Life Without Shampoo: Week One

Last week, I wrote about my curiosity with the “no-shampoo” movement, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: folks who are eschewing shampoo, in favor of a more natural approach. People are skipping the sudsy stuff for a number of reasons, including a desire to be more eco-friendly, and concerns over the potentially-harmful chemicals often used to create lather and make it smell good. I gave it up just to see if the hype was worth it, and to see if it could work for someone who was active (read: sweaty).

Going shampoo-free doesn’t require many special ingredients–in place of “shampoo”, I used baking soda and water mixed together in a travel-sized bottle. The “conditioner” recommended is a mix of apple cider vinegar and water. Over the course of the week, I spent probbably 30 cents on supplies, had to re-make my products just once, and washed with them 4 times. It’s definitely an inexpensive approach.

Making the hair products is easy enough, though if you, say, forget to make a new batch before hopping in the shower, it’s a little inconvenient. But other than that, actually making the switch is simple.

As far as the effectiveness of the natural approach, it’s working pretty well. I’ve washed my hair after each workout this week (that’s 4 times, total), and it’s mostly keeping things clean. 

In fact, after the first baking soda shower I took, my hair looked super-shiny, lush, and full. I have what’d politely referred to as “combination” hair (which is just a nice way of saying that it can’t make up its damn mind), so I tend to straighten it. It looked awesome even before I did. Even if you’d never consider ditching your shampoo for the long haul, I’d highly, highly recommend the baking soda wash and the vinegar conditioner just once

However, by day 4, I noticed that my hair wasn’t staying as clean for as long–which is probably a combination of the new treatment, and the fact that I couldn’t stop touching my hair (shame on me, I know) for the first three days. I’m not sure if that’s just my hair getting used to being without shampoo, or if a little extra grease is something I’m supposed to get used to.

One concern I had at the outset was that my head would smell like a salad, because of the vinegar. But it turns out, the vinegar scent washes right out, leaving no odor at all. If you’re used to your head smelling like a fruit basket or floral garden, the lack of a scent may be a little disconcerting, but for people who don’t like artificial fragrance, it’s a relief.

I wasn’t sure at the outset whether or not I could use my other hair products (smoothing serum, heat-protecting spray) on the no-shampoo diet, but so far, I haven’t really needed to. One thing I would recommend, though, if you’re trying to go au naturale and you have very dry hair is to use just a few drops of extra virgin olive oil to smooth things over–it’s a trick I used when I was too broke to buy actual smoothing serum, and it doesn’t put a lot of chemicals back in your hair.

This week, I’ll have to pack my non-shampoo supplies to my family’s house for Thanksgiving, which will be an experiment in and of itself. And at the end of next week, I’m supposed to break up with the baking soda, too–which I’m a little nervous about.

Have you gone without shampoo? What can I expect? Let me know in the comments.

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    • Allison

      I have curly hair, and I haven’t used shampoo with January. I quit cold turkey, no baking soda or other shampoo substitutes, and I only experienced mild greasiness for a few days. I actually still use conditioner – I just make sure to scrub my scalp with my fingers – and hair serum. It’s too frizzy to just leave without product! But I definitely noticed an amazing difference in texture once I stopped shampooing.

      Good luck!

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Allison, thanks for the feedback! Good to know about product–I definitely needed a little today, so I think I’ll follow your advice. I may also go back on conditioner once the experiment is done. Thanks!

      • Briana Rognlin

        Allison, do you work out a lot? I don’t know why but I’m still stuck on the idea that if you sweat, you need the soap. My scalp gets itchy and starts to feel gross when I skip shampoo for a couple of days. Maybe it’s just dry, but it just grosses me out…

      • Allison

        Briana – Yes, I work out a lot. I’m a runner, so I sometimes shower twice a day. I use conditioner as cleanser/moisturizer each time, so it’s not like I’m going without washing my hair. I’m still washing it, just not shampooing it.

        One tip I read in the book “curly girl” (which has great tips for not shampooing, actually) was to mix a little brown sugar in with your conditioner and use it as a scalp scrub once a week. The reasoning was that your scalp, which is still live skin, unlike hair, needs different treatment – gentle scrubbing to remove dead cells, in this case.

        Good luck, Hanna!

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Brown sugar sounds BRILLIANT! May have to try it, thanks!

      • Briana Rognlin

        Ahhh, i’m finally just seeing this. Tried the baking soda/ACV recipe today, but will try the brown sugar tip next time, too!

    • Alise Beccaria

      what are the “recipes” for the shampoo and conditioner? I have very straight colored hair. Would it be ok for me to use the baking soda and apple vinegar??

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Alise, that’s exactly what I’m using and…the recipes are pretty vague. Basically, I mix enough baking soda with water to make a paste, and scrub it into my hair, then rinse. Then, I mix about equal parts AC vinegar with water and rinse with that. It’s pretty simple, and doesn’t leave me smelling too salad-y. I’ve also added brown sugar after the last step to really make it smell better.

        Hope that helps!

    • Elpee

      I also have curly kinky hair and use conditioner to wash my hair. Once in a while I’ll use a low suds shampoo like DevaCurl to eliminate product build up. I find that I only need to shampoo if I use products containing silicones or mineral oils (like serums) that don’t come off with just water. When I use mostly natural products on my hair (honey pre poo before washing and coconut or jojoba oil for shine), I don’t need suds to clean my hair because there isn’t any build up.

      That being said, I would think that straight hair needs to be washed much more frequently since the oil from the scalp can travel much further down straight hair than curly. I mostly focus on my scalp when washing since curly hair tends to be very dry.

    • K

      I’ve been no-poo for about two and a half years now, also using the baking soda and vinegar treatment. I have a plastic cup and an empty film canister that live in my shower now to make things a little quicker on hair wash days. I spoon a couple spoonfuls of the bs in my cup and mix it with water in the shower. The flexible nature of the cup makes easy to apply the solution exactly where I want it. When I’m done washing, I rinse the cup and mix up the acv and condition. It’s quick, easy, and really inexpensive. I buy the giant jugs of vinegar and I’ve used one and a half of them in the time I’ve been no-poo. Baking soda can be bought for about a dollar a box and lasts me a couple of months.

      I tried going without the bs for a month or so, but I was really dissatisfied with the texture of my hair. I’m no-poo in an effort to reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials I consume, so I don’t feel to horrible about the cardboard bs boxes. They compost well enough.

    • Bonnie

      I believe you are referring to “funky hair syndrome” as outlined here. :)

    • Portia

      Do you have any suggestions for someone who uses hair wax? I’ve got quite short hair and style it with wax but would love to go no-poo. Will the baking soda get the wax out, or should I find a new styling product?

    • Jessica Hope

      I have naturally really greasy and oily hair. It also happens to be pretty straight with just a little wave in it, which means that the oil is very noticeable after only 24 hours. I’ve started to only wash my hair every second or third day and although I still struggle with grease, I’ve grown into a routine of putting my hair up to draw less attention to it.

      Because of my greasy hair, is it possible to do the no shampoo thing?

    • Joanie

      What if you have a dandruff problem??

    • Marilyn

      Even if you’re not brave enough to go without shampoo, I highly recommend vinegar treatments. You won’t believe what tossing a little diluted vinegar on your hair does. Instantly, your hair looks healthier, shines, and behaves better.