In 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution to go the more natural route with beauty and home supplies. I had found a local manufacturer of natural soap and skin care made from goat’s milk that I was in love with, and I still use their soaps and lotions every day to make my skin feel super soft and hydrated. I found that I couldn’t bear to part with a few storebought products, namely the Nivea cold cream that I’ve used since I was about 18. And for pimples, Clearasil is the only product that effectively clears my skin during the occasional breakout.
I did some basic chemistry research on the effects of bases and acids and adopted a regimen of using either baking soda or vinegar to clean things. I’ve compiled numerous tips from Pinterest about what they can clean in my house, and truthfully, it covers just about everything!
When I made the decision to go shampoo-free, I used those same chemistry skills. Baking soda is notoriously good at cleaning up oil and other “gunky” materials that accumulate in your microwave, oven, sink or refrigerator. Its powers on your hair and scalp are pretty similar. Oil build-up can be dried up and rinsed away by applying a baking soda paste to the roots of your hair and letting it sit for a few minutes.
This is the theory that got me through the worst parts of shampoo-free hair care.
I started my No-Poo adventure on January 1st of 2015. I had previously been using a generic shampoo and conditioner combo that smelled of moroccan argan oil, which was really the only reason I bought it. I really love that fragrance, but I’m pretty positive that the shine produced by the argan oil was its only benefit because it didn’t do anything to really protect or moisturize my hair. So I went cold-turkey and tossed my sweet-smelling hair cleansers in the trash.
Now, keep in mind that my hair is a perfect combination of my parents’ genes. Blonde and thick like my dad. Curly and coarse like my mom. I never had problems with excess oil; in fact, my hair constantly felt too dry. No matter what I tried to infuse moisture, nothing worked. My reason for going No-Poo in the first place was to prevent myself from stripping what precious oil I had from my hair every time I showered.
But, a week into this experiment, and I was absolutely mortified. My scalp, which had always been pretty normal – not too dry, not too oily, and no dandruff – was as slick as an oil spill. I couldn’t wear my hair down, so I went to work with a messy bun on my head to camouflage my greasy roots. I started researching where I went wrong and found that this was a pretty normal initial result for other people. In theory, conventional shampoos strip your hair of its natural oils, causing your scalp to furiously overproduce oil to compensate for what’s been lost. I work in health care, and I know a lot of body processes work using this kind of negative feedback loop, so I thought that maybe this was a plausible explanation. Maybe the receptors on our scalp can detect a lack of oil, so they crank out an exorbitant amount of the slick stuff to compensate. I didn’t want to give in after only one week, so I accepted this theory as truth and continued researching.
I reviewed some anecdotes about using baking soda as a shampoo substitute and decided to give it a try. I’d already become a baking soda freak using it as a household cleansing agent, so why not? I mixed it with a little water to form a paste and massaged it vigorously into my scalp, letting it sit for a few minutes while I showered the rest of my body. Honestly, I was shocked by the results.
No oil slicks! No cowlicks! No messy bun cover-ups!
I straightened my hair and wore it down to work that very night. I hadn’t told anyone I was going shampoo-less, but no one could tell that I’d used baking soda or that I hadn’t “properly” washed my hair in a week. There was hope after all!
After a couple days, the slick-ness returned and another baking soda application was necessary. I figured that even if this was an every 2-3 day thing, it was still cheaper to buy a $0.99 box of bicarb than it was to buy shampoo and conditioner in the range of $5-20 (or more) per bottle. I was even luckier to learn that most of the anecdotal evidence I’d based my plan on had been pretty right. My scalp seemed to re-regulate itself after a while, meaning I needed less frequent cleansings to keep my scalp in check. After a few months it was down to once weekly, then 1-2 times per month, where I’m currently at.
I have found that I have to treat my hair differently depending on how I want to style it. After going sans shampoo, my thick curly hair has a much better curl to it with way less frizz, which is a huge bonus. It makes using a curling iron super quick to the point that it’s pretty much my go-to styling option now. However, if I want to straighten my hair, I almost always opt for a baking soda mask beforehand. I need as blank a slate as possible to make my curly hair straighten and stay straight all day.
When I get my hair colored, I tell my colorists that I don’t use shampoo or conditioner, and they are usually quite surprised. I will say that they ALWAYS use shampoo and conditioner on my hair after coloring, which I suppose is necessary to get all the dye out, but jeesh… it’s almost like a pet peeve now to have sudsy soaps on my head. The one-time application doesn’t seem to backtrack my progress any, though. Also, I should note here that I’ve never noticed any problems with maintaining highlights or color from using a baking soda mask. It doesn’t seem to have any effect.
And as for natural conditioner, I have read a lot of suggestions regarding the use of apple cider vinegar. Most of the testimonials have attested to the vinegar’s ability to enhance shine and softness, but nothing really supports its use as a moisturizer. I tried it, but I didn’t feel like it was all that impressive. On that same note, I should also explain that I have a super sensitive nose, and my attempts to use cider vinegar in my enclosed shower was… unpleasant, to say the least. Instead, I found a moisturizing serum that I apply to the bottom half of my hair after my shower. This has been way more effective for me than conditioner or ACV.
Have there been some hiccups along the way? Absolutely. We moved into our dream home two summers ago and I experienced something I’d never used before: well water. I had always lived somewhere with a spring-fed water system. We learned that our dream home came with suboptimal water and caused both body and scalp irritation for my sensitive skin to the point that I needed a medicated shampoo. Once the water system was fixed ($$$), I was able to resume my no-pooing.
Last year, in a bid to help my hair even more, my stylist did a treatment called Olaplex to my hair. Now, I’m not a chemistry genius, but allegedly, it forms chemical bonds with the the single strands of hair to prevent breakage. The three-part system requires at-home maintenance with a hair mask that needs to be applied 2-3 times per week and rinsed out thoroughly. I went back to shampoo and conditioner temporarily for this, thinking it would help accentuate the effects of the Olaplex. However, I’ve since gone back to using the baking soda paste (albeit, a bit more frequently than I used to) and I still feel like it’s working fine.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the No Poo, and even kind of impressed with myself for sticking to it. Since I started, I have gotten rid of several other chemical beauty treatments and household cleaners. I love going as natural as possible because it makes me feel so much healthier.
I can’t wait to create more posts in the future about my journey to chemical-free living. Please feel free to ask questions below, but please read the disclaimer below as well!
(DISCLAIMER: This is my account based on my own individual results. There is no scientific data here to prove or disprove the effectiveness of homemade hair cleansers. Also, I have not found any literature from the manufacturer of any baking soda brand condoning its use as a hair cleanser, so I can assume that it is not an approved or recommended form of hair care, and therefore, I cannot approve or recommend its use for anyone but myself. This is my own personal account and I am not liable for any adverse outcomes you may encounter as a result of attempting to use part of the above anecdote for your own personal use.)