A couple of weeks ago, I embarked upon an experiment which ultimately led to my not washing my hair with shampoo for twelve days. Here’s why I began it and what happened next.
Why give up shampoo?
My hair is very greasy. I already knew that by washing it more, I would only make it more greasy so I would do my best to only wash it every other day – but on the second day I would end up using half a ton of dry shampoo and still feeling horrid all day.
We all know that the more you wash your hair, the more greasy it gets. This is because the shampoo washes away the natural oils of your scalp, so your scalp produces more oil – which makes your hair greasy, so you wash it again, which makes it even more greasy… and so it goes.
I read about how SLS and SLES, common ingredients found in the majority of personal care products, can actually have a drying effect on the skin, including the scalp. So at first I tried switching my shampoo for one without these chemicals. It was no easy job to find shampoo without SLS or SLES, but I did eventually. At the same time I began trying to go longer between washes.
Then I remembered a book I bought four years ago but never read: Happy Hair by Lucy AitkenRead. In it I read about how the author had not washed her hair with shampoo for several years, and how it’s never been in better condition. I decided to give it a go. At the back of the book there is a sort of timeline for giving up shampoo, so I started on it.
What do you use instead of shampoo?
Apparently when you first give up washing with shampoo, your hair has to detox – at first this means your hair gets really greasy, even waxy. In the first stages this is apparently helped by washing it with bicarbonate of soda, and then conditioning with an apple cider vinegar rinse. The problem is that the rules regarding how much bicarbonate of soda to use are fairly vague. Apparently you’re supposed to begin with a large spoonful mixed with water, and then gradually reduce it to one teaspoon. But if you have hard water, you’ll need more. I think I probably used too much bicarb because it made my hair really dry and tangly. The sort of hair that resembles a birdsnest and makes you worry you might end up having to shave your head. I was disheartened, but I carried on with my experiment.
The next time I washed my hair with bicarb, I used less of it – but it had the same effect. By this point my hair was really waxy and felt horrible. The bicarb had the rather annoying effect of drying out my hair and making it brittle and nasty, without actually doing anything to help with the horrible waxiness. I was looking forward to trying something different!
Next I tried washing my hair with an egg. I know, it sounds weird – but people in the no ‘poo movement rave about how great eggs are for your hair. Apparently the trick is to use an egg that’s as fresh as possible, and to use cold water to avoid ending up with a scrambled-egg-hair disaster. Washing my hair with freezing cold water was not much fun, but we were having a mini heatwave so it wasn’t too bad. The egg itself was weirdly slimy, but it did seem to be doing something to my hair. When I dried it, it definitely looked less waxy – though I think since my hair is quite thick, and I think it probably would have benefitted from two eggs rather than one in order to wash all of the hair! I did a live video on Facebook that morning, talking about how the egg had worked on my hair; you can see the recording here.
As well as these, I washed my hair with plain, hot water every other day. That sounds like a ridiculous idea, but it did actually help. The secret is not to just get your head wet – you really scrub at the scalp with the aim of moving the sebum from the scalp along the hair shaft. It wasn’t as good as the egg, but it was ok!
On the days between washes, I brushed my hair. Normally, I don’t really brush my hair because I find that it makes it greasy – so I would usually brush it right before I wash it. When I was little my nan used to tell me you should brush your hair a hundred times before bed. I thought she was bonkers, but it turns out she was right! You’re supposed to use a boar bristle brush, and this helps to move the sebum away from your scalp and along the shaft of the hair. It didn’t do anything for how awful my hair looked or smelled, but it did help it to feel better!
By day 12 I was sitting at my desk, daydreaming about washing my hair properly. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t itchy – but it was waxy and greasy, and it smelled disgusting. They say you can use essential oils to help make it smell better, but I found they didn’t make much difference. I gave in and on day 13, I washed my hair. Here’s a live video I did on Facebook after washing my hair for the first time in twelve days.
If I had continued with my experiment, there are other things I could have used to wash my hair: applesauce is apparently good; rye flour is something everyone raves about, and rhassoul clay. I was looking forward to trying these out, so I might give them a go in future.
After twelve days, it felt amazing to wash my hair properly. Even better, I think twelve days of no shampoo, marinating in its own grease really helped the condition of my hair. It was much more smooth and seemed very healthy despite the fact the ends are usually very dry on account of how much I’ve bleached it.
My hair is now a little less prone to grease than it was before. At the time of writing I’ve managed to go four days without washing it. My tolerance for grease has risen, obviously, so I’m less bothered by it – but also it does seem to just be less greasy! My plan now is to go longer between washes, but also to use alternatives in between shampoo washes. I’m dying to try the applesauce, and I bought a big bag of rye flour too. Watch this space!