How to Transition to No-Poo Without Looking Oily!

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Hair Care, No Shampoo, Water Only Hair Washing
The guide for an oil free transition to no poo

Tips for the Initial Oily Transition Phase on no poo

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 “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…

Getting the scalp’s oil production under control is crucial for a successful no shampoo or “no-poo” routine. The goal for me was to be able to go up to 7 days between hair washes so that my scalp could get used to this routine and stop over producing oils. I went from needing to wash my hair once per day to only once per week, and many others have reported this as well.

The benefits: Hair will look cleaner for longer, so it doesn’t have to be washed as often. As a result, less time and money will need to be spent on hair care. And hair won’t have to be damaged with heat as often (if a hair dryer is used every time it’s wet).

How to slow scalp oil production

I have found the two most important rules to follow to slow the scalp’s excess oil production are:

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

Obviously #1 is covered after switching to a sulfate-free or no-poo method. For #2, I have found letting the hair’s natural oils to sit on the scalp during the transitional phase allowed my scalp to quickly stop over-producing oils. Waiting a day longer between each hair wash can help achieve this. Below are some tips to manage oils while going through the initial transitional phase, and get through it as quickly as possible — to get closer to beautiful shampoo-free hair

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

Tip #1: Distribute oils away from 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 hair oils is to switch to 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 soak up hair oils. They pick up the oils at the roots, and glide them down to the ends of hair with each brush stroke. Using one of these brushes will make roots look softer and less oily, and it allows the hair’s natural and hydrating oils to nourish the ends of hair (which are further from the scalp and susceptible to dryness). The hair’s natural oils are the BEST at conditioning hair, so ends will appreciate the hydration.

Note: I personally noticed boar bristle brushes work better at distributing oils than wooden bristled brushes.

How to properly distribute hair oils

Natural bristle hair brush for distributing no poo hair oil

Section hair into about 1-inch sections and brush from root to tip. Sectioning hair will help get the brush really close to the base of the roots and reach all areas of the scalp. After finishing each section, brush through the ends of the 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, but it seriously helps avoid 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 (like boar bristles) will ultimately help go longer and longer between washes because it will keep ends hydrated and roots from looking as oily. Brush every day or every other day during the initial no-poo oily phase. Just make sure the boar bristle brush is clean before every use (especially during the transitional phase) otherwise it’s not really soaking up oils, just moving around last week’s hair oils on the head.

How to distribute oils on curly hair

Brushing daily might not be an option for natural curls, since brushing unravels curls and turns them into a fluffy lion’s mane. But don’t worry, curly hair may be able skip daily brushing since it’s a bit harder to see oily roots on curly hair! Instead, wait to brush hair until right before washing it, as showering can reset curls after brushing. 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

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

Tip #3: Can I use Dry Shampoo on No Poo?

Dry Shampoo is a powder that is rubbed into hair to soak up excess oils and refresh the scent of hair. It’s the perfect solution in the mornings when there’s no time to wash and dry hair or properly brush all the oils away from roots. Dry shampoo is used without having to get hair wet, the oil-free effects last all day, and it can help with pushing another day before having to wash the hair. HOWEVER, I recommend using the least amount of dry shampoo as possible since the powder soaks up scalp oils, which could make the scalp think it’s dry and needs to produce more oils (as if it was just washed with shampoo). 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.

Keep in mind dry shampoo stays on hair until the next time it is washed or rinsed out. So I recommend aiming for a gentle, non-irritating and non-drying formula that won’t make the scalp itchy. I prefer using a natural DIY dry shampoo (recipe below), but store-bought dry shampoos are an option. Just avoid silicones and drying alcohols in the ingredients.

Bowls of DIY dry shampoo ingredients to fix oily buildup on no poo

DIY Easy Inexpensive Natural Dry Shampoo Recipe

For a simple, cheap, and natural dry shampoo, consider using arrowroot powder (found in health food stores) to soak up excess oils on the scalp. These powders are white like most dry shampoos, and blend well into light hair. For dark hair, mix together a ratio of 1/2 arrowroot powder and 1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder. This is the mixture I use. The cocoa powder helps the mixture blend into dark hair easier and smells great. These are all natural (edible) ingredients that shouldn’t irritate the scalp. 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 a no shampoo hair wash, hair will probably look decent to style down for a couple of days (or longer, depending on how far into the initial transition). But after that, hair might be too oily to style it down. Style hair up and use hair accessories on these days!

Hairstyles for long hair

Wear buns, top knots, pony tails, braids, a combination of these, or any of your favorite ways to tie hair up. Accessorize to hide the hairline with bandanas, wide head bands, or scarf head bands. Try to have fun with it! Up-dos are great as they avoid part lines and most of the roots are hidden away. Hair will be up and away having its own little spa day being nourished by its natural oils. And avoid touching it which keeps it from looking even oilier via hand’s oils. If it’s the fall/winter months, try a cute beanie to hide the oils.

Hairstyles for short hair

If hair is already routinely cut short, consider getting it cut short for the transition 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 hair super short is NOT desirable, then please don’t do it! Instead, accessorize to hide the hairline with bandanas or headbands. If it’s the fall/winter months, try a cute beanie to hide the oils.

Dark hair, thick hair, and curly hair have an easier time hiding oils.

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

Bottle of low poo shampoo to help oily buildup on no poo

After trying all of the above, but still having a hard time switching from 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 hair of its natural oils. Sulfate-free shampoos still clean hair like shampoo, but they aren’t as harsh as regular shampoo and act as the medium between shampoo and no-poo. The scalp’s oil production won’t be completely normalized with a low-poo, but it 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.

This could likely be done with less than one bottle of low-poo. Wait an extra 12-24 hours between hair washes, and 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 clean results like shampoo. Also note that a sulfate-free shampoo MUST be paired with a silicone-free conditioner and don’t use any products containing silicones. Read more about that in this post (listed under “Reason #1”).

Low Poo Product Recommendations:

  • Calia Shampoos & Conditioners (~ $11USD/bottle) – natural and organic
  • Nature’s Gate Shampoos & Conditioners (< $10 USD/bottle) – Many people have great experiences with these.
  • Shea Moisture Shampoos & Conditioners (< $10 USD/bottle) – Found in many US stores

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’re following all of these tips, are weeks into the no-poo journey, and feel you should be out of the oily transition phase by now, check out this No-Poo / Water-Only Troubleshooting post which addresses this issue. It may be a simple fix!

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


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87 comments

  1. Ashley

    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?

    1. 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.

    2. Lichiam

      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.

      1. 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. Mimi

        Hi Lichiam, I realize this answer is pretty late, but if you see it and are still trying to get to no-poo it could help! I had the same issue as you did while I was transitioning, and it was because the water was too soft.. I also know that when I travel I can encounter very hard waters and then my hair does not clean as nicely either. So maybe look into your water/water pipes!

    3. Anonymous

      i have gone no poo for about two months now, the only treatment my hair gets is a wash with egg yolk once a week and linger between if im not going anywhere. my hair is thicker, shinier and cleaner for longer. Best thing i ever did was say no more to chemicals and marketing scams.

    4. Rayna

      Hi i have sensory issues. Which means i’m sensitive to certain things. For me it’s basically everything. I recently dyed my hair and shampoo in my hair and conditoner absolutely feels disgusting and honestly has not been cleaning my hair either it makes my hair look incredibly greasy too. I’ve tried different shampoos. So i’ve been looking up these no poo only water things. I have 2 questions about it i tried the boar bristle brush but i have extremely thick hair and it made my hair super staticky for some reason so i’m gonna try the wooden brush but with that do you have one that you recommend?

      My second question is how to get the water smell and just to make your hair smell better with just using water.

      Thank you so much!

    5. Adrianna

      Thank you SO MUCH for posting these WO articles!!! It gave me the courage to try it. It has been 3 months…yes 3..since I started low-poo to water only. While I still haven’t reached what I would consider 100% effectiveness, I have noticed a HUGE change in my hair and it’s getting better all the time. One thing that may be useful for others – when your hair gets so oily between washes that it feels like neither the BBB nor water washing do a THING, you can use an egg yolk wash. You just take an egg yolk (make sure all the egg white is separated out or you will have some white egg strands in your hair) and add a couple TBS warm water, whisk it, and then use it like you would shampoo. It’s not a harsh stripper, it just binds to all the oil already in your hair and helps you “start over” with non-oily hair. It has worked GREAT for me and I’ve gotten to the point where using the BBB and water washing now work well enough that I don’t have to do that any more. Make sure you wait 7-10 days in between using an egg wash though – use it too much and your hair can break from too much protein added to it from the egg yolk. Hope that helps, and THANKS again for showing me that water only can be done!

  2. WV lady

    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.)

    1. 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. Anna

    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…

    1. 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. -Anonymous-

    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?

    1. Happy

      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?

      1. 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.

    2. 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.