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Washing your hair with shampoo seems like a thing everyone does (well… at least once a week or when the dry shampoo starts showing). But what if we told you that washing your hair with bottled shampoo is not actually required? 🤯
It’s called the no-poo method, and it can be pretty controversial. Some people swear that skipping shampoo or using shampoo alternatives results in softer locks. Others say going no poo is a greasy pain in the butt.
What’s the truth? With a pro hair stylist in tow, let’s investigate.
First, let’s talk about poo. No, not that poo — shampoo.
Shampoo removes dust, sweat, dead skin cells, and other icky stuff from your hair and scalp. Most shampoos use a variety of ingredients, including detergents called sulfates (or surfactants), foaming agents, pH adjusters, preservatives, and other additives.
Many of these detergents in shampoo remove sebum. Se-what? Sebum is basically oil that your sebaceous glands secrete. These glands are all over your body, including on your scalp, at the root of your hair follicles.
Sebum’s main purpose for your hair is to keep it protected and naturally moisturized. It repels water, which is why detergents are necessary to remove it. With the no-poo method, you forgo shampoo (i.e., these detergents) and cleanse your hair in other ways.
No poo doesn’t actually mean not showering or cleansing your hair. You’re just ditching the shampoo.
You actually do wash your hair — just not with shampoo
The no-poo method can mean cleansing with only water or with shampoo alternatives like coconut oil, baking soda, or apple cider vinegar. (We’ll get to how later.)
Your hair won’t stink
“No, your hair shouldn’t smell,” says Cody Moorefield, an independent hair stylist in New York City. “You are still cleaning your hair with the no-poo way of things, just not stripping it with all the shampoo.”
What you might notice is a lack of shampoo fragrance. After a lifetime of using fragranced products, many of us have been trained to think that fragrance = clean.
Your hair won’t be unhealthy
On the contrary, the no-poo method might make your hair even healthier. Remember, detergents are no longer stripping sebum and oils off your hair follicles, which may help volume and improve texture.
Anyone can try the no-poo method. But your hair’s reaction to ditching shampoo may vary based on how porous it is.
Porosity is “the ability of the hair to absorb and hold moisture,” says Moorefield. “The more porous the hair is, the more likely… that your hair feels dry easily.”
Thin or fine hair might become oily more quickly. Curly hair, which is more porous, may absorb more natural oils and therefore feel less dry.
The itchy, flaky bits of skin we call dandruff are actually the result of mild seborrheic dermatitis, aka itchy skin on the scalp.
Dandruff has many causes, including a type of fungus. People often treat dandruff with special shampoos that can sometimes still strip the natural oils and encourage the scalp to dry out more.
Less oil buildup
Your sebaceous glands produce more oil when they sense your hair is getting dry. Shampooing strips oils from your hair and scalp like Christina Aguilera circa 2002, and dry hair can put your sebaceous glands into overdrive.
It may sound counterintuitive, but not shampooing can lead to less oil production and less oil buildup over time as your natural oils level out.
No irritating or potentially harmful ingredients
Where are our itchy friends at? With no poo, you’ll expose your hair and body to fewer chemicals that could irritate your skin or scalp. No more guesswork about why you got that weird allergic reaction or bacne!
Constantly stripping your hair’s natural oils with shampoo makes it dry. With the no-poo method, more of those natural oils stay in your hair, which can make it softer over time.
Healthy hair and a healthy scalp go hand in hand.
“Brush from scalp to ends every day to distribute your natural oils throughout the lengths of your hair,” Moorefield says. “This not only keeps your hair healthy because of the moisture from your natural oils, but it keeps your scalp healthy and stimulated.”
Moorefield recommends using a natural-bristle paddle brush.
Dry hair is limp hair. Hair with more natural oils has more volume. You just have to be patient, because it’ll take a while to get to that Pantene-commercial-hair-tossing stage.
There are several ways to go no poo. There aren’t any scientific studies to confirm which is the best one, so it’s a matter of preference.
Baking soda + apple cider vinegar
Best for: Dry hair or hair with dandruff
How-to: Anecdotally, baking soda supposedly cleanses and apple cider vinegar (ACV) supposedly softens. Make a paste of 1 part baking soda to 3 parts lukewarm water. Apply the paste to your hair and scalp, let sit for a few minutes, and then rinse with diluted ACV (about 1/4 cup of ACV and 1 cup of water).
Pros: ACV is antifungal, which can help say buh-bye to the dandruff caused by fungus. Also, ACV and baking soda are both cheap.
Cons: Moorefield warns that the baking soda and ACV combo can be too harsh on the scalp and hair. Plus, ACV can irritate the skin.
Best for: Dry, coarse, or damaged hair
How-to: You’ll mostly be using coconut oil as a conditioning agent. Apply it to your hair before washing, and then rinse out with water.
Pros: It’s cheap, it moisturizes, and it smells amazing. Plus, the fatty acids in coconut oil are antimicrobial, so it may help with bacteria and fungus.
Cons: Coconut oil is hella greasy and can be annoying (read: take a while) to rinse out. Your shower might also turn into a Slip ’n Slide, so be careful.
Conditioner only (aka co-washing)
Best for: Coarse curls, dry textured hair, or hair that’s been chemically treated
How-to: Wash your hair the same way you would with shampoo, but use only conditioner. Make sure to rinse thoroughly!
Pros: Conditioners are gentler on hair, so you’re less likely to damage it. Plus, you might get a lil’ fragrance.
Cons: Spending $$$. You may also expose your skin and scalp to irritating chemicals.
Best for: Curly hair
How-to: Wash your hair with a no-poo product as you normally would with shampoo. Make an extra effort to wash your scalp.
Pros: Buying a specifically formulated no-poo product means you don’t have to play chemist in your kitchen. Moorefield recommends Hairstory New Wash. The hair care brand DevaCurl, which exclusively makes products for curly folks, also has a product called No-Poo Shampoo that uses peppermint and grapeseed oil to cleanse.
Cons: Spending $$$.
Best for: Hair that isn’t already dry
How-to: Wash your hair with lukewarm water. (Hot water can dry out your hair and skin!) Pull a natural-bristle brush through your hair, either in the shower or out. Since you’re relying on natural oils for protection, you need to brush those oils through your hair to disperse it to the ends.
Pros: The water-only method is the cheapest option out there — all you might need to buy is a natural-bristle brush.
Cons: If you have medium-to-long hair, the ends might be dry and brittle at the beginning of using the water-only method. This will go away as the oils disperse down there.
Patience, patience, patience. That’s what you need to see the benefits of the no-poo method.
- At the start of your no-poo journey, expect your hair to get hella greasy as your sebaceous glands react like they’ve been trained to and overproduce oil.
- The first 3 days are usually the hardest.
- Expect oil and more oil for the first week (or longer) as your hair adjusts to the changes.
- After a week or two, you should notice a difference in how your hair looks or feels. This is when it pays to stay patient!
- Everyone’s hair journey is different. Most no-poo folks say it takes 4 to 6 weeks for hair to level out.
Going no poo can be a whole thing. It’s totally acceptable to abandon the project if you’re not happy with the results. The no-poo life is not for everyone, and that’s OK!
Shampoo often contains ingredients that smooth your hair, such as silicone. So until your hair gets used to being bathed in its natural oils, it may be a little frizzy.
Certain shampoo alternatives, like baking soda and ACV, can be abrasive to your hair.
- The no-poo method involves forgoing shampoo containing detergents that strip your hair of its natural oils.
- Your hair won’t smell, because you’re still cleansing it.
- Research the best shampoo alternatives for you: water only, conditioner only, coconut oil, ACV and baking soda, or a no-poo product.
- Your hair will get greasy at first because your sebaceous glands are still overproducing oil.
- You also might have a bit of a frizz problem.
- After 4 to 6 weeks, your hair should level out and you’ll see those results no-poo fans rave about.