The first time I met my friend Jeff, I told him his hair was amazing. It was a thick, effortlessly tousled blond mane that anyone would envy. “That’s because I stopped washing it two years ago,” he told me.
That got me thinking, and researching. So in January, I did an experiment and stopped washing my hair. My experience has been like everyone else’s who’s stopped using shampoo and conditioner: My hair felt greasy for about two weeks, and then it stopped feeling greasy. In those two weeks it became thicker and more natural looking, and easier to style on its own, and after six weeks it started looking spectacular. I do rinse my hair with water every other day, and on Fridays I scrub my roots with baking soda. So yes, I get the sweat and grime out. My hair stopped falling out, and my skin stopped breaking out. It’s actually been pretty fabulous.
I’ve become fervent about the matter because the more I look into the history of shampoo, the happier I am that I stopped. So to wit, other than the reward of having amazing-looking hair, here are the reasons I stopped washing it:
1. Humans have been around for 200,000 years. Shampoo was invented in 1877, hair dye was introduced in 1907, and hairspray was was introduced in the 1950s. We got along well enough for 199,923 years without needing shampoo — or, in other words, shampoo is totally unnecessary.
2. Detergent shampoos (everything you’d buy at a normal store) work by stripping everything out of your hair with chemicals, then using more chemicals to artificially moisturize your hair. Those chemicals are often hazardous both to your health and the environment – check out what’s in your hair products here.
3. The oil your body naturally produces is sufficient to keep your hair moist and healthy. That oily feeling you get for two or three days after you stop washing it is your scalp overcompensating for what it’s lost – that’s why it doesn’t last long! Once you normalize your hair, the oily feeling goes away.
4. So, then: hair products are a money grab. You shampoo your hair, then if you stop, it feels oily, and you have to shampoo it again. Your hair gets sort of flat and blah, so you have to put products in it. Once you put products in it, you have to shampoo it again. It’s a vicious cycle!
5. And, it’s a vicious cycle that makes a lot of money for Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Nestle. Which, by the way, control the majority of the hair products you can find at the grocery or drug store, not to mention everything else you put on or in your body, and everything you clean your laundry and house with. It’s worth noting that some of the ingredients in these products overlap.
6. Those are the same companies that set an unrealistic standard of beauty. Women should be thin, soft, conventionally pretty, flawless, always smiling; men should be muscular, tall, tan, athletic. That standard of beauty also includes having hair that’s “silky,” “shiny,” and “smooth.” Firstly, that’s a made-up standard — is that necessarily what’s most beautiful? And secondly, it’s a standard that automatically excludes women with naturally curly hair, especially black women. That’s why that standard makes me uncomfortable — it’s a doubly sexist, and racist to boot.
If you still feel that you have to shampoo your hair, there are options. The first, as I’m sure you’ve heard a million times before, is not to wash it every day. That way, you’re at least giving your scalp a break. The second — and more important, to me — is to use an oil-based shampoo rather than a detergent-based shampoo (my favorite is Dr. Bronner’s). You can find them at health food stores, and they won’t strip your hair.
In the last 138 years, we’ve been told over and over that we need to use shampoo — but why? Take 14 days out of your life to give it a shot — you might be pleasantly surprised.
When Rebecca Vipond Brink isn’t writing, traveling, and taking pictures, she’s a not-so-dirty hippie and a no-shampoo evangelist. Follow her at @rebeccavbrink, facebook.com/vitat.rex, and her sometimes-blog, Flare and Fade.
[Photo via Shutterstock]