On February 2nd, I decided to quit shampoo after reading The Hairpin's article. I'd read a couple of similar posts years before stating that commercial shampoos damage our hair, but my hair seemed okay, and I had a very 'if it ain't broke' attitude prior to becoming more interested in natural beauty & haircare.
The typical no ‘poo story goes something like:
- Give up shampoo for a week, deal with the greasiness
- Use a mixture of baking soda & apple cider vinegar to clean your hair, maybe ~once a week
- Go through a transitional phase where your scalp pretty much sheds a layer and you don’t want to leave the house
- Balance out, enjoy amazing hair and have the urge to tell everyone you know about this magical discovery of yours
Why shampoo apparently sucks
The theory is that frequent shampooing strips hair of its natural oils, causing your hair to over-produce sebum and resulting in greasy hair. I haven't come across any studies that support this claim (if you can point me to any, please please do!) - but I figured there wasn't much reason to make this up, as no 'poo isn't trying to sell us anything. With a similar thought process to that of my initial 30-day experiment with veganism, I didn't want to knock it till I'd tried it, and so I got stuck in.
Apple Soda time
Without doing any further research, and convinced by the pH argument set out in The Hairpin’s post (baking soda is alkaline; apple cider vinegar is acidic - therefore the acid neutralises the alkali), I made my mixtures according to her recommendation: 50:50 baking soda:water for the first mixture, and 50:50 apple cider vinegar:water for the succeeding rinse.
I’ll be honest; it was gross. I had only been washing my hair once a week since college, having gone through a separate ‘transitional phase’ back then in order to train my hair to not get oily quickly - so the one-week-without-washing wasn’t the cause of the grossness. It was my hair’s withdrawal symptoms from not being doped up with detergent shampoo. My hair was a shampoo addict, and yours probably is too. Almost makes me wanna set up a support group.
After the first Apple Soda wash, I left my hair to dry almost completely but then had to head out (and it was winter) so I rough-dried it. It felt clean and, thank goodness, didn’t smell like vinegar. Over the next few days I had several comments of "it looks like you have 3 times more hair" and "I like your new lion look" - I embraced this and also stopped using my regular Denman brush, instead using my fingers or a wide-toothed comb keep my hair in check.
The next day I woke up horrified that my scalp had started shedding an entire layer. It wasn’t like dandruff. There were big, dry pieces of skin that were sticky to pull out, and as I tried to pinch them and pull them out they would break into miniscule pieces impossible to remove. Some were around the size of my little fingernail. But it still smelled clean and neutral, and the scalp coming off did seem like part of the natural process. As this process repeated itself for a couple of days each week, I would spend a little time on those mornings moving my hair across any partings and putting it up for the day. Luckily I work with lovely, understanding colleagues who (quite possibly lied and) told me they hadn’t even noticed that my scalp was like gungey snakeskin for the two days after Wash Day for about a month.
Who loves Apple Soda? (Not me anymore)
The transitional phase having been endured, I continued washing once a week, normally on a Saturday or Sunday. As soon as my hair was dry, I would rub a little coconut oil through the ends. If I forgot or didn’t have time to do this, my hair would feel a bit porous. Also, before Wash Day, I would usually smother my hair in coconut oil and sleep on it as a sort of deep treatment.
About two months in, I noticed that the mid-lengths and ends were a little dry, but my split ends seemed to have improved (possibly just because I stopped using straighteners and/or because of the coconut oil). I decided to keep an eye on the dryness and take action if the condition worsened.
Saturday June 6th: it worsened. I washed with my 50:50 solutions as normal. I was short for time and had to use my hairdryer. This dried out my hair a lot, and brought to light the fact that the severely alkaline baking soda solution had made my hair coarse, brittle and kind of scratchy. I decided to read up and see if anyone else had found that baking soda had done them damage, and found Kanelstrand's post entitled 'Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair'. I won't go into the pH theory here because she's gone in-depth with litmus papers and explained the science behind it on her post. She experienced the exact same as I did - but she'd been Apple Soda-ing for three years!
Thankful I'd found her blog after a mere four months on the method, I read on to find some suggested natural, DIY alternatives to Apple Soda in preparation for the following weekend.
Kanelstrand's pH-balanced alternatives
Aloe vera & coconut milk - whilst I'd love to try this in the future, one of the major attractions for me of going no 'poo is the cheapness of the mixture - and aloe vera is relatively expensive. If I find my hair needs more intense conditioning, I'll definitely give it a go.
Rye flour DIY shampoo
- A few tablespoons of rye flour
- Lukewarm water, keep adding and shaking until the consistency is similar to that of shampoo
Lather on, give it a couple of minutes and massage & rinse out. Follow with the below apple cider vinegar rinse:
One CUP of water to one TABLESPOON of apple cider vinegar! That’s way more diluted than The Hairpin’s instructions.
So, Sunday 14th came around and I Ryepooed for the first time (not as catchy, I know, but far less alkaline). I read that rye flour shampoo is less volumising than Apple Soda and can leave hair flat, so I’ve taken some photos post-Ryepoo.
Before Ryepooing - this is the grease level we’re talking after 7 days without washing:
It was easy to mix and a dream to massage through my hair in comparison with the baking-soda-water mixture.
Here’s what it looked like once my hair had air-dried and after a wide-tooth comb-through:
The wash itself felt far less harsh on my hair, and I didn’t feel the need to avoid the mid-lengths and ends with the Ryepoo like I did the baking soda. It was ‘safer’ to comb through whilst still slightly wet, and that made me think how crazy it is to be scared of combing your hair for risk of breakage. A good formula shouldn’t make it so vulnerable, surely?
Like with the Apple Soda, my hair felt clean afterwards and smelled neutral. As I’m aware of the fact that Ryepoo is pH-balanced with hair (around 5.5) and can see that it hasn’t gunked up my hair like I’d previously imagined flour would, I’m happy to welcome Ryepoo into my routine and update in a few months’ time to share how I’m getting on. Baking soda, on the other hand, I won’t be putting anywhere near it - it has a pH of 9.5 if diluting 1tbsp baking soda:1 cup of water - and I was doing 0.5 cup of baking soda:1 cup of water. The moral of the story: when it comes to the health of your hair (or body, for that matter), don’t blindly follow the first thing you read, no matter how awesome it appears. If it sounds too good to be true, there’s a real possibility that it might well be. Always do your research!
Here’s how my hair looked at the end of a day outdoors:
It didn’t fall flat over the course of the day, it’s still pretty liony, and it’s obviously not magically healed after just one Ryepoo session… but I think that maybe this could be The One. Updates to follow!
This post was originally published on The Vegettes in June 2015.