My boyfriend and I are very keen about living as naturally and as chemical-free as possible. We haven’t always been that way, but trying to be more conscious of what we put in and on our bodies has been a real eye-opener. Checking ingredients lists of products you had never before considered can be quite revealing, and once you start thinking about it it’s difficult to stop.
It’s almost impossible to live entirely chemical-free and keep a modern Western lifestyle. We try to eat vegan 80% of the time, and even almond milk is full of gums and gunk (and only 2% almonds!). Pair that with the fact that most of us have no idea where our food has come from anymore and it’s very difficult indeed. So what I can limit, I do. And that’s most easily applied to bodycare.
At Christmas, 2016, my boyfriend declared he was going to stop washing his hair. He has fine, straight hair and he was getting sick of it getting greasy every time he ran his hands through it. He was also tired of washing it every day, spending a fortune on shampoo and irritating his scalp with the wrong products. But he is also a huge fan of self-sufficiency, and he pointed out that there would have been a time before shampoo when humans didn’t wash their hair, therefore our bodies must be equipped to sort it out themselves.
In true ‘me’ style, I spent the first few months of his experiment Googling and researching the no-poo movement. I was met with thousands of stories of people who stopped washing their hair, and how after just six weeks, it was shiny, more manageable and in better condition than ever.
I read about how all the chemicals in shampoo build up in your hair over time. I learned that the sulphate in shampoo strips your hair whilst silicone simultaneously leaves deposits, which make your hair smooth and shiny but attract dust and dirt, making you need that next wash to relieve the grease (which strips it further, adds more deposits… the cycle continues). Quite a good business model, no? 😉
So by now it was March, and he was three months into his experiment. He rinsed his hair with water every morning during his shower, and that was it. His hair didn’t particularly look different, even after the six-week mark, but it only slightly smelled if you really buried your nose in it. And it just smelled like scalp – you know what I’m talking about.
Trying it myself
Now, his results hadn’t been too mind-blowing so far, but I had my reasons for wanting to give this a go myself. I have thick, unruly, curly hair. It’s been the bane (and blessing) of my life for 24 years. I straighten it and get the familiar backlash of ‘you’re so lucky to have curly hair, why do you need to change it?!’. I was at a point where I was putting my teenage years behind me and embracing my own unique set of genes, and starting to love my curls. Unfortunately, years of straightening and a natural disposition to frizz meant that they were almost impossible to wear naturally without me looking like I’d just stepped off a 2,000 volt electric chair.
Me on a good hair day pre-no-poo (shampoo, conditioner, lots and lots and lots of product)
During my Googling frenzy, I noticed that the majority of posts about No-Poo were in relation to curly/afro hair. This movement was huge in our community, because curly hair is thicker and the natural oils can’t travel down as easily, and shampoo was exacerbating the problem. Hello, frizz.
I saw beautiful images of glossy curls after just a few weeks of No-Poo, so I took the plunge. Bear in mind that before this, I only washed my hair once a week anyway (curly hair doesn’t get as greasy as it’s usually drier so the oils get sucked straight up. Greedy hair).
I have to say that I was disappointed. After a month, even my dry and mental hair was greasy, and despite regular combing and water-rinses, anything more than two inches from my scalp remained dry and uncooperative. I also smelled like dirty head. In short, I looked like an unwashed mad woman.
I felt quite sad abandoning my project. There must have been a solution. I wasn’t having that all these girls walking round with beautiful, bouncy, bubbly curls are just naturally blessed. What’s your secret, dammit?!
So I relapsed into my old habit: Googling. And I discovered the Curly Girl Method. Essentially, you use products without sulphates or silicones and adopt a technique called ‘co-washing’: no separate shampoo or conditioner but a ‘cleansing conditioner’ which doesn’t lather but rinses the dirt out of your hair and leaves it soft and silky. Apparently.
Six weeks of not washing my hair and I looked/smelled worse than ever. So I bought my first co-wash, As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner. It smelled quite nice (better than greasy scalp) and did make my hair look cleaner and softer. But I felt as though I’d just used a standard shampoo and conditioner, and my hair was frizzing up at the top again. *Sigh*. Also, co-washes don’t lather. This means you have to use quite a bit more to cover all your unruly strands. My hair sits above my shoulders, but it’s super thick, so I think I only got about three washes from this 454g tub. It’s £10.16, which worked out at nearly £3.50 a shower. Not being a millionaire with money to burn, this was extortionate.
In the middle of my co-washing extravaganza. I couldn’t wear it completely natural, so I used to run the straighteners over it really lightly to dampen down the frizz and size of my curls.
So I bought a different one. Palmer’s Coconut Oil Formula Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner. It’s got like 20ml more in it, and was £7 a bottle when I bought it (now £9, who knows why). This was better. It smelled a bit weird; the coconut had a strange undertone, but it did make my hair feel a bit nicer and it lasted a little bit longer. Four washes instead of three. Again, though, same problem. I felt like I’d just used shampoo and conditioner like normal, and my hair was dry and frizzy. WAS THERE NO HOPE FOR ME?!
I did like the Palmer’s better than As I Am’s version, and bought the olive scented version after the coconut ran out (like I say, the coconut smell was weird). My advice to you right this second is DON’T DO IT. I don’t know what kind of olives they eat over at Palmer’s HQ, but it smelled like the bleach they used to use in the school bathrooms, and my entire head reeked like I’d stuck my head down a nice, clean toilet. Just no.
Back to the drawing board. This time I bought L’Oreal Elvive Curl Nourishment Cleansing Conditioner and felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Less than a fiver for 400ml and it smelled like fairy dust and dreams. LOVED IT. Until my hair was greasy and frizzy just one day later. Oily little strands framing my face. For God’s sake.
By this point, this had taken up far too much of my time, money and emotions. I was absolutely ready to pack it in.
It’s been six months and I’m about to explode. It seems that if you’re on a budget and want to try co-washing for your curls, you’re going to be severely disappointed. No-Poo didn’t reap the rewards I expected either, which was a major downer.
My boyfriend is coming to the end of his journey, too. After nine months of literally using nothing, his hair still looks greasy (his words, not mine) and he’s started getting terrible scalp spots and dandruff for the first time in his life. This is another thing I started to suffer with when I stopped using shampoo, and believe me, getting into work each day with a stinky, flaky head is not the dream.
A terrifying photograph which represents my feelings about my hair, no-poo and co-washing all at the same time.
Unfortunately ours is not the success story the rest of the internet seems to share. I’m nearly at the end of my bottle of L’Oreal grease-topia, and as soon as it’s gone I’ll be returning to shampoo and conditioner. I’ll be splashing out a bit more on something as natural as I can find, as months of using co-wash have reframed my good-hair budget. I used to spend £2 on a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, but I’ll be willing to fork out a little more to get something as chemical-free as possible. My boyfriend is also about to start using shampoo again.
I’m disappointed, because part of me feels that the pressures of modern society that I try so hard to escape have made me abandon my mission and go right back to where I started. The need to have good hair has stopped me in my tracks. But more than that, the health of my scalp is suffering, and my self-confidence has lowered because I just don’t feel clean. And we are human, so we naturally care what we look like. I shouldn’t beat myself up too much.
I feel like we were an interesting case study, as we have such different hair-types. Fine and straight versus thick and curly. But in essence, for the both of us, the no-poo movement just wasn’t meant to be. Have you tried it? What was your experience? Please let me know in the comments!