The Pros & Cons Of Raw Shampoo

raw2Photo: Courtesy of Morrocco Method.
I'm in a very itchy place right now. A couple months ago, I began the transition to raw shampoo. I wish I could say it was for environmental or ethical reasons, but the truth is, I did it for you people. As an experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I — a lifelong Pantene girl — started washing my hair with things like kelp, pine shale, and "blood of the dragon." It's true: When you enter the world of raw hair care, you're going to deal with ingredients named after mythological creatures. There were even more surprises in store for me.
First of all, I found that going raw doesn't mean you're going to wind up with yucky, stinky hair — quite the opposite. And, it doesn't require the time and effort of, say, switching to a raw diet. But, while some no-poo advocates would argue that we should all dump the drugstore stuff right now, there are some pros and cons to consider.
My main takeaway: Raw shampoo is something everyone should at least try, and many of us could benefit from making the switch permanently. Here's what you should know.

Pro: It's better for you.
Shampoo is kind of a lousy racket, when you think about it. No one is born needing detergents, parabens, and phthalates to keep their hair clean. Our scalps have their own little ecosystems of natural oils, fungi, and bacteria. Traditional shampoos strip all of them away and replace them with artificial moisturizers, making us become dependent on the fake stuff over time. Even more concerning is the fact that we absorb plenty of those chemicals through the skin. That's not to say you're going to get sick from your shampoo (after all, we're exposed to toxins all the time in our daily lives), but not all of those ingredients are entirely benign. For instance, some scientists have raised concerns about babies' development being impacted by the amount of phthalates absorbed through shampoo. Yikes.

Con: Not every raw shampoo is better for every scalp.
I decided to transition with Morrocco Method. The brand prides itself on being raw, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, cruelty-free, wildcrafted, and made in the U.S. It's free of about 11 other things, but I honestly don't even know what they are. The point is, this stuff is NOT FUCKING AROUND. Its Healthy Hair Starter Package includes mini bottles of its full range; the company advises you to try a different one every day. This allowed my scalp to adjust and helped me figure out which ingredients worked for me and which didn't.

With any new product, it's important to first test its effects: Starting with sample sizes is always a great idea. Just because something is raw doesn't mean it's gentle (or strong) enough for your hair. I learned, for example, that an apple-cider-vinegar base works great as a weekly clarifying shampoo, but any more than that is too harsh for my sensitive scalp. I also found that kelp and aloe give me super-shiny mermaid hair and spruce oil makes me itch like crazy.
raw4Photo: Courtesy of SheaMoisture.

Pro: It's better for animals and the environment.
Obviously, fewer chemicals in your hair means fewer chemicals down your drain — and in our environment. Animals don't want the phthalates either! And, you should know that almost all drugstore brands (and many salon brands) test on animals. While a lot of them claim they don't, they're benefitting from a sneaky loophole: Their policies state only that they don't test final products, but they say nothing about ingredients.

Of course, animal testing is a much bigger and more complex issue. But, if it's important to you, changing your shampoo is a step in the right direction.

Con: It takes patience — both in and out of the shower.
First, raw shampoo doesn't lather and spread as easily as the regular kind. You need to rub it in and let it sit for a few minutes. Second, the transition takes time and persistence. And, I wasn't kidding about the itching. Also, I have oily hair to begin with, so the first few weeks of my experiment involved a fair amount of top knots and ponytails. Your sebaceous glands will panic, your scalp will feel weird, and you may become tempted to reach for your go-to shampoo, but it's crucial to power through. This, too, shall pass.

raw1Photo: Courtesy of Morrocco Method.

Pro: Your patience will pay off.
Once you've suffered through the adjustment period, get ready for some shiny, happy hair. Depending on the products I used, I still had both high-volume and super-flat days. But, overall, my hair looked healthy as hell.

The shine factor is just one benefit. Others have reported faster growth, more strength, and — no joke — newfound blondness. Lauren O'Neal famously blogged about her experience over at The Hairpin, raving about the fluffy, blonde locks resulting from her three years without shampoo. It turns out her hair had become artificially darker from "grease that shampoo caused my scalp to overproduce."
"I never use any product," writes O'Neal. "I just blowdry it with a finger diffuser, and it stays in beautiful, perfect waves all day. And, when you know your hair looks great, it’s like a magical, girl-power spell that grants you confidence and erases worries about the rest of your looks." TRUTH.

Con: Traveling can be tricky.
If you're going on a trip, you need to be prepared. There's no popping out to the drugstore: There aren't (yet) a ton of retailers that carry these products, so if you get stuck somewhere without, you're better off not washing your hair than going back to traditional shampoo. Your scalp won't be back to square one if you fall out of your raw routine, but it will slow down the transition. And, if you have transitioned, you could wind up with an icky, uncomfortable scalp. Do yourself a favor and double-check your packing list.

raw3Photo: Courtesy of SheaMoisture.

Pro: It's super cheap (if you're creative).
While some raw-shampoo advocates create cleansers with African Black Soap or raw shea butter, many people swear by the ACV-baking-soda combo — and it couldn't be more cost-effective. (Plus, most places carry those.) Cleanse with 50% baking soda and 50% water, and then rinse with 50/50 ACV and water. Make sure to use both to keep the pH balanced.

Regardless of shampoo preferences, this is a great scalp detox. And, if you make it a regular ritual, you'll save approximately five bazillion dollars on hair care over the course of your life.

Con: It's not-so-cheap if you're not.
I dropped $70 on the Morrocco Method starter kit. Yes, it lasted months, but it's still a lot more than I'm used to paying for hair-care. The full-sized bottles run for $29 a pop. There are also Raw Hair Organics ($21 a bottle) and SheaMoisture ($10, and the only one you'll find at the drugstore).

But, variety is important when you're going raw. I tried to switch exclusively to SheaMoisture, and at first it was great — my hair was super shiny and smooth. After a few days, though, things were looking oily and flat. I rotated some other shampoos back into the mix, and my strands got happy again. Some may find a raw-shampoo soulmate and never stray, but they odds are good that you'll need a mix. If you're into DIY beauty products, great. If you want the convenience of a bottle, you'll have to pay up.
raw5Photo: Courtesy of Morrocco Method.
Pro & Con: The smell. The number-one fear around quitting traditional shampoo is probably winding up the stinky kid in class. This much I promise: You will not smell. You will, however, smell a little bit differently.
According to people close enough to smell me, my scent ranged between "natural-food store" and "music festival," depending on what I used that day. SheaMoisture was closest to the fragrance of traditional shampoo. But, no matter what, I smelled like some kind of organic snack food. You know when you were a kid and wanted a Fruit Roll-Up, but your mom made you eat the natural "fruit leather" instead? THAT is what I smelled like.
If you live for the classic, faux-floral scent of Herbal Essences, you're in for a bit of a letdown. But, considering all the perks of raw shampoo, that's a minor drawback. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them you just got back from Burning Man, and then walk away so they can watch your luscious, healthy, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, kelp-shiny hair bounce behind you.

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