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!
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!
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).
- Steep the herbs in boiling water, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Strain and cool.
- Slowly add the castile soap to the tea.
- 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:
- 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!