Hair care experts have long extolled the virtues of washing your hair only a few times a week. Too much shampooing, it’s argued, strips hair of its natural oils and can leave it dry and damaged. Increasingly, more people are curious about a more extreme version of this tenet, and are experimenting with what eco-conscious naturalists, some women with thick or textured hair, and a smattering of beauty insiders have been doing for years: going “no poo,” or cleaning hair without shampoo. That’s right — no lather, rinse, and repeat for these folks.
Some no-pooers — and the dermatologists who back them up — believe that shampoo stimulates even more sebum production by the scalp, acting like an insidious drug that creates a greater need for its use. Simply rinsing hair with water or using a baking soda solution for shampoo and apple cider vinegar solution for conditioner, it’s said, will get your hair clean, make it shinier, balance your scalp’s oil production, save you money, and help out the environment. The catch? There’s a dreaded adjustment period during the recommended six weeks between ditching your shampoo and feeling your beautiful, chemical-free locks flowing in the wind.
Justin Jensen, a colorist at Sally Hershberger Downtown salon, says that it takes three to four weeks for the scalp to adjust to no shampooing. “The worst will be the first two or three weeks,” he says. “This is when your scalp starts freaking out.” Translation? Oil will pile up. Your scalp may itch. Your hair might look oily on top and dried on the ends. Some people see their hair get even frizzier. And, if you’re doing an apple cider vinegar rinse, your hair may smell, well, like vinegar. The seductive scent of commercial shampoos — what we’ve come to understand as the smell of “clean” — lure many a no-pooer back into the arms of shampoo.
Stick it out, though, and you'll be rewarded. “You should notice a drastic improvement after about a month when your hair is less oily and healthier-looking," Jensen says. "If you develop skin irritation or itchiness along the way, a drop of tea tree oil mixed with the baking soda ‘shampoo’ will help.” You may want to offset some of your hair’s initial dryness with some product at the ends, but Jensen cautions against using products with silicone, as silicone cannot be rinsed out without commercial shampoos.
The no-poo transition stage may be worse for some people than others. “Genetics and hormones determine the amount of sebum you produce,” says New Orleans-based dermatologist Dr. Deirdre Hooper. “As you age, you tend to produce less oil, so older people trying the no-shampoo idea may respond better that younger folks."
Also, longer and coarser hair types can handle more oil (and, in fact, may require more oil to moisturize the entire hair shaft). "These hair types," says Dr. Hooper, "may also find improvement with less frequent shampooing.” Because some of her patients who’ve experimented with no-poo experienced a lot of flaking, itching, or redness, even developing dandruff due to a buildup of yeast, oil, and dirt on the scalp, Dr. Hooper cautions no-poo might not be the best option for them. They might just want to cut back on shampoo, or focus on cleaning their scalps and rinsing their hair when shampooing.
If you’re curious about going no-poo, many say you’ve got to power through the adjustment period to get to the other side of six weeks. It’s not a one-size-fits-all idea, so experimentation — with less frequent shampooing, no-pooing, or even adjusting the concentrations of baking soda (for cleaner hair) or apple cider vinegar (for softer or more conditioned hair) used if you go no poo — is key. Who could pooh-pooh that?