Last year, fellow TreeHugger Katherine Martinko and I decided to put the claims of “No Poo” advocates to the test. We decided to ditch shampoo for the month of January, in favor of more natural cleansing solutions.
Even more than a year later, the story remains very popular and I still get questions about whether or not I’m “back on the bottle.” There is something a bit comic about the fact that the most popular thing I’ve ever written is about greasy hair—if my reporting on the international climate change talks got a quarter as many clicks I’d be thrilled. But the hair product industry is worth an estimated $11.4 billion in the U.S. alone, so it’s really not surprising that people are fascinated by the idea of skipping the stuff altogether.
The theory behind No Poo is this: the detergents in shampoo strip the scalp of its oils, which in turn encourages your scalp to produce even more oil to over compensate. There’s not much by way of scientific research to back that claim, and honestly, who would fund that research?
Katherine, who has curls, went for the baking soda and vinegar approach and loved it (and still does, read about it here). For people with curls, ditching regular shampooing is actually pretty mainstream advice—I first heard about it while interning at Seventeen magazine.
My straight hair, on the other hand, is very prone to getting greasy, which makes it clump together in a way that I don’t like. I’d read lots of anecdotes about people who skipped washing their hair with everything except water, which resulted is less oily scalps. So, that’s what I went for. I don’t like to fuss when it comes to personal care, so skipping the step of washing my hair also appealed to my lazy side. My hair got greasier and greasier and greasier for about four days and then plateaued. It didn’t really smell—I did shower every day—and it didn’t look awful, but it wasn’t great either. My boyfriend couldn’t tell that I hadn’t washed my hair in weeks, and my roommates claimed it looked like I had gone maybe two days without shampoo.
At the end of the month, I tried the baking soda appoach. This got rid of the grease—which was awesome after feeling slightly gross for the past 31 days. But I wasn’t in love with it either. I wanted to spend less time messing with my hair, and baking soda took me more time to prepare, scrub thoroughly and fully rinse out. It also left my hair a bit more dried out than conventional shampoo, which is why I decided to keep trying other options.
Over the past year or so, I’ve tried a number of eco-friendly alternatives. I used up the rest of my conventional shampoo, even though I have concerns about some of its ingredients, because it seemed weirdly wasteful to dump it out. I tried out an organic shampoo—although it’s good to keep in mind that body care products can claim to be organic without meeting standards as strict as those required of food.
I finally settled on Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castile soap, something which many of my eco-conscious friends have recommended. Castile soap is an oil-fashioned form of vegetable soap, and Dr. Bronner’s uses fair trade ingredients that are also certified at food-grade organic standards. While I wish there was some sort of refillable option, the bottles are recyclable and you can buy a giant jug for about $30.00, which is very cheap compared to a lot of the other organic beauty products out there.
With the Dr. Bronner’s, my hair feels clean but not dry, and I usually go about three days between washings. I like even the quickest shower to be relaxing, so I particularly enjoy the lavender-scented option. In the winter when my ends get a bit more dried out, I use a tiny bit of argan oil. I’ve also tried coconut oil, but found it to be a bit too heavy for my hair.
So, the short answer is yes, I’m “back on the bottle,” but I don’t use a product that most people would consider conventional shampoo. You can use Castile soap as a body wash, as laundry detergent and to clean all kinds of other things.
Everyone’s hair is different, and hair texture changes as we age. What works for my brownish straight hair may not be great for someone who has darker hair, or thicker hair, or wavy hair, or grey hair. But regardless of our hair type, I think everyone should read the claims on the front of the bottle with some skepticism: What’s in this? Where and how are the ingredients made? Have they been tested and shown to be safe?
Maybe the answers to these questions will lead you to stop using shampoo, or maybe they'll lead you to a different product.