8 Tips for Sustainable Hair Care

Glass and plastic bottles of beauty products with wooden hairbrush

Carol Yepes / Getty Images

If you're wanting to make your beauty routine greener, your hair care routine is an easy place to start. Shower and styling products are chockfull of chemicals that wash into streams and rivers and disrupt entire ecosystems. In the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetic database, 86% of the 2,388 shampoo products assessed contained ingredients the organization deemed moderately to highly hazardous. What's more, the multinational beauty supplier Johnson and Johnson has itself said that 552 million empty shampoo bottles wind up in U.S. landfills every year.

Washing, conditioning, rinsing, and styling hair is a resource- and energy-intensive process that can usually be pared back, whether by making changes to your routine or your consumer choices. Not only will it be better for the environment, but you'll also gain valuable time in your day.

Here are eight ways to make your hair care routine more sustainable.

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Wash Your Hair Less Often

back view of person washing hair with suds in shower

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

Arguably the easiest way to save time, water, product, and energy is to simply wash your hair less often. A.O. Smith Corporation, a major American water heater manufacturer, estimates that the average hair wash (in a salon setting, at least) uses 16 gallons of water.

Going days between washes can be a hard adjustment for people conditioned (get it?) to lather up daily. Nevertheless, hair gets used to—and even benefits from—infrequent washing over time. Over-washing strips the hair shafts of their regular oils and triggers extra oil production to compensate. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that actually makes hair greasier the more you wash it.

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Take Cooler Showers

hand reaches out to turn down water temperature in shower

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

Water heating accounts for 18% of the average American's utility bill, the Department of Energy says. This makes it the second largest guzzler of household energy.

Taking cooler showers saves energy, conserves water (because you're less likely to waste time in a cool shower), and makes hair healthier. You'll find the lack of heat improves your hair texture and reduces frizz.

Take this one step further and turn off the water completely when you're shampooing.

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Choose Natural Products

person squeezes oil into hair ends from brown glass bottle

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

Some of the chemicals in shampoos listed on EWG's Skin Deep database include artificial fragrance (often derived from petroleum), parabens, and octinoxate (the UV-filtering chemical known to disrupt hormones in both animals and humans). It's important to choose eco-friendly hair products that don't contain these harmful toxins.

Pick ones with short, legible ingredient lists that are EWG-verified, Certified Nontoxic by MADE SAFE, organic, and Leaping Bunny-certified cruelty free. Your hair will thank you for the chemical detox.

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Go Easy on the Hot Tools

Hairdresser using flat iron to curl client's hair

Nadiia Borodai / Getty Images

In addition to the energy it takes to wash your hair with warm water, styling it with hairdryers, straighteners, curling irons, and the like guzzles energy just the same. For instance, 15 minutes of using a standard hairdryer consumes about 0.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Plus, hair hates hot tools.

Heat damage can cause and exacerbate split ends and lead to severe dryness and damage over time. Why not embrace a more natural look using nothing but a bit of coconut or argan oil to combat frizz?

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Make an Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo

Glass jars of apple cider vinegar surrounded by raw apples

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Apple cider vinegar is a great natural, biodegradable, and sustainable shampoo replacement. It's rich in hair-healthy vitamins like C and B and contains the natural exfoliant alpha-hydroxy acid, which can help lift oils and buildup off your scalp. Use the vinegar to balance your scalp's pH levels and treat dryness, itchiness, and dandruff.

Make an apple cider vinegar shampoo by combining equal parts vinegar and water. Use this solution in place of your regular shampoo a couple times per week or more if your hair is especially oily.

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Opt for Zero-Waste Hair Care

Bars and reusable bottle of product with flickering tea light

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Do your part to keep all those hundreds of millions of empty shampoo bottles out of landfills by transitioning to a zero- or low-waste hair care routine. The easiest way to do this is to replace bottled shampoo and conditioner with bars. Some companies also offer refillable bottles.

At the very least, dispose of your plastic bottles appropriately via curbside recycling or special take-back schemes.

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Go Waterless

Wooden bowl and spoon full of powder on pink plate

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Powder shampoos are becoming increasingly prevalent and praised by the eco-beauty community. Essentially, powders are extremely potent and require you to dilute them yourself. This helps the planet by conserving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with shipping because of the low weight.

Often, water (labeled sometimes as "aqua" or "eau") is the first ingredient listed on the back of a shampoo bottle. In reality, the ingredient does little more than bulk out the active ingredients.

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Pick Bamboo Over Plastic

Person brushes wet hair with wooden hairbrush

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

Conventional styling tools are made from a heavy-duty type of plastic that's almost impossible to recycle and can take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill. Some are made of wood, but bamboo is perhaps the most sustainable material for brushes, combs, and the like. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth and requires less water than trees.

The only problem is that the material can come from questionable sources. Try to find Forest Stewardship Council-certified bamboo.

View Article Sources
  1. "Where are your shampoo bottles going?" Johnson & Johnson. 2014.

  2. "Beauty Shops and Barber Shops." A.O. Smith. 2010.

  3. "Reduce Hot Water Use for Energy Savings." U.S. Department of Energy.

  4. Suh, Susie, Christine Pham, Janellen Smith, and Natasha Atanaskova Mesinkovska. "The Banned Sunscreen Ingredients and Their Impact on Human Health: A Systematic Review." International Journal of Dermatology. 2020.

  5. "Fastest Growing Plant." Guinness Book of World Records.