Giving Up Shampoo – 12 Months In

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no shampoo

So my hair now looks like this.

If I didn’t tell you, you would never know that I don’t wash it daily with shampoo and condition it.

In fact, I wash it about every four to five days. This seems to make it happiest. It makes showering a lot quicker too. Thick hair takes ages to dry.

The regime I settled on was using goat milk soap to wash, and apple cider vinegar to condition. I saw a recipe for goat milk soap with tomato that was said to be good for hair, in particular to brighten your colour. So I made some, and it is great.

The ends don’t split. It doesn’t get static and flyaway. I haven’t coloured it in months.

I would call this project a success.

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Breaking Up (With Shampoo) Is Hard To Do

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In yet another of my idealistic hippie moments I decided to give up using shampoo and conditioner on my hair.

It seemed like a logical step, since I don’t use laundry detergent and I make my own soaps. I also use hand-made moisturiser and almost never wear make-up.

Off to the internet I go, with a quick visit to an equestrian-oriented forum that I frequent for some ideas and advice.

I got a few responses of ‘yuck, I could never give up washing my hair’, which made me realise that ‘not using shampoo’ means the same to some people as ‘never washing my hair ever’.

Of course I still wash it. Because if I didn’t, that would be yuck.

The internet will tell you that if you just wait out three weeks your hair will go from sad and lifeless to beautiful, shiny and silky. It might get a little oily in between as it gets used to not having the oils stripped out of it every day.

It has been three months, and I am finally happy with my hair again. Yes, I need a trim and my roots need a touch-up, but my hair is manageable, has a good texture and I actually like how it looks and feels.

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I think it took three weeks for my hair to even notice that I wasn’t using shampoo any more. I had got down to washing about twice a week anyway. It would go through an flyaway unmanageable day while it was very clean, then settle down for a couple of days, then start to get greasy. Then I would wash it again. If I wanted it looking good to leave out on a certain day I would have to make sure to wash it at least 48hrs before.

I started out doing a bicarb and vinegar wash. Initially this made my hair feel like straw. It rebelled by becoming incredibly oily, but I could manage for a few weeks while it transitioned, I told myself. As well as weekly bicarb and vinegar scrubs I took up rinsing it every second day. This didn’t really help.

But I stuck to my resolve. I bought a good paddle brush, designed to spread the oils through the hair. I washed the brush with soap every second day. That brush cost me $25. If you had told me beforehand that you could even find a hairbrush that cost that much I would have said that such a thing was for chumps with more money than brains. I had never previously spent more than about five bucks on a hairbrush. But with all the money it would save me on shampoo and conditioner I figured it was a trade-off I could live with.

After about six or seven weeks I nearly cracked. My hair felt gross. It looked alright, but I just couldn’t find a balance. It was driving me nuts. I was frustrated and distracted by what looked like the failure of my grand gesture. For a while I was very, very tempted to grab a bottle of Pantene and scrub my head until my hair felt like the dog-fur collar lining of a cheap puffa vest. Don’t pretend you don’t know exactly the fashion item I am referring to.

But I had one more ace up my sleeve. Somebody early on in the project had suggested that I use my goat milk soap for washing my hair. I didn’t, assuming that it would make my hair fluffy, something I was very keen to avoid. In a last-ditch effort to save myself from going back to the high-lathering chemical cocktail, I took a piece of plain home-made goat milk soap and washed my hair with it.

I am pleased to say that it worked. My regime is now a wash with goat milk soap and rinse with apple cider vinegar about every five days. Sometimes I rinse it in between. It combs out easily and sits nicely if left out. I can easily pull it into a ponytail without too many fluffy bits poking out.

My hair is now, compliant, looks and feels clean, and doesn’t get frizzy. It is also the longest it has been in a long time. In the past I have not wanted my hair too long because it becomes a maintenance nightmare. It is incredibly thick, to the point where almost every hairdresser who cuts it gets about two-thirds of the way through and says ‘you’ve got loads of hair’.

I have learned to decipher hairdresser language to a degree (‘nice colour, did you do it yourself?’ is not a compliment, in case you were wondering), and being told that you have loads of hair is a double-edged comment. On one hand, it means your hair is thick and has more body and your scalp is probably healthy. On the other it means that the person wielding the scissors has just realised that it is going to take them a lot longer than anticipated to finish the job.

Since giving up shampoo my hair is probably thicker still. I definitely don’t lose as much as I used to when I brush or comb it. I have not been in for a trim and tidy-up, because I didn’t want to go in with ‘transitioning’ hair and have some scalp-expert assume I was just a grot. I think I am ready now, though. Might make that a job for this week.

My advice for anyone thinking of giving up shampoo? Unless you are really motivated, you probably shouldn’t put yourself through the angst. It could take ages to figure out how to keep your hair nice without all the chemicals. If you have a an actual hairstyle, rather than a longer cut where you can just shove it in a ponytail and forget about it on bad days, you will probably have a hell of a time getting through the transition stage.

If you are keen to give it a crack, get a good paddle hairbrush and keep it clean. Brush lots. Get a trim and have your colour updated before taking the plunge. And if one natural alternative is not working for you, have a try at a different one.