The No ‘Poo Round Up: No Wash

No wash, you say?  That’s crazy, right?  That’s only for grungy hippies who have dreadlocks and live in tree houses in the forest, isn’t it?

Well, maybe. But yes, ladies and gentlemen, I went there.  And how did it turn out? Well, let’s back up a bit, shall we?

(Warning: I have a lot to say about this particular method.  Apologies for the length.)

When I first went no ‘poo, a large part of it was for environmental reasons.  But there was also another very big reason for me: up to then, my hair had only been willing to put up with a very specific shampoo, and I was about to spend a semester abroad and didn’t want to worry about packing enough for five months/finding it in a foreign country.  So I figured, hey, if I didn’t need shampoo then I wouldn’t have to worry, right?

Let me tell you something: this is how I figured out how important water quality is to the effectiveness of your no ‘poo regime.  I hadn’t used shampoo for about four months by the time I left for Paris.  My hair wasn’t perfectly happy, but I figured that it was still adjusting.  (At that point I was still using the Water Only method. Word of advice, if your hair is just greasy, yes that should wear off with time. But if it’s greasy and dry? You might want to change things up long before I did.)  The thing is, my hair went from only mildly unhappy to screaming and filled with rage in the space of a few weeks.  I’ve had chronic dandruff for my whole life (hence my specific taste in shampoo) and it had taken no ‘poo pretty well until I found myself stuck with very hard water and almost no water pressure at all.  That meant my hair and scalp got just wet enough to produce more oil and skin flakes and not enough to get rid of what was already there.  The result was not pretty.

I realized after about a month or so of this that washing my hair essentially only made it dirtier, and my hip-length locks were so split and broken that I was contemplating cutting half of them off.  (I finally did it a few months later.  I’ve always loved my long hair, and I don’t take chopping it all off lightly — despite having done it at least four times in the last ten years.)

Now, a logical person would probably walk down the street for a block and grab a bottle of shampoo at the local Monoprix.  But I’m me, and I wanted to hug trees and not spend money, gosh darn it!  So somehow that particular thought never crossed my mind.

Instead, I went in quite the opposite direction.  My salvation came in the form of my anthropology class.  My professor was a wonderful gentilhomme who, as many anthropologists do, managed to find absolute wonderment in the most mundane of things.  He took great pride in an ethnography he was writing about the cultural importance of doors and windows in various parts of the world. I promise you, I did not make that up — although I’m enough of an anthro nut that I also find that quite worth studying.

This professor had a way of seeing the world that made everything seem somehow magical.  He was fascinated by the fact that some cultures put pineapples next to their doors as a symbol of welcome, while others left peeled onions to ward off unwanted visitors.  It was almost impossible to hear the enchantment in his voice without getting enchanted along with him.

Then one day, he started talking about hair.  He looked at all the women in the room and talked about how back in the sixties our hair would have been growing ever taller, held up with hairspray in towering beehive ‘dos.  And then look at us now, he said.  Now it grows downward, falling around our shoulders or tied back in a bun.  Isn’t that a fascinating change?  And look at the way we take care of our hair, he continued. So much of that is culturally instilled in us and has nothing to do with actual necessity.

He then brought up a famous person of some ilk (I’m afraid I can’t remember who, or even where he was from) who used to brag that he had never once washed his hair in his whole life.  And he had, as my professor put it, “a marvelous head of hair.”  (For the record, this whole thing happened in French — what he actually said was “une merveilleuse tête de cheveux.” Somehow that sounds even more amazing.)

He said all this with his ever-present fascination, and crazy hippie that I am I couldn’t help but try it.  I figured at that point it wasn’t likely to do much more harm than I’d done already.

And you know what? It helped.  Like my previous attempts, it wasn’t perfect, but after the torture I’d been inflicting on my hair up to that point, it seemed quite grateful to be allowed simply to sit in its own oils and reabsorb them.  That was in October.  I didn’t wash my hair again until New Year’s Day, when I was back in the states with my much maligned but happily pressured Los Angelean water.  In that time, it was far happier than it had ever been with water-only washings every other day.

I may have ended it, but I don’t regret the experiment.  By the end of it I still needed to try to heal some of the damage from before I stopped washing, and my habit of putting oil in my hair to try to help the split ends meant it was still kind of greasy throughout.  But since then I’ve learned things that might have helped it work better — how to make dry shampoo, for instance, which I shall be sharing with you in the future.  With that, I actually believe it could work and work well for some people — and I don’t just mean grungy, tree house-inhabiting hippies.

If you want to try it, three pieces of advice.  The first and most important is that I don’t advise doing this cold turkey if you’re still using shampoo every day.  That will inevitably turn you into a frightening grease monster.  You’d be better off trying some other form of no ‘poo for a few months first and then seeing how oily your hair gets from there.  Secondly, use a natural dry shampoo as needed — for me that would have been the difference between continuing and trying something else.

Last but not least, know that if you give this a try and then decide it doesn’t work for you, going back to washing it will be… interesting.  Not terrible, strictly speaking (though everyone’s hair reacts differently) but my hair was very confused when I introduced it to water again.  It will get used to it, as it does with any of these methods, but it’s a weird experience to say the least. Especially if you have hard water, I’d advise using some kind of conditioner to help it figure out what’s going on.

So, if any of you actually made it to the end of that novel, next time you can look forward to a (hopefully shorter) account of the method I finally settled on and have been quite happy with ever since.


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