The No Poo Method and Being Shampoo Free
Are you “No Poo?” Nope, I’m not talking about constipation—I’m talking about hair care!
The “No Poo” movement is the shampoo-free movement.
A few years back, I was buying commercial shampoos and conditioners from the beauty department of the grocery store, just like everyone else.
I was getting more health-conscious at the time though, and I made the decision to get all harsh chemicals out of my life! And that meant letting go of my shampoo and conditioner and finding a new way to take care of my hair.
When I first thought of it, I wasn’t sure I was going to find much in the way of resources to help me. Imagine my surprise when I learned that more and more people around the globe are moving away from commercial hair care products and toward more natural methods!
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Why Go “No Poo”? Why should you do this? Here are a few great reasons!
1. First off, you will get potentially harmful and definitely unnecessary chemicals out of your life!
Look up your favorite hair care products some time in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. I just love the EWG, and you will too!
Products are all rated on a scale from 0-10, with 0 being harmless, and 10 being just awful. Seriously, even the Suave shampoo I used to use rated a 5—which isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. If your product of choice rates an 8, 9 or 10, you will probably be pretty horrified when you see what’s in it.
And even with a 5, just think how often you use this stuff—probably every day. Over time, that probably creates a lot of damage, which isn’t nice to think about.
Stop stripping your hair of its natural oils and drying it out.
Look, the beauty industry has us in a vicious buying cycle.
We purchase shampoo to clean our hair, and then we need to go out and buy conditioner so we can restore the moisture our shampoo stripped out! This is mostly the result of sulfates.
Sulfates take the oil right out of your hair and make it frizzy and damage-prone. If you skip the shampoo, you aren’t going to dry out your hair, and then you won’t need the commercial conditioner.
2. Save yourself a ton of money.
Seriously, you can take care of your hair at an almost negligible cost if you stop buying commercial shampoo and conditioner. You could end up saving something like $10-$50 a month, depending on what kinds of products you use.
3. Tame down your hair’s oils.
When I used commercial shampoo and conditioner, I eventually realized I could stop drying out my hair as badly by shampooing every three days instead of every day.
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The drawback though was that my hair’s oil production went crazy in the meantime—so my hair was either totally dry or totally greasy. Once you get your scalp to produce oil consistently, this problem goes away.
Since you are no longer stripping all the oils out of your hair, your scalp isn’t constantly trying to make up for it between washings. You can probably get away with washing your hair a lot less often.
4. Enjoy the improved tone of your hair provided by your hair’s natural oils.
You will probably have more lift and volume, and your hair may also grow more quickly.5. No more skin problems if you have sensitive skin!
5. Now let’s talk more about what makes shampoo so darn awful!
The Reddit FAQ for No Poo summarizes it nicely:
Shampoo is a detergent, just like laundry detergent, dishwashing powder, and the stuff you use to clean your bathroom.
Really that’s all you need to hear. Eww, right? Would you ever put dishwashing detergent or laundry detergent in your hair?
So why do we use shampoo and not dishwashing soap?
How did marketers train us to think that shame is better?
Essentially the only reason is that shampoo was designed to behave the same whether you have hard or soft water, which can be convenient (basically, you don’t have to deal with soap scum, at least not as such).
Shampoo contains sulfates and other damaging chemicals though, and only the reason you need conditioner is to repair the damage to your hair that comes from shampooing it every day.
So why does shampoo make your hair shiny? Okay, good question. This actually comes from mineral oil which is included as part of the formula—and it is actually a byproduct of crude oil. Eww again.
That’s right—you’ve been showering with a crude oil byproduct.
This stuff doesn’t absorb into your skin, which is probably a good thing—except that it also forms a barrier on top of your skin.
This prevents your scalp from secreting oils properly and getting rid of toxins. So your hair gets even more unhealthy.
Oh yeah, and it doesn’t penetrate the hair shaft, so any benefits it can provide just skim the surface (unlike a natural oil like coconut oil, that can penetrate the hair shaft).
Oh yeah, and let’s add to that the fact that shampoos usually contain sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, two chemicals that irritate your skin and eyes.
You know that slight “burning” sensation you sometimes get when you shampoo? Not everyone is sensitive to this, but I know I am. I was so glad to get it out of my life. Oh yeah—and no one even knows how safe this stuff is!
Another study in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology states that “high levels of skin penetration may occur at even low use concentration.” Just how much damage these chemicals do is hard to say, but do you really want to find out?
These industrial ingredients haven’t been in use all that long in human history, which means that there’s not a lot of long-term data on their usage.
“Okay, I’m convinced … what can I do?
If you’re ready to go shampoo free, the easiest alternative is baking soda. You can make a paste out of baking soda and water and rub that into your hair (I find this is helpful if I have tough knots formed around mineral deposits in my hair), but this is a bit harsh for regular use. A better idea is to dilute roughly a tablespoon of baking soda per cup of warm or hot water.
If you have long hair or thick hair, just use more, but do not use more than one tablespoon per cup. Why? Your hair will get really brittle. Initially I was really overdoing it with this stuff, and I wondered why my hair kept breaking, and as a result, had stopped growing.
It was really irritating, especially since I love having long hair and am always trying to grow it out. Don’t overdo it though and you should steer clear of this pitfall.
Do you have to use baking soda? Not necessarily. Bentonite or kaolin clay work, or you can try mixing in a powdered herb instead, like cassia, henna, shikakai, aritha or reetha.
And here’s a big secret …
with some hair types, especially curlier hair, none of these are even needed! You may be able to skip them outright and just use water or conditioner (more on that in a bit).
If you are mixing your proportions properly, you should not get a gritty formula.
It will be a liquid, not a paste. Pour it over your hair or use a spray bottle, and then work it in. It will of course not foam up. Foam is not necessary for clean hair! That is just something the beauty industry has sold us on. Rinse it out after about a minute.
You will probably need to experiment and find what works for you. Personally I find that baking soda is too harsh to use on my hair unless it is greatly diluted.
But you might find that your hair takes to it a lot better.
Why Do These Ingredients Work?
Why baking soda? Why clay? More good questions.
Baking soda is a sodium compound alkali, and it’s the gentlest one out there. So long as you use it in small amounts, it will not damage your skin or your hair.
Baking soda does a great job removing buildup, whether from your previous shampoos or from minerals in your water.
Clay as an alternative is great for removing dirt and excess oil from your hair.
Think about the clay you’d use in a mud mask for your face.
It’s the same principle. Many people report that mud also makes their hair far more manageable and easier to style. The herbs suggested all have cleansing qualities and create a bit of froth. Note that henna and cassia may affect your hair color over time, so you probably only want to use them if you are actually trying to change your hair color.
I will talk more about natural hair dyes at the end of this article. Once you replace your commercial shampoo and conditioner, you will probably want to replace the rest of your hair products too.
Make Yourself a Conditioner
A conditioner may not be required, depending on your hair type, just as the baking soda shampoo replacement may not be. For my hair (which is thin but wavy), I have found the conditioning rinse far more useful than the baking soda rinse.
The conditioner you are making will not be serving the same purpose that your commercial conditioner did, since you are not damaging your hair anymore with commercial shampoo. Instead, your conditioner will nourish your hair and scalp and enhance the appearance and texture of your hair. It will also help to balance out your scalp pH.
One of the best ways to make a natural hair conditioner is by using organic apple cider vinegar. You simply want to dilute about 1-3 tablespoons into a cup of water, tea, or coffee, and pour it over your hair.
Leaving in the vinegar after your shower is a great move and will get you the best effect. Don’t worry—the smell won’t linger after your hair dries. Try mixing helpful herbs into your apple cider vinegar rinse.
You can also condition your hair by moisturizing it with a natural, healthy substance like shea butter, coconut oil, almond oil or aloe vera gel. You can apply these, wait a few minutes, and rinse them out, or you can use some of them as leave-in conditioners. I’ve had great results with coconut oil.
Just be careful if you are leaving in an oil not to use too much of it, or you will end up with greasy hair.
A Word of Warning …
When you first abandon your commercial shampoo and conditioner, odds are your hair is going to look and feel very strange for a few weeks. Part of this is just an “adjustment” phase, and it will pass—your hair will improve once your scalp has a chance to get used to the fact you are no longer abusing it with those awful chemicals.
The other part of it though will not go away.
The reality is, human hair is not supposed to look and feel like we’ve been trained to believe by hair product manufacturers and Hollywood producers. Your real hair texture and appearance is probably quite different than you realize.
Try and just trudge through the first couple of weeks without concerning yourself too much about your hair texture and appearance. You should see it start to normalize at the end of that period. By then you should also be starting to get used to some of the long term differences you can expect.
What was my transition like?
At first, my hair just looked really bad!
It was dull and it felt “sticky” and brittle to me (I was using too much baking soda, so that didn’t help). After several weeks though, it returned to a more familiar texture. No, it wasn’t as shiny or smooth as it was with the mineral oils from shampoo, but it did have a lot more lift and body.
When I started using the apple cider vinegar treatments, the shine and softness improved considerably.
And now with coconut oil as a moisturizer, I am getting better results than I ever did with commercial products. So go into this whole process with patience and an open mind. It will take some getting used to. It doesn’t mean your hair can’t be naturally beautiful; but it will be a different type of beauty than you are used to.
Other Alternatives to Commercial Shampoo
I didn’t actually end up sticking with the “No Poo” thing, even though I went with it for a good year or so. I loved the money I was saving, and it was so nice to get away from the chemicals, but I still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the baking soda.
I loved the vinegar rinses I had learned to make in place of conditioner, but I found myself still wanting a different solution for the shampoo.
I ended up going with a natural shampoo bar. Yep, it comes in a bar, like a bar of soap, but it is made for your hair, and it works really great for me. It gets my hair nice and clean, and all I do is use it a couple of time a week, and then rinse with the apple cider vinegar about once a week.
There are a lot of all-natural shampoos (in liquid or in bar form) that you can substitute for your commercial shampoo. Some of these you can pick up at your local health food store. Look very carefully at the bottle so you know for sure what you are getting! Others you can order online.
You will find some of the highest quality and most affordable all-natural shampoos are made by artisans and boutique shops—not by larger companies. My shampoo bars last me for ages, and they save me a lot of money.
It is not all that much more expensive than going completely shampoo-free.
Other Natural Hair Care Substitutes
Now that you’ve done away with your commercial shampoo and conditioner, you’re probably starting to look less kindly upon your hairspray, hair dye, and other commercial products.
What’s the point in getting rid of those shampoo and conditioner chemicals if you are just introducing damage in other ways?
Seriously, good point.
Here are some ideas for replacing these other hair care products:
The No Poo page on Reddit gives a great little recipe for a natural hairspray. Chop 2 lemons and simmer them in 2 cups of water on a pan over low heat. Wait until they get soft, and then let the mixture cool.
Strain it and pour the lemon water into a spray bottle, then add a tablespoon of vodka.
Shake it up, and add more water if it is sticky. The vodka is a preservative—you can use rubbing alcohol as an alternative. Store it in your fridge.
Be aware that lemon lightens hair!
This won’t work for you if you want to avoid lightening.
If you do want to lighten your hair, this is a bonus.
This recipe also comes from the Reddit page.
Mix 2 tablespoons of flax seed into a cup of water and boil it in a saucepan. Remove it and let it cool for half an hour. Strain it so you just get the liquid, and then mix in a couple drops of essential oil (your choice what to use).
Mix and store in a jar.
Your options here really depend on the color you are aiming for.
If you want a shade of red, auburn, copper, or a warm brown, henna is an excellent all-natural choice—and it acts as a conditioner.
If you are going for a cooler brown or a black color, you can use indigo, or mix it in with the henna.
Cassia can also influence the outcome of your hair color, and there are many ingredients you can add to any or all of these dyes to get a particular effect. For blonde, Sun-In is not a bad choice; it isn’t 100% natural, but it is mostly just peroxide and lemon juice, gentler than other bleaches.
It also can lighten dark brown hair to a reddish-coppery color.
For other hair colors, all you can really do is try to find the least-harmful dye out there. Check any product you are thinking of purchasing in the EWG database to see what’s in it and how bad it potentially is.
Questions and Answers
Q: Why is there grey gunk in my hair?
A: This actually has nothing to do with the fact that you’re no longer shampooing. The grey gunk comes from your hard water; it is simply mineral buildup. It has always been there and always will be, unless you soften your water. It may simply be more obvious when you stop using your commercial shampoo and conditioner. The vinegar treatments work really well for getting rid of this stuff!
If you have really long or thick hair, you may end up with a lot of this grey gunk in hard-to-reach spots.
To solve this problem, comb out your hair before you step in the shower. This will make it easier for your baking soda treatment to reach all of your hair!
Q: My hair is all dry and brittle now. What's going on?
A: If this is your first two or three weeks after stopping commercial shampoo, part of it may be the “adjustment” phase I mentioned earlier. But if it has been longer than that, it may be that you are using too much baking soda.
Try diluting it more, or even skipping it altogether.
Increase your use of coconut oil or another natural moisturizer. The occasional hot oil treatment is a great idea. Is your hair itchy? A little brown sugar added to your wash can work wonders.
Q: My hair is all greasy now. What's going on?
This is also probably an issue pertaining to the adjustment period. Some people end up with their hair going all dry, while others end up with it going all oily. Your scalp will adjust! Just wait a few weeks, and it should get better.
Q: What is this white stuff all over my hair?
If you have white buildup on your hair and not grey buildup, it probably isn’t the mineral deposits.
Most likely it’s actually baking soda buildup because you are overdoing it. Even if you have really long hair, you don’t want to use more than a couple of tablespoons, and preferably significantly diluted.
Now you should be ready to go “No Poo” and throw out those commercial shampoo and conditioner bottles!
The first few weeks will be a challenge, but I promise you that if you give it a shot and keep experimenting until you find the right combination of ingredients and techniques for your hair type, you will never look back.
There are just so many alternatives to commercial hair care products. Remember, your ancestors didn’t put those chemicals in their hair or on their skin. Human hair doesn’t need all those chemicals!
Once you get the hang of it, you will love how your hair looks and feels, and you will be saving so much money over the course of a year!