By Traci Hukill
Every day I faced off against lackluster tresses, while two friends of mine couldn't stop raving about their own glossy, sexy hair. They had recently stopped shampooing — just went cold turkey — and the results were marvelous. Both are decidedly un-crunchy, so I knew they weren't making some hippieish statement about evil soap conglomerates or shampoo pollution in our waterways; this no-suds policy, I reasoned, must actually be good for hair.
What did I have to lose? I tossed out my shampoo, began simply rinsing my hair in the shower every day, and waited to be dazzled by my new chemical-free, naturally lustrous mane. The payoff was a while in coming, and I soon regretted having told everyone about my little experiment. Was it dirty, friends asked? Did it smell? Most concealed their revulsion at the idea of not shampooing, but when one involuntarily put her hand to her face in horror, it made a powerful impression.
Seven months later, my hair has never looked better. It's shinier and has more body, and my ordinarily flake-prone scalp is noticeably healthier. Plus, I get the self-righteous buzz of having beaten the system: I washed The Man right out of my hair and it stayed clean anyway.
The problem with shampoo is that most of it contains sodium lauryl sulfate or laureth sulfate as a foaming agent. Both are detergents capable of degreasing engines. Not surprisingly, they are also skin irritants. The charge against them by the no-'pooers is that they strip the hair and scalp of natural oils, creating an artificial demand for moisture that only commercial shampoos and conditioners can fill.
Bahman Karimzadeh, a Los Angeles stylist and staunch anti-shampooist, advocates a more DIY approach to conditioning. "You have to let your scalp make enough oil to bring it through to the end," he says. "Some people say, 'My scalp is dirty, oily, I have to wash it.' You have to get over that feeling."
Admittedly, when I first got off shampoo there was a funk factor. Around week two, I noticed my hair felt tacky when I wet it. Not long afterward I thought, "What's that smell?" The answer came: "Oh. It's me." And I hadn't even been hitting the gym that hard.
That's when I contacted Karimzadeh, who counseled "shampooing" with conditioner once a week. That improved life dramatically. My hair was cleaner and softer, and it was starting to develop body I'd never seen. It fell in ringlets and held a style. It even stayed out of my face.
I should throw in one caveat here: The anti-'poo camp is dominated by folks with wavy and curly hair. Straight-and-fines may have trouble with the shampoo-less lifestyle — it usually just weighs their manes down. But for everyone else, says Lorraine Massey, co-owner of Devachan Hair Salon in New York City, ditching the suds is de rigueur. Something of a demigoddess among the curly-headed set, Massey has developed a line of products called DevaCurl. I now wash with Massey's fragrant, sudsless No Poo (think of conditioner minus the slippery element) once a week.
A tiny detour
And so here I am. There has been just one significant setback in my quest for natural hair. It happened a few days before Thanksgiving, when I decided to deep-condition using a product recommended by Karimzadeh and countless beauty magazines: mayonnaise. I wet my hair, towel-dried it, worked in about one-eighth of a cup, and rinsed a few minutes later.
After it dried, I admired the shine in the mirror, but something was off. It was a little too shiny. I rinsed again. And then I understood: The stuff wasn't coming out. Over the next two days, my hair hung in oily clumps and developed the distinct odor of rancid nut oil. Finally, on Thanksgiving morning, dinner with the in-laws just hours away, I gave in and shampooed my hair for the first time in months. It looked great that day, but my shocked scalp immediately started to shed delicate flakes, and the texture of my hair soon got weird. That was all the assurance I needed. I'm back on the 'poo-free track, and this time I'm not getting off.
DIY beauty solutions
A sampling of natural cleansers and conditioners.
Baking soda:This is the best natural cleanser I found, but don't use it more than once every few weeks: Too-frequent use will strip away the lipids in the hair's cuticle, says hair researcher Yash Kamath of Princetonbased TRI (formerly known as the Textiles Research Institute). Dissolve 1 teaspoon in a cup of warm water, massage through hair, and rinse. Leaves hair crazy silky and squeaky-clean.
Beer: In a favorite book of mine from childhood, the heroine escapes from a Nazi concentration camp and is taken in by nuns who wash her matted hair with beer, making it lovely again. I had such high hopes as I opened the can in the shower! Instead it left a dull residue on my hair. I'll stick to I'll stick to drinking it.
Hairbrush: Brushing every single night makes my wavy hair too straight, but 100 strokes twice a week helps to distribute the natural oils evenly.
Lemon juice: Some people swear by it as a clarifying cleanser, but after applying the juice of one lemon to my hair and rinsing, I found it lank and lifeless for a couple of days.
Mayonnaise: The ingredients in this supposed miracle conditioner — eggs, lemon, and oil — are the holy trinity of home hair remedies, but I say leave the stuff on the sandwich.
Olive oil: Good for long hair that gets dry on the ends. A drop or two — no more — rubbed between the palms and applied lightly to dry hair will moisturize and add shine.
This story was originally written for Plenty magazine and was purchased by MNN.com. It appears here legally. If you're a fan of Plenty, read more here.