Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Hippie Hair Experiment: Life Without Shampoo

I don't shudder at the thought of chemicals, get obsessed with essential oils, or only use all-natural products. Yet, I still like some good natural crunchiness every now and then. In the beginning of March, I discovered that my shampoo bottle was almost empty, and in a moment of sanguiness (along with the hippie parts of myself), I decided that I would not buy another bottle of shampoo in the near future. Now would be the optimal time to try a practice that has long intrigued me: going shampoo-free.

My incredible stubbornness actually caused me to go shampoo-free one other time in my life by necessity. I was staying in Ireland with my aunt for a couple of weeks while I competed in a dance competition. We had reservations with an awesome Bed & Breakfast in Dublin, and like a typical 14-year-old American girl, I figured that they would be set up like the average American lodging, with a small assortment of shampoos and conditioners provided for the guest's convenience.

No little travel-sized bottles of shampoo glory greeted me in the bathroom. While most ordinary people would simply remedy this situation by buying or borrowing shampoo, I was no ordinary person. In fact, at that point in time, my top favorite scene from Pride and Prejudice was when Lady Catherine de Bourgh calls Elizabeth Bennet "Obstinate, headstrong girl!" 

So, did I want to admit that I needed shampoo? No. Did I want to ask my aunt if I could borrow some of hers? No. Did I want to go to a local store and buy shampoo to use during my visit? No. Instead, I used my resources and took the bull by the horns: I went shampoo-free for the entire stay, which was just under two weeks. When I showered, I just pretended that I had shampoo as I scrubbed my hair under the water. My hair definitely got greasy, but I discovered that it really wasn't the end of the world. In fact, not worrying about shampooing my hair was kind of nice!  
Little 14-year-old me hanging out in Ireland :) 

Little did I realize that what I did by necessity, some people do by choice. Years later, I heard about the "no-poo" trend, and it seemed rather straightforward.  I've heard many people mention the baking soda-apple cider vinegar combination, so I thought, how complicated can this be? Well, as I hit the Internet a couple of months ago, I discovered that apparently there is a huge can of worms that one opens when researching shampoo-free living. Glowing reviews of the baking soda treatment abound...followed by updates by those same people, months or years down the road, talking about how the frequent treatments of baking soda demolished their once-beautiful hair. Diagrams of ph levels, scientific discussions, and multitudes of alternative "no-poo" treatments that people all claim are the best possible option. Some claiming that Castile soap is the answer; others mentioning that it destroys hair.

I was sinking further and further into the overwhelming rabbit hole of Internet research, and it was getting crazy! Several women mentioned that not all hair responds well to the same treatments, and that it is important to discern what works best for each person's hair. So, I took a step back, examined my household resources, and made a game plan: Use a combination of water-only and lemon-water washes and see what happens. I also thought, If my hair gets super greasy-well, it's Lent, so that's a good humility opportunity. I then contacted one of my hippie friends to glean her wisdom and insights, and to see if she had another method to recommend.

What was the result?

On March 1, 2016, I washed my hair with shampoo for the last time. 
(insert dramatic music here)
About 4-5 days later, I scrubbed my hair with only water, as I had done while in Ireland years earlier. As my hair dried, I noticed that it was slightly greasy, but I wasn't that concerned. After all, when I had still been using shampoo, I only washed my hair once or twice a week anyway, so I figured my hair could handle something crazy like no-poo.

Around 3 days after that (approximately 1 week after my last shampoo) I washed my hair with lemon water. I don't know what it did, but my hair was so soft and easy to brush when it was wet-I thought that was really cool! When my hair dried, though, I saw that it was just getting greasier. I didn't know whether this was part of the infamous "transition period" I've heard people discuss, or if I was just failing at the whole no-shampoo thing. 

2 weeks of no shampoo!
Earlier on the day that  I took this picture, a
very fashion-savvy man who knows my husband made a
point to come up and tell me how nice I looked.
I guess having a Grease Fest on one's head
is fashionable in some circles??????????????
By week 3 of life without shampoo, I ran out of my lemon-water mix. Somehow, magically, I think my hair actually looked pretty good compared to how it had looked a week before! Yet, I had to ask myself: Was this a sign of success, or what it random chance? 
3 weeks of no shampoo! Still a bit oily, but
definitely an improvement from what it was.
Instead of sticking with this routine, I decided to change things up-after all, there are so many methods of going shampoo-free! My hippie friend had told me that she once used chamomile tea, and I just happened to have quite a bit of chamomile tea sitting around. And let's be honest: who doesn't want to smell like chamomile tea???? So, I brewed myself a pot and began washing my hair with it a couple times each week. For whatever reason, though, I don't think my hair likes being doused and washed in tea. Where my hair had finally started looking and feeling cleaner and less oily after a few weeks of lemon-water treatment, it suddenly became Oil Central! I didn't want to give up on the tea, though, so I kept at it until I used up the tea rinse yesterday. Let's just say, I've been putting my hair in lots of braids and buns over the past few weeks ;) 

6 weeks of no shampoo:
Chamomile tea definitely didn't
do much for me.  Also, excuse my sunburn;
I forgot sunscreen the other day, so
I've been looking a bit like Red Skull from
Captain America. 
So, friends, this has been my latest hippie experiment. 
I must say that I've actually been enjoying it quite a bit! I've been learning so much, and I've really become more intentional about what I'm using and why I'm using it. For most of my life, I've used shampoo without a second thought. I've never really questioned why I regularly pour time and money into buying and using shampoo, and I've never wondered if it's necessarily the only way to cleanse my hair. I've really enjoyed looking into the alternatives that are cheap, environmentally friendly, healthy, and so very simple to do. 

What does my hair future look like? I'm not entirely sure. I think I will head back to the lemon-water routine again, just because I started getting good results from it, it's insanely cheap, and I love the smell of lemon. I've heard that lemon will lighten one's hair over time, but I've also read that it mainly has that effect when you sit out in the sunlight shortly after applying it-regardless, it may be fun to go a little lighter for the summer. I'm open to other hair options too, especially ones that involve ingredients I have around the house; I'm frugal and don't want to spend loads on money on various ingredients that I don't regularly use. And maybe I'll eventually use shampoo again; who knows? I've also read that while baking soda is not recommended on a regular basis, a once-a-month baking soda wash can be good for hair, so I may give that a try prior to a lemon rinse sometime. I'm also planning to get my hair chopped off several inches before summer fully hits, so that will probably impact my hair routine, as well. Life is just full of adventures!


  1. Lemon usually does have a lightening effect on hair, particularly if you're out in the sun, and with the strength of our tropical sun and my definite preference for my natural brunette color...I would never do it. Considering that I keep my hair short and shampooing takes all of...a minute...and I really, really like my hair texture and the way it lays, I've never felt any inclination to experiment--my reasoning is why mess with a good thing? I do have a fascination with natural things and whole foods and such...but a girl who thinks the best hair she's ever had has been blue/purple/pink...is not really a great candidate for crunchy haircare.... :P

    1. Haha Rachel, you're great, and your comment about your hair color made me smile. However, I think you'd be a great candidate on crunchy haircare, since you like natural things and you have a background in hairdressing. Plus, pink hair and crunchiness can totally go together :P And that's a really good point-the whole "why mess with perfection?" thing makes a lot of sense. I thought of that initially, since even with my long hair, it doesn't take a huge amount of time. But, I figure in the realm of weird things I can experiment with, shampoo alternatives are a bit more tame, so I decided to give it a try :)

  2. In the past I'd read about going shampoo free, but it was always for people with curly hair who still used conditioner. The idea was to make their curls more natural, since shampoos strip the oils from one's hair, but conditioner doesn't. I've never read about people with straight hair going shampoo free though, so thanks for sharing your experiment!
    After all...when did we start using commercial shampoos? What did women do in the past? Victorian women would wash their hair with an egg! :)

    1. That's really interesting about why some people with curly hair go without shampoo-now I understand a little better why I've seen so many articles about "no poo" by women with curly hair! I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about my little experiment :) At some point, I'd love to research more into when commercial shampoos started becoming more mainstream, because you're absolutely right-I remember reading in a book by the American Girl company about Victorians using eggs! In fact, I've come across internet blogs where people discuss how they still use eggs in the modern day (something which I have considered doing for fun). I think that's part of the appeal that "no poo" has for me: it seems to come with a sense of self-sufficiency, where a person no longer is reliant on commercial shampoos for personal hygiene.

  3. Wow...I commend you on this experiment!! It's one that I've wanted to try for a few years. Now that I'm a stay at home mom, maybe I'll get up the courage to give it a try. Thanks for sharing the different "methods" you used. I think I'll try the lemon water!!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Katie! It's nice to finally try out "no shampoo" after hearing about it for a couple years, and while I'm not 100% sure I'll stick with it, I think it's been a good experience for me. If you give this a try, I hope it goes well!

  4. I always wondered how the no-shampoo thing worked if you had long hair. Doesn't it get tangly without conditioner? Or do you still use conditioner?

    1. Jenny, my hair hasn't been more tangly than usual, though the last time I used conditioner was probably 5-6 years ago. So, I actually don't know much about using conditioner vs. not using conditioner in general. Though there are some people who use certain types of conditioner in lieu of shampoo, which I think is interesting!