No Shampoo

 
This post has been updated. Click here to read the updated post.

I hate no-shampoo. The method isn't the problem so much as my execution of it- baking soda for two years? What was I thinking? Nevertheless, it's a long and confusing process, and there's a lot of misinformation on the internet (which I spouted) that can lead to embarrassingly damaged hair. I've learned a little bit from years of experimenting, and though the crazy, wiry lion's mane above is far from aspirational, it's better than my previously limp, straightened locks. There's not a trace of grease, my curly texture is starting to come back, and my naturally reddish color is finally returning. For anyone thinking of starting a no-poo regimen, here are some of my missteps and wins.

Disclaimer: I'm not against good hygiene. In fact, some people (well, many people, including my husband) accuse me of being obsessed with cleanliness. Did you catch Anthony Bourdain's last show in Korea, where one woman said Koreans like to be "the cleanest possible people"? I want that, really I do! Shampoo just never worked for me, even as a child. It left a waxy coating that never quite seemed to rinse out and made my scalp bleed and shed in literal sheets. When my mom took us to hairdressers, they'd praise my sister's beautiful curls, then unanimously tell me to stop washing my gross, brittle hair. My grandma hated the way I smelled after shampoo so much, she stuck my head under the sink and scrubbed it with water only, which left my scalp nicer and hair fresher than ever before. For a year or two I alternated between water, baking soda, and mayonnaise or egg instead of shampoo. Sometimes I'd coat just the scalp in Noxzema before rinsing out. Here's what happened to my hair:

  

It was long, thick, shiny, perfectly curled with no products, silicones, or conditioners, so, when I first visited Paris, I didn't bother washing with anything more than water.

 

A vigorous scrubbing and rinsing made it look healthy and shiny. Why I thought using shampoo again was a good idea, I can't remember. I guess I wanted to be like everybody else- it was a status thing to smell like Garnier Fructis, or whatever. The same old problems returned: mutant dandruff, blood everywhere, incomparable frizz. I tried co-washing with a silicone and paraben-free conditioner. The results were okay. I smelled nice, and my hair was still strong and fairly healthy, albeit a bit dry. Moving to Paris changed everything.

 

This is what happens when you try shampoos and conditioners specially formulated for hard water. My hair looks lifeless and bone dry, but it's actually covered in grease in both pictures. I lost prodigious amounts of hair, to the point that a bald patch the size of a Marais apartment appeared under the canopy. It was time to get serious about quitting.

DIY honey shampoo worked well, but was too expensive to be sustainable. It made my hair smell like a baguette- celiac disease is somehow harder when every time you turn your head, you get a whiff of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Fresh aloe was the best alternative. Take a big leaf, split open, scoop the insides into a cloth, and squeeze into a bowl. Apply to dry hair and scalp, leave on while you shower, and rinse, scrubbing well. It lathers somewhat and leaves hair clean, fresh-smelling, and moisturized; it's also effective against hard water buildup. However, aloe leaves are expensive in Paris, and I can't always find them at the marché. Enter baking soda and vinegar.

I should have known better. My hair was soft and shiny because the method destroys keratin. It didn't help that I straightened and rebonded my hair, which eventually turned grey, leaving fuzzy buildup in the brush. I couldn't risk rye flour, tea rinses left hair limp, and shikakai or Alep soap caused weird waxy patches, which no amount of parting and scrubbing could remove. Since shampoo bars didn't rinse out in Paris' hard water, I raided the pantry. Egg yolk, yogurt, or coconut milk and aloe vera worked phenomenally at removing dirt and buildup. My hair stopped falling out and began growing again. I replaced aloe vera in the coconut recipe with the same amount of lemon juice or honey, to great success. Still, I need those ingredients for cooking. They aren't cheap enough to use indefinitely.

Fed up, I scrubbed my hair and scalp with distilled water. I have yet to see how this works in the long run (it's only been two weeks), but my husband likes my hair, which is starting to regain some of its original body and shine. It's not greasy or waxy, and people are commenting on noticeable growth. To prevent dandruff and odor, incorporate scalp massage into your routine. Wash hands, turn your head back, and scrub the dry scalp vigorously for one minute. Spread your fingers over the base of your head, as if pulling the oils from your scalp, and distribute along the first two inches of hair, one minute or more. Repeat before rinsing with distilled / boiled water, or brushing with a wooden pin brush. I'm not styling it, just brushing and wearing a ponytail sometimes.

I've been against water-only for so long- I couldn't see how it got hair clean- but shampoo and other detergents merely create surface tension, so removing dirt and oils kinetically makes sense, I guess. I'm so desperate at this point I'll try anything, and the results are good thus far. I'm collecting rice water to try on my next wash; meanwhile, I wear a silk scarf to bed and change my pillowcases twice a week, washing them weekly. My advice for anyone starting a no-shampoo routine would be to wash with aloe or egg first to clarify (I think coconut milk only works on thick, dry hair), and possibly a tiny bit of baking soda to remove residual silicones. I would also advise them not to listen to anything I say, because I have terrible hair.

Paris is the perfect place to experiment with no shampoo, though, since it seems many women (at least, the ones I know, or have read about) wash their hair once a week anyway. Any advice for me? Do you think it's really possible to quit shampoo without being gross?
Paris to Go

49 comments:

  1. I love your hair now Ariana! It has such a nice color and my hair is actually quite similar to yours, but I haven't had the courage to embrace my natural texture. Seeing photos of the girls on Into the Gloss and how off duty models wear their hair much like yours may push me in the right direction towards just owning it. I've had difficulty too with the hard water here in Paris, and found shampoo bars impossible. I wasn't sure what alternatives to try, but seeing as we have similar hair, I will have to consider some of the options you outlined. Good to know about rye hair shampoo, I don't have coeliaque's but was thinking to try it. If it doesn't work on my thick hair, I'll know why.....

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    1. Thank you so much Célia! Glad the trends are finally embracing our natural texture. I still sometimes feel like a clown on the first day I wash my hair, it's so frizzy! But it calms down overnight. What shampoo bars did you try, did you try the Lush ones? I had zero success with Lush and those vegan shampoo bars. I'm happy to hear I'm not alone, so I'm not just crazy, it's really a hard water thing!

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  2. I live in the country just outside a suburb :) and have hard water. I use sulfate free Ogx (Organix) coconut shampoo and conditioner. They leave my hair soft, shiny, and free from damage when I'm in the pool often. I wash and condition my hair on Day One (shampoo is for the scalp, conditioner is for the ends starting at the base of the head and going down). Day Two I spritz it with water or Bumble & Bumble Tonic spray (has tea tree oil). Day Three I use conditioner this time on my scalp - massaging a small bit into my scalp - and rubbing it all over. Then I rinse it out, apply conditioner as usual and my hair is super soft. I could repeat this for another few days. Eventually I start over with Day One's shampoo & conditioner. No oily feeling... and my hair is super fine, wavy/curly, and used to be more oily. I'd love to move to just the sulfate free conditioner and never use shampoo but I don't have the nerve to do that yet! :) Glad you're finding out what works for your hair!!

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    1. Hi Sunny, have you always had hard water? I hear lots of good things about that coconut shampoo and conditioner, many say it's their favorite. I think my sister uses it actually! It's great to know that there's a routine that can help swimmers, in school I knew people who really struggled finding good products to protect their hair. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I have flat, mousy, thin hair. The best method I've found is the cowash method--and I just have to buy one product for myself, my daughter with thick wavy hair, and my other daughter with thin curly hair. (But really, they're really only using water. I make them use cowash only a few times a month.)
    I should stop monkeying around with it, but I prefer to make my own shampoo. I am having a little bit of success with a clay shampoo recipe I got from Mommypotamus: bentonite clay, rhassoul clay, aloe Vera, and honey. Now I'm thinking that I should check the ph level... Maybe that's why my oily hair feels dry after using it.

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    1. Hi Rachel, I tried that recipe, my hair felt dry, too! I've tried some clays from Buly as well, it just never worked out for my hair. You're a nice mom :) I wish I'd stuck to water and cowash, your daughters will thank you. How long have you been cowashing?

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    2. Awwww, thanks! I've been cowashing for maybe five years? It definitely works the best out of all the methods I've tried (castile soap, clay, baking soda and vinegar, water only, etc.).
      I'm going to try fermented rice water to wash my hair next (apparently some indigenous Chinese women use it with great success), because I feel like at this point my hair is wrecked so I can't do water only. I will, however, try to keep my girls' hair product free for as long as possible. :c)

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    3. You were ahead of the trends! I need to try the fermented rice water. Please tell me how you like it. I don't eat enough rice, so I feel like it's taking forever to collect the amount I need, but I've seen the pictures of these Chinese women and their hair really looks incredible. My friend who grew up all over China knew some women who used it and said they always smelled fresh.

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  4. Your hair looks great, Ariana. You will appreciate the texture and body you have later. In the meantime, I love the pictures of you when you were younger. Very cute, and reassuring to know that someone can have a minimalist wardrobe and still prints, bright colors, etc.

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    1. Thank you very much Jane! Yes, my younger style is very different from what I wear now :) Paris refined my tastes a little bit I think, though I still love brights, of course!

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  5. have you tried castile soap? i'm thinking specifically of dr. bronner's since that's what i've been using for the past six months (plus an ACV rinse) with great results. i'm not sure precisely how it differs from marseille soap, but they're both vegetable- and oil-based. not sure how accessible castile would be in paris, though.

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    1. Hi Jenny, thanks for the tip! I'm glad you had good results. What type of hair do you have, if you don't mind me asking? I'm not sure if I can find it in bulk here, but I saw a recipe for homemade castile soap somewhere...

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    2. i'm lucky - my hair has never been fussy and didn't protest to pretty much any commercial shampoo/conditioner, so we're not exactly in the same boat. i have caucasian hair that's thick and fine, mostly straight but has a slight wave when it's wet. when i used regular sh/cond i had to wash it every two days or it got super oily. also, for the past couple of years i was plagued with dry scalp. since the switchover i've had no issues with dryness and can easily go three days without a wash. it does seem a bit limp after it's fully dry (haven't used a hair dryer or heat-styling contraptions in at least 10 years) but i use a wide-toothed all-wooden comb and after combing it out it looks better. i made the switch to castile/ACV for sustainability reasons, not because i needed help with my hair, so again - not quite the same boat as you :/

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    3. Thanks for the information ! You sound like you have the same hair type as my husband actually. His plastic comb is giving out (all the teeth are broken !) so I'm hunting for a wooden one like you describe. I'm so impressed at how no shampoo has alleviated all of my scalp issues!

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  6. I was going to say castile soap as well. I've heard it doesn't work in hard water, but I mix it with coconut milk (the recipe from Wellness Mama) and it's rich and lathers wonderfully. It makes hair seem really dry while wet, if that makes any sense. When it dries and is styled it's soft. That being said, water only is sometimes the best thing for certain people. Oribe does water only, and Shirley Cook, and they are beautiful professionals.

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    1. That's what I was worried about- the hard water! I read on Reddit and Long Hair Community that it left hair waxy, and two of my friends tried washing their long hair with it in soft water and had difficulty. They didn't stick with castile very long though, maybe their hair needed more time to adjust. Yes, I heard Shirley Cook has been on water only for awhile, and her hair looks great.

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  7. Thank you! Feels like I am not alone now. I have very curly hair, and also extremely, extremely dry. The only trick that really works for me is oil, oil, oil (rice bran oil is my hero here, very affordable, neutral odor, and works like a charm. Also on the skin), and then washing with only water.

    Good luck on your journey!

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    1. Hi Emma! Rice bran oil is a great idea, I never thought of it before, how much do you apply and how often? How long have you been doing WO? I'm so glad you are having success, it will encourage me to stick with it. Sometimes I feel like giving up and just getting another keratin straightening treatment! But water only has made things much better so far.

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    2. Hi Ariana. Well I've just been really lazy about the shampoo-thing, and the past two years I have also given up on alternatives. Rice bran oil - a coin size - before washing, and afterwards a bit on the ends, and my hair is happy as hell.

      People don't seem to beleive me, when I say I don't use product. Haha.

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    3. Ah that is so reassuring! It sounds like a miracle- lowers cholesterol? Prevents aging? I need to try this! Thank you for sharing.

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    4. Do try! A bottle (liter) will cost you about 3.5 to 4 euro. Great for cooking, and for my really dry skin it works wonders.

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  8. I've had much the same struggle. Most no poo recipes are simply out of my budget, and the only thing holding me back from water only is my lack of a boar bristle brush (I'm vegan). Good to know you can use a wooden brush. Have you tried a cacti or agave brush? A woman in my office (tax attorney) does water only and she looks great, very professional. To my knowledge, no one's detected a smell. I go to court more often than her though, which may hold me back.

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    1. I haven't tried them, but I read people are having success with vegetable brushes. A lot of the issues associated with water only seemed to go away when they scritched, preened, and used the vegan brush. People also give good reviews for the wooden pin brush and I really like it for loosening grime and stimulating the scalp. My mom's an attorney too! She uses a shampoo bar (her hair is softer and her water is too) and looks great, she goes to court a lot now.

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  9. Hi Ariana, same misadventure happened to me with... coconut oil. Coconut oil and afro hair just don't mix so well, it dries them like crazy. Have you tried a yogurt and honey mask before the no-poo ? Water in Paris is so hard, hair may need some coating beforehands. I am washing mine with ghassoul, and find it effective... Your mane will be back in shape in no time. Allegra

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    1. Hi Allegra! Thank you! I've only tried yogurt and honey separately, what a good idea, maybe a once a month mask would be nice. How long do you leave it in? I think my problem with rhassoul was I was mixing it with aloe vera. With just water it will be better for my skin's pH, I'll have to try it again, because I worry about not being able to get pollution out of my hair with water only.

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  10. I am so happy you wrote about this. I think your hair looks amazing now, but to have the length and shine of your before pictures, sign me up. I've been no-poo for two years now as well and I love it. I'm afraid to speak to friends and coworkers about it, or course. Thank you as always for being an excellent resource on how to look chic while staying environmentally conscious.

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    1. Hi Maddie, wow, you are so sweet! Thank you so much! Two years, way to go, I'm so glad everyone is commenting such positive things about no shampoo, because sometimes I am ready to give up. I only told one friend before writing this post... and I wasn't even going to post it, but I got so many questions like, "Isn't even bulk shampoo wasteful?" etc. etc. Thanks for your comment!

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  11. I use the homemade mask as a conditioner, it stays 20/30' before each no poo - that's every 10 days for me - plus a deep conditioning mask once a month. One hairdresser told me the only way to avoid the systematic conditioning would be to wash my hair with spring water (!) Allegra

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    1. I heard the same thing :( At the moment I'm just boiling water, which wastes energy. My vanity won't let me capitulate to the hard water. I'll try the mask instead. Thanks!

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  12. Hey girl,
    I have been on the Aleppo soap regimen for a few years now, and loving it. I did get little pieces of soap stuck in my hair at first, which didn't look too good once dried, but with practice they disappeared - I try to use a soap bar in very good shape, not too soft / crumbly, and I lather very homogenously over the head. Love the photos! You look awesome.
    ++

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  13. Hi, thank you! I'm glad to hear it's been working for so long ! May I ask, do you use a conditioner too? How long was the practice period ? Have you ever tried black soap? Someone recommended that as well. Ideally I'd love to use one soap for skin and hair. I'm a little worried about the alkalinity of black soap but I like the creaminess of Aleppo, maybe I should revisit my technique.

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    1. Hi Ariana,
      I never use conditioner, I don't blow-dry my hair either (except in the winter when it gets super cold) - I just let it dry naturally. Also at some point I almost completely stopped using a brush, which turned out surprisingly fine (a few finger strokes do the trick). I haven't tried black soap, will research that. But since you're in Paris, you can get the Aleppo soap cubes from Naturalia, they are good. The practice period was, say, a few weeks. The key is to switch to a new soap bar as soon as you reach the melty core of the aleppo soap, and in any case drain your soap really well so it dries out between showers. I use the remains for washing the body, and am collecting all the little bits in a glass jar, waiting to melt them together one day to make one big soap!
      +++

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    2. Thanks for the information! I love Aleppo soap for everything else so if I can just get the hang of it, this would really streamline my grooming routine. My friends who use black soap say it's been too drying for their hair, but awesome for skin. They have African hair though; someone with finer hair may not have the same trouble.

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  14. I had the same problem when I moved to the UK a few years ago. For two years it was never clean, and I tried everything. All the shampoos that I loved in the US gummed up my hair and gave it a funky, fuzzy feeling. I know those waxy patches all too well! A vinegar rinse just made things worse. Finally I realized I had soft water and switched to the shampoo bars from Lush. They got my hair nice and clean, but imagine my surprise to go to Paris for a weekend with my husband and find I couldn't rinse them out of my hair! He had to go to Franprix for a few liters of demineralized water.

    All I can say is, I feel your pain, and our husbands are very patient men!

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    1. Hi, thank you for sharing your experience! Glad to know I'm not alone. Yes, our husbands are the best :) I always have to demineralize the water if I have any hope of getting it to look somewhat clean... I fear it will never look clean here though. It looks great when I leave Paris!

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  15. I'm not sure if you can order it there, but I recommend trying Belegenza products if the hard water is making no-poo impossible. They make my hair look and feel beautiful and are sans a bunch of nasty stuff which may be the cause of your problems with shampoo. Some of their products say "food grade", although I'm not sure if that really means much.

    I tried the no-poo thing for about four months last year and ended up with what was like old doll hair. I live in Arizona, have hard water and long, blond, fine hair that can get greasy in summer. I have very few scalp problems and have never had the problems you describe with shampoo, but I was having breakouts which I thought might be associated with chemicals or silicones so I went searching for natural hair care. I went with Belegenza after trying no-poo and a few other cheaper natural products that were terrible. I have been using the grow out shampoo and dramatic conditioner for almost 6 months now. My hair is so soft sometimes I can't stop touching it - but naturally soft not coated-in-silicone soft. I can finally wear my hair down without feeling gross and weighed down half way through the day. Also, I was not really expecting the grow out shampoo to actually do much for hair growth (I just purchased it from the website recommendation for my hair type), but I quickly started seeing a bunch of two inch strands of new hair sticking up all over my head. After no-poo I had been seeing a lot of hair coming out in the shower and my brush, so I think I've gotten most of it back.

    So for me the fact that it doesn't break me out and makes my I-don't-really-want-to-bother-styling-it hair actually look good, the price is worth it. I am about half way through the conditioner, and a little more than half way through the shampoo, so I figure I will have to purchase slightly more than 2 per year. I also use the perform control styling gel but not always. I did like the extra thickness and malleability in the first few weeks of no-poo, but ultimately the hard water and mineral deposits just trashed my hair.

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    1. Hi, thank you for the information! This will be so helpful to other readers. I know exactly what you mean by old doll hair- this described me perfectly! Glad to hear your hair is restored, it encourages me that there is light at the end of the tunnel :)

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  16. I don't know how it works, Ariana, but every single time I go check your blog, you've written THE post which answers my current questions. I love your style, the way you write, even your lion mane. I hope my greasy and flat European scalp will soon be a fading memory... :)

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    1. You are so sweet Pauline! Please post an update on how your no-poo regimen is going!

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  17. Maybe you could try floral waters? You'll still only be cleansing with water, but it will give your hair a fresh scent. Let me know how it goes!

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    1. Hi Meredith, it's so funny you say that because I actually used gardenia water in Marrakech, I really liked the smell! Do you have any recommendations for floral waters? I found that my hair smelled funky a little quicker than with water only when I used the gardenia (believe it or not, it takes two weeks for my hair to smell with water only- really! As long as I keep up brushing and daily scalp massage). Do you use the kind that is distilled or hydrosols or essential oils? Maybe I used the wrong kind (distilled myself)... thanks!

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  18. Do you think bicarbonate of soda is ok for exfoliation, can it disturb the acid mantle of your skin many thanks!

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    1. Hi Jo! What type of skin do you have? For me, baking soda is too harsh. I developed pollution-related acne when I moved here though, so that kind of alkaline exfoliation actually made me break out more. I use just water on a hemp washcloth for exfoliation. It is gentle but effective (and pH neutral). My skin looks so much better since starting that! I read Emma Stone and Liv Tyler use baking soda as an exfoliant, but in my opinion (not a dermatologist though, and maybe it does work for your skin!) it's better to use something with a lower pH because alkaline products affect, change the bacterial flora composition on the skin, and impede the activity of skin enzymes. Plus the more you do it, the more disruptive it gets.

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  19. Daily shampooing is effective for oily hair. Choose the best shampoo for your oily hair. At the time of shampooing message the scalp smoothly, don’t hurry at least 5 minutes before washing. Repeat this process if hair is predominantly oily.

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  20. i have oily< hair.how can My hair was soft and shiny because the method destroys keratin.???

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  21. Hello!

    I have thick wavy curly hair with...wait for it...a dermatologist diagnosed (mild) scalp psoriasis. I am in my early 30's and experienced decades of "flare ups" on an itchy flaky scalp that always resuted in a bleeding scalp and that I confused for dandruff until a couple of years ago when after scratching my scalp raw until it bled, my partner suggested I see a dermo. The doc said it is common and I have a very mild case. She prescribed clobetasol shampoo and a mineral oil to use for an over night application. Given I have been transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle for the past few years I was extremely hesitant to use the products (obviously) given their chemical composition and pharma packaging. That said, my routine has been water only, on occasion a shampoo bar, a cider vinegar rinse, and argon oil for styling purposes. Unfortunately, as soon as I experience the scratching and most noticeable flakes (my hair is black) I have no choice but to use this most potent product. Does anyone have any suggestions for a zero waste treatment for scalp psoriasis? I so very desperate.

    Thanks in advance!

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    1. HI Stephanie, I'm so sorry to hear that, sorry you're dealing with all that. I think sometimes we need non zero waste products for our own well being. That being said I did have my scalp flake off in big bloody sheets- it was diagnosed as seborrheic dermatitis though and water was the only thing to help it, I massaged whenever I felt itchiness and used a brush to remove the flakes and they disappeared quickly. But not being a doctor I'm afraid to recommend this course to you... I hope someone else has another idea!

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  23. Hi Ariana, thank you for this post. I'm a beginner on this technique and yet I'm loving it.

    I have a big question for you, the next month I will be on a beach vacation (yay!), but I'm very afraid of my hair and breaking the habit.

    I stop using regular shampoo two months ago, I wash my hair weekly (only water) and some times I use egg yolk mask for deep cleaning. My hair looks just great! and feels great! It was so damage because the no poo technique and a whole year dyeing it...

    Have you been on a similar situation? how do you wash your hair when you are out of home?

    Thank you in advance, love your blog!

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