The End of No Shampoo Experiment, 2.0

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A redhead woman with curly windblown hair.

PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Forty days is a long time to wash hair with nothing but water.

I’ve never been so nervous going to the hairdresser as I was last Tuesday afternoon. I was on the 38th day of a 40-day water-only hairwashing experiment, and I wondered how my stylist was going to react. As an Aveda hair salon owner, she’s a product-centric professional, to say the least, and my no-shampoo adventure is pretty much the antithesis of that.

Much to my astonishment, she raved about my hair. “I think it looks great,” she said, as she trimmed off my split ends. When I asked her about its strange consistency, she admitted that she prefers the feel of unwashed hair to freshly washed. It’s more manageable and it holds style better. For me, the consistency was the weirdest part of this challenge; I couldn’t run my hands through my hair the way I used to, and yet my hair didn’t look greasy.

Day 5, water only washing

© K Martinko -- This is day 5, at which point things started to improve.

Although I’m not going to stick with water-only washing, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from this experiment:

  • My hair can go way longer without washing than I ever thought. Oil production peaked around day 5, then it stayed about the same until the fourth week, when I noticed a major improvement almost overnight. You can see it in the photo above.
  • Oil is no longer a bad thing. I used to fret about washing my hair so it wouldn’t look greasy, but I’ve realized that’s silly. Most people don’t see the oil that I see, and there are plenty of ways to wear hair so that the oil barely shows.
end of water-only washing experiment

© K Martinko -- On my way to the salon, day 38

Post-haircut, day 38

© K Martinko -- Back from the hair salon, where a bit of shape was coaxed out of it!

I washed my hair on day 41, in anticipation of my birthday party the next day. I used 1 tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in 2 cups of warm water and conditioned with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in the same amount of water; this is half the quantity I usually use, but it did the job perfectly. That was five days ago and my hair still looks fresh. My goal is to return to using baking soda and vinegar, but only every 7-10 days.

Water-only washing probably could have become my standard practice if I’d stuck with it longer, but I didn’t really want to. At no point throughout the experiment did it feel conducive to styling, which frustrated me. No matter how fine it may have looked, I wanted it to feel good, too. I also must admit that I hesitated to take it further because I’m such an enviro-extremist in so many aspects of my life; I don’t want to be “that girl who doesn’t wash her hair.” Sound flaky? Maybe, but it’s true.