Switching to no shampoo, inspired by the no ‘poo method

No shampoo sounds like one of those crazy hippie things that only women who don’t shave their armpits do, but after doing some more research on the matter I’ve been inspired – especially by Crunchy Betty’s no ‘poo method. So – in entertaining this craziness – lets look at the history of shampoo.

No Shampoo Used to Be The Best Method for Healthy Hair

  • Originally shampoos originated in India from herbal recipes including such ingredients as aamla (prized today for it’s high natural vitamin C content) and soapnuts, which helped to leave hair shiny and manageable.
  • The idea of shampooing was imported to Europe by colonialists and the first commercially available shampoos were developed around the turn of the century (early 1900s – this is our VERY recent history) and weren’t commonly used until the 1930s. Liquid shampoo wasn’t invented until 1927!!
  • Initially it was the trend to shampoo once per month, more as a hair treatment than as any kind of routine maintenance.  Shampoo manufacturers urged women to increase this to once every two weeks for the health of their hair (this was still in the early 1900s)
  • Every picture of everyone I have ever seen from that turn-of-the-century era features gorgeous, full, shiny hair – on par or even better than the over-managed, glossed, fluffed, primped hair of today.
No shampoo didn't hurt this 1910 Parisian fashion model and her full lustrous locks. No 'poo at it's best!
No shampoo didn’t hurt this 1910 Parisian fashion model and her full lustrous locks. No ‘poo at it’s best!

 Why Bother with No Shampoo? It’s Not Like Shampoo is Hard to Find…

Yes – fair point. Going with no shampoo is a whole lot weirder than just enjoying the thousands of nice-smelling, foamy, creamy, straightening, curl-enhancing, glossing whatevers.  Shampoo is everywhere and easy to find and gorgeously packaged and kind of fun to buy.  You can shop by color, by smell, by function, by brand, by advertising – it seems like there is no reason to give this up! Except what happens when there is a reason to give it up? Here are some of the top reasons I’ve found:

  • Gluten. I’m pretty solidly gluten free (let’s call it GF for short) and have been for years.  Many many shampoos, lotions, hair styling products and conditioners are not gluten free and not interested in being gluten free.  They also don’t necessarily put “wheat” or “gluten” on the label. Sometimes it’s hydrolized wheat protein, and that’s easy enough to spot.  Sometimes though it’s stearyldimoniumhydroxypropyl, which sounds ominous, but not wheat-y.  There’s a great list of hidden gluten words in skincare products here.  Just to clear up a myth here – many people with severe gluten sensitivities are fine with gluten in topical products because the gluten itself doesn’t absorb through the skin.  My particular brand of sensitivity it doesn’t need to absorb – it just irritates the surface of the skin and causes inflammation. On my scalp inflammation looks like itching and sometimes redness and flaking, which just isn’t fun or attractive.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate. So, this is a foaming agent that comes originally from coconuts, which sounds pretty good except that to get it out of the coconut you need to use a couple of chemicals called ethylene dioxide and dioxane, more specifically 1,4-dioxane.  Ethylene dioxide is a known carcinogen and dioxane is a suspected carcinogen. They’re bad enough that because of them SLS has made David Suzuki’s Dirty Dozen list of chemicals you should never use.  If the cancer thing wasn’t enough they also cause neurological issues and developmental issues in children. These chemicals also don’t break down easily and so persist in the environment for years. Also, because the chemical contaminants aren’t the actual ingredient, companies can get away with calling sodium laureth sulphate “organic.
  • Parabens. Thankfully there’s a big push now for paraben-free products so they’re not as hard to find as they used to be, but these little nasties mimic estrogen, have been found in breast cancer tumors and if that weren’t enough, methylparaben on the skin goes through a chemical reaction when exposed to UVB radiation (from sunlight) so accelerate skin aging and DNA damage. Of course these also make the dirty dozen list, and also persist in the environment long-term changing frogs into hermaphrodites and interfering with human and animal reproduction.
  • Microplastics. These are more of an issue with skin exfoliants, but lots of personal care products now are using microplastics, which are essentially tiny particles of plastic that are added for texture.  These particles are small enough to slip through water filtration processes and so end up getting dumped in our rivers and oceans at a staggering rate.
  • Less consumerism. I like the idea of not feeding more money into the giant industries like Proctor & Gamble (which owns Pantene), Kao corporation (John Freida), Unilever (tresemme, dove), etc…
  • Better hair.  For real – my hair is a totally different ball game now, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

 The Biggest Reason To Quit Shampoo: Better Hair

Yes – I am making the wild claim that no shampoo leads to better hair. I’ll say it again: by not doing the thing we all accept as the only possible thing to do (shampoo) you actually might get a better result.  Here’s the thing: shampoo is a detergent-type product that functions entirely by stripping the natural oils from your hair and depositing other things, like smoothing agents (usually silica based), fragrances, proteins (to build body – these are often wheat based but could be soy or silk), and sometimes even tiny shimmery particles to make hair look shiny (if the shampoo has a bit of a sheen, then that stays in your hair too).  So – we take away the oils that are best designed to smooth and protect your hair and replace them with a whole lot of other stuff.

These ladies, 1917 fashion models, had questionable frocks, but some seriously shiny hair (the temptation to use the word locks was strong there...). No shampoo was the norm then!

These ladies, 1917 fashion models, had questionable frocks, but some seriously shiny hair (the temptation to use the word locks was strong there…). No shampoo was the norm then!

Have you ever noticed how shiny a horse’s coat can be when they’re groomed? Or a dogs coat? Or a squirrels?  Or how fluffy a squirrel’s tail is?  It doesn’t turn into an oily mess because the squirrel doesn’t use shampoo, but somehow we all expect that an oily mess is precisely what our hair will turn into. And, if you’ve ever gone camping for a week and not washed your hair it becomes pretty apparent that there is a *lot* of oil there.  So what’s the deal?

Because you strip your hair with shampoo regularly, your body is compensating by increasing oil production from your scalp dramatically. And I do mean dramatically. Your body is trying to protect itself by restoring the natural barrier that is there to protect your scalp and hair. Once you stop stripping the barrier off, then your body can relax about the whole thing and decrease to a normal level of oil production except that there is a fly in this soup. If you’ve spotted it it’s the fact that to get from point A (shampoo every day) to point B (no shampoo) there is a really ugly transition period involving a lot of oily hair. I mean a lot of it.

How Do I Actually Do No Shampoo ( or no ‘poo ) and What Am I In For?

Yup – there’s a process.  First off, it takes some accepting that your hair will be super weird for a few weeks – and I do mean super weird.  Also, the first natural something you try might not be the one you stick with.

Here’s what I experienced:

I made the slightly scary decision to stop shampoo (but unwisely chose to keep using something that was comfortably close to shampoo). I tried a natural recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s book of herbal formulas, which is below (although I only made a half batch to try):

8 oz. or 1 cup distilled water, boiled
1 oz. dry herbs (choose from chamomile, calendula, and marshmallow root)
3 oz. or 6 Tb. liquid castile soap (I used Dr. Bronner’s Rose scented liquid castile soap)
¼ tsp. jojoba oil
25 drops pure essential oil (I used lemon and grapefruit for a nice zingy yummy smell).

Directions:

  1. Steep the herbs in boiling water, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Strain and cool.
  2. Slowly add the castile soap to the tea.
  3. Add the oils. Store by the shower. Gently shake before using. Only a small amount is needed.

The great things about this formula were that I did notice it start to strip away some stuff that I thought was just my natural hair texture – which means I probably had a lot of random shampoo left-overs built up.  I noticed that mostly in the first few washes. My hair was bigger and fuller, but did get oily quickly – more than usual.  It was great for a few days, fair to acceptable for about a week after that, and then it felt like it just kept getting worse.  There was a texture, for lack of a better word, that started happening to my hair. Like I could comb my hair (which was abnormally large and voluminous) in one direction and it would kind of stay in that direction in a sort of weird way… I really wasn’t into it and got less and less satisfied by it by the day.  I actually managed to last almost four weeks until I broke down and had to look for another solution. I think this one probably works really well for people with thicker hair, but I have baby-fine fly away hair and lots of it so this was not the right way for me.

This second solution, was from Crunchy Betty (who I feel like I need to meet because she’s hilarious). She advocates a much simpler solution, which is below:

Crunchy Betty’s No ‘Poo No Shampoo hair cleaner:

1 TBSP baking soda in 1 cup water.




Um… And that’s it.  Really.  Like, that’s all. So – total cost is about two cents for a cup of this stuff.  I mixed it up in an old jam jar for lack of something better to do with it and tried it out… Honestly – a miracle occurred! First off, it feels weird.  Baking soda in water feels mostly like water but slipperier – which is not our usual foamy shampoo experience. And for me I couldn’t really believe it was doing anything, so I poured some on, massaged my scalp, rinsed, and did it again straight away because it felt a little bit like nothing happened.

When I got out of the shower though I noticed right away that all the residue and texture from the castile soap version was gone – like gone gone – as well as the original shampoo residue that the castile soap recipe took away.  This left my hair light in a way I have never experienced before – like light as in weightless.  It had volume from the roots because there was nothing weighing it down and I’ve never seen it shine without anything else in it the way it started shining then.

It’s been about three weeks now that I’ve been using the baking soda in water and I’ve decided I like it best in a spray bottle.  I can really generously spray my scalp with it, do a little scalp massage, and rinse.  I’ve also started experimenting with adding a couple of drops of essential oils just to add a lovely fragrance (it really only takes a couple of drops). Now my hair is:

  • Shinier
  • Bouncier
  • More volume? Maybe it’s just more bouncy because it’s as fine as ever but there is more lift at the roots – like there’s less weighing it down.
  • Far less fly-away.  I don’t feel like I’m constantly wrangling strays
  • A slightly different color – this one is super interesting, but my hair has changed color slightly. I don’t know if anyone else would notice it, but I do.  It’s a slightly lighter color and has more variability to it – like it’s not as much just brown, but now there are all different shades of brown that are more noticeable.  Weird.

I’ve also started experimenting with the vinegar rinses as advocated by Crunchy Betty, but honestly my hair with the no shampoo doesn’t even really feel like it needs any kind of conditioner.

All in all I am thrilled with the results.  The commitment in the middle – going through the horrible weird hair phase was hard and certainly made me question myself a number of times, but I am SO glad I stuck with it to get the no shampoo results! There is no going back for me!

* Quick update as of August 2015 – I’m still loving no-poo but finding that my hair has less wave to it, it’s progressively getting straighter (which I don’t like) – still full and shiny and bouncy, just straighter.  I’ve been doing some reading on it and it sounds like the baking soda is actually too harsh for wavy/curly hair so I’ll try switching to a honey shampoo…  I’ve found two recipes that look promising, one is from EmpoweredSustenance.com that is:

  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 3 tbsp filtered water
  • Couple of drops of essential oil if desired.

The other is from CodeRedHat.com and is a honey/aloe mixture:

  • 1/4 cup aloe gel
  • 2 tbsp raw honey

I haven’t tried either of these yet but plan on experimenting over the next few weeks so I’ll keep everyone posted…  Also there’s a great facebook group all about no-poo with some people who have been off shampoo for years and years – it’s a great place to get advice and information so here’s that link!



11 thoughts on “Switching to no shampoo, inspired by the no ‘poo method

  1. Camille

    Hi Amy,
    Just discovered you this morning, and already I have laughed, learned, and felt great camaraderie with you. So now I want to give back: I’ve been no-pooing for a couple of years now, and my no-poo of choice is Rhassoul clay. BEST NOPOO EVER!!

    Recipe: larger batch:
    3 tablespoons Rhassoul clay 3/4 cup
    1 tablespoon aloe juice 1/4 cup
    4 tablespoons water 1 cup
    4 drops lavender essential oil 16 drops
    4 drops grapefruit essential oil 16 drops

    How to use: work a tablespoon or so into your scalp and pull through to the ends of your hair. Leave it in a couple of minutes while you are showering, then rinse and repeat. Leaving it in a couple of minutes before rinsing allows it to absorb impurities that can be rinsed away. Finish with a rinse of 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar in a cup of water. (Note: Because there are no foaming agents, it doesn’t clean unless you work it in well, so spend a minute doing this.)

    A large recipe keeps at room temp until I use it up. Only use Rhassoul, not bentonite (which has a completely different outcome.) Order it on line. Buy your aloe juice from a natural grocer, and freeze it in ice cubes. My hair is fuller and shinier, and it stays clean for awhile. It doesn’t feel dried out, and I almost never use a conditioner.

    I’ll be writing a blog post about this in the near future on my website.

    Reply
    1. amyneuzil Post author

      Oooh Camille – thank you!
      I am excited to try this out (and happen to have some Rhassoul clay that I bought for my skin a while back). I *love* getting other people’s feedback! Also, just as a side note, I wish I had discovered no poo years ago! My hair is seriously a whole different thing – I just can’t believe it. I’ll check out your website!

      Reply
  2. Gabbi

    I would LOVE to drop my shampoo, but washing with honey has me slightly scared. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to get it out of my hair and I’d be left with a sticky, icky mess.

    I used to wash my hair every. single. day. And over the last year or so, I’ve transitioned to washing it every 3 days. I stretch it to 4 when no one has to see me (HA, except my poor hubby)…but it gets pretty greasy early on and I rely on dry shampoo to help me make it through the days.

    I only use Acure Organics shampoo, and occassionally I’ll use an ACV rinse on my hair…but most washes I don’t feel the need to use the vinegar.

    I’d love to hear how the honey mixtures are going for you!

    Reply
    1. amyneuzil Post author

      Hi Gabby,
      So – in truth I don’t think the honey is strong enough for my hair (I tend to be on the greasy side too) so lately I’m experimenting with clay mixtures and still using the baking soda spray about every second or third wash. My hair is SO much better than it was with shampoo, but I still feel like it’s a learning process and kind of an adaptation process where I’m picking my no-poo tool each time I wash my hair instead of just having a routine to follow. Honestly I need to just rally and do an update post because it’s such an interesting process – I feel like I”m kind of discovering my hair all over again (if that makes any sense). Back to your original question though – the honey wasn’t sticky at all, and my hair was really soft and lovely afterward, it just felt like the next day I needed to do it again and I’m trying to not wash or treat every day. Hope this helps and for sure keep me posted if you make the leap to no-poo!

      Reply
  3. MrsAmyLW

    You may want to further investigate using vinegar on your hair. My understanding is that it breaks down the hair follicle and is damaging in the long run. The softness that comes with using it is the altered texture of the hair after the hair begins to break down.

    Reply
    1. amyneuzil Post author

      I was wondering that – if there is any protein denaturing effects (and hair is mostly protein) because it’s strongly acidic (even when diluted). I’ll see if I can find any actual information and post it once I do… Thanks for the heads up!

      Reply
    2. amyneuzil Post author

      So – I’ve been investigating more, since this process is new to me too, and found out that the vinegar is actually not so damaging (as long as you’re using it diluted and not full strength – full strength would be too acidic) but the baking soda, because it’s so alkaline, can actually damage the hair. There’s a great article about it here and I’m thinking about trying a Honey no-poo instead of the baking soda. My only reason is that my hair is losing curl, and I don’t know why but I suspect it’s the baking soda – it’s straighter than it’s ever been and normally I have a nice natural wave that I like. So I’ll keep everyone posted!

      Reply
    1. amyneuzil Post author

      Yes – keep me posted Nancy! The transition is hard, but it’s been completely worth it for me. I’m loving my new routine and my hair really is noticeably better. Who would have thought?!?

      Reply
  4. J

    Hi Dr. Amy!
    i’ve been interested in doing this for a while, but have been hesitant because of the transition period. While researching it more to psych myself up to do it, I found a lot of people saying the baking soda method doesn’t work if you have hard water. Do you have soft water by any chance? I’ve also heard of people using honey mixed in water as an alternative due to its humectant properties (possibly a better combo with the harshness of hard water). I know the best way is to experiment, as you’ve mentioned – I’m just trying to best set myself up for success!

    And do you do the oil cleansing method for your face? I haven’t used any soap on my face in over 6 months – I’ve saved so much money on expensive cleansers + my combination/acne-prone skin looks the best it has in a while. Minimalist lifestyle ftw!

    Love your blog! Thanks for posting such interesting topics!

    Reply
    1. amyneuzil Post author

      Hi J,
      Thanks for writing! So – the water here is actually pretty soft and I haven’t been doing it long enough to have really experimented too much with hard water or anything like that. I can see the honey being a good addition, or even taking the more drastic step of a shower filter (although far more pricey) but I really don’t know. If you do take the leap to try it will you keep me posted? I’d love to hear how the water changes the process… And honestly the transition is super hard and kind of sucks no matter what, so hang in there!!! I’m wondering if my transition was easier because I switched to the herbal formula first? It’s so hard to know because it’s not like I can go back and do it in different ways.

      And OMG oil cleansing is one of my favorite things ever – I keep playing with the oil combo I use, and I totally agree. It’s by far the best method for any kind of skin extreme – really oily, really dry or really combo. I did a post about it ages ago, but should update with some formula changes that continue to happen… If you’re interested mountain rose herbs has great in-depth write ups about the effects of the different oils. Thanks for writing!!!

      Reply

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