No-Poo Update: Fuck Yeah, Rye Flour

About six weeks ago, I wrote about using skin products that are pH-balanced to the skin on your face (the pH of which, by the by, is 5.5). In it, I had a tiny addendum about the fact that the same science that goes for your face also goes for your hair. It was an edifying bit of research for me, because I stopped washing my hair with shampoo in February on the basis of it being totally unnecessary, a waste of money, damaging to your scalp, and snake oil aimed at the same women’s beauty standards that make us go crazy over so much else about our looks.

I didn’t understand how shampoo stripped all the protective oils out of your hair until I did that pH research. It turns out that detergent-based shampoos — the types of shampoos that you’ve probably used your whole life — are very, very alkaline. When you mix water with alkaline substances, those alkaline substances accept hydrogen ions (read: water) and force oil to mix with it and wash away along with the dirt you’re trying to get out. The oil on your scalp protects your hair, so it’s a good idea to leave it in rather than washing it out and drying out your scalp and hair in the process.

The main recommendation that I got when I switched to no-poo was to use baking soda, so I did – for seven months. I found it drying but didn’t mind, because the dryness added some volume. Here’s the big problem: Baking soda is incredibly alkaline. It is practically impossible to dilute it down to a pH level that comes anywhere close to the pH level of your scalp. So although I got all the nasty man-made chemicals out of my hair, I continued to strip it.

The same blog that tested the alkalinity of baking soda – Kanelstrand — also recommended rye flour as an alternative no-poo wash. The pH level is 5, so very close to that of your scalp, and rye flour is seriously PACKED with vitamins and minerals that are good for your hair.

A commenter asked me to come back and talk about how the rye flour was working, and after six weeks, I feel like I have enough experience with it to make give it a pretty glowing review. Here are the things you should know about rye flour as a no-poo alternative:

  • It’s nowhere near as drying as baking soda. It cleans your hair, but it doesn’t leave it frizzy. My hair has stopped breaking, and it was falling out in droves when I was using baking soda, but since the switch that hair loss has decreased drastically.

  • You have to use it more than once a week. I was using the baking soda on Sundays only and could get through a whole week with just rinsing my hair before it started feeling oily again (even during marathon training). With the rye flour, because it’s not alkaline and stripping all the oil out, I have to wash it twice a week, and I expect that number will increase once I start running again. It’s a little bit of a pain, but it’s still better than washing every day.

  • Your hair will be much, much softer. It’ll also be a little bit flatter, but that’s OK — mine is still nowhere near as bone-straight and limp as it was when I was using detergent shampoo.

So, all in all, my wholehearted recommendation is to make the switch — if you’re going to use baking soda, you might as well use detergent shampoo. Now I’m stuck with a giant-ass bulk bag of baking soda, but eh, at least it’s good for cleaning my bathtub.

[Kanelstrand (1), (2)]

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