Beginner’s guide to No Shampoo

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Heard of the ‘no poo’ or ‘no shampoo’ movement? People across the world are dumping store-bought shampoo and conditioner in favour of making their own. Why bother? To free yourself from daily hair-washing; to reduce the toxic load on your body and on the planet. And to save money. Aspen Aman investigates… 

Why would anyone want to give up shampoo? What’s wrong with shampoo? This is a good question, especially for anyone who’s already using organic and cruelty-free products in an effort to be as ‘green’ and eco-conscious as possible. For a start, the environmental impact of going shampoo and conditioner-free is a compelling reason, since the product going down the drain is just baking soda and vinegar as opposed to a cocktail of chemicals that they need to be removed at the waste treatment plant in order for the water to be released back into the environment – this process takes huge amounts of water, not great when you live in a desert that already has huge challenges with water scarcity. Then there’s the bazillions of tonnes of plastic waste generated by our global obsession with daily hair-washing.

Believe it or not, a large no-poo movement is already gaining traction all over the world. These people have opted to forego shampoo and shampoo, instead making their own hair wash and conditioning products from the traditional cleansing ingredients your great-grandma used to use like baking soda – aka bicarbonate of soda, water and vinegar. You’ll spend as much in a year as you would on one bottle of organic shampoo.

Apart from the environmental reasons, many ‘no-poo’ or ‘shampoo free’ converts also believe it’s better for your health. Anything you put on your skin and scalp gets into your blood stream within seconds and from there it can be taken through your organs to every part of your body. That’s why pregnant women stop dyeing their hair – for fear of their unborn child being harmed by colouring chemicals.

Why else would you try no-poo? Some no-poo-ers say their hair got healthier, fuller and more vibrant than it was when they removed the artificial (and toxic) chemicals. Some people experience reduction of dandruff, psoriasis and other scalp issues when they go no-poo. Others report improved hair growth and reduced hair-fall since the scalp and hair follicles become healthier when chemical-free.

We’re not going to pretend it’s not a challenge initially though. It takes at least 30 days for your hair to adjust to not being stripped of all its natural oils every day so for a while it will still pump out excessive amounts of oil – you’ll get the greasies in other words but it’s ok, there are natural remedies. Of course, if you try no-poo and don’t like it, go back to your commercial shampoo.

NO POO STARTER KIT

So you’re thinking about giving no-poo a try? Here’s what you need:

Ingredients

• Baking Soda (any brand will do) • Distilled White Vinegar (fine/oily-prone hair) • OR

• Apple Cider Vinegar (curly/ dryness-prone hair)

• Castile Soap (can buy at the Organic Supermarket)

Basic Equipment

  • A squeeze-bottle or old shampoo/ conditioner bottle for baking soda/ water cleanser
  • A good spray bottle for vinegar rinse
  • Measuring cup and some measuring spoons
  • A funnel for putting baking soda into squeeze bottle

Other Helpful Stuff

  • A ‘before’ picture showing the condition of your hair
  • Bathroom-safe (i.e. BPA-free plastic) storage containers for your baking soda and vinegar mixes
  • Spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise and/or vanilla pods for vinegar rinse
  • Essential oil (for very dry, not oily, tresses)

The Basic Cleansing Formula (your homemade shampoo)

With no-poo, your new shampoo is basically just a mix of baking soda and water (filtered or mineral). The ratio is roughly one teaspoon of baking soda per cup (250mls) of water. Remember baking soda is NOT baking powder!
You will end up playing around with this ratio in the first few weeks of no-poo. In the first few weeks of de-toxing, oily hair days, you’ll probably want a higher proportion of baking soda to water mixture. Somewhere in about week three, you’ll find that your hair may be trending towards dryness at the ends, which means you need to step down the ratio of baking soda to water.
Squirt the baking soda/water cleanser mixture all along the hairline and on the crown of the head. These are the oiliest areas. Don’t squirt the cleanser on the ends of the hair – it will dry them out. Gently massage the mixture into your hair and scalp. You will not get lather but may find your hair as a bit of a slippery feel to it. In all cases, rinsing well is essential.
Pay attention to how your hair feels each day during this detox transition period. Be prepared to experiment because this is a process of you getting your hair back to its natural state and learning what is best for your hair and preferences.
Expert Tip: Use Castile Soap (available at organic food stores in Dubai) diluted in water about once a week if you want to help cleanse the oily hair more thoroughly. In highly diluted ratios, this is a great solution for people with real oily scalp issues during the detox; also good if you have sweaty/dirty hair after a workout.
The Basic Conditioning Formula
Remember this little rule of thumb: Cleanser on the scalp and roots of hair, conditioner on the lengths and ends. Cleanser on the ends will dry your hair out over time (just like with commercial shampoo, by the way) and conditioner on the scalp will create oiliness/ heaviness (ditto for conditioner).
Fine/Oily-prone hair: Distilled white vinegar and water – in a distilled solution. Try straight vinegar as a rinse, but will probably arrive at a highly diluted solution (mine is about 50/50 white vinegar/water solution) that smoothes the hair shaft after washing but doesn’t weigh the hair down.Curly/dryness-prone hair: Apple cider vinegar and water – in a distilled solution. Just like the fine/oily-prone folks, you’ll probably end up with a distilled solution but the ratio may be more like 70 per cent vinegar to 30 per cent water. But, like everything no-poo, you’ll be learning what is best for your individual needs by trial and (few) errors. In both cases, finish off your hair with a cool/cold water rinse to close the hair cuticle. This reduces frizz and oiliness. Some people like adding a few drops of essential oil to their vinegar rinse to reduce the vinegar smell and give more moisture to the hair. Do this carefully as a little essential oil goes a long way in your hair. Also, your hair will not smell like vinegar with no-poo. Some people find a faint whiff of vinegar on day one and two but not longer, as your hair quickly adjusts to the vinegar rinse and doesn’t absorb the odour.
BATTLING THE GREASIESDuring the inevitable first month detox period of going no-poo when you’re transitioning away from chemical-based shampoo/conditioner, your hair may get very oily. Here are a few tips on how to combat the greasies:1. Adjust the ratio of baking soda (aka bicarbonate of soda) to water in the cleansing solution. Start with one tablespoon baking soda to one cup water. If your hair is not getting clean, increase to roughly two tablespoons of baking soda to one cup of water. You should only need to have this higher ratio of baking soda for about two weeks while your hair is seriously detoxing and giving you the greasies.2. If you are desperate to combat severe greasies during the first week or two, try the baking soda paste method. Put a quantity of baking soda into your palm, add water and then rub into the scalp – especially around the hairline, over the ears and on the crown of the head where the scalp tends to get oiliest. Let the paste be an emergency remedy rather than your no-poo routine.3. Add a squirt of all-natural Castile soap in the baking soda/water solution for an extra shot of cleaning on the first week. You can adjust it to adding the squirt of Castile soap if/ when needed.4. If you have fine, limp or prone-to-oily hair, don’t use the apple cider vinegar. Instead, use regular white vinegar. You may find that a ratio of 50:50 water/vinegar works for your hair – or even more diluted solutions of vinegar with water. Experiment until you find what works for you.

5. As a general rule, people with oily or fine hair won’t need to apply the vinegar rinse to the roots – especially during the greasies detox period. Use a spray bottle to spritz the vinegar rinse exactly where it is needed. Too much vinegar solution equals heavy, greasy hair at this stage of the process.

6. Use the DIY dry shampoo as a touch-up later in the day if your hair is just too oily to tolerate. Cornstarch is better for light coloured hair while a cocoa/cornstarch mix is better for darker hair. The cornstarch/cocoa is a 1:1 ratio.

7. Experiment: You’ll need to note (mentally or by writing down your notes) how your hair is reacting to the baking soda/water cleanser and the vinegar rinse – and just give yourself a few weeks to get through this stage by playing around with the solutions and the dry shampoo.

CHEMICAL NASTIES IN YOUR SHAMPOO/CONDITIONER

A brief overview of some of the most commonly-used chemicals in commercial shampoos and conditioners.

• Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, a.k.a. SLS and SLES: These are the foaming agents that make you think your hair is clean even though the foam does not do any cleaning. SLS/SLES have been linked to carcinogenic activity in the body and can also cause genetic mutation, skin/eye irritation and disruption of the body’s endocrine system.

• Parabens: This is a whole family of chemicals ending with the suffix ‘paraben’. Parabens have been described as “estrogen mimicker” which means that they send signals to the body that is similar to estrogen, which can lead to hormonal imbalances in women and men as well as increased risk of some cancers. Look for methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben or any other chemical ending in ‘paraben’.

• Quaternium-15: A preservative that releases formaldehyde into the body. Quaternium-15 is linked to cancers like leukemia and is also an allergen and can cause contact dermatitis.

• Fragrance: While this sounds harmless enough – even appealing – the catch-all phrase ‘fragrance’ or its even nicer-sounding cousin ‘parfum’ covers over 4,000 different chemicals used in personal care products. Many of these are petroleum- based, have been linked to cancer and can cause rashes/allergic reactions and headaches.

• Methylisothiazolinone: This unpronounceable ingredient is often shortened to MIT on a label. It has been shown to cause neurological damage – especially in fetuses – and has been linked to Alzheimer’s.

For specific information on what toxic or otherwise harmful chemicals are in your favourite personal grooming products, consult the Skin Deep Cosmetics database by the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org/skindeep.

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