Just over 2 months ago, a video by Olivia Flocco somehow made it’s way into my Youtube ‘Recommended’s; The video was titled ‘No Poo Update | Two Years Later‘ and of course, I immediately jumped to the crude conclusion of “This girl hasn’t taken a dump in 2 years?!”. Being the obvious creep that I am, I had to know about this girl’s seemingly bizarre toilet habits, so naturally, I clicked on the video. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that she was actually referring to the fact that she hadn’t used shampoo in that time – but was comforted to know I wasn’t the only one who made the mistake (read the comments on that video. Seriously, it’s worth it.).
Despite my disappointment, I learned about an important hair care method that my locks are thanking Ms Flocco for -The No (Commercial) Shampoo Method, otherwise known as #NoPoo.
The word ‘shampoo’ is actually derived from the Hindi word “चाँपो” or ‘chāmpo’, meaning ‘hair massage’. Bengali entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, one of the most notable early non-Europeans immigrants to the West, brought the term to England in 1814 when he opened ‘Mahomed’s Indian Vapour Baths’ in Brighton. Mahomed’s baths resembled that of the Turks, but he performed therapeutic massages and ‘champi’ (shampooing) with hair oil. His services were so appreciated that he was appointed ‘shampooing surgeon’ to both King George IV and King William IV.
In the 1900s, ‘shampoo’ came to refer to a boiled concoction of watered-down shaving soap and herbs that English hair stylists, starting with Kasey Hebert, used to give the hair fragrance and shine. The first synthetic (non-soap) shampoo Drene, was only created in the mid-1930s by Procter & Gamble (Ohio, USA) and frequent washing only became the norm in the 1970s.
Whilst it’s known that people during medieval times weren’t renowned for their hygiene, it’s unlikely that people had disgusting, filthy hair right up until 40 years ago.
In fact, traditional champi is still common in India, where they use various combinations of neem tree, acacia concinna/soapberries, henna, bael, waterhyssop, fenugreek, buttermilk, gooseberry, aloe vera and almond. It’s important to keep in mind that India is a place that produces arguably the most sort after human hair weaves and wigs – clearly they are doing something right in terms of haircare.
It’s likely that these natural hair remedies work better than commercial shampoo, because commercial shampoo cleanses the hair by stripping it of sebum, the natural oil that is produced by the hair follicles. Sebum is produced to form a protective layer over the protein structure of the hair (keratin) but unfortunately it tends to also aid in the collection of dirt, dandruff and hair styling products. When the hair is constantly being stripped of it’s protective layer, excessive sebum is produced and the hair becomes dirtier faster. The use of commercial shampoo creates a necessity for the use of commercial shampoo, which in turn, can cause damage to the hair.
Whilst commercial conditioner is supposed to serve the purpose or re-nourishing the hair after it’s been striped of it’s natural oil, it only acts as a mask to a more deep-rooted problem (pun intended).
Commercial conditioners, and many other styling products, contain silicon, which Celebrity Hairstylist Brigitte Brager describes as “…a mineral. It is an effective ingredient commonly used in hair care products. It provides slip and shine, can help smooth and straighten hair and gives hair a luxurious conditioned feel”. The only problem with silicon is that the shine it gives is an illusion, caused by it’s rubber-like nature. It acts as an sealant and can stop nutrients from penetrating the hair’s cuticle – which helps create the natural, healthy shine we want; This shine is caused by sebum nourishing and sealing the hair cuticle, and it’s subsequent ability to reflect light (as seen in the diagrams below).
Essentially, shampoo strips your hair of it’s nutrients creating both dryness and an ongoing necessity to use it, whilst conditioner and other styling products aim to mask this damage by causing further damage. Great.
Not only this, but these products have the ability to be detrimental to the environment. Whilst most commercial shampoo formulations aim to have low toxicity and good biodegradability, most chemical ingredients found in shampoos, even those of salon quality, are harmful to nature in one way or another. Hair products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate are especially bad, as they are mutagenic to animals, and are definitely products that you don’t want to wash down your drain.
The must common techniques of washing one’s hair without shampoo is using plain ol’ water, lemon juice, neem tree, tea tree oil, coconut oil, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda/bi carb soda) or apple cider vinegar – with the latter two being the most popular.
- Unfortunately, whilst sodium bicarbonate and apple cider vinegar work well to clean the hair, the pH is too high and many #NoPoo participants experience extreme breakage and even hair lose.
I decided to go with plain water as I figured that was the most accessible and affordable option.
I have (seriously) extremely oily skin and hair, so whilst I went into #NoPoo determined, my subconscious was telling me that I’d only be able to keep it up for a couple of weeks before the oil became too much and I had to give in to it’s power.
During the first couple of weeks, I didn’t have the washing technique/massage quite down pat – the same massage you give your scalp with commercial shampoo – as it felt odd to do so without the foam that commercial shampoo creates. This definitely impacted how clean my hair came out.
During this time my hair felt quite dry on the ends, but improved quickly as I allowed the sebum to infiltrate my hair cuticle. However, this creates a hydrophobic surface on the hair, meaning water is initially repelled and a longer wash time may be required in the first few weeks.This is because the hair is experiencing a transitional period where it withdraws from commercial shampoo products and adjusts to the fact that excess sebum production is no longer necessary. Depending on hair type, this transition can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks (mine took 6, *sigh*).
Whilst this transition period was definitely annoying, and I did feel guilty for my longer showers, my hair is now out of the transition period and the benefits has been as follows:
- healthy, shiny hair that is easy to style due to natural but not excessive grease
- a slightly cheaper shopping list
- a much more ethical bathroom cabinet
Tips For Going #NoPoo
1. Learn About Your Water
Water comes in two types – hard and soft. Soft water is water that contains only sodium, like rain water; But as this water travels underground and through our waterways it picks up various minerals like calcium, magnesium, lime and chalk, turning it into hard water. Hard water is preferred for drinking due to it’s taste and extra minerals, but it’s also popular to soften hard water through various methods, as the extra minerals can make running a household less efficient and can even impact your hair when you wash it. If you’re unsure whether your water is hard or soft, there is a simple DIY test you can do. If your house runs on hard water and you wash your hair with only that, then it could impact the length of your transitional period and/or how often you need to wash your hair.
If it does impact your plain water #NoPoo experience, then it’s suggested you use a DIY rye flour shampoo, as it aids in cleaning just as sodium bicarbonate or apple cider vinegar does, only it’s pH is much closer to your scalp’s. Rye flour also contains a decent amount of saponins, which are natural chemicals found in plants and they aid in strengthening hair and helping with hair loss.
2. If You’ve Recently Used Silicon-Based Hair Products, Wash Your Hair One Last Time With A Sulfate -Filled Shampoo
Check all of your hair products – heat protectants, conditioners, serums, pomades, gels, dry shampoos, hair sprays – for silicon, because if silicon is not washed out, build-up will occur creating a greasy and waxy feel to the hair, as well as eventual dryness and brittleness, caused by nutrients being unable to reach the cuticle. Unfortunately silicon will only wash out using a shampoo with sulfates, so wash your hair one last time before beginning your #NoPoo journey.
If your hair product contain Dimethicone, Bis-aminopropyl dimethicone, Cetearyl methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearoxy Dimethicone, Stearyl Dimethicone, Trimethylsilylamodimethicone, Amodimethicone, Dimethiconol, Behenoxy Dimethicone or Phenyl trimethicone, it contains silicon. It’s also best to wash your hair with a sulfate-filled shampoo if any of your products contain mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum), petrolatum or waxes including bees wax, candelilla wax and so forth.
3. Invest In A Sisal Or Synthetic Boar Bristle Hairbrush
A Sisal hairbrush has bristles made from the sisal cactus fibre, meaning it’s bristles are stiff and are effective at distributing the hair’s natural oils all over the scalp. This, paired with the blood-flow stimulated by the bristles, encourages hair growth and allows all the hair to be nourished, whilst removing excess oil from the roots of the hair. Whilst boar bristle brushes are believed to be the most effective at this job, as the name implies, the bristles are made from the hair of a boar and are often harvested unethically, or even cruelly. Synthetic brushes are also a great alternative.
4. Your Hair Shouldn’t Smell, But If You’re Worried, Try Essential Oils
Your hair should be clean enough not to smell with the #NoPooMethod, but it’s easy to miss the perfumed fragrance of commercial shampoos. If that’s the case for you, try rubbing a drop of essential oils into your hair when you feel it to be necessary. Lavender, Cedarwood, Peppermint, Rosemary, Clary Sage, Sage, Basil, Juniper, Ylang Ylang, Amazonian Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Lemon, Cypress, Rosewood and Melrose are particularly recommended for hair health. NoPooMethod.com actually has an entire section dedicated to essential oil recipes and their benefits on your hair.
5. Be Patient
This one seems obvious, but for making no effort, #NoPoo is a lot of effort (in the beginning!). It takes time, but it’s so worth it.