helps the mixture blend into dark hair much easier and smells amazing. For red hair, you can add cinnamon. These are all natural (edible) ingredients that shouldn’t irritate your scalp, and with this method you don’t have to worry about putting chemicals, preservatives, drying agents, or silicones into you hair that aren’t easily washed out. I really love this DIY alternative for dry shampoo. It makes my hair look and feel so soft and works extremely well for me.
Tip #4: Utilize hairstyles to hide oily hair
Right after you wash your hair (with a shampoo-free washing method of course), your hair will probably look decent to style down for a couple of days (or longer, depending on how far into the transition you are). But after that, your hair might be too oily for your tastes to style it down. I urge you to use hair styles and accessories to your advantage on these days!
For long hair: wear buns, top knots, pony tails, braids, a combination of these, or any of your favorite ways to tie your hair up. Accessorize to hide your hairline with bandanas, wide head bands, or scarf head bands. Try to have fun with it! Up-dos are great because you can avoid part lines and most of the roots are hidden away. Your hair will be up and away having its own little spa day being nourished by its natural oils, and you’ll avoid touching it for the rest of the day which keeps it from looking even oilier via your hand’s oils. If it’s the fall/winter months, you can totally get away with a cute beanie to hide the oils, for men or women!
For short hair: If you already have short hair, and this is something you’re comfortable with and/or you do it frequently anyway, consider cutting your hair “short-short” for the transitional phase. I think it’s harder to see excess oil on “short-short” hair than it is on “longer-short” hair. What do you think? If cutting your hair super short is NOT something you want to do, then please don’t do it! There are still ways of getting away with “longer-short” oily hair! Accessorize to hide your hairline with bandanas or headbands. If it’s the fall/winter months, you can totally get away with a cute beanie to hide the oils, for men or women! Try to have fun with it!
Dark hair, thick hair, and curly hair have an easier time masking oils. If this is you, woop woop!
If none of these categories apply to you, don’t worry! The rest of my tips can still work for you!!
Tip #5: If all else fails, use a Low-Poo to ease into the transition
If you’ve tried all of the above, but you’re still having a hard time switching from straight shampoo to a no-poo method, consider using a sulfate-free shampoo (aka low-poo) in the meantime as training wheels (paired with a silicone-free conditioner). Sulfates are the really harsh cleansers found in commerical shampoos that create the soapy lathering effect and strip your hair of its natural oils. Sulfate-free shampoos still clean your hair like shampoo, but they aren’t as harsh as regular shampoo and act as the medium between shampoo and no-poo. You won’t be able to completely normalize your scalp’s oil production with a low-poo, but you could get at least half-way there. I used one for years prior to hearing about no-poo, and it really helped me train my hair from being oily on day 2 to not oily until day 4-5.
You don’t need to use a low-poo for years like I did to achieve the same results; you could probably do it over the span of one month or less than one bottle of low-poo. You still need to actively push your hair to go longer and longer between washes, and you should still utilize the above tips to do so without looking oily. Note that low-poos don’t lather as well as shampoos since the harsh lathering agent (sulfates) are not present, but they should give you clean results like shampoo.
- Calia Shampoos & Conditioners (~ $11 CAD/bottle) – VERY natural / organic, basically as natural as you can get! Canadian company, but they will ship internationally via their online store.
- Nature’s Gate Shampoos & Conditioners (< $9 USD/bottle) – Many people have great experiences with these.
- Deva Curl Low Poo & Deva Curl One Conditioner (~$20 USD/bottle) – Recommended for curly hair
- Shea Moisture Shampoos & Conditioners (< $11 USD/bottle) – Easily found in many US stores
Refer to this list of ingredients to know what to look for or avoid when choosing a sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner.