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

I posted previously about how to get through the initial oily transition phase that many people experience after going No Poo (no shampoo), and how the excess oil was caused by overwashing with shampoo. This post contains tips and techniques for how to get through the No Poo transition phase without looking oily. Because 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.

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. (More on using dry shampoo to get cleaner No Poo washes.)

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! Also see: “How to make your hair smell good” and check out the eBook for more beginner tips and troubleshooting.

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. Rachel

    I used a Lush shampoo bar with less than 2% sulphates for a while. Now I’m trying to go cold turkey and it’s so hard…especially with a blunt fringe which I am still doing every three or so days. My question is blow drying~ are there any no poo heat serums I can make? Or can I blow dry cold without damaging too much?

    1. I am currently writing a no-poo heat protectant post, and it should be posted soon. In the meantime, I can recommend shea butter (but this can leave your hair a little oily if you use too much at a time) or a heat protectant with water soluble silcones instead of regular silicones (which should be avoided). If you blow dry on cold, you should be fine. Heat damages hair, and cold isn’t heat! I actually blow dry on warm without a heat protectant in my hair. I just make sure I don’t leave the warm heat on any section for too long, and keep the air moving around different sections. It works for me, though avoiding heat all together is the most ideal scenario.

      For your fringe, I highly recommend using the cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or cocoa powder “dry shampoo” blends that I talked about in the post!!

    2. Angela

      I have had really good luck with diva curls no poo. I have long, thin wavy hair.

  2. Sonny

    Your blog has been so helpful through the no-poo process so far! I was just wondering how chlorine from a swimming pool would affect my hair, and what could I do to rinse it out?

    1. From my experience, chlorine makes hair dry and brittle over time because it strips the natural oils off of your hair. I recommend keeping your hair out of the water or using a swimming cap to protect your hair. If you get your hair wet, I would rinse it really well with water afterwards, without much scrubbing, because you don’t want to rinse away your oils, just rinse the chlorine out of your hair. You can moisturize your hair by adding oils to it (coconut oil, argan oil, almond oil, etc) but just be aware that adding oil to your roots can make them look greasy and it’s hard to wash it out with water only, so use VERY little. Also keep in mind, that the more often your hair swims in chlorine, the more often your scalp oils will be stripped off your hair (like shampoo), so you may notice your scalp producing more oils like if you were using shampoo.

  3. Dude

    I’m a guy just starting out with this WO method. Looking forward to see results. I’ve been doing Baking Soda about once or twice a week for about 5 months, and, though I like it better than shampoo, it’s not a huge leap forward as it has left my hair and scalp pretty dry.

    I’m starting to grow my hair out to a more medium length. My hair is really thick, wavy, and frizzy, so as my hair grows, I NEED to put some kind of styling product in it to be even somewhat presentable, otherwise it just poofs and looks ridiculous. I’ve been using a popular brand of pomade, but I feel like the long list of chemical ingredients will be unhealthy and damaging to my hair. I’m thinking that I can use a homemade pomade that is simply Coconut oil, Olive oil, Beeswax, and essential oils for fragrance.

    My concern is that having oil in my hair almost constantly (since they are not water soluble and won’t come out completely with just water) would mess with the natural production of sebum since my hair would almost always be greasy anyway. Should I worry about this? Are there other products or options that you would recommend?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Baking soda can be very drying! I cannot recommend it to anyone to use on their hair/scalp, ever. I recommend you try using an oil instead of styling product, as this will soak into your strands and nourish your hair making it less frizzy. You can definitely make a DIY / homemade pomade… I think that’s a great idea! And those ingredients sound great. If you use the TINIEST bit of oil, it shouldn’t make your hair greasy or mess with your scalp production. Just avoid your roots/scalp (unless you have a dry scalp and are trying to hydrate it) and use the smallest amount possible. We’re talking only one or two drops max. Rub it between your palms and then lightly apply it where needed to style it. Using this tiny of an amount shouldn’t make your hair look greasy, and it should completely soak into your hair strands within a few hours or overnight (as if it wasn’t applied in the first place). You don’t need to worry about washing it out. Oil is great for your hair.

      However, if your current pomade (or any other hair product you’ve used since your last sulfate-shampoo) has silicones in it, you may have silicones stuck on your hair that’s preventing it from absorbing oils and ultimately drying out your hair. So if you’re having issues with dry hair or oils that won’t aborb into your hair (even if you only apply a tiny amount), I recommend checking out this other post to see if you have silicone buildup / how to fix it. Good luck!

  4. Danielle

    Hi!
    So I’ve decided to make the leap from shampoo- been using what I’m assuming is mostly low-poo for a while now; I switch back and forth between a few: Carol’s Daughter biotin shampoo, Head & Shoulders (which likely is NOT low-poo), and Bumble & bumble thickening shampoo (again likely not low-poo).
    I’d like to go completely No-Poo and haven’t washed my hair in a few days- but have not brushed the oils down with a BBB mostly because I have yet to go out and buy a really good one- I plan on doing that today. I have a BBB or partially BBB with nylon but it’s one of those rounded ones, I’m not a fan of those. So I want the regular kind, and a wide tooth wooden comb and a wooden bristle brush for this whole process. WF shopping trip this afternoon!
    My main question is, can I go straight from using shampoo to Water Only? I’m quite new to all of this, so I know there are other steps tentatively involved in the No- Poo process, I know WO to be the final step. I belong to a No-Poo Facebook group, and found this blog via them- which as proven to be most helpful! I’d love to skip the BS/ACV rinses and whatnot and go straight to washing my hair only with water. But will I completely ruin my hair in the process??
    My hair is naturally a dark brown, and very thin. It’s gotten thinner over the years :( likely due to my hormones being a bit out of whack and me not eating the best foods. Another reason I’m looking to go more natural in basically every aspect of my life, hair care, diet, etc. It falls to my shoulders, probably not much longer than that.

    1. Hi Danielle,

      Yes you can go straight from shampoo to water-only. I never used baking soda or ACV on my hair, and do not recommend it at all.

      Before I ever heard about no-poo, I was using a low-poo / sulfate-free shampoo for a long time (which allowed me to go from having to wash my hair every day to being able to stretch 4-5 days between hair washes before looking oily). When I heard about no-poo, I started with daily boar-bristle brushing and using honey (raw honey, not pasteurized) to wash my hair, and I had AMAZING results (clean and soft). After I would wash with honey, I would also apply a silicone-free conditioner on my ends because I had really long hair and dry ends at the time.

      After 2 weeks of that (with loads of daily boar-bristle brushing, I stopped using honey and conditioner because I had enough natural scalp oils distributed throughout my hair that I no longer needed conditioner to hydrate my ends, and I had tweaked my water-only hair washing routine enough that my roots looked clean after each hair wash. It’s totally possible! Hopefully that helps you.

  5. Laura

    Hi there! Your blog has helped massively to get me started on my transition period. At first I did have trouble with a waxy build up, I have since recently WO- washed my hair at my dad’s house which has softer water and the waxyness has gone. I didn’t clarify my hair with a sulfate / silicone free shop – bought shampoo before I started (because I found your blog too late) but I did at the beginning only use hand – made shampoo with either baking soda or Rye flour. My question is would those have acted as a clarifying wash without the need to use a shop – bought special shampoo? And is the wax just because my normal shower has harder water?

    1. I’m happy to hear this blog has been helpful to you! Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for sure whether you still have silicone buildup on your hair. Every source I’ve read says that the silicones form bonds on the hair and the only way to break those bonds is with sulfates. If you were using silicones for a while without sulfates, you probably have buildup on your hair that you need to clarify out. Additionally, the wax could certainly be from hard water. If you are unsure, you can always start with the gentler option (a low-poo or co-wash) to get the wax out, and if you still have issues in the future, you could try clarifying your hair with sulfates (avoiding the roots) to rinse out the silicones.