TreeHugger Town & Country: The "No Shampoo" experiment

no poo
© Margaret Badore. Left: 20 days without shampoo. Right: After washing with baking soda.

As part of our continued Town and Country series, Margaret and Katherine take a "no poo" challenge. Below, you'll find out how our writers are feeling after 31 days without shampoo.

Margaret: What did I get us into?

I'm pretty lazy when it comes to the whole "beauty" routine thing. I can't be bothered to shave my legs and I rarely wear makeup. Sure, I brush my teeth every day. When I read Katherine's post about not using shampoo, I knew I wanted to try it. She suggested a No 'Poo experiment in the New Year, and I took her up on it. For the month of January, we decided to skip shampoo, in favor of more natural methods.

I love the idea of skipping shampoo and conditioner altogether. Not only does that mean using fewer products and taking a shorter shower, but it also appeals to my laziness about personal care. I know that some people replace their shampoo routine with baking soda and vinegar, but I wanted go cold turkey and cut washing my hair out of the daily routine altogether.

By about 2:00 AM on New Years, I was starting to have second thoughts. I have fairly fine hair that's somewhere between dirty blond and light brown, depending on how much I've been in the sun lately. It's pretty prone to grease, which makes it darker, heavier and gives it a tell-tale piece-y look about 12 hours after being washed. Before all this started, I washed my hair about every 24 hours.

On the various forums and blogs I've read about No 'Poo, most people say that the worst part is the transition period when your scalp adjusts to the absence of the chemicals. Most people say it takes about two weeks. Personally, I found the first week to feel gross, but the grease level plateaued after the third day.

It also never really looked any better. It didn't look awful, but I did find myself more inclined to pull it back in a pony tail when I went out. After about two weeks, my roommate told me, "It looks you haven't washed it in about two days."

I tried rinsing it with chamomile tea a couple of times, which smelled nice, but I couldn't see that it made any difference to the grease level. I was worried that quitting shampoo would impact my skin, but I'm happy to report that I've had no breakouts since starting the experiment.

Women with thick hair and/or curls often report having much shinier, more manageable hair after quitting shampoo. My hair was certainly not better than when I used shampoo, but I did get used to it. I started to wonder if what I really need is to re-define what it means to have good hair. If I can get used to the grease, maybe that's the more ethical, environmentally friendly choice? I missed the "squeaky clean" feeling and the lightness of freshly-shampooed hair. Is that shallow? Am I a slave to our culture's definitions of beauty and cleanliness?

After 31 days, I decided that going cold turkey isn't for me.

However, before I went back to the bottle, I decided give the baking soda thing a try. I'm sorry, internet, but I'm not putting vinegar on my head. It's supposed to soften your hair, but I can't stand the smell. Baking soda, however, absorbs grease. So on February 1, I mixed one part baking soda with three parts warm water and dumped it all on my hair in the shower.

It worked! The soda doesn't really stay in solution and it feels a little gritty, but even as I was rinsing it out I could tell my hair had that "squeaky" feeling.

In the end, I'm not a total convert. I think No 'Poo is probably awesome for people with other hair types. I'm going to use up the rest of the shampoo bottle that's been neglected in my shower for the last month, and then I'll explore some other natural alternatives. Maybe I'll even get a squeeze bottle for my baking soda mixture.

Katherine: I never dreamed No Poo would be this awesome!

As I read Maggie’s post, I had to smile when she blamed me for getting us into this No Poo experiment, since all along I thought she was the one to blame. Sure, I’d written about No Poo in December, and made a casual comment about a possible experiment, but I didn’t actually mean it. Suddenly I found myself committed, and dreading it.

Unlike Maggie, I’m a bit beauty-product obsessed. Despite having detoxified my whole routine, I haven’t simplified it much. I still wear eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, lip gloss, and moisturizer on a daily basis. And I liked the feel and smell of my natural shampoo and conditioner! I used to spend far too much time and money in the beauty aisle of the drugstore, and now my addiction has just been transferred to online natural beauty stores, such as Saffron Rouge. So the thought of ditching shampoo and opting for baking soda and apple cider vinegar, of all things, was highly unappealing to my overly product-happy self.

I typically wash my hair once every four days, so I stuck with that schedule. The last time I used shampoo was December 30, so by the fourth day, I had enough oil in my hair to make a salad dressing. (Of course, I did exactly that by adding vinegar…) But, much to my amazement, the baking soda did a fabulous job of cleaning my hair. It felt squeaky, de-greased, and clean in a ‘light’ sort of way. The vinegar smelled very strong while conditioning, but the odour dissipated after rinsing and was completely gone once my hair dried.

This is a picture of my air-dried hair after washing with baking soda and vinegar. Please note: This is prior to adding any coconut oil to tame the frizz! Back when I used shampoo, it would have been a much bigger frizz ball, but now it's more manageable, especially with coconut oil.

© Katherine Martinko

It’s been over 5 weeks since I started, and I’ll never use shampoo again. My hair is very thick, wavy, dry, and often frizzy, but it’s much easier to manage now that I’ve ditched the shampoo, requiring only a little coconut oil to look presentable. I’ve barely touched my curling iron and straightener since starting this experiment.

This No Poo experiment caught the attention of many friends in my Facebook community. I’ve had mixed reports from the half-dozen friends who joined in, most of whom were pleasantly surprised by the efficacy of baking soda and vinegar. It seems that the most successful experiments were done by people who don’t wash their hair often. If you’re considering trying it, I suggest first weaning yourself off daily shampooing, working up to every 3 or 4 days, then easing into No Poo. Another modification is to mix a bit of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap into the baking soda-water mix, in order to get a better cleanse.

I’m an unlikely convert to No Poo -- and will be eternally grateful to Maggie for roping me into this experiment against my will!

Tags: Beauty Treatments | Cosmetics