How to Start Water Only Hair Washing


I'm getting so conceited about my hair. It's my favorite accessory. I'd rather let my ears freeze off like one of Doug E. Doug's cornrows in Cool Runnings than put a hat over my curls this winter. I think I flip my hair more than I blink these days! Lately I even try to steer completely unrelated conversations towards the topic of water only. It doesn't matter if we're talking about shampoo or intersectional feminism or the distribution of permafrost in Kamchatka's western slopes. Water only hair washing applies to all of it!

Think about the way nature works. Everything from the surface of a leaf to feathers, guillemot eggs, butterfly wings, the scales of a fish, and the skin of a whale is self cleaning. Other structures utilize various organisms to remove contaminants or allow droplet flow in a non-exploitative, non-toxic, non-polluting way- take mycoremediation, for instance, or hydrocarbon chewing microbes. And sorry to get all Germaine Greer on you but shampoo and pore strips and foaming cleansers are seriously tools of the patriarchy. You don't need all of those products, and you don't need to spend so much time caring for hair and skin. Water only makes hair less frizzy and more manageable without silicones, parabens, or possible carcinogens, such as cocamide DEA. It also lets skin heal and repair itself naturally.

I went cold turkey with water only, but I had been using natural products (like mayonnaise or baking soda and ACV) for quite some time beforehand. To get started from scratch, wash with gram flour, bar soap, or one egg yolk first (for my face, I just let water drip on it in the shower and scrubbed with a washcloth afterwards). I don't recommend buying clarifying shampoo just for this purpose- nor do I advocate using harsh baking soda and vinegar, which ruined my hair. Thereafter, wash with water one to three times a week, brushing with a wooden or sisal / agave brush or comb beforehand, to remove dust and other contaminants manually. In the shower or in a basin or bucket, soak your hair completely and massage thoroughly, paying special attention to the top back of your scalp, where buildup frequently occurs. Work the sebum down the hair shaft as you go. In the beginning, you will need to dry massage your scalp daily, perhaps even twice a day, and regularly brush to break up dusty or waxy patches and help move oils to the ends.

You want to try and stretch out the time between washings as much as possible, so you may initially need to apply oils, such as jojoba or coconut, in your hair and on scalp for extra moisture, or use cornstarch / cocoa powder as dry shampoo to look presentable. Try avoiding this as much as possible, since oil strips oil and dry shampoos can make hair harder to clean. If you really have a problem with frizz, wear a secondhand / recycled / peace silk scarf to smooth things out, and use rag or pin curl methods to style. Water is enough to make hair smell clean, like nothing at all, but if you're self conscious about it, soak some citrus peels in vodka, or mix essential oils in a spray bottle with water, and mist hair between washes. After a workout, rinsing your hair is sufficient to remove sweat, just tie hair up to get it off your neck first (duh). For troubleshooting, click here. Click here for tips on transitioning to water only in a corporate environment. For my face, I wash it once a day, in the evening, with a washcloth, using oil to remove my eye makeup only- the rest comes off using a hemp washcloth alone (I like hemp because of it's antimicrobial and gentle scrubbing properties). I've had this routine since the beginning, and I saw results for my cystic acne in less than a month. If you have hard water, you have to use distilled or rain water, depending on where you live. Like, if you live in Arizona, rainwater is fine, but if you live in Paris, forget it. I used about a liter of distilled water on my hair once a week when I lived there, and my hair is NOT Asian- it's super thick, and actually eats ponytail holders.

Testosterone levels can affect sebum production, so I recommend eating plantbased if you decide to go water only. Sebum isn't as bad as L'oreal likes us to think- overwashing and stripping hair or skin of sebum makes it dry and disrupts a protective layer known as the acid mantle, a layer of oil and sweat with a slightly acidic pH, which protects us from potential infections, chemical irritants, pollution particles, etc. We need it to protect and maintain the skin’s integrity. Excessive cleansing or astringents degrade our skin's barrier of protection against the environment, further aggravating skin problems like dandruff, acne, and so on. My acne heals so much quicker now that I'm not putting benzoyl peroxide or prescription drugs on it, along with toner, lotion, eye creams, etc. Instead of hydrating externally (I still use olive or coconut oil under my eyes sometimes), drink at least 3L of water a day, eat lots of good fats, and lay off the sugar and alcohol. Dark circles will lessen, wrinkles will plump out, and skin will overall be smoother, healthier looking, clearer- I saw results in two weeks (but I keep forgetting to drink water lately so it's back to my usual haggard appearance).

In April (or March, I forget) it will be two years since I started water only and my hair appears thicker, shinier, naturally more curly, darker for whatever reason, and I lose less of it. I used to have to clean a chunk out of the drain after every shower, always put handfuls of it in the compost, and brushed it off clothing more than my angora cats' fur. "This can't be possible, but, is your hair longer than when I saw you last?" asked my environmental activist friend and ecohero Tori, who'd seen me two days earlier. Actually I think she was right- it does grow faster, sans shark infested Viviscal. My skin is a million times better (I still use soap and coconut or olive oil on my body) and it takes me no time to get ready in the morning, which is great since I'm lazy. I know this because I often let my phone die instead of reaching over in bed to get the charger.


Paris to Go

55 comments:

  1. What an interesting concept!! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Xo,

    Megan at Lush to Blush

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  2. "paying special attention to the top back of your scalp"
    So true ! Thanks for sharing your tips with us, water-only need a bit explanations before starting.
    I water-only my hair since a year now and that's not perfect but i'll never get back ! My hair is thin and naturally greasy plus I work in a very dusty place… so I have to wash it two times a week, more if I'm not in my city 'cause the water is harder… Sometimes after shower it is sticky and it spends so much time to dry ! Even after wood-combing it stays a bit sticky…
    I dream to move to countryside and work at home and take baths in rainwater… but it's not possible exactly right now…

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    1. Hi Daphné! So glad you are having a great experience with water only! Oooh rainwater baths does sound like a dream... what made you start water only?

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    2. Ok, since my teenage years I try to fight my greasy hair. Years after years i tried shampoos more and more organic and less and less agressive but my hair still greasy day after day ! Grrrr !
      I started to read french (parce que je suis française ;-) blogs about natural haircare products, hennea etc and I started to think every product designed to wash hair, soft or agressive, natural or not, was at actually too efficient in his task, my scalp was too much washed and producted sebum again and again even with the softest soapwort tea.
      So, here is my way to water-only, absolutely not attracted at first by the zero-waste aspect, but now… i'm totally into that.

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  3. Hi Ariana,

    I have just begun H2O only washing and so far, so good. My hair is far better hydrated and the frizz is minimal (I have short, naturally curly hair). I also stopped using hair styling products when I realized that a smidge of argan oil on the ends was all I needed. I got bad dandruff from mousse, gels, etc. so switching to argan oil only was a revelation. Those products are also quite expensive and all come in plastic bottles and containers which I wanted to move away from. I also found that when I quit using hair styling products, I stopped getting dandruff. I realize now that those products coated my scalp and left residue which had to be brushed out and required, over time, the use of a clarifying shampoo to remove totally. It just created a vicious cycle of needing conditioner because my hair and scalp were dry from the shampoo, and then needing hair styling products for "bounce", etc. but those products build up and make hair appear greasy so then we are back to the drying shampoo.

    I also worry about all the products women are told they "need" to be presentable. One time I counted and realized I put almost a dozen products on my hair and skin just to get ready for school/work every morning. Once I understood about the types of chemicals in those products I started to wonder about how this affects our health long term, our pocketbooks, and the environment (all those products wash off skin and hair into the drain system where it ends up in open waterways, etc. over time).

    Also, there is such sexism in how women pay more than men for similar if not identical products (e.g., shaving cream). The cost alone is sexist if you ask me. And we are told by corporations that this is what we "need" to look our best. Hmm. Using a locally made soap (package free) to bathe and shave my legs with has removed me from this expensive, time-consuming cycle.

    Thanks for another great post! You always make me think!

    Best,
    Ariel

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    1. Hi Ariel! Thank you for sharing your story and the thoughtful way you approached your beauty routine- it's so true, most people don't think about the longterm and the damage shampoos and body wash and microbeads, etc. do to the waterways and animals, traveling up the food chain to our health. I switched to local soap recently too and it feels good to support the community and not spend a ton. I just read in some stupid magazine (Cosmo) that women with confidence "invest more in themselves- their makeup, shampoos, cleansing products, and stylers" whatever! Money can't buy confidence that was the stupidest thing I've heard all month

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    2. Hi Ariana, I found your blog through 'To Universe with Love' and am enjoying it a lot. I also find the magazine articles on marketing to be completely stupid (and frustrating too, considering the impacts). I think we need a 'cosmopolics' magazine to replace cosmopolitan. Certainly would do woman (and the rest of the world) a favour.

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  4. I so, so want to believe water-only washing could work for my fine, perma-unruly hair, but I'm afraid to get my hopes up. Will give it a go sometime when I have a break from work.

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    1. I heard for fine hair gram flour is amazing. It leaves hair so fluffy and shiny. Or rhassoul clay. But it's not so good for thicker hair types it seems (at least that was my experience) so I had to just wash with water.

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    2. I tried gram flour once last month and it felt great in the shower, but I had so much build-up (from shampoo bars and homemade dry shampoo, I'm guessing) that my hair still looked heavy, filthy, and lank afterward. I had to wash my poor hair with dishsoap to scrub off the buildup.

      Things seem to be back to normal now, so I'll give gram flour another try.

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  5. Vote for Ariana to start a Youtube channel in 2017 !

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  6. Yes, I vote for Ariana to start a youtube channel!

    A thought about drinking 3 litres of water - I think it all depends on your size, level of activity and climate. For example, 3 litres of water would probably be appropriate for a 100 kilo male in a hot climate doing lots of physical activity. For a 55 kilo female doing a sedentary job during Winter it would not be healthy. Too much water taxes the kidneys and flushes minerals from the body.

    As well, those water recommendations are probably devised for people eating the average diet - highly processed, high in salt and low in natural water. Anyone following a plant-based or macrobiotic diet, for example, would not need so much water unless they were in a very hot climate and/or very active.

    There was a sad case of a woman in her 30s whose personal trainer had her on 3 litres of water a day, but unfortunately the doctor also had her on a no salt regime. Her brain swelled and she now has permanent brain damage. An extreme case for sure, but given health advice from the media changes every 5 minutes I think it's worth thinking about whether the advice really fits your personal situation.

    On the other hand, most of us do not remember to drink enough water, and adequate hydration will certainly reflect in more beautiful skin :-)

    Madeleine.x

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    1. That is true Madeleine- without the minerals in the hard water in Paris people have to adjust especially given the factors you brought out... weight, gender etc. That is so scary about the woman with brain damage. I find that lately I never quite drink 3L but aiming for that goal gets me in the ballpark...

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  7. Hi Ariana! I really enjoy reading your blog! I had a question about how you do water-only washing for your hair and face when you travel. A lot of hotels have hard water, many hotel rooms don't have a stove to make distilled water, and I would hate to buy distilled water in a bottle from stores just to have clean water. What do you suggest? I noticed that you travel a lot, and I'm guessing you don't carry a shower filter in your bag wherever you go haha. Thank you! :)

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    1. I just use the hard water in hotels :( my hair is a bit frizzy the first day but calms down the second. Full disclosure though, I travel mostly for work so I stay on site at the permaculture projects I work on, which generally have stoves (or in some cases rain barrels!)

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  8. I never thought I could do water only without looking like a hippie with long, greasy strands, but I followed the advice you gave in a previous post about massaging your scalp, and I'm happy to say I haven't used shampoo for two months and I really like how my hair feels. Thanks! I do wash it with a raw egg once a week. That seems to get rid of excess oil. I have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), so my testosterone levels are through the roof, unfortunately. That might be contributing to the sebum, as you mentioned in this post...

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  9. Thanks for the tips Ariana. I am determined to get my hair to water only this year too. Hoping it will be more receptive now it's not being doused in skanky London water every week (last year's attempt was a bit of a flop, but there was bicarbonate soda involved).

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    1. Ahahaha London water. Ugh bicarb looked so good and simple at first... what a disappointment!

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  10. I can't believe I've stopped washing my horse for years, for the specific reason of the acid mantle, and can't manage to do it for myself. I've managed to strech out time between washing with an organic soft shampoo, but I get tired of corn flour + turmeric, because my hair looks dusty even if I brush for several minutes... what I can't figure out is how water can remove sebum without a tensio active element like soap or egg... ?? (What a great subject ! Forget the russian peninsulas...)

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    1. Hi Pandore! You can mechanically (with your fingers) break up surface tension and they say hot water, which has a lower surface tension, cleans better. You can actually feel the sebum being worked through your hair in the shower. Detergents reduce surface tension but so does sebum, which is a natural cleaner. That's interesting about your horse!

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    2. Ha! Wow. I never thought about this, but I only ever washed my horses with water and they always had beautiful, shiny coats. :)

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  11. Thank you for the encouragement! I've already been doing no-poo (egg yolks) method and I'm ready to transit to water only. I have a question - I brush my hair with boar bristle brush, but it immediatelly ruins my natural curls. Does your hair look straight after you brush it? What do you do to bring the curls back?
    Thank you!

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    1. Hi Galya! Sorry for the late reply- we had a death in the family so I'm only catching up now. I don't brush it anymore. When I started, I did, and I either left it (it just left a wave) or used the pin curl or rag curl methods to bring it back. Otherwise, brush only before washing. People with curly hair don't have to brush, I read, though- I read they can just get away with scalp massage.

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    2. Sorry about your loss. Thank you for answering and staying in touch.

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  12. Ariana, your beautiful hair has inspired me to try the water only method after the disaster I had when I tried the baking soda and vinegar! I've always had thick, medium length hair with a slight wave but prone to frizz so I'm hopeful that this will work. Now that I'm older I only need to wash my hair every week to ten days so I'm wondering if that will be the same when I begin my water only next Tuesday.

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    1. Have been sticking to warm water wash only but the current heat and humidity is not helping the look of my hair! However I remain determined and re-read this post for motivation.

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  13. My boss is asking us to display our resolutions for the new year for everyone in the office to see so we can hold each other accountable. I wonder what people will think if I put wash hair with water only on my list LOL. Especially since I'm already one of the office weirdos. I started making my own flaxseed gel since my hair is Mexican curly so now that I don't do commercial products, and have gotten up to 4 or 5 days between washings, I think I'm ready to make the leap to water only. Fingers crossed it doesn't end up a tangly mess.

    I saw that you put a link to a wooden comb. My boyfriend started making stainless steel combs in our garage since I refused to keep buying him plastic ones. His hair was eating a plastic comb once a month. I can send you a comb if you like.

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    1. That flaxseed gel sounds awesome, as do the combs! What a wonderful idea? Do you have a store where you sell them? I'd be happy to link to them in my plastic free guide, so cool!! Thank you for sharing!

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    2. If you could link to them that would be awesome :) The website is spiffyrebel.com
      We have been working on new designs, especially some for women like a rat tail comb that aren't on the site yet, but will be soon.

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  14. I went water only for months and couldn't figure why my hair turned into a frizzy, dreadlocked nightmare of gunk until I discovered I had a gross medical condition, which I suspect was there all along but flourished in water-only washing. And no, I couldn't use massages/brushes/fingers to 'work through the sebum' - because eventually my hair was so knotty and tangled I couldn't move a centimetre of anything through it. It would take me an hour every few days to work through the knots and tangles with a comb and hands, even then I still couldn't run a brush even halfway through. And that process would destroy my hair anyway, taking away any natural curl and leaving it frizzier. Jojoba oil hasn't solved these problems. Coal tar solution has helped, and keeps the condition manageable until I can get my prescription sorted.

    For now I alternate coal tar with my regular shampoo. I tried a shampoo bar and it was awful. I have used egg, with not bad results, so I may just use natural alternatives one day when I have the mental energy to deal with the fact that my shit hair will not magically turn into Ariana's. Oh yeah, and our water is incredibly hard. So yeah, I suspect the water only thing might be only something that works on you, and by you I mean some people, depending on their physiological makeup and local water conditions. Honestly the whole thing just depresses me. But I've spent my whole life unable to 'do' hair - and actually my hair is quite lovely when it's happy and healthy. I haven't spent my life heating or dying it, so actually it should be so much better than it is:( Anyway, it's one small thing in the grand scheme of things. I don't wash daily or anything so I don't feel like I'm going through tons of product, and I don't use styling products because I don't know how, so things aren't as bad as they could be packaging-wise. Hopefully I'll get there one day. It's always interesting to read and compare other people's experiences!

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    1. I'm sorry to hear about your medical condition :( I just think media has conditioned us to think beautiful hair looks a certain way but my hair will always be coarse and never look like a pantene model's (especially since my water is hard too) but that doesn't mean our hair isn't beauitful too! Yea it's true water only depends on a lot of factors. Some people have good experiences and others nightmares.

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  15. Hi! I love reading your blog, and because of you, I tried washing my hair with water only for a whole month last year. Unfortunately, it did not work for me. My beginning state of my hair was very oily with dandruff. As I went through the whole month with only water touching my hair, it left my hair sticky, oily, and with dandruff. After reading this post, I want to start again. When massaging your scalp in the shower, do you use you fingertips or finger nails? Thanks!

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    1. I had the same hair condition and water only didn't work for me first. So I took a 9 month egg yolks washing. It worked GREAT! I will try to replace yolks with water only at least every third time.
      Never use your nails to massage your scalp, just finger tips.

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    2. That's great! After the 9 months, do you now just use water only? I tried egg yolks washing and it left my hair smelling kind of funky and there were pieces of semi-cooked egg residue. How did you cope with that? Also during the 9 months, did you wash your hair everyday with water/egg-yolks, or every other day, etc.?

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    3. As Galya says I use just fingertips :) If you don't use warm water the egg shouldn't leave residue but cold water can be uncomfortable... don't use egg yolks every day though, that's too much protein for hair.

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    4. I used warm water as washing hair with cold water is not an option. I believe in using the methods that work for you which means if it doesn"t you end up not doing it lol. But yes i saw sort of cooked whites in my hair not much though and it was not a big deal to brush them off. you can reduce the smell if you thouroughly rinse your hair (i add EO) and also might spray it with a hydrolate in between washes. And no, i didn"t wash my hair every day only twice a week. i tried water only like Ariana suggested and am gradually incorporating in my hair care routine. Which for now is once a week egg yolks and once a week water only.

      Check out Ariana"s link to help you make sure your hair smells good in between :)

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  16. Hi,
    I read this post and the other ones about your water-only method... I had a couple questions I didn't see answered so thought I'd ask:
    - On days you shower but do not wash your hair, do you wear a shower cap or still let it get wet (since you said the water is hard, I didn't know if this little of water can effect it or not)
    - Do you use any hair products? I was about to buy a 'sea-salt' spray (water, sea salt, essential oils) but maybe this could make things harder during transition.
    Thanks! I am going to try this cold-turkey :)

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    1. I wrap a towel around my head when I'm in the shower. Or I just tie it up and don't let the water on it. I don't use any hair products, but I don't see how the sea salt spray would be a problem. When I go in the ocean I wash my hair with just water after and haven't had any adverse effects. Also I've used sugar water in my hair before instead of hairspray and it was fine, I just find I don't really need it.

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  17. This is fascinating! I'm going to give this a try.

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  18. I'm really sorry for your loss, Ariana. Take good care of you. Lots of friendly thoughts.

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  19. I was water-only for about a month until my mom rudely told me that I smelled and demanded I start washing with shampoo again to be "hygienic". Embarrassed and hurt, I caved, and now I'm shampooing every 3 days and my hair somehow looks just as oily as it did when I was washing water only, but feels drier on the ends. I have major issues with hard water where I live, so that didn't help my hair's oily appearance, either. Any advice for dealing with these pitfalls and unsolicited negative "advice" from those around you?

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    1. I'm sure you didn't smell! I find that it doesn't smell like anything at all- maybe she just wasn't used to the lack of the artificial shampoo fragrance. For hard water the only option is to distill it. There are instructions somewhere here if you type distilled water in the search box (sorry I don't even know what I'm typing at the moment, I'm such a zombie). Do what makes you feel comfortable. When people told me I was crazy for water only I just said they were crazy for using extracted crude oil and persistent environmental toxins, especially since shampoo is a recent invention... honestly you can just be hygienic with soap and water. Even the CDC says so.

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    2. I am super rude though. Just thank your mom for her concern but it's your hair, not hers.

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    3. Alli, the same happened to me when I wasn't religious about the scalp massage every day. Maybe that was the issue?

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  20. Your blog it always A+. I've had the same experience with acne and products -- all I do now is mild physical exfoliation 2-3x/week, a quick rinse with water every day, and moisturizer when needed. My skin had never been better (which I'm unpleasantly reminded of every time I 'relapse' into using traditional products).

    If anyone else out there has super damaged hair like mine, water only works really really well. It won't be as smooth as it is when covered in silicones, however it's better for it long-term and it won't fade your color.

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    1. So happy to hear your success story!! Wonderful!

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  21. I started using New Wash 2+ weeks ago. I ordered the reusable aluminum dispenser to cut down on plastic. So far it is fine. I have no need of conditioner with New Wash, just the wash itself which has eliminated additional product and more plastic bottles. I also only wash once per week with New Wash and with water only the rest of the time. Most days I don't use any styling product; sometime I use Undressed which gives some body to my hair. (I have short hair that is thinnish in the front and can use some product sometimes.) I'll update as time goes by and I can see how my hair responds and if it is worth the cost, etc.

    Rachel P.

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  22. Most of us assume this, that oiling makes the scalp greasy and sticky. But that's a myth. Mix some honey, olive oil and lemon juice, apply this on hair as a mask and rinse it off.har vokse buy online

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  23. Hi!! I have been doing water only for about 6 months... sadly I did the baking soda and ACV for 6 months prior to that... Do you ever use a sea water or salt water spray? I live so far from the ocean but love how it makes my hair feel. I just am nervous I'm going to do something that will damage my hair!

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    1. I don't use it but it should be safe for your hair! I love my curls after the ocean too :) salt at least isn't what dries hair our although the sun definitely does ...

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