Ask Eartha: I’m gonna wash that poo right out of my hair
Special to the Free Press
Recently I saw a headline that said no one will be using shampoo in five years. What is that all about?
— Victoria, Breckenridge
No kidding, there is a “no poo” movement where people stop washing their hair with shampoo. They aren’t “dirty hippies” but rather CEOs, authors and parents. OK, probably a few “dirty hippies” too.
Washing hair dates back at least to 2,000 B.C. The Egyptians made what was probably the first shampoo from citrus juice, animal fats and plant oils. The fashionistas in 12th century Europe took it up a notch, making conditioner out of boiling dead lizards in olive oil. Today we globally spend more than $38 billion annually in hair care products. On average we put 515 chemicals on our bodies daily. Don’t believe me? Check out the ingredients listed on your shampoo and conditioner, then look at your other “beauty” products.
But why do we wash our hair? Every day our hair and scalp accumulate cell debris, sweat and various tiny pieces of dirt. For the most part, all that stuff stays near our scalp creating “greasy head” but doesn’t travel down the hair shaft. Most shampoos use sulfates (foaming agents used to create the bubbles we all falsely believe are necessary for cleaning) which dehydrate hair as they strip it of dirt and natural oils. This process prompts the scalp to make MORE oils which in turns creates greasy hair which we shampoo, creating a never-ending cycle.
So what would happen if we stopped washing our hair? Surprise! If left to its own devices the scalp eventually returns to a natural balance producing enough oil to keep hair soft and subtle without overproducing. These natural oils, specifically sebum, keep the hair shaft clean and protected, effectively performing as both shampoo and conditioner. It works all on its own, creating healthier hair that is stronger, thicker and fuller.
Hairdressers have known for a long time that detergents are unnecessary and bad for your hair. Yet marketers and distributors who are responsible for putting these products on the shelves think it is necessary. However, informed consumers are noticing the harsh chemicals in their shampoos, and more people are entertaining the idea of not washing their hair.
If you join the “no poo” movement, what can you expect? One resource is the book “Happy Hair: The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo,” by Lucy Aitken Read. She talks about the first step, the “tricky transition period” (aka the “terrible greasy stage”) in which the scalp over-produces oils. This stage lasts different amounts of time depending on hair type and is best handled with scarves, hats or just staying home (kidding!). For most people the difficult “transition” phase is over within two to three weeks.
During this time rinse your scalp and hair with water and use a natural bristle brush to groom which stimulates the scalp and distributes sebum all the way down the hair shaft. Sprinkle essential oils like lavender, sage or basil on the brush to counteract any unpleasant smells.
Once you hit the stage playfully named “I can’t take it anymore,” it’s time to use a natural cleaning solution. Create a 50/50 solution of baking soda and water and put in one bottle. In another bottle, put a 50/50 solution of apple-cider vinegar and water. White vinegar is far too acidic; do not use it. You may need to adjust the ratios but the 50/50 is a good place to start. To use, shake the baking soda solution and scratch as much into your scalp/hair as you need. Focus on the roots, not the tips. Rinse well and repeat with the apple-cider vinegar solution.
Why does this work? As you may recall from your high school chemistry class, the pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with water a neutral 7. Anything less than 7 is acidic and anything greater is basic. Human skin needs to be slightly acidic to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing. When you use baking soda (a base) and then apple-cider vinegar (an acid), your scalp’s pH remains stable and oil production stays low.
Congratulations! You made it! Now simply continue daily brushing with that bristle brush, rinse in water as often as you like, and clean your scalp with the baking soda and vinegar solutions about every five to seven days.
This winter I plan to stop shampooing when I’m wearing a hat every day anyway. I dare you to join me!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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