Sunday, April 10, 2011

The No-Shampoo Experiment

About a month ago I decided to try to give up shampoo. There are many reasons one might want to do this:
  1. Health: Shampoo has a lot of nasty chemicals in it. These chemicals are bad for your eyes, skin, and scalp. They are also not that great to be putting in your bath water, which eventually goes into the ocean and the bodies of fish and marine life.
  2. Environment: Hair/beauty products come in often non-recyclable bottles. I found I was generating extra waste using shampoo and conditioner.
  3. Money: Shampoo / Conditioner can be expensive. I was using Matrix Biolage ($20 / bottle).
  4. Convenience: I travel a lot, and with the TSA restrictions on liquids, its just has become really annoying to have to deal with bringing beauty products with me when I fly.
  5. Philosophical: In general I don't like the idea of being dependent on things. It bugs me to think that if I were plopped on a desert island or something, that my body would freak out if I didn't have certain products, chemicals, etc. (Coffee is obviously an exception ;)

After reading online about the "No Poo" movement, I decided to try it myself. I was very very skeptical about this working for me because I've always had VERY oily hair. I am one of those people that if I don't wash my hair everyday, it starts to look like it is wet because the roots get dark and weighed down by the oil. The most I've ever been able to go without washing my hair is 1.5 days without looking like I am homeless.

The goal of going "No Poo" is to eventually wash your hair with nothing except good old water and a washcloth. However, it isn't recommended to go straight from shampoo to water-only. This is something that takes time to transition to because if you are (like I was) using shampoo daily, your scalp is producing a lot of extra oil to replace the oil that you are stripping away with the shampoo. So you need to get your scalp to go back to producing normal amounts of oil before you can go water-only.

The way you transition (or detox from shampoo) is washing with baking soda (as a shampoo) and vinegar (as a conditioner). Baking soda strips away less of your hair's oils than shampoo, and vinegar acts as a detangler by pH-balancing your hair (hair is slightly acidic). My boyfriend likes to make fun of me for using baking soda and vinegar in the shower, because it sounds like an elementary school style science fair volcano. But seriously, this stuff works for cleaning hair.

Below is what I did. A few web sites recommended trying to cut down shampoo to every other day or every third day before switching to baking soda. I couldn't do this because of how oily my hair is, so I simply went from shampooing / conditioning everyday to washing with baking soda / vinegar everyday.

How to wash you hair with baking soda and vinegar:

  1. Before you get into the shower, brush your hair. This just makes it less tangled and easier to brush after you shower, and also distributes the oils a little bit before washing.
  2. Put 1 tbs of baking soda into a cup, and mix it with 1 cup of warm water. Stir until well mixed, mixture should feel silky, not pasty or gritty.
  3. In the shower, apply the baking soda / water mixture to DRY hair. Focus on the scalp area. Pour onto front and back of head. For me it was important that I applied it to dry hair. When I applied it to wet hair, I didn't get the same cleaning results from the baking soda and my hair got really oily.
  4. With clean hands, massage your scalp. This obviously wont feel the same as foamy shampoo, but try to rub your scalp anyway, this helps clean out any grime/sweat/dirt and also distribute the oils down the shaft of your hair. Some people online say that they prefer to make a baking soda paste, and massage that into their scalp. That made my scalp / hair too dry. But it is also something to try.
  5. Let the mixture sit in your hair for a couple minutes (optional). I let it sit in longer if my hair is feeling oily that day, and shorter if it isn't.
  6. Rinse out the baking soda with water.
  7. Mix 1 tbs of vinegar with 1 cup of water. I use organic apple cider vinegar because people on the internet say that this smells better than white vinegar. You can also use lemon juice instead of vinegar, or add lemon juice / rind to the vinegar to make it smell better. What I do is put some vinegar in a smaller bottle (4 oz) and add 3-4 drops of perfume oil to it. I keep this mixture in the shower and simply shake up this bottle to mix the perfume oil and vinegar before pouring out 1 tbs for conditioning.
  8. Pour the vinegar / water mixture on the ENDS of your hair. Avoid your face / eyes as the vinegar will irritate them. I don't put any on my scalp, because my hair is really oily, and the vinegar makes this worse. However, if you have problems with dry hair / scalp you can also put this on your roots. I simply dip the ends of my hair into the cup with vinegar and water.
  9. Rinse out the vinegar (optional). The reaction of most people when I tell them I am putting vinegar in my hair is a look of repulsion. They say: "Doesn't that make your hair smell bad?" I didn't believe this before I tried it either, but the truth is that once your hair dries the vinegar smell completely goes away. The only smell left in my hair is the smell of the perfume oil. This is even more true if you rinse out the vinegar, but you actually don't have to rinse and it seriously doesn't smell like vinegar after your hair is dry. Weird I know, but true. Vinegar has anti-bacterial properties and so putting it in your hair kills yucky things. This actually helps make your hair smell fresh and clean.
  10. Towel dry your hair well. Focus on the roots. This also helps with distributing your scalp's oils to the rest of your hair.

I'm not going to lie, for the first couple weeks my hair was a pretty weird. Some days it would be very oily and heavy/flat looking, other days it would be frizzy or coarse and brittle. However, I found that because I was mixing my own "shampoo" and "conditioner" it was easy to make small adjustments to try and get my hair to look the way I wanted it. If the ends were too dry, I put a little bit of oil (jojoba) in the vinegar mixture. If my hair got too oily, I would add more baking soda, or let it sit in my hair longer. I liked that I could adjust my regiment based on what was actually going on with my hair on a given day. After I figured out what worked, I ended up having less "bad hair days" than when I used regular shampoo, because it was easier to fine-tune.

After three weeks of no shampoo I decided to try to reduce the amount I washed my hair. I've been slowly reducing the amount of baking soda I am using, and also skipping days where I don't wash my hair at all, or only wash with water and a wash cloth. The way this works is basically you try to distribute the oils by rubbing a wash cloth from your scalp down to the ends of your hair. I've read you can also do this with a fine-tooth comb or a soft brush. I really like taking showers, and so it is easier for me to do it in the shower. The ideas is that eventually I will only have to use baking soda / vinegar once every few weeks... or maybe not at all?

Now that my hair has adjusted to not using shampoo. I am really surprised at the results:

  1. My hair is a lot shinier. I think this is because there are more oils in it.
  2. My hair doesn't get as tangled (I have really long hair that used to get knots in it). This is probably because I have been brushing it more often, or maybe because (supposedly) the vinegar helps smooth out the cuticles in your hair, making it not catch on itself as much.
  3. My hair is less oily. I can now go up to 3 days without using baking soda. I usually rinse my hair every day or two with water. I'm most surprised about this because like I said, before I couldn't go more than 1.5 days without shampooing before my hair looked like crap.
  4. My hair smells really good. I thought that giving up shampoo would mean my hair would smell bad, or sweaty or weird. Because I put perfume oil in the vinegar, my hair smells like whatever perfume I want it to smell like. When I don't use perfume oil, my hair just smelled like me. It's hard to explain what that smells like, but it isn't perfume, or soapy, just like clean skin.
  5. My hair has more volume. My hair seems fuller and bouncier. This is also weird because I would think more oils would weight my hair down more. But perhaps I was over-conditioning before and that was making my hair flatter?
  6. My hair has more highlights. I think this is because I had "chemical build-up" in my hair from using so many hair products. Now that I am using less stuff in my hair, it looks brighter and a little lighter in color.
  7. My hair is easier to style. It just holds a style better. I think the oils act kinda like a natural hairspray or something, but when I comb it a certain direction, it just stays that way. Before my hair had a lot of wave to it that made it go all different directions, it isn't doing that as much now.
  8. I'm spending a lot less money: It's been over a month doing this and I've gone through 1/3 a box of baking soda ($1 / box) and 1/2 a bottle for apple cider vinegar ($2 / bottle). Much cheaper than my old regime. I could also buy this stuff in bulk if I wanted and get it for even less. And hopefully I'll continue to reduce the amount of these products that I use.
  9. Traveling is easier: The only liquid I need to bring is a small travel-sized container that I filled with vinegar. Alternatively, vinegar is so cheap I could just buy it when I get to my location, or even ask to borrow some from the kitchen of the hotel I am staying.

On the down side.

  1. I have to deal with a A LOT of teasing from Adam, and other people who hear about this. There has definitely been jokes about smelling like salad dressing and making model volcanoes in the shower.
  2. When I go to the gym and sweat, or otherwise get my hair wet, it starts to smell a little bit like vinegar again. I stopped noticing this once I started rinsing out the vinegar, and adding a little bit of perfume oil.
  3. I have noticed that my ends are a little dry. This is easily combated with a little bit of jojoba oil, and hopefully will become less of a problem as I taper off the baking soda.

So anyway, that is a summary of my experience giving up shampoo. If you decide to try this too (or have tried it in the past), please let me know your experiences. Below are some pictures of my hair transition over the past 4 weeks.

Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Week 2
Week 3

Week 4