Poo vs No Poo
We've all been there, right? Slept through the 6am alarm, you've got twenty minutes to get dressed and leave for work, but your hair is a greasy mess oily enough to fry eggs on. You reach for the dry shampoo but it's empty. So, in a panic, out comes the hairband and your icky locks are either braided or strung up in a bun or ponytail. Disaster more or less averted.
Surely, there must be another way to keep our hair looking fabulous with little effort on the maintenance side? After all, it's not like they had shampoo and conditioner centuries ago. I'm sure you've all heard the story of the woman who didn't wash her hair for 12 weeks, and when she let it loose from her ponytail, it was gloriously shiny and healthy.
Well, I figured I'd give this a try. I was curious for 3 reasons: 1) I wanted to know if all the hype actually had some truth behind it, 2) I wanted to save myself the dreaded chore of washing my hair, and 3) I wanted to be able to do more hairstyles than simply down or in a ponytail.
I know, I know, it sounds silly and gross to not wash my hair, right? But, I'm not a high maintenance girl by any means so felt I could take on this challenge easily enough.
My hair is so thick and long, it takes around 3 hours to dry naturally, then when it is dry, it just hangs like rats tails. I hate it, so the promise of clean hair with zero effort really intrigued me.
Why don't I just use a hairdryer I hear you cry? Because I don't want to dry my hair out and have a frizzy mess I need to put more products on just to deal with the fact I've used a hairdryer. Plus the fact that all but 1 hairdryer I've ever used ends up burned out after about 3 weeks because of how long it takes to dry my hair.
So, I took the plunge. March 7th was the last day, up until today, that I washed my hair. It's been an interesting journey to say the least. What I can say is, there is some truth in what's said about your hair cleaning itself, and for people like me who struggle to do anything with their hair normally because of how bushy it is, it gives the flexibility of your hair suddenly being amenable to being twisted, knotted, braided, and shaped however you feel.
But don't be fooled. There is A LOT to this 'no poo' movement (I just want to clarify here that 'no poo' refers ONLY to not using shampoo. There has never been faeces used to clean hair as far as I am aware). The first two to three weeks of this experiment were damn awful. Like to the extent of almost being in tears awful. My head felt greasy, sticky, and just...wet. It was horrible. My skin had gone all oily too which only worsened the whole icky feeling, and my usual strawberry blonde hair had darkened to a dark red/almost brown colour which really depressed me (I've always been insanely proud of being a redhead).
However, then came the turning point. The grease seemed to ease off, and after another couple of weeks, it seemed more than reasonable to being called 'OK.' I started then to wash it in water, only, on Sundays. This hit me with a b i g problem - our hard water. The whole theory behind the 'no poo' thing is that shampoo dries your scalp out which then causes your roots to over-secrete the sebum (oil) that naturally helps keep your hair healthy.
The problem I found, after washing my hair in water only, was this white stuff stuck to my scalp. The first time it happened, I thought it was dandruff or just dirt that had been loosened or something, but whenever I ran my comb through my hair, the comb would end up white and sticky.
Then I did a bit more research. I was wrong about dandruff or dirt. It was actually the sebum reacting with the hard water, essentially sending me straight back to square one. The hard water had dried my scalp out, but because I used no shampoo, the sebum my scalp then excreted to compensate just sat at my roots, collecting into this sticky, white goo.
So I'd essentially gone through five/six weeks of grease torture to get nowhere. Now, don't get me wrong, there are soap bars and other 'ingredients' that can be used to combat the effects of hard water (some people use baking soda or apple cider vinegar) but I wasn't interested in that. I wanted to know if hair could cope without anything at all - water at the most. As a result, I then went down the SO route as it's known - sebum only. To successfully do this, you need a good boar bristle brush (commonly abbreviated to BBB). The boar bristles soak in the oil from your roots, so as you then brush down the shaft of your hair (try not to laugh at shaft lol), the oil is evenly distributed from root to tip, giving you shiny, all around healthy hair.
There is another method called scritching which is basically scratching your nails all around your hairline and over your scalp for a couple of minutes a day. This stimulates your scalp into producing sebum and it also feels awwwweeeesome (like when you get a dog's scratchy spot and they kick their back leg in the air kind of awesome). The BBB, being stiff, coarse bristles also feels rather nice for the same reason. Now, using a BBB isn't a mere case of a quick brush like normal. You need to spend anywhere from between twenty minutes to an hour continuously brushing your hair to spread the sebum effectively.
Immediately after, your hair will look AWFUL. Like you've gone back to the first couple of weeks awful, but, after a few hours when the hair has soaked in all the oils, it does look ok. For this reason, I tended to brush it at night so my hair could do it's thing whilst I slept.
Anyone in the 'no poo' gang will tell you the transition period (which is the time it takes for your scalp to stop overproducing sebum) can last anywhere from six weeks to a year. I had already limited myself back in March to a maximum of 12 weeks. If nothing was changing by then, I was calling it quits. My hair had lost its normal strawberry blonde lightness and retained the dark red/almost brown colour because of the grease. It bothered me a little, but not enough to give up. After all, if au natural was the best thing for my hair, then forfeiting a few shades of red was a small price to pay.
But because of the oily state of my hair, I found myself once again limited to braids or ponytails. Not very exciting and definitely not worth looking icky for. Now, I will admit that using the BBB did work, and once the oils were evenly distributed, my roots looked presentable, but more amazingly I had no split ends and nowhere near as much dead hair (which before would literally come out in handfuls).
What did it for me today though, was last night. I often have bad dreams and wake up sweating during the night. My other half came to bed after me last night, and woke me up as I'd soaked the bed yet again (yes I know it's gross, no need to tell me!). He hadn't turned the light on but still said "Jeeze, babes, even your hair is soaked."
Straight away, even half asleep, I thought 'That's grease.' Needless to say, when I woke up this morning, I looked at my hair in the bathroom mirror and fought an internal war with myself. I'd endured so much to get to this point already, surely I should just stick it out until the end of summer maybe, give it a bit more time? My roots had lightened from my BBB use before I went to sleep, but I still didn't want to even debate wearing my hair down because it just looked greasy. Yucky. Not nice.
And so, I ran myself a bath, and without a second thought, I cracked out the shampoo and conditioner with no regrets. My hair now feels light and legitimately clean and I'm happy to wear it down once again.
I guess, to draw a conclusion, is YES, your hair will take care of itself, especially with split ends and dead hair. However, do expect a lot of work, time, and tears before you get there. I've come to realise, if anything, that going au natural in a modern world is not simple. To combat the effects of a modern world i.e. pollution, perhaps we need to accept that a modern way of cleansing ourselves is sometimes the only way?
Of course, everyone is different, and my hair and it's reaction to this will be completely different to someone else's, so do bear this in mind if you're toying with the idea. You could be all done and 'poo' free within a few weeks.
I hope that's given you some entertainment for a Saturday at least!
Lots of love, a 'poo cleansed' CJL XXX