I Stopped using Shampoo and got “Next Level” Hair

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Hair Care, No Shampoo, Water Only Hair Washing
Washing hair with natural and gentle methods instead of shampoo

No More Shampoo??

Tonight I tweeted that I stopped using shampoo on my hair. It’s been 4 weeks, and I’m having a great experience with it so far. I’d like to discuss this in more than 140 characters since I got many replies and questions about it, and maybe someone else out there can benefit from hearing my experience.

To be honest, hearing someone say they stopped using shampoo sounds really gross. It sounds like bad hygiene. And you may be wondering, “Without shampoo, isn’t your hair oily, gross, and smelly?!”

Shockingly… Nope. In fact, it’s the opposite.

I heard about the no-shampoo movement from others online. There are a multitude of YouTube videos, beauty blogs, and online communities full of people dedicated to stop using commercial shampoos. Many people go “no poo” for various reasons: they are vegan, they want to train their hair to stop producing as many oils, they want to cure a scalp condition, they want to limit the amount of harsh chemicals going down the drain and into the earth, or they want to avoid harsh chemicals affecting their bodies in unintentional, negative ways. These are all valid reasons! However, none of these reasons are why I initially decided to stop using shampoo.

I decided to stop using shampoo because I wanted shiny, long, and strong hair. All of the commercial products that promised they would give healthy, hydrated, luscious hair just didn’t work for me, and I learned why: Many modern commercial shampoos are overly harsh and ultimately hinder the quality of our hair. So I was willing to put down expensive hair products and try a different approach to reach my hair goals.

At the time of this post, it has been 4 weeks since I stopped using shampoo, and to my surprise, I have CLEAN looking, nice smelling, completely low-maintenance, luscious hair for the first time in my life. And I I’ll never go back. Here’s why:

Before starting a no poo method

As a preface, I didn’t receive much guidance on hair care growing up. Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge resulted in years of trial and error, which led to bad hair habits, and over-washed, dry, frizzy, heat damaged hair. I tried to “fix” the damage with what seems like every bottle of hair crap the drugstore sold, without much improvement. At some point, I realized what I was doing wasn’t working, and I was tired of having crappy hair. I wanted great hair, and I became determined to reach my goal.

Up until that point, I had learned everything via trial and error, so I started reading articles and blogs, watching beauty gurus online, and asking tips from professional stylists. I watched countless “how to get long, healthy hair” videos on YouTube, and diligently practiced techniques that worked for others (e.g. only detangle with wide toothed comb, do a final rinse with cold water to seal the cuticles, pat your head dry with a t-shirt instead of a bath towel to eliminate frizz, etc.). I went through what seemed like every common method to get long, healthy hair.

Needless to say, I learned a lot from where I had started. And prior to starting no-shampoo or the “no poo method”, I had developed a hair care routine that I consistently used for two years which helped me maintain better quality hair than before. At that point in time, I was under the impression I was doing everything I could and that was the best my hair was ever going to get. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.)

PRE NO-SHAMPOO: My 2-year hair routine before quitting shampoo consisted of

  • washing my hair only every 4-5 days with a professional sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner
  • using a macadamia nut deep conditioning hair mask once per week
  • using a wide toothed comb, not brushing/damaging hair while wet
  • applying dry shampoo between washes to keep my hair from looking oily and avoid over washing
  • applying a heat protectant before using a hair dryer and again before using other heat tools
  • only flat ironing or curling my hair twice per month, maximum
  • taking vitamins and changing my diet to include lots of healthy fats, fish, nuts, fruits, and veggies

All of this helped my hair finally grow past collarbone-length, but my ends would still get dry and start to split after a couple of months without a trim (which seems to be the case for many people). The quality of my hair considerably improved from before, but it wasn’t nearly as luscious as I hoped it could be. For all the money I was spending and work I was doing, there were still signs of dryness, breakage, and damage at the ends. I wasn’t ready to stop searching there.

Hair Needs Oil

All the ladies and beauty gurus on YouTube with wonderful, luscious, incredibly long hair offered differing tips on how they got their hair so healthy to the point that they could grow it long. But there was one thing in particular that seemed be the common factor between them all, the one tip that seemed to separate the ladies with truly luxurious hair from the rest: They added oil to their hair.

Close up of oil for hydrating hair

These ladies were slathering coconut oil, argan oil, olive oil, etc. daily or weekly on their hair. Some would focus it just on their ends to avoid damage, while others would put it all over their hair and scalp. They would boast about the hydrating benefits these oils would give their hair, leaving it soft, silky, and shiny, better than any other product. Their reasoning was that we needed to add oils back into our hair that would otherwise be there naturally to keep it healthy, hydrated, and protected from the elements. I learned that oil is great for hair.

Our bodies naturally produce oil. Pre-modern humans didn’t rely on the synthetic chemicals found in today’s commercial shampoos & conditioners to wash their hair. (We didn’t start using modern shampoos until the 1900’s.) Instead, they used natural ingredients to wash away dirt and excess oil.

Sulfates & Silicones – The main ingredients in many commercial hair products

Today, we don’t just gently wash away dirt and excess oil from our head. A main ingredient commonly found in modern, commercial shampoos is sulfates. And they’re terrible for hair.

Sulfates are too harsh for hair

Sulfates are the harsh detergents that create the soapy lathering effect in modern shampoos, and they cleanse by stripping the natural oils off the scalp and hair. Without our hair’s natural oils, hair becomes dry, unprotected from the elements, and susceptible to damage. Sulfates are too harsh for hair and can cause dryness (which leads to frizz), scalp issues like itchiness and dryness, fading hair color, and hair loss. And when the scalp and hair are stripped of their natural oils, the scalp kicks into overdrive to produce more and more oils to compensate. Cue the need for more shampoo. Cue the scalp overproducing oils to compensate. It becomes a vicious, greasy cycle. (More on sulfates here.)

Silicones cover up damaged hair but don’t fix the issue

But the ridiculous cycle doesn’t end there. Conditioners were put on the market to counteract the drying effects of sulfates in shampoos. Many modern commercial conditioners and styling products contain silicones which give hair the appearance of hydration after stripping the natural oils off of it. Silicones make hair look like what natural oils would normally do: coat the hair with a waterproof barrier, smooth out the cuticle, and give it shiny, “anti-humidity” properties, which many of us so desperately need to counteract otherwise dry/frizzy hair (caused by harsh cleansers). Silicones sound great, but there are two major problems with silicones: 1) They don’t actually hydrate, nourish, or cure dry hair, and 2) commonly used silicones are not water-soluble and can build up in hair over time if not washed out properly. If silicones build up on hair, the silicone barrier can prevent hydration from ever reaching the hair shaft, ultimately leading to dried out hair prone to breakage. But this is supposed to be okay, because silicones won’t build up in hair– as long as a harsh sulfate shampoo is regularly used to wash off silicones. *Sigh…* Rinse and Repeat.

Gosh, this is a lot of work. And we could really get into an entire discussion about how profitable this ridiculous cycle is for the cosmetics industry, but we’ll save that for another day.

**Note: There are alternative ways to cleanse hair of silicone buildup, but generally speaking, a sulfate shampoo is required.
**Second Note: Some people who go sulfate-free don’t have issues with silicone buildup, while many others do. This may be due to the fact that there are different types of silicones (some are water-soluble, but the most commonly used ones are not).
**IMPORTANT Note: I highly recommend checking out this list of sulfate/silicone/alcohol ingredients to avoid/not avoid in your hair products.

Gentler ways to wash hair

Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop triggering excess oil production so we don’t have to use all of these expensive products that do nothing but mess with our hair/scalp and throw our oil production out of whack? We’ve all thought it, but we stick to shampoo because we’re worried we’d end up with greasy hair when we have day jobs and relationships to look and smell presentable for.

As I said earlier, I switched to sulfate-free & silicone-free hair products about two years ago, and it really made a difference for the quality of my hair. At the time, I was doing everything I knew that was “right” for my hair, but I was still using shampoo, and my hair still wasn’t where it could have been. Genetics play a factor at some point, but I didn’t care. I wanted next-level hair. And that’s where oils come in.

What happens to hair without shampoo

While browsing the web for more information, I read about a woman who stopped using shampoo all together. Before I scrolled to see the images, what I imagined she must look like resembled a medieval warrior in the midst of battle with greasy, gritty, wet looking hair.

Instead, I saw a girl with long, blonde, soft, clean, healthy looking locks that I was truly amazed with. She claimed her hair had never felt better, her scalp’s oil production slowed way down, it didn’t smell bad, and she only rinsed her hair once per week with water. HOW?! I kept searching the net to see if others had similar results. I quickly found out she’s not the only one.

The No Poo Movement

There’s an entire movement of people supporting “no poo” or “shampoo-free” hair care with personal accounts of their success. Many people who stopped using commercial shampoos and switched to natural cleansers that don’t strip hair of its natural oils got the same results after a while: soft, silky, clean-looking hair with volume, increased manageability, faster growth, less fallout, less oil production, better curls & waves, and they claim friends and family swear it doesn’t smell. The pictures of their awesome looking hair is pretty eye opening.

Yeeeah…

So… I don’t want to flat out say we were lied to, but… we were lied to.

I found I can absolutely cleanse my hair of excess oils and make it smell good without using an overly harsh shampoo that messes up the balance of scalp oils. And my hair doesn’t look like a medieval warrior in a muddy battle scene. It just looks better than ever before.

What happened when I stopped using shampoo

Once I stopped stripping my hair & scalp of its natural oils with harsh shampoos, my scalp began to normalize and eventually stopped over-producing oils. The minimal amount of oils that the scalp produces don’t have to sit on the roots making hair look greasy. Brushing with a boar-bristle brush will help pull natural oils from the roots down the hair shaft to the ends of the hair, making the roots look less oily and coating the rest of the hair with natural oils. These natural oils are so essential for happy hair; they act like a nourishing conditioner on the hair shaft, keeping the hair & ends from drying out. These natural oils hydrate and protect the hair from the elements, promote hair elasticity, eliminate frizz, reduce breakage/split ends, increase manageability, promote hair growth, and won’t strip hair color. And it’s produced by the body for FREE. In my experience, the best cleanser is warm WATER. There are other no-shampoo cleansing options like raw honey, conditioner, etc. I have found that conditioner is not necessary anymore for my hair, but if I need extra hydration, I just dab on a few drops of coconut oil on the very very tips of my hair while damp.

Transitioning from shampoo to no poo

Going cold-turkey to a “no poo method” after years of using harsh shampoo will most likely lead to an oily adjustment period depending on how badly out-of-whack the oil production of the scalp is. For me, it took about 2 weeks to get my hair’s oil under control, as I started with a mostly-under-control oil production. I have seen others claim it took them 6 weeks. To avoid going cold-turkey, there are techniques to keep hair looking clean and smelling good (that won’t strip hair of its oils) to give the scalp time to normalize through the transitional period. And the goal never has to be to take the leap to water-only hair washing. One of the best parts about going “no shampoo” is that there are SO many gentle hair washing options, so many methods to try, and there are multiple methods that work for different hair types.

Shampoo bars as one method of no shampoo hair washing

For years, I had dreamed of a world without excessively oily hair, without the need of damaging my hair with heat to get my dry ends to behave, without constantly losing the battle of humidity and frizz, without the overwhelming costs of professional shampoos & conditioners, hair masks, heat protectants, dry shampoos, styling creams, hair sprays, etc… Imagine my face when I realized this dream was completely real and had been totally obtainable this entire time…

I quit shampoo 4 weeks ago. My hair has never looked or felt better. My hair has truly made it to the next level. And I’ll never go back.


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13 comments

  1. Nia

    Hello :)

    Thank you for wrote your experience with “no-poo” method. Your explenation was very detailed, I love reading it.
    There’s something I want to ask you about this method….when you in the transitional period, how did your hair? Was it felt greasy & sticky? And how often you wash your hair in a week?
    Because right now is my 7th days using “no poo method” and my hair feel horrible :'( sooo sticky & greasy. I wash my hair every day with honey+lukewarm water (3 days), just lukewarm water (3 days), and last time I washed it with baking soda + likewarmwatr…..my hair just as sticky as before *sigh* and I feel like, “uugh, I want to wash my hair with shampoo again!!”
    Help me please. Thank you soo much :)

  2. Taylor

    I’ve been no poo for almost 2 months (apple cider vinegar baking soda) and I still am having a lot of oil production. I workout daily and so my question with that is how do I feel clean without going back to shampoo?

    1. Hi Taylor, I do not recommend using baking soda as a no poo method. I know the popular no poo craze is all about replacing shampoo with baking soda, but baking soda is very alkaline and can be way too harsh for the human scalp/hair. Many people have bad experiences after using baking soda for a long time… Here’s a link to some more info on it, but I recommend you do your own reading, too. There are gentler no poo methods (like using 1 tbsp of raw honey diluted in 1/2 cup of water) that I highly recommend you use instead of baking soda. The apple cider vinegar is okay though (diluted in some water).

      To answer your question about what to do if you workout daily: How does your hair feel after you workout and the sweat dries? Does it smell? You can try just brushing through your hair with a BBB or wooden-bristled brush to see if it looks okay. If it does, leave it! You can also try the dry shampoo recipe I discussed in [this post] which will make your hair look non-greasy and can get rid of any odors. Or, if you want to feel even cleaner, you can rinse your hair with cool water & not much scrubbing after a workout, which will wash away any dirt/sweat, but it won’t wash away all of the oils on your head (which need warm water to dissolve away).

  3. Thanks so much for this awesome blog! I just started the water washing method a week ago and prior to that I just co washed. I thought it would take my scalp longer to produce more oils and coat my hair since I have coily afro textured hair.

    I water washed 5 days in a row and today is my second day not washing and even though I’ve brushed daily and cleaned my brush twice my hair is super oily (never thought I’d say that) so my question is how long would you recommend daily water washing before waiting for my hair to get dirty?

    1. Are you getting clean hair after water-washing it? If it’s not getting clean, you may need to tweak your WO washing method. I have tips in this post.

      If you are getting clean hair after each WO wash, but your hair produces oils after 24 hours, you need to train your scalp to slow down its oil production. I wrote a post about that here. My biggest tip for you (since you’re already brushing daily with a clean brush), is to wash your hair less often. Every time your wash the oils off your head, your scalp replenishes oils, and it gets locked into a routine of over-producing oils, and you get locked into the routine of over-washing to get rid of those oils every day. Stop doing that! Wash your hair less often, and follow the tips in the post I linked to look less oily while you skip washes. Eventually, your scalp’s oil production will slow down, and you won’t look oily as often. :)

  4. Sharon

    I was wondering about if you were around a campfire or someone who smoked how would you get rid of the smell? Still new to all of this. Thanks.

  5. Anonymous

    I have a question I am hoping you can help me with. I am a natural blonde and most of the water-only method bloggers I have come across have dark hair. I am wondering whether my hair will darken with the water-only method due to the increased oil. Usually my dirty-blonde hair looks darker when it’s dirty and brightens/lightens up after a shampooing. If I go water-only will I just have to content myself with a darker shade of hair color or will it go back to lighter once the oil production stabilizes? Any insight would be much appreciated!