I’ve been shampoo-free since October 2018, sounds gross at first read. Actually it’s not, have a read on if you’re curious.
Conventional shampoos, conditioners and styling products (as we know them now) are a relatively modern phenomenon. Sure, civilisations have been concerned with hygiene and beauty products since 4000 BC when the Egyptians and Babylonians were mixing up concoctions from natural ingredients. In 1908, The New York Times advised “hair is best shampooed at night, following thorough combing and brushing, and singeing split ends. Castille soap is applied with a stiff brush and rinsed four times every month to six weeks.” It wasn’t until 1914 that the first commercial shampoo was created and advertised to the masses by Kasey Hebert. From 1927 onwards we saw the rise of liquid shampoos starting with Schwarzkopf, to the additions of synthetic surfactants and then polymers and silicones in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. By the time we hit peak capitalism, the media and shampoo brands had us all convinced that washing your hair with foamy, scented bubbles multiple times a week and finishing with conditioner was a total requirement.
Bringing us to 2019 and we’re in an global overload of plastic waste, over-purchasing, lusting after the latest beauty technologies and generally forgetting about our history or basic biological or ecological needs. Ahhh capitalism! I’m not going to go too deep right here, because at the end of the day this is an article about shampoo, not global ethics, but I hope you get my point.
Anyway, after a couple of years experience exploring natural haircare in its various forms for work and my personal interest, I decided to do what any good investigative (beauty) enthusiast would do and decided to try the shampoo-free life for myself.
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know I’m extraordinarily fussy with my haircare selections and I generally completely avoid silicones and sulphates. So, whilst out travelling South East Asia and my travel sized SheaMoisture bottles ran low, I found it basically impossible to buy a replacement that was cabin luggage friendly and up to my criteria, so it seemed like a great time to try the shampoo-free life, that I had already been reading about. Almost 8 months on and a little bit of experimenting later, I’m ready to share my findings and thoughts.
What are the benefits of going shampoo-free?
There are many reasons why you might like the idea of going shampoo-free (or the No-Poo Method as it’s also, less glamorously known as) so to get us started after the above mini history ramble, here are a few key reasons I’d recommend testing out the shampoo-free (or at least low product) hair routine.
- You create less (including plastic) waste and use less water
- You purchase less products, meaning you save money and effort, whilst also having the bonus benefit of less clutter in your bathroom
- It could be your answer to treating that scalp and hair condition you’re worried about by allowing your hair to find it’s natural balance, whilst eliminating possible irritants
- You’ll learn more about the natural condition and state of your hair so you can better care for it in the future, even if you do go back to conventional haircare
- It’s less phsyical effort than a conventional routine, which could be useful if you have a disability or condition that would benefit from that change
As with all health, beauty and well-being topics, it’s very difficult to say how going shampoo-free will work for you, exactly, until you try it. We’re all individuals with different bodies, so your shampoo-free approach should be tweaked according to things such as hair type, lifestyle, skin type and your hair styling preferences. And in my opinion, it’s this lack of a customised approach that is failing consumers within the current mainstream haircare (and overall beauty) market, you cannot categorise all hair types into just a few neat boxes. There is no one solution to fix all your beauty woes and as it seems, most of those woes were created by marketers or unhealthy modern lifestyle habits anyway. Of course, the haircare brands want you to think you need to wash your hair several times a week or to straighten your curls or to tame those flyaways, that’s how they’ll sell more products and become wealthier, but that’s another story, for another day.
Since going shampoo-free my hair has looked healthy, shiny and has become stronger and fuller. I do have days where it feels built up and heavy at the roots, but I’m quickly learning techniques to manage this.
How to get started with going shampoo-free…
First off, it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be pretty when you get started. Conventional, high street shampoos, styling products and dyes usually have plenty of sulphates and silicones inside of them among other ingredients that may cause irritation or build-up, if you’ve been a dedicated follower of this haircare routine for a long time, your hair is going to need to detox.
Most shampoos work by using sulphates (foaming detergents) to strip hair of its natural oils (whilst getting rid of dirt) so with this in mind, the pH of our scalps is constantly in a tiny state of chaos and sensitive types might get irritated. Silicones and polymers are used to give the illusion of smooth, healthy hair by acting as a type of poly-filler, hiding the flaws basically. Overuse of silicones and polymers on your hair (especially combined with excessive heat styling) can build up a barrier which could make it difficult to dye your hair, style it or treat the natural core of any problems.
Before you start to see any results from a shampoo-free routine, you’re going to have to persevere whilst your hair gets back to it’s natural state and the time this takes will depend on your individual haircare history. I can guarantee you’ll find comfort in a bun, top knot or plait if it gets too much for you, maybe you’ll find a new found love for hats or head scarves? And that is no bad thing, trust me. You must persevere through this awkward stage or you won’t see the benefits and this goes for any change to your beauty or health regime.
For the first 6 months of being shampoo-free I used only water to wash my hair, combined with a routine of scalp massage, preening and combing/brushing. However, there are a number of other cleansing methods you can try should your shampoo-free feeling require a little helping hand. Here are a few shampoo-free, low cost/low waste methods of cleansing your hair, which you may already have in your home! You’re only going to need to do one of these when your hair feels like it needs it, do not just replace your regular shampooing routine with one of these because that’s not going to work.
- Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse: dilute the vinegar with water and rinse your hair. Good quality ACV balances your scalps pH, helps to clarify and clean hair whilst acting as a powerful germ killer and fungicide. You won’t need to do this more than twice a week to notice the difference, I only do a ACV rinse when I feel like my hair needs a boost. It works wonders on a dry scalp or dandruff and you can notice the difference instantly on hair and scalp.
- Baking Soda: create a paste using baking soda and water (some people like to combine this with ACV too) apply and rinse. Baking soda also helps balance your pH and is particularly effective on oily hair as it helps your scalp absorb excess oil, it’ll also help clear dandruff and flakes. Some people find this too drying, so pair with coconut oil or another type of conditioning ingredient.
- Aloe Vera Juice: dilute with water for a moisturising treatment with added benefits or dilute further for a leave in conditioner. Aloe Vera is known for it’s anti-inflammatory, healing and soothing properties and has many other applications.
- Coconut Oil: there are so many uses for this oil, use it to tame a style, as a masque or as an oil cleanse on dry hair types. A little goes a long way and it can be washed out or left in. Great for a deep moisture boost for hair and scalp, especially if you like hair dye!
In addition to these core products, you can also customise your haircare routine further by pairing the appropriate essential oils or base ingredients to suit your needs. For example, oily hair might like a little Tea Tree Oil, whereas damaged hair might enjoy some Neem Oil goodness. It’s all part of the experiment and once you find the base routine, there are endless variations you can trial.
Perfecting scritching, preening and brushing…
Did you know that there are ways to clean your hair without hitting the shower? That’s what brushes, combs and even your fingers were created for, not just for styling and detangling! These three acts should become part of your shampoo-free routine, whatever your approach, give them a go and find the combo that works for you!
Scritching is the act of massaging the scalp (like you would when applying product in the shower) you can do this in the shower without product or more usually on dry hair. This movement helps to loosen dead skin cells, distribute natural oils and improve blood flow which in turn helps everything function better.
Preening helps to distribute your natural hair oils to the full length of your hair, you do this by sectioning areas and then firmly smoothing the oils from scalp to tip between two fingers (a bit like a straightening iron action) it’s time consuming, but it means your hair is gaining maximum benefit from the natural oils it’s now producing in healthy measures.
Brushing, well duh! Most shampoo-free advocates will recommend a Boar Bristle brush for effective brushing, although other natural fibres like wood can have a similar effect. Depending on your preferences you may prefer to use a comb and as above, a natural material will be more helpful. Brushing helps once again to distribute those natural oils so that they can be useful and so that you don’t suffer from heavy, greasy roots!
For best results, I’d recommend doing these three steps before every wash and brushing at least once every other day depending on your hair type.
Does a shampoo-free routine work for coloured hair?
If you have coloured hair the best thing you can do is wash it as few times as possible, of course, this is going to prolong the vibrancy of your colour and allows for longer breaks between touch-ups. However, if you have a very vibrant hair colour you might want to avoid the ACV and baking soda which may fade bold colours quicker, I haven’t dyed my hair again since going shampoo-free so I will have to experiment and report back from my personal experience. A water-only shampoo-free approach would absolutely be suitable for coloured hair and I’m excited to test it.
Within the existing shampoo-free community, there are a lot of people who are on the wavelength of avoiding chemical dyes all together, this is a personal decision, but nonetheless interesting to think about and in line with the low waste and natural balance goals many shampoo-free advocates are aiming for. Weigh up the pros and cons against your own beauty ethics.
Shampoo-free benefits for curly hair types…
I have some experience working on natural hair products for curly hair types and have helped Miz manage his natural curls, since my own hair type is very straight and full. I’m not going to go into massive detail here as I am by no means an expert. There is an endless supply of natural hair care advise out there, especially from the Afro community, so I’d recommend that curly haired readers explore this further. If you have afro or curly hair check out some of these natural hair influencers to find a possible advisor! If you don’t already know the classification (4C…etc.) of your curls, this would be a good place to start, as it turns out curly hair is far more complicated than Mr. Frieda would have you think.
To summarise, shampoo-free methods will work on curly hair and often result in a rediscovery of hair texture once hair recovers from it’s history of abuse and incorrect care. I’d recommend exploring the Curly Girl Method for a more detailed look at low product practises for curls, this method combines some of the above with extra conditioning and styling suggestions that are more suitable for coils and curls.
What about solid shampoo bars and other cleansing options?
I haven’t had the spare budget or time to try out many shampoo bars or other low product/low waste shampoo options just yet. I’m glad I don’t get sent loads of pointless products these days (there was so much waste!) but it was much easier to give advise when I got sent those hidden gems for free! Haha. However, I did pick up an Aleppo soap (Olive oil soap recipe originating from Syria in 300AD) for only £1.50 from the wonderful Infinity Foods in Brighton and have given this a go on my hair and body. It didn’t give me a wow moment, but if you do need a practical helping hand this would be worth a try and would last ages, for a fraction of the price of a bottle of crap shampoo or fancy pants shampoo bar!
The plastic-free and eco-friendly beauty movements have highlighted the ecological benefits of switching to packaging free or non-plastic packaged products, it just makes sense. However, I’m currently finding it extremely difficult to shop solid shampoos on the high street. The main option available (unless you have a specialist shop nearby) is Lush and as much as I like some of their products they do sadly still use sulphates and other ingredients that I can’t celebrate too much. Another option would be to opt for a multi-use product that you can buy in a big size making it cost effective and delaying the need to repurchase. I thoroughly enjoy Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap which is available as a solid bar, in liquid form (including a huge size) and in a variety of fragrances. Dr. Bronner’s can be used for just about every beauty requirement including brushing your teeth, washing your face and even for your dishes and floors!
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If you’re shopping online for a shampoo bar or eco-friendly shampoo option there are a lot more options. But being location independent, it’s not super practical for me to pick-up mail all the time. I really like the look of Primal Suds and Friendly Soap.
Finding a shampoo-free hair professional…
Next steps, it’s been over a year since my hair saw any bleach or vibrant colours and my fringe has long gone. I’m in desperate need of a hair makeover so I can be restored to my former glory and I’m very close to doing the whole cut and colour myself from scratch. Now I’ve made the commitment to shampoo-free and low product routines for my hair, do I really want to have to dive back into the L’Oreal (no, thank you) operated, product obsessed industry of the hair salons? Probably not.
I’d love to find an expert or advocate for the shampoo-free lifestyle to work with me in my next transformation, but it seems the UK hairdressing industry is so product centric (all the training is led by a specific brand) that it’s pretty difficult to find a salon with this offbeat or flexible approach. Please let me know if you know of anyone, particularly on the South Coast or in London.
I’ll aim to keep you all informed of my minimalist hair journey (at least on the @JayneKitsch social media channels) but in the meantime if you want to show your support for my content you can share, comment or shop my Amazon Storefront, where I’m storing product recommendations and can earn a little commission off anything you purchase. Making content is a long task and every little bit of support helps. I have plenty of extra hair content on this site, spanning nearly 10 years of blogging, so dig in! You can of course, keep up to date with the current state of my hair on Instagram.
@wearefoodscouts & @KitschInc. Digital Marketing & Creative Direction. Illustration, writing, creativity & style. Fan of films, TV, cartoons, colourful hair & clean beauty. Blogger since 2009.