DIY Coffee Rinse for Silky Brown Hair

A little taste of java for your hair...
A little taste of java for your hair…

I can’t decide if this recipe came about as a result of my own sheer brilliance or simply as a very happy accident, but either way the results have been fantastic.

It began because I had decided I wanted to try to darken my already medium-dark brown hair, and I had read in various places that coffee can do the job.  By that time I had settled into a pretty even routine of water-only washing with dry shampoo and hair balm in between, and I was a little worried that adding something else into the mix might mess with my hair right as it was finally accepting the no ‘poo routine.

But I was on a quest for naturally darker locks and was not to be deterred.  The rinse that resulted from this quest did not in fact give me what I desired — my hair is just about the same color it always was, and I chalk that up to it already being about as dark as coffee can make anyone’s hair.  What it did do, however, took me completely by surprise.  One wash later, I couldn’t believe just how silky it was.  Was this even possible? Could my hair really be so happy without ridiculous chemicals in the mix? Continue reading


No ‘Poo Round Up: The Chosen One

Why hello there, Internet!  It seems I still exist, surprisingly enough.  I fear my blogging habits were interrupted by my return to the realm of academia, but now that the term is over I have re-entered the blogosphere.  Posting may be sporadic for the next few months, but I’m still here! I promise.

Anywho, I’m sure you all have been desperately awaiting the big reveal of what magical hair routine worked out for the best.  ‘Cause y’all love me, right? (Don’t answer that.)

So here it is, at long last.  My current hair routine, with which I am extremely happy.

Every couple of days, I wash my hair with plain water and follow it up with a coffee rinse (more on that later).  If it needs a little help with grease I’ll use a tiny bit of Castile soap before the rinse. (I use the bar form — I have yet to try liquid for this but haven’t felt the need to.  Also note that using this too much will not lead to happy hair, but used sparingly I’ve had good experiences overall.)

After letting my hair air dry at least most of the way, I apply a small amount of my homemade hair balm (recipe to come) or an even tinier amount of jojoba or olive oil and brush it through.  (This is a fine line between “moisturized” and “greasy,” hence the very small amounts.  In my experience the hair balm leaves a little more margin for error.)  This step helps protect my hair and make it silky smooth while combatting the little frizzies that sometimes like to happen when there’s moisture around.

Generally I find it’s best to wash my hair as little as possible, so I will often go up to a week without exposing it to the sad Los Angeles water that makes it cry.  While it still doesn’t get as greasy as it might have in bygone times, there are instances when it needs a little help, so I use a dry shampoo made of a roughly 50/50 mix of cornstarch or arrowroot powder and cocoa powder.  (Recipes for this can be found all over the interwebs these days, but as a general rule of thumb the cocoa is there primarily for color and the ingredients do not need to be remotely exact.  I say use as much or as little as you feel comfortable with and see what works for you.)

Every so often if my dandruff catches up with me again, I will also use a sugar scrub to remove flakes and moisturize my scalp.  It’s nothing like the coal tar shampoo I used to use, but overall I’ve found it quite effective and I don’t generally need to use it more than once a month at most.

Thus far my hair has been extremely happy with this method.  It has been silky, soft, and quite manageable — a very good thing as it slowly approaches its habitual length somewhere below my waist.  So at long last, I think I can say confidently that my hair and I have found our happy place.

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.

No ‘Poo Round Up: Baking Soda and ACV

This is by far the most common no ‘poo method I have seen out there.  The gist of it is about like this: first, mix 1 Tbsp baking soda with 1 cup of water and use this as your “shampoo.”  Rinse that out of your hair and then repeat with a mixture of 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water to balance out the alkalinity from the baking soda.  Some people suggest rinsing this out immediately as well, whereas others say you can leave it in.  (I have yet to consciously notice much of a difference between those two variations, so I can’t say I’d vouch for either one in particular.)

As I said, this seems to be one of the most popular methods and for a good reason.  Short of putting nothing in your hair, it’s pretty straightforward.  I know many people who have used this method for years and are quite happy with it.  The most universal side effect is that your hair will smell like vinegar for a bit, but once it’s dry that won’t stick around at all.

So why am I holding back about saying it’s the most miraculous thing ever to strike the natural hair care movement?

Well, here’s the thing: you remember what I said about the water quality being really important?  That’s still the case here.  I do get the general impression that baking soda is effective in removing oil, but the problem is that most of the grease my hair produces is in response to the water that I’m still rinsing my hair with.  Which means it comes right back.  I’ve tried fiddling with the proportions (less baking soda, more ACV) and that helped a little.  But not enough.

On top of that, I have a theory.  (I can’t prove any of this with science, for the record, but it’s based in logic and my own experience with my own hair.)  The general belief about shampoo and hair (at least among no-‘poo-ers) is that the shampoo strips away your hair’s natural oils, and your hair overcompensates by producing more grease.  This is why your hair has to go through a detox phase where it gets really really greasy until it realizes it can calm down because you’re not assaulting it with shampoo anymore.  But technically speaking, isn’t baking soda essentially doing the same thing?

Granted, baking soda shampoo is of course much more gentle than the goop you find at the grocery store.  Heck, so is my tap water, but my hair still doesn’t like it.  So if you’re using this method and it works well for you, I am not by any means telling you to stop. I’m mildly jealous, in fact, but my hair will not oblige by accepting this method as a viable option.  If you’re thinking of trying no ‘poo for the first time and you want to use this method, I say great! Give it a try.  In fact, it’s probably one of the better ways to start out even if you’re working toward something else.  I do still use this myself, just not as an every shower kind of deal.

But if you’ve been using it for awhile (until you’re well past the detox phase) and your hair isn’t at least as happy as it was before you stopped using shampoo?  Then you might have to consider trying something else either instead or in addition.

Up next: The No Wash Method

No ‘Poo Round Up: The Water Only Method

This was the first method I tried, and I have to say it was also the one I really really really wanted to work.  I mean, what’s not to love?  It’s the cheapest, easiest, most portable method out there, and it doesn’t put any extra junk into our water supply.  Win-win.

The method itself is about as straightforward as you can get:  Get into shower. Wet hair.  Scrub it a little with your fingers.  Let it dry.  That’s it.

I’ve since heard of other people who swear by this method, and I believe them.  Unfortunately I cannot claim to be one of them.

You see, I have used this method in at least five different cities in two different countries.  If I learned anything from that experience, it was that the quality of the water itself (and in some cases the quality of your shower head) is key if that’s all you’re washing your hair with.  It makes sense, really.  Most of the time we’re dumping so many chemicals into our hair that it would hardly notice what you’re using to wash them out.

I will tell you, I used this method for about six months before I gave it up, and the reasons I gave it up probably weren’t what you’d expect. (More on that later.)  That convinced me that this method could work, and even work well.  But the problem is, I live in a big city with big city water conveniently stolen from places that actually have water of their own.  A friend of mine from out of state once took a big slurp of tap water and then looked up at me and said, “Ugh, I hate it when my water tastes like L.A.”  And it does.  Our water is — theoretically at least — quite drinkable, but it doesn’t exactly taste good.  There’s a reason Brita filters are popular in this day and age.

That L.A. taste? It makes my hair cry.  I’m not exaggerating.  Nor am I even being metaphorical.  The water in the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles makes my hair excrete sad, greasy tears such that it can never quite get clean without something else added to the mix to cheer it up.

I also used this method for about twoish months of a five month stay in Paris.  The verdict was similar, but made worse by the fact that my shower had practically zilch in the way of water pressure.  Not only did the water make my hair sad, it didn’t even have the physical strength to remove any of the grit and grime that was accumulating there.  Essentially, washing my hair there only made it dirtier than ever before.

But what gives me hope for this method (and why I do still believe in it quite strongly even if it doesn’t work for me personally) is the brief stint I spent at a cabin in the mountains.  That shower delivered glorious mountain well water with just the right water pressure, and my hair was happy happy happy beyond belief.  Admittedly this was already awhile after I had succumbed to putting Things That Aren’t Water in my hair, but that water was so beautiful I just had to give Water Only another shot.  And oh my, was it beautiful.  If I ever move to a place with nicer water, you can bet I’ll be using this method on a far more permanent basis.  But for now, alas, geography is against me.

Ultimately, how well your hair will cope with this method is also somewhat dependent on your own hair.  My sister also gave this a try using the same water I had available to me, and her curly, poofy, thick hair was far more willing to take whatever she threw at it than my thick-but-straight tresses.  And as it was, it took several months of this before I gave up and tried something else.

The bottom line?  This method is great, but only if you have the right water and the right hair.  Thankfully for the rest of us, there are plenty of other options available.  For next time: The Baking Soda and ACV Method

My Journey to No ‘Poo, or Why the Heck Would Anyone Do This Anyway?

The first time I ever heard of anyone going without shampoo, it was a friend of mine back in high school.  My response, as most people’s would be, was something along the lines of, “That’s really weird.”  I didn’t exactly judge her for it — if anything, I respected her desire not to pay for unnecessary and overpriced beauty products (I was a thrifty type even back then) — but the idea that going without shampoo could work seemed utterly ridiculous.

Fast forward several years.  In college I was very much a Humanities Person.  I did not like math or science or anything involving numbers or dissections or too much quantitative thinking.  I didn’t even like the social sciences.  My one diversion from that was my love of Anthropology, but I considered that a fluke and therefore decided I was a Humanist once and for all.  But then there was that pesky science requirement that I had to take in order to graduate, and I decided the least horrible option was probably going to be Intro to Environmental Science.  I liked planet earth well enough, y’know, living on it and all, and if I had to take science…

Let me just say: OH. MY. GOODNESS.  Everyone should take that class.  Seriously.  If I had to pick one class in my entire college career that had the greatest impact on my life and how I saw the world, that was it.  (A close second is Cultural Anthropology, but that’s a discussion for another time.)  Not only did it make me enjoy that pesky science credit, it opened my eyes to many things I hadn’t considered before.

These issues ranged from the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone to the presence of pharmaceutical products and cosmetics in our water supply.  Put simply, I came out of that class convinced that the only thing I really wanted to be putting into our water supply was, well, water.

Around that same time, another friend of mine announced that she was giving up shampoo after reading this wonderful post over at Lulastic.  (It’s worth a read if you’re considering giving this a try.)  From there, it was a pretty short time until I said, “What the heck?” and gave it a try.

It was somewhat of a whim to begin with — I don’t think I expected that I would keep it up as long as I did.  But for that first day, I rinsed my hair with nothing but water and I didn’t die.  Heck, I wasn’t even greasy, though I did start with fairly dry hair to begin with.  Then somewhere in that process it occurred to me — people haven’t had shampoo since the dawn of time. Presumably we didn’t need to dump tons of random chemicals in our hair just to get it clean.  So who is to say we still need that now?

That, my friends, was the beginning.  For next time, look forward to a discussion of the water only method.

Welcome and the No ‘Poo Round Up

Why hello Internet!  Pleased to see you. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful discussion.  I could bore you with a long discussion of all the reasons why I’m here, but that wouldn’t start us off very well, would it?  So instead, why don’t we get right to the guts of it and I can show you why I’m here instead.

The No ‘Poo Round Up

This is the first in what will be a series of posts to come.  The thing about “No ‘Poo” (for the lay people, this is our lovely little turn of phrase to describe going without shampoo) is that everyone is talking about it already.  Okay, not everyone — mostly just those of us who are crazy enough to have tried it already, which I admit is a rather small subset of the population.  But my point is, there is lots of wonderful information already out there for anyone who is wondering why the heck people would want to stop using shampoo and become a greasy hippie-freak.  (I promise, that is neither a requirement nor an inevitability if you choose to give it a try.)

So what can I add to this conversation that is already being discussed so well?  Let me tell you.  I am in what seems to be the rather unique position of having tried many different kinds of ‘poolessness, ranging from the mainstream shampoo and conditioner treatment to the water-only method to the no washing at all method.  (That’s right, I went there.  My thoughts on that shall be reserved for another post, however.  I have to keep up some suspense, don’t I?)

So what you can look forward to, dear readers, is a candid discussion of what I’ve tried, what worked, and what didn’t.  Why? Because if I’ve learned anything from more than a year of experimentation, it’s that everyone’s hair reacts differently.  The best way to find what works for you (without having to spend many months experimenting) is to look at all the possibilities side by side and decide what looks promising.  Ultimately, your hair will be the judge. Let the trial begin.