I got fed up with the damaging effects of shampooing (aka stripping hair of its natural oils with harsh chemicals) and decided I wanted to take my hair to the next level by going shampoo-free. It was the greatest decision I ever made for my hair! If you’re curious as to why I would make such a crazy decision, check out my other post about it. After deciding to stop using shampoo, I did a lot of research on which “no-poo” methods I should try. I tried honey-washing and co-washing with great results, and later transitioned into water-only. I’ve been water-only for over a month now and love it!! (Update: It’s been 3 months, and I’m still going strong!)
When I first heard about using just water to wash hair, I assumed it’d be a pretty grungy ordeal, but it’s actually an incredibly effective, simple, and rewarding method if done right. There are a few essential techniques to follow that will help enormously in managing the oils on your head, getting the most out of your hair washes, and keeping your roots looking oil-free & your ends hydrated. I’ve included some easy & effective techniques below. Practicing these techniques will give you the ultimate water-only hair– People won’t even know you don’t use shampoo! And your hair will thank you heaps for it. :)
How does it work?
The Water-Only (WO) hair washing method simply uses warm water (in place of shampoo) to cleanse dirt and excess oils from our heads, while utilizing our hair’s natural oils (like a conditioner) to protect and nourish our hair, making it soft, silky, and hydrated. And there’s a way to do this without having oily-looking hair! (Follow tips below.)
The best part about this method compared to other “no poo” or “shampoo-free” methods is that absolutely nothing about this method can cause damage, dry out your hair, or create lasting buildup. Nothing is messing with the pH of your scalp, so it can stay balanced, healthy, and calm. And the only product necessary is chemical-free, natural, free, and created by our bodies specifically to nourish and protect our hair– our hair’s natural oils.
In my opinion, going water-only is the final step you can take in a shampoo-free journey. It’s self-sustaining, your scalp’s oil production will finally be completely under control, and it is a viable long-term method (unlike baking soda & apple cider vinegar which can be damaging over time). In my humble opinion, when you achieve a successful, water-only routine, your hair has reached its final form.
This isn’t to say that other “no poo” methods are wrong. Many people have found other methods that work well for them, and that’s totally okay! But I do think that giving up all external products and achieving a successful water-only hair care routine is a gutsy thing to do– and the benefits are well worth it:
My hair has never been more hydrated, voluminous, soft, silky, bouncy (elasticity through the roof!), manageable, fast-drying, or breakage-free as it is now. It looks just as clean as if I used shampoo, without any of the negative shampoo side effects, and it smells fine. I can wash it way less often, because it doesn’t start to look oily until day 7, it no longer requires a boat load of products to look nice, and air-drying is a real life thing for my previously unmanageable hair.
***If this is your first time stopping shampoo & switching to a no-shampoo method, I highly recommend checking out my other post on “How to transition to no poo without looking oily.” There can be an initial oily phase when you first switch over from shampoo to any “no poo” method, and there are a few things you can do to make the transition manageable and get through it faster in that post.
The Ultimate Water-Only Hair Washing Routine
Let’s be honest, anyone can just stop using hair products and stand under a shower head and call that “water-only hair.” But let’s be real, you want hair that looks and feels great– not an oily mess sitting on top of your head! This tutorial will help you distribute & utilize the natural oils on your head to give you the look & feel of squeaky clean roots & delightfully hydrated ends.
What you’ll need:
- a boar bristle brush (BBB)
- wide-toothed comb
- very warm water
- cold water
- coconut oil, or any nourishing hair oil (completely optional — helpful if you’re just getting started!)
Step 1: Start with dirty hair!
It’s important that you allow your hair to get oily (even just a little bit) before washing it. It doesn’t have to get as ridiculous as mine looks if you don’t want it to, but if your hair doesn’t look or feel like it needs to be washed, don’t wash it! The longer you wait between washes, the longer the natural oils will sit on your scalp & hair which results in two awesome things:
- Your scalp will take the hint that it’s not missing all its oils anymore, so it can slow oil production down & normalize faster. :)
- If you have distributed your natural hair oils down to the ends of your hair, the nourishing oils are coating your hair shafts keeping them conditioned and hydrated between washes. (Like a free hair mask, woohoo!).
BEFORE PICS– Six days since last wash! (I haven’t brushed it yet today, because I want to you see how well Step 2 works):
Obviously, my before pics look really oily. But I promise it doesn’t look this bad in real life– My camera is over-compensating because my hair is actually really dark, so it’s beefing up the contrast, making my hair look like it shines harder than it really does, and making my skin glow like I’m an astral being or something. Thanks, camera. But don’t worry, I took every picture you see in this post on the same day, in the same lighting, with the same camera, to keep consistency throughout this tutorial. I just wanted to clear that up so you don’t think anyone has to look this oily when they use the water-only method!
***Also, I was still in the “oily transitional phase” when I made this post, which is great because now you can compare these pictures to the end result to see how well water-only works, even if you still get routinely oily. I’m actually out of the oily phase now, so my hair never gets oily anymore… even on day 10! Check out my 3-Month Update post for more info!
Step 2: Pre-Shower -Distribute your natural oils!
The following are three very important techniques that you should do right before you wash your hair. These three techniques will help loosen up the natural oils on your scalp and will distribute them to the rest of your hair. The result will be less oily roots and added hydration for the length of your hair— and they’ll make cleaning your head in the shower with just water a whole lot easier!
You can also follow these three techniques on the night before you plan to wash your hair (like 8-12 hours or so). Sometimes you may think your hair looks oily and needs to be washed, but if you follow these techniques to pull the oils through your hair and then go to bed, you may find that your hair absorbs the oils overnight and doesn’t look as oily when you wake up. This can help you squeeze in another day or so before having to wash again! Or at least save you some time in the mornings if you do end up having to wash your hair.
On dry, detangled hair, rub your fingertips (not nails) in relatively quick, yet gentle motions all over your scalp. It’s similar to scrubbing your head in the shower, but without water. This creates friction to warm & loosen up scalp oils and dead skin cells. (Added bonuses: Scritching also increases blood flow to your scalp which can promote hair growth, and it feels soo good!) Section or part your hair if necessary to reach all areas of your scalp.
Once you’ve loosened up the oils on your scalp, you might notice that all the oils are sitting at your roots. The next two steps will help distribute the oils down your hair shafts to nourish the rest of your hair.
On dry, detangled hair, take small sections of hair (I like to take wide, yet thin sections), and place two fingers on either side of the section. Starting at the base of the roots, gently pull the oils down the section of hair to the ends. If your hair is longer than 6 inches (mine is more than double that), it might be hard to get the oils all the way down to the very ends, so just focus on getting the oils away from your roots and at least 6 inches down the length of your hair.
If you have long hair, this is the only time-consuming step to water-washing, but it works well for many people. Sometimes I’m naughty and skip this step and go straight from scritching to brushing, but I recommend you try it.
C. Brush – DON’T skip this!
A boar-bristle brush (BBB) is an essential tool for healthy hair, and it is absolutely essential if you practice water-only washing. From my experience, a BBB is the BEST at pulling the natural oils down from your roots to the ends of your hair, and it’s great to do after preening to pull the oils from the mid-shaft all the way down to the very ends of your hair.
After scritching and preening, brush a clean BBB through your hair to reduce tangles and distribute the oils down to the very ends of your hair before you shower. You should section or part your hair so your boar-bristle brush can reach all areas of your roots and hair. When you’re done with each section, brush the ends for a while to get all the oils off the BBB and onto the ends. Ends need lovin’, too. ;) And make sure your brush is clean before you use it, otherwise it isn’t soaking up oils, just moving last week’s oils around on your head with this week’s oils. (How to clean a boar-bristle brush tutorial.)
In addition, you can use a BBB every day or two between washes! I recommend you replace your regular, daily hair brush with your boar-bristle brush. Brushing the oils through your hair is really the only upkeep you need to do between water-washes to keep your hair looking clean and oil-free. If you just do a little bit every day or every other day, it can really keep the oils from building up into a greasy mess at your roots. After your scalp’s oil production slows down / normalizes, you should notice that you don’t have to brush the oils through your hair as often anymore.
***If you have curly hair & want to rock your natural curls, brushing will probably un-define your curls, so here are your options:
- Curly hair has an advantage since curls hide oily roots a bit better than straight hair. If you are not having an issue with oily-looking roots, you may be able to skip daily brushing, and just wait to brush your hair right before you wash it. Note that if you aren’t pulling your natural oils down to the ends of your hair, your ends are at risk of getting dry. So be sure to follow Step 6 (below) for a while, which is to add a small amount of a natural oil (like coconut oil or shea butter) to your ends to give them some hydration throughout the week.
- However, if you do want to use a BBB to distribute your natural hair oils throughout the week, you could use a BBB and then dampen your hair with a spray bottle filled with water so you can squish, style & redefine your curls (without having to actually wash your hair). This might be a great thing to do until your scalp produces oils less frequently.
- Or, you can try a 100% wooden-bristled brush instead, since the bristles are typically much further apart, and wood is supposed to distribute your natural oils through your hair just as well as a BBB (though I’ve never tried it personally).
Okay, ready to shower!
You can see that just by scritching, preening, and brushing, my hair already is starting to look a bit better. Usually on Day 3 or 4, I’ll think I need to wash my hair again, but after a brush/scritch/preen session, I realize I can wait a few more days. But it’s been SIX days since I last washed my hair, and let’s be real, it still looks oily… that’s why today is a washing day! The most important thing is that we distributed our natural oils down to the ends which conditions our hair, and we loosened up oils from our scalp to make washing with only water a lot easier.
Step 3: Washing – Scrub & Rinse with warm water
Time to shower. The temperature of the water that hits your hair is very important. Too hot can damage hair, and too cool won’t break up the excess oils on your head. While you’re scrubbing the oils off your head, you want the water to be very warm… a comfortable temperature between hot and lukewarm.
Wet your hair, then use your fingertips (not nails) to gently scritch your scalp in relatively quick motions. Be sure to focus the water stream directly on the area you’re scrubbing so it can wash away dirt and oils as you scritch. If you have long or thick hair, part it in sections while washing to easily access all areas of your scalp. I don’t really scrub the length of my hair, just the roots/scalp, as the water seems to rinse through the length of my hair well enough by itself.
Take your time!! Make sure you get all areas of your scalp. I honestly spend quite a bit of time doing this, but I also only have to do it about once per week, so it’s worth it for me. If you notice your hair still looks oily after your shower (and you really won’t know until you get out and dry your hair, because it’s not going to feel as clean as shampoo while it’s wet) you may just need to tweak your method a bit. The next time you wash, try using slightly warmer water, or spend more time rubbing your fingertips on your scalp and rinsing the water really well through all of your hair.
Hard Water? I have moderately hard water and find water-only is successful for me. Some people have issues getting their hair to feel clean with very hard water. You can test your water hardness or look it up on your city’s website. There are ways to soften your water at home. Many people have much better results after installing a shower head filter (which is also much cheaper than an entire water-softening system). I’ve actually even heard people say that their hair looks too clean and poofy with soft water so they prefer harder water– You’ll never know how it works for you until you try it!
Step 4: Rinse with cold water
This is my least favorite step, but rinsing with cold water helps your hair cuticles lay flat (after the warm water lifted them up), which helps your hair look shinier and retain moisture.
Need a Pro Tip? As you fling the temperature handle to cold, take a giant step back out of the water stream. Bend over forward, flipping all of your hair over your head, and stick only your head & hair under the cold water. Try not to think about every tiny molecule of freezing water hitting the shower floor and jumping back up onto your legs. In fact, practice mentally checking out for a moment while the shock of 7 seconds of cold water attempts to ruin your perfectly zen shower moment. Just pretend you are an island native standing under a beautiful, crisp, cool waterfall, overlooking the greatest scenery ever… I do.
Step 5: T-Shirt Dry & Detangle
After you shower, pat your hair dry with a cotton t-shirt (instead of a bath towel) to reduce frizz and flyaways. The t-shirt actually does reduce frizz for me (unlike a bath towel), and I wish I knew about this tip forever ago.
Comb through damp hair with a wide-toothed comb, starting at the ends and working your way up. Be gentle with your hair! It’s fragile while wet. If you’re new to water-washing & notice your hair is tangley at the ends, follow Step 6 before continuing to detangle.
Step 6: Hydrate Ends (Optional)
If you’re new to water-only washing & have long hair, your hair’s natural oils probably haven’t been distributed down far enough to condition your ends yet. Until you’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks and the oils have been distributed down far enough, I highly recommend using coconut oil, shea butter, or any natural, hydrating oil on the ends of your hair. Especially if you have damaged ends.
Natural oils (like coconut oil or shea butter) can work as a good temporary substitute for your scalp’s natural oils. They can help smooth out your ends so they don’t look frizzy and so your combs/brushes don’t get snagged in them while detangling… plus it gives your hair some added hydration. You can stop using these oils after a while, as it eventually becomes unnecessary. :)
Coconut oil works great for me, (and the unrefined, cold-pressed version of coconut oil makes a world of a difference), but you can use any deeply hydrating, natural oil of your choice including shea butter, almond oil, argan oil, etc.
Be careful with how much oil you use and where you use it! If you slather a bunch of oil near your roots, you’ll have excessively oily hair and no way to shampoo it out. I just dab a few drops on the very ends of my hair while damp. My hair can look a bit oily if I apply coconut oil to dry hair, but using it on damp hair seems to fix that for me. Then I wash my hands thoroughly before touching any other part of my hair so I don’t spread extra oil to my roots.
Step 7: Air dry! or style as usual
My hair actually air dries SO fast now (and many others report the same with water-only). It’s literally ridiculous how fast it dries, but it’s so wonderful. I just gently twist it to the side like this until I’m ready to style it.
Products? I actually stopped needing to use any styling products. With shampoo, I HAD to use styling creams, waxes, smoothing serums, volumizers, hair spray… Now my hair just does whatever I want it to without any product. Manageability through the roof. Thanks, natural hair oils.
Heat? When I used shampoo, I had to use heat on it every day to get it to look presentable. But now I only use heat on it twice per month and just let it air dry the rest of the time. It’s incredibly low maintenance. I definitely do use a heat protectant on my hair before applying heat tools. I feel like it would be incredibly stupid to skip using one. If you do use heat/heat protectant on your hair, or any additional styling products for that matter, be sure to only use silicone-free products or ones containing water-soluable silicones to avoid silicones building up in your hair!! More on the importance of avoiding silicones here.
I didn’t use anything else in my hair for this tutorial. I just let it air dry & then lightly used a flat iron on it (without heat protectant). And that’s what you see in the pictures below.
This is actually about 14 hours after I washed it :) Same lighting & angle as all of the above pics. So much volume! — NO styling products necessary. There is NOTHING in my hair except water, my hair’s natural oils, and a couple of drops of coconut oil on the very tips of my hair.
NATURAL LIGHT – These pics were taken on the same day:
Have you tried this method? Did it work for you? Leave a comment below! :)
Also, check out my 3-Month Water-Only Update to see what the future holds with water-only!
BEFORE: This is 1 week of brushing “water-only” hair. Note the sebum buildup.
AFTER: I gave my brush a quick bath, and it’s like new! Follow the steps below to get the same results.
One of the most essential ways to keep your hair healthy is to invest in a boar bristle hair brush, preferably one with 100% boar bristles (no nylon bristles). You can find them for $10 – $30 at Shoppers, Sally’s or other beauty supply stores.
What it does: A boar bristle brush (BBB) distributes your hair’s natural oils away from your roots and down to the ends of your hair. It allows you to coat the length of your hair with hydrating & protective oils created naturally by our scalps. We can’t reap the benefits of these naturally-produced oils when we strip them from our hair by washing daily with sulfates and detergents found in most commercial shampoos. A major key to healthy hair is to wash it less often (or eliminate harsh sulfates/detergents all together), and use a BBB between washes/rinses to pull the oils away from the roots & distribute them down to the ends. This process keeps your roots from looking oily, and it adds hydration to the ends of your hair which can otherwise be susceptible to dryness.
If you suffer from an oily scalp, dry ends, and/or frizzy hair, a BBB can be a complete game changer. One of the first times I used one, I had just started no poo and went seven days without washing or rinsing my hair. It was a greasy mess, but I used a BBB to pull the oils down to my ends, put it up in a high bun, and went to bed. When I woke up, I promptly rinsed out my hair, and it was incredibly soft, hydrated, bouncy, and frizz was no where to be found. It’s like using a hair mask, except it’s free and works better than any hair mask I’ve ever used.
Anyway, if you use a BBB, especially if you are “no poo” (no shampoo) or use the water-only rinse method like me, you know your BBB can get pretty gross, pretty fast. After a week of using mine, there is a lot of sebum buildup (which is the oil naturally produced by our scalps), which looks grey and dusty when it builds up on a hair brush (pictured below), and also hair that needs to be removed. If you want your hair to look less oily-looking (especially during the oily transitional phase that occurs when you start no poo), cleaning your boar-bristle brush between uses is essential. Otherwise, your brush isn’t soaking up oils from your head, it’s just moving around last week’s oils (or whenever the the last time you washed it was) around on your head with this week’s oils.
I give my brush a quick bath every week, and it cleans it like new every time. There are a few important steps I recommend you follow that make it so easy, and help you get the longest lifespan out of your brush.
What you’ll need to clean your boar bristle brush:
- your boar-bristle brush
- a regular-toothed comb
- Liquid shampoo/soap (whatever you use to wash your hair), but a sulfate-free shampoo or natural hair cleanser is preferred — I used liquid body wash in this tutorial, but I switched to using a spoonful of raw honey because it’s natural, gentle, anti-bacterial, smells good, and works just as well as soap!
- very warm water, and cold water
- any kind of container that will properly fit your brush***
*** (Pictured Right): If your BBB has a wooden handle and/or a cushion-y padding that the bristles come out of, it’s important that these don’t get submerged in water. This will avoid weakening the brush handle over time and allow it to dry quicker. Use a container that fits the brush so water touches only the bristles and just barely touches the cushion-y part of the brush.
Let’s get started!!
STEP 1: First things first, comb the hair and excess sebum off the brush.
Starting at the edges, insert your comb at the roots of the bristles and pull the comb away from the brush to loosen up the hair. Do this around all of the edges of the brush. Then drag the comb through the brush (pictured right) to pull the hair off the brush. Keep doing this until you get all or most of the hair and excess sebum off the brush.
These pictures show what my brush looks like after I’ve pulled the comb through it a few times. I spared you some grossness. :) It’s already looking better, but there’s still a lot of dusty sebum buildup in there. (You can click any of these images to enlarge them / zoom in.)
STEP 2: Prepare the brush bath.
Squirt a dollop of the liquid soap or shampoo in the container and fill it up with very warm water. We’re basically giving our brush a bath. Make sure the water is very warm as it will do a better job of cleaning oils off the brush than cold water.
STEP 3: Soak the brush.
Swish the brush around in the warm, soapy water. Be careful to keep the water just on the bristles and avoid submerging the brush, especially if it has a squishy bristle padding or a wooden handle. It’s important to keep the brush bristle-side down while it’s wet for the duration of this process, so the water doesn’t seep into the cushion-y part.
STEP 4: Let the brush soak for about 10 minutes!
After some good swishing, wipe off any water that got on the handle (if it’s wooden), and set it nicely on the container so only the bristles stay submerged in the water.
Now leave it alone for about 10 mins. Seriously! Don’t touch it. :)
STEP 5: Rinse with clean water.
After 10 mins, take the brush out of the bath, keeping it bristle side down. Rinse out the container and fill it back up with clean, cold water. Swish the brush around in the cold water, still avoiding submerging the brush or getting the wooden handle wet.
STEP 6: Let it dry!
Take the brush out of the cold water rinse, and keeping it bristle-side down, run your finger across the bristles a few times to flick away any excess water.
Set the brush bristle-side down on a clean towel. Wipe any excess water off the wooden handle and let it dry completely. It might take a couple of hours or all day to dry, depending on how much water got inside the cushion-y part of the brush.
NOTE: Many people have said their new boar bristle brush smells like… well… a boar when it’s wet. If this happens to you, don’t worry, the brush should not smell like anything when it is dry. And the way it smells while it’s wet should go away after a month or two of use and washing. So for the first month or two, just let it dry completely before using it on your hair!
DONE. Enjoy your clean boar bristle brush!
Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment if you tried this method, and let me know how it worked out for you! c:
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.