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. Sophia

    Hi! I just came across your blog and love it! Some really helpful tips! I’m also trying to wash my hair less often. Currently I’m going from washing it every day to washing it every second or third day. The “problem” I’m facing is that I run/go to the gym (read: sweat) a lot, so that I have to wash my hair daily (between shampoo days I will just wash it with water). What’s your recommendation to dealing with the sweat? How can I speed up the process of my scalp producing less oil even while washing my hair everyday (with water)? Thanks!!

  2. Hello there :) I just read every possible article you wrote on the subject (I think) and I thought that in the end, I still have a question to ask you… First, sorry if my sentences sound weird, English is not my first language :). My issue is : As far as I can remember, I have always had dandruff (mostly dry but also greasy). My dad has them, my brother has them… And I just can’t live with them anymore ! I’m used to always be so confident in my skin and body, but now it’s making me SO self conscious. I have used almost only natural products on my body for a few years, and when I say “almost” it’s because I started using dermatological anti dandruff shampoos few months ago to see if it would improve my situation. Now I still have dandruff (especially if I stop those shampoo) PLUS I have disgusting laureth sulfate and other chemicals on my head. I have tried everything : aloe vera, coconut masks, aloe vera + coconut (btw they leave my lengths oily all week), brushing everyday, apple cider vinegar… Nothing worked. The only thing that I tried that maybe got it a bit better was “shikakai” powder, but then again it was not magic. I’m starting to be desperate, and I really want to go natural again. Btw, I don’t use heat, always hair dry. This is kind of my last attempt… But I’m worried because I read a lot of people writing that they started having dandruff after going no poo. Do you think it could help in my case ? I really really hope you will answer my comment, sorry for writing a whole novel but it’s years of resentment built up that just got poured into my comment hahah. What about rinsing my head everyday with water to make the dandruff go ? Would that be awful and remove the good oils from my scalp ? I’m a bit lost. I actually wouldn’t mind my hair look greasy, but when it’s full of white flecks even when I style it, I really can’t go out to work :( . For now I wash my hair once or maximum twice a week. If you ever want to see my hair and the length, you can see them on my blog on the article “summer is not summer without a day at the beach” which is not the last one, but the one before :) thank you so so much in advance for your response, I’m really looking forward to it ! And thank you for your patience !

  3. Gracie

    I recently bleached the ends of my hair. My hair is naturally dark brown and the only problem is that the top of my scalp is really dry and Oily! How do I fix this without shampoo?

  4. Camilla

    How long does this transition phase last exactly? My hair is really fine, and it got oily pretty quickly when I washed it with shampoo. Now I have done WO for almost a month, and it still looks TERRIBLE. I wash it once a week with water, and I use a BBB every day. (I clean it often as well) Is it supposed to take this long? Could it be silicone build-up? Please help, I don’t know what to do… :(

    1. Hi Camilla, The length of the transition phase varies for different people depending on many factors. If your hair was getting oily quickly while using shampoo, your scalp’s oil production could have been very unbalanced when you started the water-only process. You should follow my water-only troubleshooting recommendations in this post: here. If you still aren’t having a successful start to water-only, you may need to ease into the transition with either a low-poo (sulfate-free shampoo), co-washing (conditioner only washing, has to be a silicone-free conditioner), or even honey washing (my favorite). You can try these methods for a while and try to actively stretch the time between washes. Then once your scalp’s oil production is a bit more balanced, you can try water-only again.

  5. zoe

    I stopped washing my hair for about 3 weeks but then had 2 dye it as grey hairs began 2 come through now my hairs soft again will i have 2 start all over agin if i continue not use shaampoo also i didnt use the conditioner on my hair after dying it as i hoped it would still be greasy as it was before i rinsed

    1. One shampooing shouldn’t reset your hair completely, but it does wash away all the natural oils off your head and encourages your scalp to reproduce oils quickly to replenish the lost oils.