How to Transition to No-Poo Without Looking Oily!

So you’re convinced you want to stop using shampoo and reap the benefits of natural hair care– great! But maybe you haven’t started yet because you’re dreading the daunting “initial oily transitional phase,” or maybe you’re already there but struggling through it. Maybe you have a day job or classes to look presentable for each day, and the whole point of over-washing your hair in the first place was to avoid looking oily. And maybe having a greasy-looking head for a month or two is out of the question… ain’t nobody got time for that.

Getting your scalp’s oil production under control is crucial for a successful no-poo routine. The benefits are well worth it: your hair will look cleaner for longer so you won’t have to wash it as often, and as a result you’ll spend less time and money on hair care and you won’t have to damage your hair with heat as often (if you use a hair dryer every time it’s wet). I promise you, anyone can do it, including you, and it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you’d think. I went from needing to wash my hair once per day to only once per week, many others have as well, and you can too!

Below are some tips I highly recommend you follow to get through the oily transitional phase as quickly, seamlessly, and as oil-free as possible– to get you closer to beautiful, truly healthy (and clean!) hair.

Two rules to follow

I have found that the two most important rules to follow to successfully normalize your scalp’s oil production are:

  1. Stop stripping the natural oils off your head with harsh, overly-cleansing shampoos and
  2. Wash your hair less often to allow your hair’s natural oils to nourish your scalp.

Obviously #1 is covered if you’ve switched to a no-poo method, but I really can’t stress #2 enough. You really want your hair’s natural oils to sit on your scalp as much as possible during the transitional phase so your scalp can take the hint sooner than later that it’s adequately nourished and can stop over-producing oils. The best way to do this is to avoid washing your hair every day, and wait longer and longer between each wash. Even a method as gentle as washing your hair with only warm water certainly won’t strip your hair of its natural oils, but it will wash away a lot of the excess oils off your scalp, so if you need to rinse your hair daily, use cooler water. You can practice the tips listed below between washes to keep your hair from looking oily, and try to only wash your hair if it still looks oily even after practicing the following methods. Then try to go at least that same amount of time or longer before the next wash. Repeat.

Your goal here is to be able to go ~7 days before your hair starts to look oily again. At some point your scalp will get used to this routine and cease to look oily anymore. (I went from oily roots on day 2, to not looking oily even on day 10– it is an obtainable goal!) Once you reach this point, your scalp has normalized– woohoo! From that point going forward, I recommend you do a thorough no-poo hair wash once every 7-10 days. I just use warm water and scrub really well once every 7 days, and that is thorough enough for me and many other people. If you exercise or get sweaty during the week, you can rinse your hair with cool water with little to no scrubbing, just to rinse away dirt and sweat (but not oils) between your weekly no poo washes.

So here we go! Here are my tips for looking less oily between washes:

Tip #1: Distribute oils away from your roots

I’ve talked about this topic in previous posts (here and here), but I will also include it here because it is so important. One of the most essential tips for managing the oils on your head is to make your primary hair brush either a boar-bristle-brush or a wooden hair brush (100% boar bristles or wooden bristles, no nylon bristles). These natural bristles are porous and will soak up hair oils, allowing you to pick up the oils at your roots, and glide them down to the ends of your hair with each brush stroke. Using one of these brushes will make your roots look softer and less oily, and it allows you to utilize your hair’s natural, hydrating oils to nourish the ends of your hair (which are further from your scalp and susceptible to dryness). Your hair’s natural oils are the BEST at conditioning your hair, so your ends will thank you for the hydration, especially since you won’t be getting it wet and slathering conditioner on it every day anymore. This is your new conditioner, and trust me it works better than anything else! Note: I personally noticed boar bristle brushes work better at distributing oils than wooden bristled brushes, but you can try both and see which you prefer.

Natural Bristle Hair Brushes - Boar's Hair and Wooden

To properly brush away oils: Section your hair into about 1-inch sections and brush from root to tip. Sectioning your hair will help get the brush really close to the base of your roots and reach all areas of your scalp. After you finish each section, brush through the ends of your hair to get all the oils off the brush and on to the tips where it’s needed most. Brushing this way may take a little bit longer than you’re used to, but it seriously helps avoid an oily buildup near the roots during the transitional phase. I love doing this right before bed since it’s a calming, methodical process, it tires me out a bit, and when I wake up the next morning, my hair had time to soak up the oils overnight so it looks even less oily in the morning (8-12 hours later). A natural bristled brush will ultimately help you go longer and longer between washes because it will keep your ends hydrated and your roots from looking as oily. You can brush every day or every other day during the initial no-poo oily phase. Just make sure your boar bristle brush is clean before every use (especially during the transitional phase) otherwise you’re not really soaking up oils, you’re just moving around last week’s hair oils with the ones currently on your head.

Curly hair? You probably hate me right now if you rock natural curls, since brushing most likely unravels your curls & gives you a crazy lion’s mane. But don’t worry, you may be able to get away with skipping daily brushing since it’s a bit harder to see oily roots on curly hair! Instead, you can wait to brush your locks until right before you wash your hair, so you can just hop right in the shower to reset your curls after brushing. (You can also brush and then just wet your hair with cool water without scrubbing, as this won’t really wash away hair oils, but it will help you reset your curls.) But please still use a natural bristled brush! Brushing oils through your hair really does help move the oils away from your roots so you can get a more effective hair wash. You can also try out a wide-toothed wooden comb or a wooden brush since these bristles are generally further apart. More info via “Step 2” in this post.

Tip #2: Switch to a Silk Pillow Case

Silk Pillowcase

Another way to distribute the oils on your hair– effortlessly– is to use a 100% silk/satin pillowcase. Unlike cotton, silk pillowcases help distribute the oils through your hair while you toss in your sleep. Bonus: Silk pillow cases can help keep your hair from frizzing and looking like a hot mess in the morning.

Tip #3: Can I use Dry Shampoo??

Dry Shampoo is a powder that you can rub into your hair to soak up excess oils and refresh the scent of your hair. It’s literally magical, and the perfect solution to a morning time crunch when you just don’t have enough time to wash and dry your hair or properly brush all the oils away from your roots. Dry shampoo is used without having to get your hair wet, the oil-free effects last all day, and it can help you wait another day before having to wash your hair. HOWEVER, I recommend using the least amount of dry shampoo as possible since the powder does soak up the oils on your head, which could make your scalp think it’s dry and needs to produce more oils (as if you just washed your hair). So I recommend using it just along the hairline for up-dos, or just along the part line and on fringe for hair that’s styled down. This way, only the parts seen by everyone else look clean, but the underneath sections of hair can stay oily but hidden. Remember, the less you use the better.

Dry shampoo doesn’t actually remove excess oils and then get washed away, it just adds a powder to your hair that soaks it up, so keep in mind the product will stay on your head until the next time you wash or rinse it out. So I recommend aiming for a gentle, non-irritating and non-drying formula that won’t make your scalp itchy during the week. I definitely prefer and highly recommend using a natural DIY dry shampoo (recipe below), but you can use a store-bought dry shampoo if necessary. Just watch out for and avoid silicones and drying alcohols in the ingredients.

For a simple, cheap, and natural dry shampoo, consider using arrowroot powder (found in health food stores) or cornstarch to soak up excess oils on your scalp. These powders are white like most dry shampoos, and blend excellently into light hair. For dark hair, mix together a ratio of 1/2 arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and 1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder. This is the mixture I use. The cocoa powder helps the mixture blend into dark hair much easier and smells amazing. These are all natural (edible) ingredients that shouldn’t irritate your scalp, and with this method you don’t have to worry about putting preservatives, drying agents, or silicones that can’t be washed out into your hair. I really love this DIY alternative for dry shampoo. I’ve used it for the last year, it refreshes the scent of my hair, and it makes it look and feel so soft and as clean as if I just washed it.

Tip #4: Utilize hairstyles to hide oily hair

Right after you wash your hair (with a no-poo washing method of course), your hair will probably look decent to style down for a couple of days (or longer, depending on how far into the transition you are). But after that, your hair might be too oily for your tastes to style it down. I urge you to use hair styles and accessories to your advantage on these days!

For long hair: wear buns, top knots, pony tails, braids, a combination of these, or any of your favorite ways to tie your hair up. Accessorize to hide your hairline with bandanaswide head bands, or scarf head bands. Try to have fun with it! Up-dos are great because you can avoid part lines and most of the roots are hidden away. Your hair will be up and away having its own little spa day being nourished by its natural oils, and you’ll avoid touching it for the rest of the day which keeps it from looking even oilier via your hand’s oils. If it’s the fall/winter months, you can totally get away with a cute beanie to hide the oils, for men or women!

For short hair: If you already have short hair, and this is something you’re comfortable with and/or you do it frequently anyway, consider cutting your hair “short-short” for the transitional phase. I think it’s harder to see excess oil on “short-short” hair than it is on “longer-short” hair. What do you think? If cutting your hair super short is NOT something you want to do, then please don’t do it! There are still ways of getting away with “longer-short” oily hair! Accessorize to hide your hairline with bandanas or headbands. If it’s the fall/winter months, you can totally get away with a cute beanie to hide the oils, for men or women! Try to have fun with it!

Dark hair, thick hair, and curly hair have an easier time masking oils. If this is you, woop woop!

If none of these categories apply to you, don’t worry! The rest of my tips can still work for you!!

Tip #5: If all else fails, use a Low-Poo to ease into the transition

If you’ve tried all of the above, but you’re still having a hard time switching from straight shampoo to a no-poo method, consider using a sulfate-free shampoo (aka low-poo) in the meantime as training wheels (paired with a silicone-free conditioner). Sulfates are the really harsh cleansers found in commercial shampoos that create the soapy lathering effect and strip your hair of its natural oils. Sulfate-free shampoos still clean your hair like shampoo, but they aren’t as harsh as regular shampoo and act as the medium between shampoo and no-poo. You won’t be able to completely normalize your scalp’s oil production with a low-poo, but you could get at least half-way there. I used one for years prior to hearing about no-poo, and it really helped me train my hair from being oily on day 2 to not oily until day 4-5.

You don’t need to use a low-poo for years like I did to achieve the same results; you could probably do it over the span of one month, or less than one bottle of low-poo. You still need to actively push your hair to go longer and longer between washes, and you should still utilize the above tips to do so without looking oily. Note that low-poos don’t always lather as well as shampoos since the harsh lathering agent (sulfates) are not present, but they should give you clean results like shampoo. Also note that you MUST pair a sulfate-free shampoo with a silicone-free conditioner and stop using any products containing silicones. Read more about that in this post (listed under “Reason #1”).

low-poos

Product Recommendations:

Refer to this list of ingredients to know what to look for or avoid when choosing a sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner.

Tip #6: Been at it for a while, and still having a hard time?

If you have been following all of these tips, are months into your no-poo journey, and feel you should be out of the oily transition phase by now, I urge you to check out this No-Poo / Water-Only Troubleshooting post which addresses this issue. It may just be a simple fix! You can also leave a comment below, and I (and the lovely people here) will do my best to help you.

Wherever you are in your no-poo journey, I hope this post was helpful for you. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions, and let me know what worked or didn’t work for you!

 

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Ashley
    February 6, 2015

    So I have been washing my hair every other day with natural shampoo if I drop the shampoo and force myself to wait seven days till my next wash will it help my scalp transition faster?

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      May 24, 2015

      In theory, yes, the less often you wash the natural oils off of your scalp, the sooner your scalp will take the hint that it doesn’t need to keep producing oils. Exactly how long it will take for your scalp to completely normalize? it’s hard to say, and it depends on how out of whack your scalp’s oil production currently is. It could take a few weeks, it could take a few months.

      I highly recommend just waiting a day or two extra between each wash. Example: You wash every other day now, so try going three days before washing your hair again. Then try to go four days before washing your hair again after that. Etc.

    • Leave a Reply

      Lichiam
      January 25, 2016

      So I’ve been doing this for two weeks and I’ve just washed my hair yesterday after not having it washed for 6 days. I pushed through all of it despite it looking really greasy and I made sure to brush it everyday with my BBB, making sure the oils are distributed on my hair. After I had washed it with very warm and then cold water it looked pretty good and all, but it’s already getting greasy again. It has been only a single day. How come? Should I go 6 days again? I usually washed every second or third day, though it had already become greasy by then.

      • Leave a Reply

        Just Primal Things
        February 3, 2016

        Hi Lichiam, The transition phase varies in length for everyone. Some people go through it quicker or slower than others, and one variable depends on how frequently you were shampooing your hair before starting no-poo. If you were shampooing your hair every or every other day, two weeks into no-poo isn’t very much time. If it’s taking you longer than you expected, I recommend easing into the transition with a low-poo (sulfate-free shampoo), conditioner only washing (cowashing with a silicone-free shampoo), honey washing, and/or utilizing dry shampoo. I don’t think going cold turkey from shampoo to water-only is for everyone, so that’s why I introduce Water-Only as a “final step” in one’s no-poo journey. There are tips in this post for how to ease into the transition. Let me know if you have further questions.

  2. Leave a Reply

    WV lady
    February 9, 2015

    What do you think about using olive oil soap as a shampoo during the transition? Lots of women swear that it is the best for cleansing and conditioning hair. The only ingredients are saponified olive oil, water, and sodium chloride. It doesn’t seem that it would strip your hair of its natural oils and would add enriching olive oil. I know olive oil soap is great for your skin, so I’d like to try it on my hair, but I don’t see it listed on your “low-poo” list. Please advise. Thanks! (Love this blog. It’s been VERY helpful.)

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      May 24, 2015

      I’m glad this blog is helpful to you! “Saponified” means soap. It will make your hair feel very clean, and it will wash away most of the oils on your head. But will it strip your hair of its natural oils? Here’s what I know:

      J.R. Liggetts has a variety of “no-poo” shampoo bars, and the main ingredient in this one (their original blend) is saponified olive oil (among a few other minimal ingredients which you can read in the ingredients list in one of the pictures). J.R. Liggetts claims their shampoo bars don’t strip hair of its natural oils, so I’m assuming your saponified olive oil soap will behave the same way. Also, the saponified olive oil shampoo bar I used claims you don’t need to apply conditioner afterwards, however, I used their coconut & argon oil shampoo bar and noticed my hair felt SQUEAKY clean afterwards, was very tangle prone, and the shampoo bar left kind of a white haze on my hair. So if that happens to you, you may want to follow up with a (diluted) ACV or acidic rinse so your hair cuticles lay flat.

      In short, I don’t think saponified olive oil would strip your hair of its natural oils, and it will most likely make your hair feel very clean. The other ingredient in your soap, sodium chloride, is salt, which is great if you want to add a lot of texture to your hair (people use sea salt sprays for this), and can aid in helping your scalp’s oil production to calm down, but it can also be quite drying to your strands if used frequently, so keep an eye on how your hair is behaving if you do choose to use that soap.

      Some people prefer to use shampoo bars (and by that I mean saponified oils) as their no-poo method, so if it works well for you and you want to use that instead of going water-only, or even just for a few months while your scalp oil production calms down, I say go for it! And let us know how it worked for you!

  3. Leave a Reply

    Anna
    February 19, 2015

    Hi! I started no poo a few month back with the BS/ACV routine. I had pretty good results after the initial transition phase followed by a dry, itchy, flaky scalp phase that actually didn’t last too long. But after reading more about it and noticing how dry and staticy my hair would get for the first 2 days after the wash i decided to go water only to avoid further damage everyone talks about. I initially hoped my transition to water only would be a smooth one after already doing BS/ACV only once every 7-8 days. Boy, was I wrong… It’s been a few weeks no and, I have been pushing through it. Scritching, preening, brushing w a BBB daily and washing with water only once a week. But I’m at my wit’s end… I get no relief from washing my hair at all. No matter if I distribute the oils in advance or how hard I scrub my scalp and my hair in the shower. I rinse with cold water too. It looks just as oily (and I mean all over, not just the roots – like I said, I distribute those oils religiously) after as it did before. Just to get by and be able to go out into public I use corn starch on my bangs only. The rest of my hair goes up. Even a ponytail is out of a question right now…
    OK, so after I vented my question is: is it normal that washing my hair does not improve how oily it appears? Would adding honey help? I work out everyday, and my hair gets sweaty, is that the reason for the increased sebum production? It was never so bad when I did the BS, but I also wasn’t working out back then, I think…

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      May 24, 2015

      Hi Anna, That sounds rough… maybe we can figure out what’s going on. Baking Soda gives a lot of people hell after a while, and static / dry, itchy scalp happens for many people on BS too. Let’s see if we can make water-only work for you, or find you a better option than BS!

      Water-only should be able to clean most of the oils off your hair and scalp. If you have a lot of oils on your head and are scritching/preening/brushing before you shower, I highly recommend cleaning your BBB between every single use. The BBB soaks up your hair’s oils in the bristles to help you distribute them through your hair, but those oils stay on the brush until you wash them off. So if your scalp is still producing a lot of oils, you might want to try cleaning your BBB thoroughly using that tutorial before you brush your hair. That way, you are only distributing the oils currently on your hair, and not adding in last week’s oils. (Eventually you can stop doing this when your oil production calms down. The oils left on the brush will start to be useful when that happens!)

      Another thing I can recommend is to make sure the water you are washing with is warm enough to break up the oils. When I first started water-only, I used to use very very warm water on my hair once per week. Hot water isn’t ideal for your hair & skin since it can be drying over time, but after a few months, I was able to use cooler and cooler water… I now use slightly warm / almost lukewarm water to break up the oils on my head because there are so many fewer oils to wash away each week. So try using warmer water. (Not too hot though!) And if that ends up fixing the problem, just try to use slightly cooler water each week to wean away from the hot water.

      Another thing is it is possible that your scalp has balanced itself already, but you just have a lot of excess oils from the initial oily transitional phase still sitting on your hair. You might want to try gently cleansing your hair just once to get the oil build-up off of it, and then continuing with water only. You can use: 1) a teaspoon of raw honey diluted in water or 2) a natural sulfate-free shampoo that won’t strip the natural oils off your hair, but will wash away a lot of the excess oils sitting on your hair, or 3) a silicone-free conditioner to “co-wash” your hair.

      If you try all of the tips I listed, and water-only just is not working for you, then you may want to consider sticking with the options I listed above as your “no-poo” method, since these options work well for many people, won’t strip the natural oils off your hair, are gentler than BS, and clean better than water-only.

  4. Leave a Reply

    -Anonymous-
    February 19, 2015

    I haven’t tried this yet, but want to as soon as I can find a good, natural brush to use that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy. My hair already (With shampoo and warm water) takes 6 days to feel oily. Even then I can last another 2 or 3 without anyone else being able to notice it. If I swap to the no shampoo method, will this gap get bigger?! I want to switch because I tried to remove a really bad semi-permanent hair dye from my bleached-blond (Dyed black for years before – I wanted to go to ginger) using a bicarbonate soda and washing-up liquid mix that I left on far too long. It left my hair totally fried and now it grows crazy slow and is still really damaged. Will this aid my hairs recovery and growing time?

    • Leave a Reply

      Happy
      February 27, 2015

      What would be the effects of washing your hair everyday with just water instead of waiting 7-10 days? Would that cause your hair to be a lot drier?

      • Leave a Reply

        Just Primal Things
        May 24, 2015

        Hi Happy, it depends on the temperature of the water. If you rinse your hair every day with cool water, it won’t break up all of the oils on your hair, so you won’t notice as much of a change in your scalp’s oil production or the dryness of your hair. But washing / scrubbing your hair daily with very warm or hot water does wash away a lot of the excess oils on your scalp and is quite cleansing, so you may notice your scalp produces more oils to compensate for the routine oil loss. If your hair is covered in its own natural oils, it’s hard for it to be dried out, but washing daily with hot water could potentially leave the ends of very long hair a bit drier than if you didn’t do this.

    • Leave a Reply

      Just Primal Things
      May 24, 2015

      Congrats on being able to go so long between washes without your scalp getting oily! You will be surprised what your hair’s natural oils can do to make it look healthy and shiny and elastic again. I recommend trimming your ends when you can since damaged hair tends to split easier. You can also try using a natural oil like coconut oil or argan oil at the very tips of your hair for added nourishment. (Don’t get the oil on the rest of your hair though or it will look oily– just the very tips of your hair!)

      “Will the gap between washing get bigger?” I suppose it could, but I have a normalized scalp / oil production, and I prefer to wash my hair with water every 7 days even if it doesn’t really get oily anymore. It just feels better and smells so fresh after I water-wash it, and I like it, so I suppose you could go longer between washes if you wanted to, but I don’t see why you would :)

      You can usually find boar bristle brushes (mixed with nylon bristles) at most US drug stores, Walmart/Target, or beauty supply stores for pretty cheap (~$10 USD). Ideally, you want 100% boar bristles with no nylon bristles for best results, but the hybrid nylon/boar’s bristles work decently for the price if that’s what’s deterring you from going no poo. I also found a BASS brand 100% bamboo wooden bristled brush at Whole Foods for ~$12 USD. You may also be able to find pure boar’s hair bristles at health food / natural foods stores.

  5. Leave a Reply

    Kristin
    April 25, 2015

    Thanks for the helpful info!

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