Thoughts On No 'Poo

Above, taken in August 2009.

When I decided that Gordon's Hipster Project - Clean was his way of issuing a challenge, I accepted, laughing at his inability to go a week without washing his hair. I thought, I can do this. I can achieve hipster status hair. Little did I suspect that learning to extend my washes to once a week was going to be more than a one-time experiment.

I'd always been an every-other-day girl in terms of hair washing, so I never understood why people washed their hair every day. It wasn't that big of a leap for me to go from every 2 days to every 3 days, and eventually to every 4 days. (This happened during high school when I literally only washed my hair on Sundays and Wednesdays. My secret is out!)

Then my first year of college, Gordon embarked on his hipster experiment, to see if he could go a week without washing his hair. I decided to take up the hipster challenge as well because I was sure I could beat him (he only got 6 days in before giving in and washing). Sure enough, I left my hair dirty for 4 days, washed... then 5, washed... then 6, washed... and finally I reached a week. And for several months, I washed my hair once a week and looked pretty disgusting (which apparently was not enough to deter romantically interested men. Be forewarned. Men are completely insensitive to how greasy your hair is when it's in a ponytail).

I realized that despite washing once a week for months, my hair wasn't "being trained" to get greasy once a week. Instead, I found that I hit a sort of asymptote around Day 4 and couldn't extend my days of acceptable greasiness past 4 days. (See graph.)

Then I stumbled across No 'Poo, the no-shampoo movement. It's not about not washing your hair, but about washing your hair with things other than shampoo. I was intrigued. While washing once a week made my hair feel much healthier, I still wasn't happy with the amount of grease buildup I got, so no 'poo sounded like a really good way to keep my hair healthy but non-greasy.

(And for the record, sleeping with 7 days of grease in your hair is disgusting, but it didn't make me break out any more than usual. But this is also when I started changing my pillowcases every 2 days.)

My first alternative shampoo trials were with 1 tbsp baking soda mixed with 1.5 cups of water (approximately) for rubbing through the scalp, followed by 1 tbsp lemon juice diluted in 1 cup of water for softening the strands of hair. The baking soda was surprisingly effective upon application, leaving my hair ungreasy and a little on the dry side. Dipping strands of hair into diluted lemon juice softened everything and I was left with semi-amazing hair that dried really quickly.

After trying this for a few weeks, though, I realized my grease tolerance was lowering. I'd read that the acidic lemon juice was used to balance out the basic baking soda, so I figured I could just switch to baking soda alone. Which was a terrible idea. 1 tbsp baking soda mixed with about 1.75 cups of water led to a lot of dandruff, an itchy scalp, and hair dry to the point of being sort of crispy.

So then I decided that instead of sucking the oil out of my hair, I would just rinse it vigorously. This is what I'd been doing up until two washes ago because I quickly realized that with no 'poo at all, I've had horrible dandruff and greasy 1st-day hair. Also not a good idea.

Sometime between just baking soda and just water, I went swimming, necessitating the use of serious shampoo and conditioner. My hair recovered from it well and didn't suddenly get greasy or anything. I also gave myself a drastic haircut because I figured whatever it looked like, it couldn't be worse than 7 days' grease. My crooked pixie-mullet resulted in a newfound desire for grease for styling purposes, and the inability to use the damp-washcloth method (stroking hair from roots to ends with a damp washcloth to redistribute oils), which had never worked very well for me anyway because I pulled out so much hair doing it.

Above, taken in May 2009.

I'm currently using baby shampoo, and it's going well. I'm up for trying Dr. Bronner's, but I'm not sure if I want dry shampoo anymore like I used to, because that would mean I'd need real shampoo to wash it out.

But some things I've learned from the tumultuous 11 months since I began this relationship with my hair:
  • How to really shampoo. And it doesn't involve "Lather, rinse, repeat as desired." With baking soda, you're working with something like gritty water, which doesn't lather, doesn't want to stay in your hair, and doesn't foam. This is where I learned to massage my scalp, and that all my grease is at the roots, and that the ends of my hair don't get truly dirty anyway. You use your fingertips starting at the crown of the head (above the ears and moving back) in a circular motion, then work on your hair part, then the back. First of all, your scalp feels amazing afterward because the increased circulation. Second, dandruff gets loosened so it all washes out. And third, it gets your hair really really clean-feeling.
  • The key to using the baking soda mixture is to do it on dry hair. This is probably really uncomfortable in the wintertime because it's freezing when it runs down your scalp, but it makes rubbing it in a lot easier.
  • I am not my hair. Having disgustingly greasy hair does not stop men from hitting on me. It does not stop me from making friends. It does not make my clothes ugly, it does not change how hard I work, it does not change what grades I get, it does not change anything except how much shampoo I use. My hair is not an essential part of who I am, which is to say that how I look is not essential. And let me tell you, this is a revelation to me.
  • Having short hair, however, is an entirely different story. Short hair is desexualizing. It does deter men from hitting on you. It does make all your clothes look different. I can't hide behind my short hair. But short hair and grease are actually really good partners in crime for achieving bedhead. Short hair makes my glasses look a lot cooler than they really are. And my face is my face, and there isn't much I can do to change it, and I still meet people and am entirely capable of flirting and my hair has so little to do with who I actually am at all.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that going no 'poo (in all its various incarnations) has been a good thing for my scalp... and for finding out where the foundations of my confidence are.

I mean, yeah, maybe I was more attractive when I looked like this:

Above, taken Jan/Feb 2008.

But whatever. I'm still here. Meet my face.

Above, taken October 2009.

Hi, I'm Samantha.
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