Two Years Without Shampoo


These pictures annoy me


If something doesn't automatically come easily to me, I give up, which is why I haven't been writing lately, and also why I never learned how to play the harmonica solo from "Head Over Feet." This frustration must be how people feel when they first try zero waste. My ill-concealed lack of sympathy manifested itself often before- I started zero waste for school, so in true Dim Sum of All Fears fashion, I regularly set and forced myself to meet overly demanding goals, expecting the same from others. Now that I have a bit of perspective, I'll hopefully be more compassionate. I doubt it, though.

I'm also not feeling less sorry for myself lately. Recently I woke up, in a nice, warm bed in a beautiful home I do not pay for, and thought, ok, I travel the world, everybody gives me stuff, and everybody takes care of me. Can you imagine the complaining I'd do if I had a life based even partly in reality? Or if I had to do any of the things real people do, like pay bills, wash my hair, use toilet paper, or stay in one city for more than a month at a time? I couldn't handle any of that! The only things I worry about regularly are whether to wear Ferragamos or Louboutins in the morning, or whether to get a turmeric or matcha latte in my mason jar. These are not real problems. Somebody pulled an unregistered weapon on me at work awhile back- that's a problem. It always takes extreme situations to get me to realize things, however, like when Happy Endings got cancelled and I suddenly thought, I should have been watching that on network television instead of downloading it illegally at Starbucks Rue Saint-Dominique.

But back to the not washing my hair part. Two years of water only, and I didn't have to hide my hair with scarves, douse it with perfume, or withdraw into Pynchonesque seclusion. I felt so bad about my hair- mosly because I'm shallow, partly because my scalp actually bled and was painful- when I moved to Paris and discovered the consequences of living with hard water. Specially formulated pharmacy products, dermatologist prescribed treatments, and an ill-advised Japanese straightening only worsened the situation. I couldn't face people, so I didn't want to go places with my husband or enjoy the city. I feel bad about everything I missed out on when the solution was so simple. We're not supposed to mess with hair and skin the way we do. People don't realize when they use spray and mousse and gels and pomades or whatever, their head isn't actually clean, it's coated in junk- silicones and sulfates and parabens that obscure our natural texture, twisting perceptions of what hair should look like.

Until recently, my routine was to scrub my scalp and detangle my hair with my fingers in the shower once a month, wrapping a towel around my head or just avoiding the water between "washings." Some people prefer the mermaid method (dunking their hair, then scrubbing), which I used to like, but haven't done since we moved to a place without a bathtub. I alternated between using hard water- hair was frizzy for a day or two, then normalized- and distilled water, tying my hair up if I got a workout. Sometimes I'd swipe hair with lemon juice or essential oil after exercising or hiking, and if I went in salt water, I'd leave it a day before rinsing, depending on water quality. Now that I work outside or with kids, I wash my hair more often, about once every 2-3 weeks. This makes it drier, but nothing like when I was using shampoos and conditioner. I don't even have to brush or style anymore. I either let my curls dry as is- they're springier and more uniform since switching to water (think the guy from When In Rome's "The Promise" video... not the bald one)- or tie it in a ponytail, looping the ends up in the holder. This smoothes the top and gives a blowout look without the work. It's a rougher texture than the eurocentric norm we see on Instagram and YouTube, but it's the one I was born with. I'm not going to fight it just because some middle-aged French guy in Clichy would rather I look like that snowflake from Aloha.

Normally when traveling I don't wash my hair. People who live with allergies or in polluted areas may want to rinse hair more often. If I want a smoother look, or I'm in a really humid place, I use coconut or olive oil with a light hand. Before I quit shampoo, this would normally turn out super greasy and disgusting, but now my hair just soaks oil up without veering into Ponyboy territory. I work six days a week, sometimes seven, sometimes 12+ hours a day, and I'm also interminably lazy, so having a beauty routine requiring literally no effort makes the difficult transition totally worth it. All you really need is patience and a little elbow grease to push through the first few weeks of shock and disgustingness. I promise, people won't shun you. People today are all too wrapped up in themselves to notice whether you stopped using Herbal Essences or not. The emphasis is on maintaining the naturally acidic condition of the mantle. Nothing does that better than simple mechanical cleaning followed by a thorough rinse to wash impurities away and eliminate residual odors. Water is an excellent solvent.

Many no poo advocates advise using hot water only. That's not a thing. Thermal energy helps get rid of dirt, but mechanical energy works effectively regardless of temperature- only surfactants, such as those found in shampoos, don't work well in cold water. Hot water can actually dry hair and scalp out, causing it to produce more flakes or oil. By contrast, cold water seals the cuticle, making it look shinier (ninety percent of energy consumed while showering is used to heat water, so the average household using cold water can eliminate up to 350 pounds of CO2 emissions annually. Translation: $40-$60 possible savings on utility bills). You don't have to go all James Bond with the douches froides, just don't think hot water is going to melt hair's natural oils away or anything, either. Anyway, water only is yet another zero waste switch that defies critical logic. People think zero waste means sacrificing convenience, running all over town buying specialty products, or spending lots of time making stuff, when, in truth, sometimes it just means doing nothing at all. What could be more convenient than that?

Paris to Go

39 comments:

  1. you know, I was thisclose to thanking you for not giving in and calling it "no poo" ...then came the last graf. So instead, I will say this: it is not "poo," the word children use to refer to excrement. It is a cleaning product called "shampoo," which you do not prefer, while other, equally thoughtful people do. No matter how many people call it "poo," it will never be clever or cute to refer to it that way; it is literally juvenile, and insulting to boot. No one who currently uses shampoo will see the term used and think "wow, I have seen the light - this cleaning product IS just like excrement! I am properly shamed before those more enlightened than myself - so enlightened that they use childish terms for bodily waste rather than the actual name of the product, a decision I find adorable, intelligent and not at all offensive." I know you did not come up with the term, but there's no legal requirement that you use it. Please don't.

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    1. Graf? Referring to a group as "no poo advocates", which is what they call themselves, isn't exactly the same as preferring to use the term.

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    2. Actually, the word poo didn't come to mean excrement until the 1900s. Its from a Middle English word referring to the sound a horn makes. The poo in shampoo originated in the 1700s, derived from a Hindu word for "massage" or "knead." The more you know.......

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    3. I'm pretty sure that's not what they had in mind when they came up with the term, but ok, I'll abbreviate it as "no sham" next time

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    4. Yeah, I dont think anyone thinks of poop when reading "no poo", I just thought it was an abbreviation for shampoo. Thank you, Ariana for your post. I appreciate reading your work as is- no deconstruction of words necessary ;).

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    5. I thought the same thing. What a stupid thing to complain about. SLS can cause diarrhea tho.....

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    6. Yeah, no one I read online thinks "no poo" is in any way related to poop. "No sham" is really funny though ~ good one Ariana!
      Rachel P.

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  2. Ariana, thank you for this post and for sharing your water only experiment. I tried baking soda and vinegar and loved how soft my hair looked after, but reading about the long term consequences scared me off. I've been using bar soap unhappily for several months now. My hair is dry after I wash it, and it seems difficult to wash out the buildup. At the same time, I'm reluctant to return to my former routine of products. I think it's about time to try water only, after reading the comments on your previous posts. I found your blog through Going Zero Waste by the way. Great stuff here!

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  3. It's possible that bar soap is too alkaline for your scalp. had the same problem and found that a vinegar rinse was the only effective way of removing soap scum. Dr Bronner's liquid Castile soap worked much better IMO.

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    1. Hi Samantha and Lindsay! That could be the issue with bar soap. Sodium lauryl sulfate wipes out N. eutropha, the good bacteria our skin needs to stay healthy, and nearly all common liquid cleansers remove at least some of the bacteria, but bar soaps are concentrated and more alkaline, whereas liquid soaps are closer to skin's natural pH. In general, the shorter the list of soap ingredients, the better it is for maintaining ideal microbial conditions.

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  4. Ariana, after reading your last no poo / no sham / whatever-inoffensive-name-we're-calling-it post I was inspired to try water-only on my straight, zero-volume hair. Five weeks later I'm past the transition period and really starting to love the results!! I'm also wondering - once your hair passed that initial greaseball period, did it continue to change? My hair has vastly improved from last eeek, but it could still stand to be a *little* less greasy near the back of my crown. Just curious if you had to adjust your wash frequency at any point or if it just leveled out on its own.

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    1. Lol I'm so happy it's working for you! So, I was washing once a week at one point, then I gradually stretched it out to two, three, and finally once a month, after the transition period. It was still a little greasy (around my hairline usually) but when I pushed through the greasiness and refused to wash it, a little later it would miraculously look... not at all greasy. There would be a few days when I thought it looked oily and then a week where it looked really nice and I got compliments. Eventually that greasiness disappears completely though. My hair never gets oily now.

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    2. That is good to hear. I gave shampoo up completely almost three months ago now and my hair finally feels like it's recovering. On the downside, dandruff levels were scary for awhile. On the upside, my hair has weirdly lightened now and I've got my natural highlights back. It's the small things in life, which bring the most pleasure.

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    3. PS. Your hair does look amazing!

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    4. LC, that is amazing! I love that your natural coloring was restored, so good to hear. And thank you :)

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  5. I am like LC. Started in mid-Jan and I try to wash around every 7-10 days, mainly to get some white flecks out (not sure what they are, scalp doesn't itch or smell)...I will try stretching out washings maybe that will help. Take care! Greetings from Houston, TX.

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    1. It's probably dryness... the only time I get those is when I wash too often (although all my skin tends to be on the dry side). Once your hair gets coated with sebum apparently that will never happen again but mine still hasn't gotten to that point :(

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  6. I have nothing useful to contribute in this comment other than to say you're back! Woo! That is all. Carry on.

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  7. Questions :

    1. Are you a mermaid ? those amazing curls you got ....
    2. That book better be around the corner. I wont be doing any xmas shopping this year for presents. Without the book, what will my loved ones get ?
    3. A youtube channel please ?

    I am slowly phasing out my shampoo need. I wash my hair twice a week. And let it run the water for one wash per week. I hope to do better with passing months.

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    1. 1. You are the best
      2. Lol I wish I could write it I need to buckle down
      3. Ahhh you should be my manager

      Do you use gram flour in your hair at all?

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    2. the graham flour thing got better. In my last visit to India, I visited the only farmers co-op in my town. They gave me a tooth powder made from neem, amla, .. and few other herbs. It comes in a ugly plastic bottle but I love it. They also gave me some loose ingredients so that I can make my own powder with proportions that I like. I have been using these powders on my hair as a mask for 30 min and wash it off. And its been amazing. My roots dont get oily anymore. Its natural. The sad part : I cant rave about it because the ingredients are very local to India.

      Do you still live in Cleveland ? My lil sister lives there. If I visit in the summer, please let me take some pictures of you.

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  8. Sooo glad you are back������
    I have been washing with water only for the past 5 months as I don't see the point of exchanging one easy product for two more without good results. My hair is fine and thin with no body at all so will usually get greasy without a wash. I was washing once a week with non toxic shampoo. Unfortunately...I still have a dull greasy sticky feel around the crown and have been wearing my hair in a bun for all of this time...could I still be experiencing transition after all this time? My hair is no longer lovely and soft as it is after you shampoo it...perhaps the water only method is not for all hair??? I'm at a fork in the road now about where I go from here....so glad it worked so beautifully for you though...so great to not have to use shampoo ��

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    1. I've also been wondering about whether this works best with certain hair types or if there's other factors that affect how well it works. I've been doing water only once a week for about 6 months now and my hair doesn't smell or get greasy but it seems to get dusty and leaves a kind of greasy dirty film on my comb every day. I have thick wavy hair and use filtered water so not entirely sure why it still feels as if my hair hasn't made it past its transition period.

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    2. That crown feeling takes awhile, everyone said three months including me but I heard it can take up to a year :( it's probably true that it depends on certain hair, perhaps the environment also... maybe even with filtered water certain cities have pollution that causes this or something...

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    3. Good to know. Thanks for sharing your experience with this. It's super helpful!

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    4. Try using an egg yolk or rhassoul clay to clarify your hair. Make sure the water isn't too warm or you will have scrambled egg hair. Add some oil to the ends of your hair as both are a bit drying.

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  9. More and more, I feel that your approach to personal hygiene is just comes down to practicality, as much as it is informed by the "zero waste" ideal.

    This winter I went to one tropical island where my green shampoo completely failed me because of the hard water. "Green" = no "blacklisted" chemicals such as Tetrasodium EDTA, which enables product to get rinsed off even with hard water. In the end, I was fine - I prefer updos, so my hair didn't look weird - it only felt that way. However, I would have much preferred to leave behind what was ultimately a useless product.

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    1. Oh no :( Yea I think most of these things are just marketing. I mean the foam for shampoo for instance is simply for vanity purposes...why spend money on these products if they don't work?

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  10. So nice to hear from you! I've missed your posts.
    I'm not yet at water only, but for some reason I manage now to "green"-shampoo only once a week, without any cornflour or whatever in between, so I think I'm still in a detox phase. Egg yolk does not work anymore, I cannot understand why: the first time I used it my hair was so great... Paris hard water does not help, but changing pillow cases does, actually.
    Take care!

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    1. Oh yes. Paris' hard water, I am not looking forward to going back to... I do change my pillow cases often too! Egg yolk sometimes adds too much protein so it stops working at a certain point, I've heard.

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  11. Hi Ariana,

    I'm also korean and have naturally curly and thick hair like yours (quite unusual for a full blooded korean)
    Anyway, I was wondering if you had any trouble with dandruff? Going water only was good for a while but now I'm battling a fight with dandruff!!

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    1. Hi Diana! So, for a year and a half I had no flakes (dandruff disappeared once I stopped using shampoo- like, immediately). But then I came here and started getting them, even though the water isn't as hard. I think it's because of the fluoride or chlorine (I actually don't know what they put in it) in the water because if I go to NYC or Arizona, even though the water is harder, the flakes disappear. That's the only thing I can think of. Do you know if your water is fluoridated? Yes that is unusual for a real Korean! My mom's is curly and people never knew where it came from...

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  13. I was wondering what you do at night? Leave your hair down or put it up in a bun? After transitioning to rye flour washed durinfnpregnancy I attempted to switch to water only post partum. I went for almost 6 months but could never get rid of the sticky feeling around my scalp and felt extremely smelly. So, in the name of work I went back to the rye flour but found that would not work quiet as well as before. ! I think there is a hormonal element since Finally I am seeing some improvement at the same time I am weaning the baby( and me!) from breastfeeding at 15 months I am starting to take a few tentative steps towards water only again and am really hoping I have better results. ( My baby is water only and her hair never gets oily or smelly!)
    Currently I put my hair up in a bun at night but I find the kinks annoying the next morning... just wondering what you do?
    Thanks,
    Karin

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    1. I leave my hair down usually. Very interesting experience- it definitely must have something to do with hormones! Aw I love the way baby heads smell lol... like nothing at all :)

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  14. Such beautiful, thick, long hair! Why do all the no poo girls seem to have endless amounts of hair? Very inspiring. Thank you Audley.

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  15. Thanks Ariana for your inspiring post. I've been washing my hair only with water for more than three months now, I also live in a city with hard water and wash it once a week. My problem is that after I wash my hair it's terrible, is like the most greasy day of all and looks like it's wet, I have to brush it a lot to get a more silky look (with a wooden comb or brush and then a boar bristle brush), my hair is thin and curly (more like waves). Do you have any advice that could help me?

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