I’ve lost track of how long it’s been since I last used shampoo, but I think it’s going on three years now. So what possessed me to stop using shampoo, or to go ‘no-poo’ as they say? Quite simply, shampoo just isn’t necessary, though we’ve all been conned into thinking we need it. Clever marketing has convinced us that we just need to find the right shampoo to make our hair lustrous and shiny. But in fact, conventional shampoos often do more harm than good.
If shampoo was necessary for healthy hair, wild animals would be in trouble. But when was the last time you saw a monkey using shampoo? Many animals have such naturally soft and glossy fur that we feel the need to kill them and take it for ourselves.
The truth is, our hair will mostly look after itself given the chance. The trouble is, if we use shampoo all the time then we become dependent on it. They hook us in early with baby shampoo, and most of us have never allowed our hair to balance itself naturally. If we stop washing our hair, it quickly becomes greasy, because we have become dependent on shampoo to remove it.
Why bother going no-poo?
Maybe shampoo isn’t necessary, but does that actually matter? Why go to the trouble of weaning yourself off it?
For me, there were two main reasons. The first was health. Many shampoos are very harsh, stripping the natural oils from our hair. Contrary to manufacturers’ claims, they often leave hair dry and brittle as a consequence. This, incidentally, is why we need conditioner – to replace the moisture we lost because of shampoo! For some people, the body will react to the stripping of its natural oils by producing yet more oil, leading to greasy hair instead. To me, all this is absurd – especially because conditioner just can’t replicate the effects of our natural oils.
Most shampoos also contain various undesirable ingredients which can cause irritation or worse. If I’m going to rub something into my scalp, I’d rather know what it is and what its effects will be.
My second concern was environmental. I find it disturbing the way we dump all manner of substances into our water. Most toiletries are not biodegradable, and even when the water is cleaned and filtered, these unbiodegradable remnants have to go somewhere. And not all traces of man-made substances can be eradicated from the water, which is bad news for both wildlife and humans.
Then there are the containers which shampoo comes in. These are generally plastic, and often not recyclable. Besides, plastic can only be recycled so many times; at some point, we have to deal with its non-biodegradable remains.
Though these were my main motives, there are a couple of other advantages to ditching shampoo. For example, you save a lot of money by not using shampoo, and it means less to carry when you travel.
How do I go no-poo?
Saving money and the planet sounds pretty good. But if your hair is dependent on shampoo, how are you supposed to move away from it?
My advice is to take baby steps. If you go cold turkey (so to speak), you’ll probably cave in at the first sign of greasiness. So if you normally use shampoo every day, start by cutting back to every other day. Once you get used to that, try every few days, then once a week and so on. In between, feel free to wash your hair with just water as often as you like – you’d be surprised how much it can help. Another important tip is to keep brushing or combing your hair – this helps to distribute the oils evenly so they don’t concentrate greasily at the top.
This was the strategy I used – it was a long time, perhaps even a few months, before I was able to completely eliminate shampoo, but I’ve never looked back.
Depending on your hair, you may need to experiment with some natural shampoo alternatives, at least to begin with. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Natural shampoo alternatives
There are so many things you can use instead of shampoo. I’m not going to cover all of them, especially since I haven’t tried most of them. You can do your own research if you’d like some more ideas.
Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
My personal favourite. It’s very straightforward – just put half or a quarter of a teaspoon (depending on how greasy your hair feels) in a cup of warm water and pour it over your head in the shower. Then rinse it out. It’s best not to do this too often because, like shampoo, it can dry your hair out. Personally, I only use it once every few months or so, if for whatever reason I get a buildup of greasiness. I’ve read that it works by softening the water, and I’ve definitely noticed that I need to use it more often when I’m in an area with hard water.
It’s recommended that you use apple cider vinegar – a splash in half a cup of water – as a conditioner after using bicarbonate of soda. To be honest, I’ve never bothered, but maybe my hair would look better if I had!
I’ve used these for my clothes, but you can use them on your hair too. Simply boil them for 10 minutes or so and whizz them up in a blender. You can use the resulting liquid as shampoo.
Apparently, you can sieve this and use it on your hair. I haven’t tried it myself, but I have a friend who swears by it.
This can make your hair wonderfully soft and shiny. Bear in mind that most henna will tint your hair, usually a reddish colour.
What if I have very long/thick hair?
You should be able to go no-poo regardless of your hair type. My hair is very thick and wavy, and it was quite long when I started out. Now it’s short, and I take care of it in pretty much the same way. I wash it with water roughly once a fortnight, massaging my scalp to loosen up any buildups of dead skin and then rinsing it out. It’s important not to use very hot water, as this can damage your hair. I use cold water for the final rinse, which makes it softer and shinier.
Ultimately, everyone’s hair is different and you have to find what works for you. But I firmly believe that there’s a natural, eco-friendly solution for everyone.
Have you tried going no-poo? What was your experience?