I Gave Up Shampoo for Four Months, and Here’s What I Learned

A greasy challenge taught me about internal beauty.
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Ryann Rooney
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A greasy challenge taught me about internal beauty.
how and why to go no shampoo washing your hair beauty tips combatting dry scalp dandruff chemicals in hair products organic shampoo

Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

If your scalp snows like Christmas morning, you and I have something in common. I suffer from dry scalp, which means I’m constantly battling dandruff that never seems to go away no matter what special shampoos I try (I’m lookin’ at you, Head & Shoulders and Selsun Blue.) Completely fed up with the winter wonderland on my head, I decided to take drastic measures and try “No-Poo”—that’s right, I went completely suds-free for four months. To my surprise, my shampoo-less journey ended up changing much more than my hair.

What Is “No-Poo”?

If you’re narrowing your eyes in skepticism at the term “No-Poo,” don’t worry—it has to do with shampoo. The No-Poo method forbids any use of shampoo so as to restore and regulate your natural scalp oils, resulting in less oil production. I quickly realized that No-Poo wasn’t just a trend but rather a lifestyle, calling all women to throw out their scented, lathery cleansers for a much more organic approach. Some of the women blogged their No-Poo journeys over the course of a few years. No shampoo for years? Yes. And if you don’t believe me, check out this support group.

Intrigued and eager to solve my dry scalp problem, I did research to learn why these women were foregoing traditional hair washing. Words like sodium lauryl, parabens, fragrance, polyethylene glycol, and silicones were hissed throughout blogs, claiming that these chemicals rob hair of moisture and can be absorbed into your bloodstream. There is even ongoing research attempting to connect sodium lauryl sulfate with cancer.

The theory is this: Silicones in hair products coat the hair strands and are not water soluble. This prevents moisture from penetrating the shaft of the hair, resulting in dry and damaged tresses. That is why we have to use conditioner—a manufactured way to replace the natural oils being lost. The chemicals found in most common shampoos strip the scalp of its natural oils, called sebum. When sebum is stripped away with over-shampooing, it gives the body less time to reproduce those oils that keep the hair moisturized naturally. To the dread of the modern woman, it actually increases the activity of the sebaceous glands, which causes even more oil production.

So why are we only just now discovering the negative effects of these chemicals? In America, daily washing became more mainstream during the 1970s and 1980s. The rise of modern shampoo (cue commercial of woman washing her hair in tropical oasis) is relatively new. Before the late 1800s, using shampoo every day was unheard of; most people washed their hair monthly.

Going No-Poo doesn’t mean leaving your hair full of dirt forever. Lowering oil production has to do with pH balance, which No-Pooers achieve through the use of baking soda and vinegar. Baking soda is a base, and vinegar is acidic, so they balance each other and keep your scalp from overproducing oil. The result: Your clean hair lasts longer.

My No-Poo Journey

All that science is nice in theory, but the question remained: Could I actually forgo shampooing entirely? Here’s what my journey was like, week by week.

Week 1

Week one was a struggle, as any adjusting process is. Instead of the classic “lather, rinse, and repeat” I normally did with shampoo and conditioner every time I showered, I used baking soda paste and vinegar every few days. (See my recipe and method below.) The baking soda paste is not suggested for daily use because your scalp needs to experience having too much oil so it can stop producing as much (thus lowering oil production).

My stick-straight hair was not loving the new routine—because I wasn’t shampooing, that end-of-day greasiness stuck around and made my hair look stringy and lifeless. Eager to get this transition period over with, I tried to evenly distribute the oils that were building up at the follicles by brushing it a couple times a day. I also started wearing a lot of thick headbands and sporting ponytails in order to hide the oil buildup.

Week 2

This week was the worst by far! I felt like I was going through puberty again . . . and all the feelings that accompany that time. I began to realize how much value I place on the appearance of my hair. I felt self-conscious, and I’ll admit that it kept me from going out a few times. Plus, as my hair transitioned, it became much more susceptible to tangling, making it difficult to brush.

Week 3

My roommate asked, “Do you even shower anymore?” The answer was a somewhat defensive, “YES.” And for the record, No-Poo doesn’t require a complete forsaking of hygiene. No-Pooers shower just as we did before but without shampoo. But my roommate had a point. Three weeks in, my hair was still really greasy, and I was struggling to keep up my motivation to maintain the lifestyle.

Week 4

At the end of the first month, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My dandruff was gone, and my hair was finally looking normal again! The greasy appearance was fading, but I noticed a change in texture. My hair became very straw-like, which was a huge change from the silky locks that shampoo gave me. This new texture, however, proved to be very accommodating to styling, something I always had issues with before when my hair was so slippery. Now, it could actually hold a curl all day long, and it actually had volume.

The Week 4 feeling turned out to be my new normal. I continued with my twice-a-week baking soda and vinegar rinses for about three more months.

Life After No-Poo

I ultimately decided to go back to my old ways and switched to organic shampoo. Living a shampoo-free lifestyle takes a lot of determination and maintenance. Despite the new styling opportunities, I really missed being able to run my fingers through silky-feeling hair.

While it was incredible to see my scalp and hair change, the change I cherish the most was my internal change. During the transition time when my hair looked its worst, I was forced to focus on my internal beauty. The transition period really made me see just how much of my value I had been placing on my appearance. When I felt my yuckiest on the outside, I was forced to look inward and get my confidence from a deeper, unwavering place. Even though my hair reverted back to its pre-No-Poo texture, my newfound understanding of true beauty is here to stay.  

Bonus: The Recipe!

Want to give the No-Poo life a try? Here are my baking soda and apple cider vinegar concoctions:

Twice a week I mixed roughly two tablespoons of baking soda with water in a small bowl and used it as I would shampoo. I found that adding a couple drops of tea tree oil to the baking soda mixture helped with dandruff.

I also made an apple cider vinegar spray comprised of 50 percent apple cider vinegar and 50 percent water. As baking soda is a substitute for shampoo, apple cider vinegar replaces conditioner. I sprayed it on the ends of my hair. The smell of the vinegar is pretty repulsive at first, but surprisingly enough, it fades after about fifteen minutes, and it left my hair much shinier and softer.