Thursday, August 8, 2013

still no 'poo, are you?

It's been a year and a half since I gave up shampoo, so I think it's time to check in.  I'm still at it, if you're wondering.  While my family dabbled in baking soda, the practice didn't stick for them.  They all have their reasons: Gareth refused because he's a teenager.  Olivia gave it almost nine months before she decided her lackadaisical hair-washing skills weren't enough for the combination of long hair and baking soda.  Steve, who probably only tried it because he was afraid of what I'd do if he didn't, lasted almost a year before he confessed that he wanted to switch back because his hair, which looked perfectly clean to me, felt "weird."


I acted like he was crazy, but I had a secret: my head/hair felt a little weird too.  I didn't want to admit it because I was committed to the cause. I'm a martyr! A fighter! A true soldier in the battle to keep sodium laurel, sodium lauryl sulfates and parabens out of our water ways! But I couldn't deny to myself that my hair, which also looked perfectly clean, felt a gunky the word?


My hair felt fine when it was dry, but when I'd wring it out after washing it, my hands felt like they had an oily film on them.  Yuck.  Despite that, however, it actually looked better and was easier to style than it was before I gave up shampoo.  For the record, "easier to style" means I didn't need to do anything to it. I could wash it and let it drip dry and it would look exactly the same as it always did, except without the shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, blow drying, and hair spray I'd always felt I needed to make my limp, thin and lifeless hair look like something instead of nothing. 

So, while I didn't know why my hair had that feeling when wet, I didn't want to go back to the old routine. I saw the gunkiness of my hair as a sacrifice I had made for all the little crayfish and minnows that no longer make their homes in our waterways.  And if you must know, I didn't explore ways to eliminate the gunk because I was too busy moralizing about my sacrifice, thinking a little righteously about how I'd stuck with the cause when Steve--that irresponsible shiny-haired-'poo-using-traitor I married--had not. 

I did, however, begin to worry about what would happen when I got my hair cut.  I hadn't gone in about nine months (one of my many beauty and fashion failings), and the last time I'd gone, I'd let them wash my hair--a decision I regretted because the shampoo returned my hair to its old corn silk condition.  I know that sounds nice, but soft isn't always good.  Corn silk for me means straight, flat, lifeless, and too slippery to style.  It took a month to build up the weird residue that felt gross but gave my hair its new body.

If I wanted to avoid another month of shampoo-recovery, I had to refuse the shampoo.  But then how would I hide the secret of my gunk from Carrie, my hair stylist of twenty years? 

Not sure how to face her, I put off my hair cut, letting what had been a short over-the-ears cut grow to my shoulders!  I am such a wimp.  Finally, I could avoid it no longer, so I scrubbed my hair as best I could, and steeled myself for the humiliation.

When I explained my green hair care plan to Carrie, she was cool. I expected that, actually, because Carrie is cool.  Why else would I go to her for 20 years?  If she thought I was a lunatic, she didn't let on, so I relaxed. She cut my hair and we chatted as we always do about books and movies and politics.  Everything was going to be okay!

Then the moment came.

She stood behind me, fiddling with the back of my hair.

"So...I know you haven't been using shampoo..."

I'm telling you.  I could hear the words clacking together in her head like marbles as she sifted through them for the ones that would say, "Your hair feels scuzzy" without actually saying that.

She continued: "Your hair is clean...but it's almost as if, well, it has feels like..."  She scrunched up her nose.  Then her eyes lit up.  "It feels like it has a build up of too much product on it. That's what it is!"

I could see her relief at having stumbled upon such a safe description.  No, my hair wasn't scummy or oily, or fit for critters to nest in.  It was just overstyled.  As in, my hair had too much civilization in it instead of too little.

Ultimately, we laughed at her euphemisms as I assured her they weren't necessary.  If I couldn't hide the gunk, I didn't want to endure the awkwardness of pretending it wasn't there.  If for no other reason, let the same person cut your hair for twenty years so that when the time comes, they will have the guts to say, "Hey, your hair's kind of gnarly.  What's up with that?"

I was really glad we talked about it because she motivated me to get rid of the scum, and she gave me a clue: product

Out of habit, I had continued to use hairspray with my baking soda regimen.  Are you shocked and disappointed to hear I ever used hairspray at all? I had to.  No matter what fabulous things Carrie had managed to create on my head while I'd sat in her chair over the years, they were always utterly destroyed by the time I got to my car.  The sight in my rear view mirror never even remotely resembled the masterpiece I'd seen just moments before in her magic mirror.  Why? Because Carrie (rightly) didn't apply hairspray with the same 1980s vigor that my hair has always required. Without it, my hair falls instantly limp into my face where it drives me crazy for the rest of the day.  I hate that!

I had just assumed I still needed the hairspray, regardless of my no 'poo status. 

I was wrong.

My first order of business when I left Carrie's that day: eliminate the hair spray and see what happened.  The second: revisit the use of vinegar.

I used vinegar last year and liked it at first.  After a few times, however, it left my hair greasy - as if I had used too much conditioner, or hadn't rinsed my hair well enough.  That, actually, is exactly what had happened (too much conditioner/vinegar).

This is where I tell you, if you've tried and failed with no 'poo: understand that it is a process.  Perhaps you already knew this? I didn't.  If after using baking soda your hair feels too dry, or too oily, or it accumulates the gunk, don't quit (like some traitorous husbands have done!).  But also, know that you don't have to be heroic and endure embarrassing hair scum. 

Just experiment. 

I had been using this common prescription: 1 Tablespoon of baking soda in 1 cup of water.  My hair is thin and tends toward the oilier side, so this solution proved too weak.  I reduced the water, mixing my 1 Tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water to be thinner than a paste.  Now, I work this into my hair instead of just dumping it over.  Then I really scrub.  It feels gritty, but I like that feeling on my scalp.  I do this every other day, and it works well.   After a week or two, however, it starts to get that dry-but-too-thick feeling:  in other words: it starts to get the gunk (despite the fact that I don't use hair spray anymore).  That's when I hit it with the vinegar.  Instead of the 2 Tablespoons of vinegar in 2 cups of water like I tried last year, I use just 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water (same proportions, just less of it).  This leaves my hair feeling smooth and shiny, but not greasy.


The moral of the story: you don't have to be a weird-haired martyr for the local stream beds!  A little experimentation helped me to make my hair better than it ever was: cleaner, more full of body, not scummy when wet, and easy to style.  I just wash it, comb it, and let it dry.  No shampoo, no conditioner, no hair gel, no hairspray.  That's a lot of money left in my pocket, time left in my day, and a lot of questionable chemicals left in their bottles.

It just took a little perseverance (and a fearless hair stylist).

And since so many people come to my blog under the search terms: "no 'poo pics": here are a few weird faceless pictures for your scrutiny.

unfortunately, the baking soda doesn't help with the way my
natural part extends down the back of my head.  
i'm certain this will be a bald spot in old age. :( 

this is from the side.
you can see the very tip of my nose sticking out on the left.


  1. bahahah. love this post. now that i'm bald i have a no no-poo excuse. :)

  2. i'm not letting you off that easy. i'm sure I can come up with some kind of baking soda rejuvenating mud pack for the scalp that would do wonders for you--or at least look great when people stop by unexpectedly! :)

  3. that actually sounds nice! anything to have something not so assaulting physically right now :)