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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?