The Great No-Shampoo Experiment

Talk to any woman today about her hair-cleansing routine and she is bound to have some very strong feelings on the subject of how often to wash and with what. It seems that shampoo has become Public Enemy No. 1 to a good portion of the hair-having population.

While the majority of us have been weaned on the concept of shampoo being the way to total hair happiness — they don't call it shampoo-ad hair for nothing — many cleanse-free advocates are saying shampoo actually makes your hair look worse, stripping the scalp of its natural oils and causing the hair shaft to be dry, brittle, and prone to breakage.

We've heard so many tales of girls who kicked their cleansers to the curb and uncovered the hair of their dreams, but our brains have had a hard time seeing just how this works. Won't our hair just get hella greasy and limp? How will we survive without that squeaky-clean feeling? What do you do after you work out and get all sweaty?

Our curiosity got the better of us, so we asked three of our lovely editors to go shampoo-free for two weeks and document their experiences. The three ladies, all with different hair textures and types, were given alternative cleansing options including cleansing conditioner and the infamous baking soda and ACV rinse. Well, two of them were given alternatives, one of them was handed a bottle of dry shampoo and our deepest sympathies (sorry, Diana!).

Read on to find out what happened when three girls decided to undergo The Great No-Shampoo Experiment.

Intrigued? Here's some more great content on the no-shampoo craze:
4 Dirty-Hair 'Dos For Busy Girls
One Writer Breaks Down The Real Deal On Ditching Shampoo
Introducing The Most Invisible Of All Dry Shampoos

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
Lexi Nisita
Hair Type: Curly
Cleansing Method: Purely Perfect Cleansing Creme

The first couple of days, Lexi showed incredible optimism. "My hair feels pretty standard," she wrote on the second day. "I tried the no brushing thing again today, and was pleased with the results. My hair feels voluminous and airy and nice, though pretty frizzy with a couple scraggly bits." She even felt spry enough to experiment with a wet bun and some other styling options. By day five she continued to show hope: "Another great hair day, lots of volume, no visible grease. Am I over the hump?"

But, by day six, panic — and natural hair oils — started to set in: "I tried the wet-bun style again. Yikes. When I took it out, the roots were completely gross and steamed with grease, and I ended up putting it back up because it just looked nasty."

After a couple of days, Lexi figured out how to battle the back layers weighed down with natural hair oils. "The back of my hair especially was gross; it almost looked wet," she wrote. "This morning, given yesterday's events, I made a point to really get in there with my fingers in the shower, even turning upside down to massage the cleansing conditioner into the back of my head properly," she wrote. "It seemed to help: My hair looks really huge and airy today!"

By the second week, Lexi was brave enough to try brushing through her curls, then amping the volume with a towel. "Since I stopped shampooing, I've noticed that my hair feels — how to put it? Heavier? I think that's accurate," she journaled. The result that day was hair that dried great with increased volume, "but without the downside of scraggliness that comes without brushing."

Lexi entered the weekend renewed and feeling well enough to play around with wet-bun styling to great success. "I did my wet-bun style again and this time — success! Once I brushed it out after it dried, there was no noticeable grease, and it looked just as good as it did back in my shampoo days."
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Did she change her behavior around not shampooing?
"Not really. I don't work out, so that wasn't a problem. I would say that my shower behavior changed, that I spent more time working the cleansing conditioner all the way through my hair since it didn't lather. I spent a little more time with the product, but otherwise, there wasn't any major change in how I did things."

Would she do this again?
"I really like the cleansing conditioner. I feel like I might shampoo my hair once a week just so it doesn't have massive product buildup, but I like how my hair has such volume. I'll probably keep using it. I don't plan on washing my hair anytime soon. If I feel like I need to, I will but I'm not in a huge rush to return to shampooing all the time."

Final thoughts: "Going without shampoo allowed me to stop brushing my hair so much. With regular shampoo, it never felt like the back of my hair would get wet enough, so I felt like I had to brush through the back of my hair to make sure that it was even. With the buildup of my natural hair oils and the cleansing conditioner, it felt like my hair was softer and that it was wet enough so I didn't need to brush through my hair, that it had plenty of volume on its own."
Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
Diana Nguyen
Hair Type: Fine
Cleansing process: We handed Diana a can of Suave Moroccan Infusion Dry Shampoo and wished her luck.

"It's only been one day in, so it looks pretty normal. It may be a little more oily than normal, but I could just be paranoid," she wrote. The next day, she applied the dry shampoo, but the buildup at the roots was starting to make her a little nervous. "I used dry shampoo today, so it's provided a bit more texture. The dry shampoo worked pretty well. Usually, by now, my hair would be really ridiculously greasy, but it looks pretty normal. It's getting harder because the germophobe in me is starting to freak out a bit. My hair isn't noticeably different, but I can tell I'm about to play some weird mind games with myself."

Eventually, Diana felt she could add more effort...and styling aids. "I definitely notice styling and curling my hair when it's dirty is easier. Curls and waves usually fall out within a few hours, but with dirty hair and hairspray, the curls hold all day. I used some dry shampoo on my bangs and ended up with a nice, volume-y 'do for the day."

By the first weekend, the urge to shampoo started and paranoia set in. "It's getting harder because the urge to wash it is getting stronger. I was outside all weekend, and when my hair wasn't in a bun, the wind was whipping my hair all over my face, which probably made it even more oily. I'm probably noticing it more than the people around me. Every time I explain what I'm doing, they say, 'Wow, but your hair looks great!" Sugar coating or mind game? Who knows?"

By the time Monday rolled around, valiant efforts were made. "I dry shampooed the heck out my hair to absorb the weekend oil but now I realize it's really dry, especially the tips. It's nice to not have to shampoo my hair in the shower. Today, I just massaged (the dry shampoo) into my scalp, brushed it through my hair, and tied [my hair] into a side braid and left for work. Pretty effortless, which I can also get behind. Though, I am noticing my scalp starting to itch a bit."

During that second week, Diana finally decided to brave a workout. "I've been avoiding the gym in fear of inducing a sweaty, more oily head of hair, but today I finally went. I went home and ONLY rinsed my hair to my chagrin. Once dry, my hair felt pretty gross — very, very slick like petting a snake but without scales." Ew. Then, her scalp went into full-fledged revolt. "My scalp is starting to get flaky, which is causing dandruff problems, which is very bad for someone like me who's prone to wearing black. I think the overuse of products is starting to agitate my scalp. I usually have very sensitive skin."

With the end in sight, Diana stopped trying to style her hair and resorted to wearing a hat. "My hair looks pretty good considering I'm wearing it in a side braid and under a beanie," she journaled. "But, if I wasn't, my hair would look like a mess. I think my hair has finally given up. It doesn't absorb the dry shampoo as well it did before. There's flyaways everywhere. And, my scalp feels itchy, which is causing me to itch, which is causing dandruff. Not good."

And, the urge to reach for the sudsy stuff? Overwhelming by the end. "Hard. So hard. Well, hard because I have this irresistible urge to wash my hair and because I'm paranoid that I'm radiating some form of odor, but easy in a way, too, because I literally tied my hair in a basic braid and threw on a beanie. Thank god it was freezing today."
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Did she change her behavior? "I did avoid the gym. Usually, I would go three or four times a week, but I was terrified that I would smell afterward even though I took a shower and rinsed my hair off. I also didn't really go out. I was supposed to meet some girls out for drinks this past weekend, but I convinced them to do a night in instead since my hair game wasn't on."

Would she recommend trying it? "I definitely would recommend it to shock your hair because I do think it's good for you. I'll probably only wash my hair every two or three days moving forward, but I wouldn't go two weeks without washing my hair again."

The final results: "I was SO READY to wash my hair. I saw rainbows in the sky, that's how ready I was. It didn't even really affect me until the last few days. My hair texture changed, though: It felt thicker (it's usually very fine). Maybe it's because there was so much product in it (dry shampoo, hair spray, etc.). It did give me added volume, which was nice. But, it just felt sort of icky. I only rinsed my hair twice during the whole process."
Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
Jessica Novak
Hair Type: Normal
Cleansing method: For two weeks, Jessica went "natural" and cleansed her hair with baking soda and used an apple cider vinegar rinse.

On day one, Jessica worked out and tried to hold out on the inevitable. "I went for a run this morning and just rinsed off, so it still feels a little dirty," she wrote. "I haven’t used the baking soda and vinegar yet; I’m a little worried about how it will smell, to be honest. Am holding off for one more day."

She finally cracked on day two, with great results. "Admittedly, I was terrified I would spend the rest of the day smelling like an Easter egg. My hair is actually incredibly shiny today. I’m wearing it up, but it has more volume than normal and feels like I conditioned it. It’s almost back to its normal texture. Styling my hair is so much easier than yesterday. I can actually comb through my hair effortlessly. The apple cider vinegar rinse surprisingly mimics conditioner. The smell, I am happy to report, is virtually unnoticeable. My boyfriend has confirmed that no, I do not smell like a walking bottle of vinegar, and yes, my hair looks especially shiny and clean. Am toying with the idea of giving up shampoo forever. I’m thinking this could actually work."

By the next day, however, things went decidedly foul. "Disaster," she typed in her daily log. "Like I bathed in oils. I flew down to Austin in the morning for SXSW and had a run the night before, so my hair was in an especially rare state of unwash. I read somewhere that adding lavender oil to the vinegar mix can make your hair smell better, so I decided to try it — I added a dash of essential oils to the mix and went to town. A quick note if you ever try this: Use sparingly. My hair is now completely drenched in essential oils and matted to my scalp as I’m trying to style it for an important event. The silver lining? I smell lovely." A note to those trying this at home: Get crafty, but go carefully.

The next couple of days at SXSW saw some braided styles to keep her newfound texture under wraps, but the ease of finding the ingredients for her experiment started to get taxing while she was traveling. "It’s funny, I’m actually finding it difficult to find these products — you can’t buy apple cider vinegar at any corner store or drugstore, so this method is a little bit difficult when you travel." It took a few days for the oil and the lavender smell to dissipate, but once the goods were procured at a local grocery store, the styling of her hair became easier than ever. "While my hair still feels oily, it looks fairly normal — it’s holding curls crazy well and isn’t falling flat. The ends are starting to feel a bit dry, honestly, but it’s still pretty easy to style."

Over the next couple of days in the dustbowl known as SXSW, Jessica's styling options and scalp start to feel a bit…irritable. "Hair continues to feel thicker day after day and especially oily at the base," she wrote. "It’s giving me volume, but only because I’m accumulating buildup. Once I have the materials, the process itself isn’t difficult. It is getting harder to make my hair look decent, though. I can curl it, but wearing it straight is out of the question — I would look like a giant grease ball. I’m starting to have an uncontrollable urge to scratch my scalp." While her feelings of cleanliness continue to deteriorate, the one good note is that her hair no longer smells overwhelmingly like lavender.

By the beginning of week two, Jessica reported her hair felt like it was molding together. "The roots are super oily. It just feels really thick at my scalp, and heat styling is a bit of a challenge. I had a dream last night that I took a bubble bath in shampoo. At this point, even the rinse isn't really making me feel better. Perhaps I’ve hit a point of diminishing returns. My boyfriend told me my scalp looks surprisingly clean and healthy. So, there’s that."

During the weekend, her hair perked up for a big event. "I went to visit my boyfriend’s parents this weekend and, despite the fact that my hair felt really dirty, it actually looked great. I just have to blowdry it the way I want it to fall, and it generally stays there (since it is now a semi-solid mass of oil and dirt)." Fun!

By week two, Jessica's big takeaway is that looks can be deceiving when it comes to your hair's appearance vs. how it feels. "When I use the rinse and actually take the time to style it, it looks decent — it just doesn’t feel clean, no matter how much baking soda I use," wrote Jessica. "This is definitely getting harder."

The final day sees Jessica crafting her hair into tiny sculptures. "I’ve fashioned my hair into a top knot and realized that no hair tie is necessary. My hair behaves like Play-Doh. It just kind of stays where I put it."
Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Did she change her behavior? "No, not at all."

Would you advise someone to do this? "No. I did fine, but I don't feel like the benefits of going that long without shampoo really outweighed the costs."

Final thoughts: "The mixture was fine, it was easy to mix. But, traveling makes the whole process really tough. They don't exactly sell travel-sized bottles of the mixture at a hotel, your gym, your local drugstore; you have to take it with you everywhere you go. My hair felt really greasy and dirty, but everyone else seems to think that I'm getting regular blowouts."
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