Friday, April 2, 2010

The No Shampoo Challenge

Photo by Alvimann from

It started with a radio interview back in 2007. Richard Glover was interviewing Matthew Parris, a London Times columnist, who disclosed that he had not washed his hair with shampoo for 15 years. The reason? Shampoos strip the natural oils from your hair. Your body compensates by producing more oil, your hair gets greasier and you need to wash your hair more often. By not washing your hair with shampoo, your hair initially becomes greasy and oily but after about six weeks it will look and feel better because the natural balance is restored. Six weeks!? For me, it's been three years!

I was initially attracted to the idea of ‘no shampoo’ as a way of saving money and reducing my use of chemicals. I had a dandruff problem and needed to wash my hair every two to three days. At $15 for a large bottle of anti-dandruff shampoo, that's a lot of money saved! I had also tried a number of shampoos because I thought they were exacerbating my dandruff. One of the main ingredients in commercial shampoos is sodium lauryl sulfate, a skin irritant.

How did I go? The first fortnight was terrible. I had just started a major project with an external client and was commuting between Sydney and Brisbane. I washed my hair every day and kept it tied back but the heat, humidity and stress of the job seemed to make my scalp itchier and my hair greasier.

I persisted for about three months and my hair did get better but it still looked greasy. I also hated having to wash my hair every day because my thick hair took ages to dry naturally. I found a Web article that recommended rubbing a paste of bicarbonate soda into the scalp, rinsing the paste out and then applying a vinegar rinse to the ends of your hair. That seemed to work—I only had to wash my hair twice a week. However, one hairdresser insisted on rewashing my hair because she found it greasy and another hairdresser asked me what I was using because my hair was so dry and brittle!

So last year I re-reviewed the increasing online literature and decided to try the Mexican washcloth method—washing my hair in plain water but 'redistributing' the oils by brushing my hair with a washcloth. I lasted about four months before I was using bicarb soda again, not as a paste but as a solution, about one tablespoon of bicarb soda in one cup of water. Then I stumbled onto this post about hard water. I don't know how hard or soft our water is in Sydney but boiling it seemed to make all the difference!

So, three years after the challenge was first issued, I think I've finally found a method that works for me.

I make a litre of my bicarb soda solution every 3-4 weeks: 4 tablespoons in 4 cups of cooled, boiled water with about 10 drops of rosemary essential oil to the combat the dandruff. I wet my hair and then pour the bicarb soda solution on my hair and massage it into the scalp. Sometimes after rinsing, I'll follow up with a vinegar rinse: ½ cup of white vinegar mixed with ½ cup of water. And I prefer to let my hair dry naturally; I rarely use a hair dryer.

My hair feels clean and soft but a little heavier(?)—not flyaway and frizzy. I only wash my hair once a week, although it starts to get a bit greasy around the fifth or sixth day. I also find a greasy buildup on my hair brush so I clean my hair brush when I wash my hair. (When we were kids we always cleaned our brushes the day we washed our hair so I'm not sure why I stopped doing so.)

If there is one thing I have learnt, everyone is different. Trying to wean yourself off shampoo requires a great deal of reading, a lot of experimentation, and a lot of patience and persistence.

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