Author’s Note: There is an unfortunate dearth of reliable scientific information available online on this topic. If you ask the internet about washing hair, you’ll find thousands of strong opinions on both sides of the debate, but few trustworthy resources. As the happy owner of long, healthy, unwashed hair, I offer only my own experience.
I haven’t washed my hair in about two years.
Actually, I’ve washed it (with natural, sulfate-free shampoo) about five times in the last two years, and I rinse it with warm water and comb it with conditioner once or twice a week. But that doesn’t sound as good.
It’s been a decade since I used a normal, sulfate-and-fragrance-full shampoo. Well over two years ago, I decided to find out what would happen if I phased out all shampoo—even my wildly overpriced, everything-free selection.
Good things happened…but not all at once.
When I first stopped using shampoo, my hair went lank and greasy. Everything you think might go wrong, went wrong. My hair felt (and looked) heavy and dirty, my natural waves got hopelessly tangled, and I almost gave up right there.
Then, my scalp sorted itself out, because that’s what skin does when you leave it alone. I now only wash my hair when I accidentally end up in clouds of cigarette smoke and need to get the smell out, or on the rare occasions that it feels dirty and I want to hit the “reset” button.
As I understand it, shampoos (even natural ones) strip hair of its natural oils, thus prompting the scalp to overproduce more oil. And so begins a cycle of hair-washing that can last a lifetime. If we suddenly stop shampooing, our hair quickly becomes oily, and we jump back on the bandwagon and conclude that we must keep using shampoo forever.
But, if we power through this awkward transition, eventually the scalp achieves a natural balance, producing enough oil to keep hair shiny, but not so much to make it greasy. It’s worth a try, right?
The proof is in the hair pudding. Mine is healthier, easier to manage, and more vibrant than it ever was before.
In my experience and many others’, shampoo has proved to be unnecessary, but you are as free to keep using it as I am free to stop. This article is directed at those who are unsatisfied with their current products and routine, have a sneaking suspicion that maybe hair doesn’t require quite as much attention as we give it, or are seeking to live, consume, and use more lightly.
Me? I finally figured out how to love my hair: do less.
I’ve learned a lot from experimenting on myself, and I have a few tips for anyone wishing to ditch the shampoo entirely and embrace hassle-free hair care:
1) Ease into it.
Ultimately, my transition away from shampoo went something like this: One month washing every week. A couple months washing every two weeks. Several months more washing once a month. No shampoo ever again—well, except for once every few months.
I’ve found that a quick rinse in warm water is enough to bring some life back into my hair if it’s losing volume. I know a lot of natural hair care enthusiasts swear by apple cider vinegar rinses, too.
3) But not all the time.
If I’m not surfing or swimming every day, I won’t get my hair wet on a daily basis, as this can dry it out. Once or twice a week is enough.
If, like me, you have curly hair—or even if you don’t, I couldn’t say—you’ll need conditioner to comb out tangles in the shower…unless you’re aiming for natural dreadlocks. I suggest running away from all parabens, fragrances, and other damaging commercial ingredients.
5) Avoid heavy oils.
When I stopped using shampoo, olive and coconut oil were suddenly way too heavy. They’d stick to my hair and, after a few days, seriously drag it down. I mostly switched to lighter oils like argan or jojoba, lightly applied. That said, coconut oil is great protection if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the ocean, and it does eventually rinse out.
6) Be flexible.
If you go out to a smoky club, sit downwind of a wood fire, or swim in some questionable water, it may be cause for an exception. Every so often, if my hair decides to hold onto any weirdness, I’ll dig out my tiny bottle of shampoo.
What works for others may not work for you. Try different methods until one works. While you’re figuring it out, learn how to tie some funky headscarves and headbands to hide the less successful weeks.
Enjoy the freedom!
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina