(It had been 6 weeks since I shampooed my hair when I took this picture!)
This past year I have been in the process of weeding out the chemicals in my life. The kind of unnecessary chemicals that are in cleaning products, skincare, hair care, makeup, non-organic produce, and so forth. I’ve chosen to do this partially to lessen my carbon footprint, and mostly for my personal health and well-being. Not to mention it’s cheaper!
Along the way I stopped using shampoo and conditioner. This may sound weird for some, or even “gross”, but I swear to you that it isn’t. I’m excited enough about it that I want to write a post to explain why you might want to give it a try too!
I came across this concept, that has been known as the “No Poo” movement, while reading online. I don’t personally like to call it that- I can’t get past the fact that poo is usually a nickname for poop, and I’m totally not into that when we’re talking about my hair. In any case, those who go “No Poo” do actually still wash their hair. We actually still condition it too. And the way we do it is actually way, way better for your hair.
So why not shampoo?
First of all, shampoo is a detergent, meaning it strips your hair completely of its natural oils. While none of us want yucky, greasy hair, stripping the oils away completely is actually counter-productive. Your scalp recognizes that all the oils are gone, and starts to pump out extra. This is why those of you who shower and wash your hair every day actually NEED to wash your hair every day: because your hair legitimately gets greasy faster than the hair of those who don’t wash their hair every day! You’ve taught it to do this. (You skin actually does this too, while we’re on the topic. This is why moisturizing after washing your face is a good idea- your skin will want to pump out extra oil if you leave it with that tight, dry feeling. And we know that’s definitely no good for acne!)
Shampoo also contains many hazardous chemicals, including fragrances, which are usually carcinogenic (aka cancer-causing) and not so friendly to your lungs when you take a whiff, DMDM hydantoin (allergy aggravator), and 1,4-dioxane (which The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled as a human carcinogen as well). Not to mention what they add in each different variety.
Also, it’s expensive! Depending on what brand you buy, what type of hair you have, and what scent you like, you might end up paying anywhere from $8-$20 every month or two. That may seem like a normal expense, but what if it’s not necessary? You could save a lot!
How do I get my hair clean, then?
That’s the best part. Baking soda! Stick with me here- it works, you guys. I had a few concerns when I wanted to try washing my hair with baking soda, too. The first is that I thought I was going to need A LOT of baking soda to wash my hair as well as shampoo. The second was whether or not it was even going to work as well as shampoo anyway. I had tried putting things like cornstarch and dry shampoo in my hair on off-days when it started getting greasy, and while it worked, it never cleaned my hair from that greasy feeling like shampoo did.
To my happy surprise, I didn’t need that much baking soda to do the trick, and yes, it cleaned my hair just as well as shampoo did. It didn’t have the nice scent like shampoo or lather into bubbles, but I’d gladly sacrifice that for the health and cost benefits.
Baking soda also doesn’t strip the oils completely from your hair, even though It totally feels like it does. No oily-ness in sight. That might sound like a half-ass job at washing your hair, but the best part is, it’s actually better. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but when you stop stripping your hair’s natural oils away completely, you won’t get greasy as often! Your hair learns to stop pumping out extra oil all the time, and your hair gets LESS greasy the MORE you substitute baking soda for shampoo.
What about conditioner?
This is the other half of the equation, and equally exciting! I don’t use conditioner either- and let me tell you what, my hair is actually stronger, shinier, and less dry & brittle thanks to apple cider vinegar and raw (unrefined) coconut oil. A couple tablespoons of ACV in a big glass of water is all you need to condition your hair. People like to use it as a “rinse”, but I like to make sure that my dry ends get thoroughly moisturized before anything else, so I dip them in the cup and let them soak for a minute before dumping all over the rest of my hair. Then I let it sit for a few minutes while I do something else, like wash my face, and rinse it off. It does smell vinegar-y, but that smell goes away mostly after rinsing and ultimately, completely after drying.
So why ACV? Most importantly, it has a natural pH of 4.25-5.0 when undiluted. Your hair’s natural, healthy pH likes to be somewhere similar (see the table below), or just slightly more alkaline than that. Water’s pH is a neutral 7.0, and a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar is all it takes for that water to become the perfect pH for your hair.
The amazing part about this is that when your hair is at a healthy pH level, it can function correctly. The cuticle is naturally smooth and seals itself against further chemical and heat damage. You don’t need to coat your hair shaft with chemicals to protect it from these things- with apple cider vinegar, your hair can do that by itself! It also helps the pH of your scalp (see “skin” in the graph above)- eliminating dandruff, along with clearing away product buildup from mousses, gels, and hairspray, AND rinses off whatever leftover dirt and oil is still there.
Normal conditioners that you buy at the store don’t account for your hair’s pH at all. Instead, they use oils and silicone to make it feel smooth and temporarily help make the cuticle less rough. These are not necessarily good for your hair, despite how they make it feel, and regardless of what the packaging says, they cannot actually penetrate the shaft and nourish your hair on the inside. In fact, it was just a couple decades ago that hair conditioner’s main ingredient was sheep sebum. Sebum- you know, like the stuff your shampoo just scrubbed away?
Coconut oil, however, DOES penetrate your skin and hair, nourishing them both from the inside. This is due to two different components of unrefined coconut oil, which “has a ‘medium chain’ of 12 carbon atoms but the size of the molecule is only part of the puzzle. The shape of the molecule is also important. Coconut oil is highly saturated which means the carbon atoms are “filled up” with hydrogen atoms. In addition, the molecule is a straight chain with no branching. Most oil is unsaturated (not all the carbons are ‘filled up’ and the molecule is branched.) This difference in configuration allows the coconut oil molecules to slip in between the inter-cellular spaces in the hair’s cuticle layer so it can penetrate into the cortex. …Most other oils do not have this ability. None of the other oils penetrate like coconut oil, but all of them can help lubricate hair. However, since they do not penetrate, they need to be used in a leave on product like a hairdressing. When delivered from a conditioner or other rinse off product, they will simply go down the drain.” *Please note that unrefined, or raw, coconut oil is the only kind of coconut oil with these special medium-chain fatty acids. Refined has been altered to withstand higher heats, and therefore is just pure saturated fat- which cannot penetrate into your hair or skin.
Research shows that hair can absorb around 15% of its weight in coconut oil in an hour. An overnight soaking oil (six hours) increases absorption to around 20% or 25%!
I only have two qualms with this new type of conditioning:
1) Apple cider vinegar doesn’t leave your hair silky-smooth when you get out of the shower. It will be when it dries (much smoother than normal, in fact), but the lack of that yucky, plastic-y silicone in your hair means that you have no extra coat of silky gunk on top of your hair. This is a good thing, but it does make for some rougher-feeling wet hair. A key tip here is to make sure your hair is brushed, combed, and totally de-tangled (this is especially important for long hair like mine!) BEFORE showering, so you don’t tangle it up while it’s wet. I can get past that knowing that what I’m doing is actually better for it, though!
2) With coconut oil it is impossible to get out of your hair with just the baking soda. You must use soap of some kind to effectively wash it all… but I think that once a week or a few times a month, I’m okay with that for the deep-conditioning I get from the coconut oil. I just try to use products that contain natural ingredients (like Dr. Bonner’s)!
Measurements and tips: You can use regular white distilled vinegar, especially if you’re blonde, but it’s significantly more acidic, so the standard is 1 teaspoon per cup (8 oz) of water. Apple cider vinegar takes 1-2 tablespoons per cup (8 oz) of water. ACV rinses are safe for color treated hair- mine is part colored, part natural (I’m growing the color out) and it’s worked beautifully on both. I use anywhere from 1/3-1/2 cup of baking soda for a wash, and all you need to do is rub it right into your hair and scalp! Concentrate on the scalp area more than anything, as it’s the main area that needs clarifying. You can make a paste ahead of time, but it’s really unnecessary because when you put dry baking soda on wet hair, it has the same effect anyway.
My hair after 8 weeks with this treatment! (It’s messy because I just took it down from a top-knot, but it’s strong, shiny, healthy, and grease-free!)
-Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radio-labeled coconut oil. JSCC, 2012, Vol 63.