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.
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.
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.
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 have permed hair and use a curling creme. Does the honey method get product out of hair, too? As of now, I am washing my hair almost daily because wetting my hair and reapplying the creme is the only way to get the curls to look how I want. A second day’s application of creme on top of the first is too much. What are your thoughts? Thanks.
What if i can’t seem to give up my lush conditioners.. i just love how they feel and how they make my hair feel. the only thing is that they have Candelilla Wax in them.. that’s the only bad ingredient that i can see… I’m torn because I really want to go no poo water only method but i’m afraid it won’t work unless i give up the products with Candelilla Wax in them…
Hello Jess, that sounds like a good question. I would try using a co-wash ( only wash with conditioner) it leaves your hair beautiful without stripping it of oil. :)
What silicone free heat protectant do you recommend please? Thank you!
Cheryl, this other post covers natural and silicone free heat protectants!
To trouble-shoot excessive oil build-up during the transition phase:
…I used my regular shampoo *BUT* hear me out! First, I pre-lathered a small amount in my hands, then target only the oiliest areas (my crown), quickly preening it sparingly at least 1.5″ away from my roots and only as far as it’s needed, taking all cautions not to interrupt my scalp’s sebum or wash to the ends. After a good rinse, I’ll start to work the remaining concentrated sebum from the root area down the rest of my hair (‘water washing’), After an air dry (avoiding stimulating the scalp too much at this point), I gently continue to preen the concentrated oils starting at the roots down the full length of my hair. The logic behind this is to reduce excess oil build-up around the roots and use it to re-condition my hair that has just been washed and will absorb excess oil readily.
The results are honestly still a bit of an oily look, but not nearly as greasy if I was water-only wash during this transition phase (which I’ve unsuccessfully attempted). It’s been a happy medium between water only and a full-on regular shampooing for me until my scalp normalizes. Again, a very-very sparingly used method, intended to not disturb the sebum normalizing process as much as possible.