Why Are You Still Using Shampoo?

A detergent-based shampoo is a bad idea for most people, but especially anyone with curly hair. It strips moisturizing natural oils from the hair, leaving it frizzier for all your trouble. (Photo: mavo/Shutterstock)

I hate to break it to you, but it's true: Bubbles are bad. Well, at least for your hair. That's why so many of us are "co-washing," which means washing your hair with conditioner. Once you've eschewed the 'poo for a few weeks, you realize how much damage you've been doing. My dandruff and spilt ends are gone, and my hair is stronger, too.

If you aren't quite ready to go the co-washing route, there are plenty of companies introducing new shampoos that don't lather. (It's detergents like sodium laureth sulfate that creates the frothy foam. These new shampoos clean your hair using other, more gentle ingredients to freshen up your hair.)

But why does it matter what kind of cleansing agent is in your shampoo?

"These detergents [in shampoos] are like monsters," Eli Halliwell, cofounder of shampoo brand Hairstory, who has worked in the past with luxe haircare brand Bumble and Bumble, told Fast Company.

"They're really great if you’re in a hospital room or in surgery, where you want the room as clean as possible. But when you’re washing your hair, you strip away your natural protective barrier of oil, and your body goes into a response, which usually involves irritation and producing too much oil," said Halliwell. This vicious cycle keeps us buying shampoo, too.

Using the same type of cleaner for your lovely locks as you do to degrease your dishes means that your idea of clean is probably oil-free hair; but let's rethink that. Some oil is necessary to keep hair shiny, bouncy, and healthy. That's why we use conditioners, mousses, and other styling products — to add that moisture back in to calm down the frizzies and give hair texture and/or shininess. Oils are especially important for people with curly hair, as it also keeps needed moisture in the hair shaft, and the curls soft and defined.

conditioning hair, conditioner
Some people skip the shampoo and focus on the conditioning instead. (Photo: riopatuca/Shutterstock)

To recap, we are removing all the oil in our hair with harsh soaps and then try to undo the damage that shampoo has done with a bunch of other products, from conditioner to styling creams.

I only wish I had known this all earlier; as a curly-haired person I spent my teenage years scrubbing my hair almost every day with harsh, foamy soaps, then drenching it with conditioner, and wondering why I had crazy, frizzy hair. Then I would spend hours trying to straighten it, because it never looked good left curly except when I got out of a lake (because I was rinsing my hair but not using soap, duh!).

But shampoo can cause problems for people without curly hair too. For those with oilier scalps, using shampoo can become almost a daily necessity, as the oil is stripped from the hair and the scalp produces more and more to make up for the imbalance. Shampoos also cause skin irritation, some types of dandruff, and exacerbate allergies.

Starting with a non-lathering, new-gen shampoo is ideal if you're feeling a little iffy about tossing shampooing as part of your routine. Products like Hairstory's New Wash or any of Morocco Method's shampoos use ingredients like seaweed extracts, fruit acids, sea salt, and essential oils and plant extracts like aloe leaf juice to pull dirt and dust out of hair without sucking the oil out along with it. You keep your natural healthy hair and scalp oils and get clean hair, too.

If you're curious to try co-washing, start with a relatively light conditioner for your hair type, and simply use it as you would a shampoo. Work it into the roots of your hair and give your scalp a thorough massage, aiming to scrub your whole head with your fingertips. Then rinse your hair and condition as usual.

Remember, when you switch up the way you clean your hair — whether that's to a no-detergent shampoo, or co-washing — your hair will take a couple of weeks to adjust. Keep your hair up and back in a ponytail or bun, and give it a good brushing to distribute oils (brushing removes dirt and dust as well) every night. See how it works for your hair over time as it adjusts to your new normal and go from there.

View Article Sources
  1. D’Souza, Paschal, and Sanjay K. Rathi. “Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know?” Indian Journal of Dermatology, vol. 60, no. 3, June 2015, pp. 248–54., doi:10.4103/0019-5154.156355

  2. "10 Reasons Your Scalp Itches and How to Get Relief." American Academy of Dermatology Association.