No 'Poo Method for Dry Wavy Hair: Zero waste alternative to shampoo
It's now been around four months since I made the swap from shampoo or conditioner to a zero-waste alternative, and I'm ready to give my feedback.
To summarise: It's everything I could want it to be and I don't plan on changing back.
I have always had extremely dry hair. Dry, frizzy, unruly hair with a flaky scalp. My whole life I had only ever washed my hair every 5-10 days because my hair doesn't produce much oil at all. It seemed like there was no cure for my scalp, hairdressers were always surprised by how dry it was so kept recommending I do the same things: Buy their expensive scalp treatment products, avoid SLS, brush my scalp, wash my hair less regularly, etc. But those just don't work.
Over the years I've tried a variety of different products. I grew up on the toxic supermarket brands, I've tried the $50 SLS-free salon brands, and I've used the budget all-natural brands priced between $3-$20. Still, nothing worked. And in multiple attempts, I've tried using both shampoo bars and also no products at all. Neither no poo method made a difference, but being eco-minded I continued to seek answers to avoiding shampoo bottles and the waste from the volume of hair products we use and toss away.
"No poo" (or no shampoo) is a collective term for methods of washing hair without commercial shampoo.
So since July I've been washing my hair with only one thing: Apple cider vinegar.
Since then, my scalp is all but cured. As it's less dry I wash it slightly more often than I used to at every 4-7 days instead of every 5-10 days. It still flakes if I neglect to brush it and don't wash it for over a week. So I don't suddenly have a different hair type! But I no longer live with the severity of the problem I've always had or the anxiety about it. My hair is all-round stronger, more hydrated and less frizzy with less split ends. I can see my natural curl improving over time.
Here it's pictured in the process of air drying for an idea of the natural volume and texture of my hair without brushing or heat tools. In this photo it feels amazing to the touch! Light, bouncy and clean.
How does it work?
Our hair is relatively acidic with a pH balance between 4.5-5.5. (Low number = acidic, high number = alkaline.) So the usual advice is to use a shampoo as close to this as you can manage. Yet we're not all starting with perfectly healthy balanced hair, so it's important to assess where you're beginning from and whether or not you need something more acidic or alkaline.
People with straight, normal hair typically just need to use pH balanced shampoo and conditioners to maintain their natural pH balance as the oils in their hair occur naturally and move through the hair from the roots to the ends with brushing. However, this has never been the case for my hair type and is thoroughly terrible advice for those of us with curls!
When do you need to use acidic products?
If you have dry hair or a flaky scalp, whether the cause is genetic or because of the products you use, your hair is too alkali and could benefit from a lower pH shampoo
If you have curly hair this means your hair cuticles are naturally more open which reduces natural acidic sebum and you'll benefit from a lower pH shampoo
If your hair is dyed it was treated with an alkali substance to open the cuticles for the colour, and while acidic products may have been used to close the cuticle back up, you'll likely also benefit from lower pH shampoo
I meet all three of the criteria above. So I now use an acidic treatment in my hair to return it a lower pH level. Apple cider vinegar has a pH balance of 2-3 and promotes sebum production in my hair, keeping it moisturised and protecting against breakage.
While it's pH balance explains why it's such a well-loved conditioner, apple cider vinegar also works as a shampoo because of it's amazing antibacterial and antifungal properties, killing the cause of dandruff at the source, unclogging your pores and washing away any residue in your hair. The boost of sebum it gives you also is beneficial for flushing out gunk and bacteria!
(We filter our tap + shower water for chlorine)
My haircare routine:
Mix a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 apple cider vinegar and filtered water in the spray bottle
Detangle with a wide toothed bamboo comb
Spray the vinegar over the ends of my hair and take the lid off to pour over my scalp
Leave to sit for a few minutes while I start my shower
Scrub scalp and rinse hair as normal
Use hands to redistribute any natural oils from my roots to my ends
Leave to air dry
Would this work the same if you're showering without a water filter? Potentially not.
There is a difference between what we call hard water and soft water. The kind of water coming out of your shower is completely dependent on where you live and whether you're on town water or tank water. Soft water (acidic) is the purer form of water that falls from the sky, and hard water (alkaline) is what we call water containing more of the minerals magnesium and calcium. These minerals in hard water react to make it more alkaline, and they also react with soap making it less effective and cause you to use more. Anecdotally, everybody would have experience of hard water leaving their hair tangled, dry and unmanageable as those excess minerals change the pH balance of our hair. Perhaps you used a public shower and the water was so heavily treated your hair didn't look right for a week? A good test to see if you have hard water is to notice whether your shower or bath accumulate soap scum.
Will I have to stop eventually? Maybe.
As apple cider vinegar's pH balance is so much lower than hair's ideal pH balance, I'm not sure what will happen over time. Will my sebum production become so regular that my hair actually becomes oily and I'll need to wash it every few days? Maybe! It's only been four months so I don't have the answer yet. But I'm happy to bring you all along for the journey and to keep you updated if anything changes.
For the time being, I can't see anything changing and I think the ACV no poo method is an incredible minimalist, plastic-free, vegan alternative to the normal plastic-packaged shampoos and conditioners. If you're looking for a zero-waste option, I'd encourage you to try just ACV or experiment with it as a conditioner after a higher pH shampoo.
What do you think of the method? Have you tried going no poo? If it failed, what kind of hair type do you have? Do you have the same hair type but you've found an alternate treatment that works for you? Let me know in the comments below or leave a comment on Instagram!