Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Mane Story: A Hairy Tale (get it?)

I'm sure I've told you that my husband is an environmental activist, yes?  Well, technically, he's a high school math and science teacher, but he's also what I like to (affectionately, most of the time) call an Enviro-Nazi.  One day, he told me about the chemicals in cosmetics and it disturbed me, though, as an educated and discerning consumer, I really should have known better.

On top of that, I have been steadily (and, for the most part, quietly) mounting a rebellion against the commercialization of our society (I won't say that I outright boycotted Christmas this year, but dang, I came close)(I have no problem with the *spirit* of Christmas, but to my disgust, the stupid displays were up in the store windows A WEEK BEFORE HALLOWEEN, this year).  At the risk of sounding like a complete hippy/mountain-top-hermit/recluse/grinch/scrooge, I don't just don't like the fact that I have to pay for so much "stuff" just because everyone else thinks I should.  Cosmetics have always topped my list of "Awww man, do I really have to pay for that?"

So sometime last fall, I decided to phase out the use of shampoo and conditioner here at our house.  My husband shaves his head (so he obviously doesn't need much beyond a gentle soap for his noggin) and I've been growing out my hair for about 18 months, which has changed some of its characteristics and needs.

When it was shorter, I straightened it on a regular basis, because it's a little wild and crazy.  Now that it's longer, it behaves much better and I realize that I miss having long hair (it was down past my waist for most of the first 17 years of my life, until I chopped it all off).

So, how's the no-shampoo campaign going?  Pretty well.  You wanna know how I went about it?  Ok, I'll tell you:

First of all, it's important to know that my hair is very healthy.  I was blessed in that department and I've made it a point to take care of it.  I've never treated it or scorched it.  As a result, it always responds well to change.  Your mileage may vary.

The first step was to start weaning my hair off washings.  When it was short, I had to wash it once a day.  As it started growing out, I was able to bring it down to every two days almost immediately and then slowly worked my way down to once every 4 or 5 days.  At this point, I was still using shampoo and conditioner, but the idea was to see if I could reduce my scalp's dependence on chemicals and make the process more seamless.

In October, I ran out of conditioner so one evening, I looked online and found out that you can use apple cider vinegar as conditioner.  So I tried it and wow, it really works.  The smell can be strong if you're sensitive to fragrances (which I am), but I personally don't find it unpleasant.  I was a little concerned about smelling like fermenting apples at work, though.  That's when I figured I would try something my yoga teacher uses on yoga mats to freshen them up: a spray bottle with a water and essential oil mixture.  Ruth uses red thyme, lemon balm and lavender but they're a little overpowering, so I stuck with lavender and then found a really fabulous cinnamon/cassia oil at my health food store and I've been using that, in combination with ylang ylang and tea tree oils.  Sometimes I use sweet orange oil instead, to jazz things up.  I make up a very small batch at a time (single use, really) so that the oils don't do weird things in the bottle while I have my back turned (I have no proof that they do, but I'm not taking any chances that I'll spray my hair one day and find out the hard way an hour later that something went rancid on me).  Just about 1/4 cup of water with 10 drops of oil or so.  I spray any excess on my sheets and pillow (makes for sweet dreams).

At this point, I hadn't shampooed my hair in a couple of weeks.  And no conditioner for 6 or 8 weeks.

Once I had the shampoo/apple cider vinegar routine down to once per week (beginning of November-ish), I started adding in "shampooings" of baking soda.  This was all trial-and-error, you understand: there were a couple of mornings when it looked downright awful and I just had to cave in and shampoo it.  I realize now that you have to pay more attention to the span between washings than I did.  And I also had to play with the concentrations of ingredients.  But there are no hair-washing police and no-one cares what happens in my shower (I hope).  There are a lot of variables in a person's life that might affect how their skin/hair/teeth respond to the elements and it's ok if things need a helping hand.

Now, I'm at one baking soda/apple cider vinegar washing per week (Saturday morning), with a water rinse every couple of days and a water/oil spray when I feel that it needs a freshening.  But the odd thing is that it doesn't smell.  Of course, I can't smell my own scalp, but my husband is honest to the point of being aggravating, so I trust him to tell me if I start to get gross.  So far, so good.  I haven't so much as touched the shampoo bottle in 6 weeks or so.

And the biggest surprise?  The texture.  I am not sure how to explain it.  It's not greasy, even when I suspect that it is.  I would say that it's more waxy than oily.  It is smooth and heavy and thick, but not limp.  I haven't gotten a trim since sometime last winter, yet I have no split ends.  It is less frizzy than before (oh, I just love that - it feels like I'm sticking it to the conditioner manufacturers of the world).  It has always been open to the suggestion of curl, but now it has reached a whole 'nother level:

I took this photo this morning.  I tip my hat to those who take nice mirror self-portraits.  That shit is HARD.
Those ringlets?  I created those about 3 minutes before I took the photo - just by twirling them around my finger.  Those waves last all day.  I've had a couple of crazy frizzy/dry/wild days, but when they come up (and they come up because it's wintertime and I'm still working out my routine/technique/concentrations of ingredients), I use a teeny little bit of Burt's Bees Hand Salve that we have on hand.  I rub it on my hands and then carefully run my fingers through my hair.  It works like a charm.

Here's the rub: one thing I've had to adapt to is the need to carefully comb/brush my hair and fasten it before bed.  I did that for most of my childhood, so it's not a hardship, but I haven't done it in 16 years (EGADS, has it really been that long?), so I was out of practice.  My hair doesn't have that same slick texture it once had (which is probably why it retains curl so much better) and it tangles a bit more easily.  I want to prevent bed head so that I can avoid washing/rinsing it in the morning.  I don't like going to work with wet hair (and I've never been big on blow drying), so washing it in the morning is not my favourite.  I tie it up, either in french braids or in little buns (the buns have a nicer effect on my waves) and then hit the sheets:

{I haven't figured out a great way to keep this stuff handy in the bathroom.  I use a glass mason jar for the baking soda mix (this is a disaster waiting to happen, I know... when I drop it and cut myself on the shards, you can smugly call me an idiot and I won't protest) and large plastic jug for the vinegar mix.  But that's a little unwieldy and I'm on the lookout for more convenient tools.  If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.}

Anyway, it's been a really interesting experiment and now that this particular ball is rolling, I'm looking at other ways to phase out chemicals in my life.  I still take guilty pleasure in washing my tub with Comet (baking soda wasn't cutting it, sorry), but I have just about every other cleaning product in my sights.  Mwahahahahaha!


  1. Your experience parallels my own except that I baking-soda'd before I vinegared because I was convinced that my coarse hair needed conditioner. My hair is actually slicker now than when I was using shampoo/conditioner (hair elastics actually slide off my ponytail when I'm sleeping - unheard of before) and, I agree, it doesn't smell even when I think it needs washing. And it's curlier!

    I re-use quart size Dr Bronner's bottles for the dilutions and haven't had a problem with keeping them in the shower for several weeks (I don't add any essential oils so YMMV). I had a problem for a while of smelling the apple cider vinegar when I got sweaty or it was humid but someone suggested I use white vinegar instead and that took care of that.

  2. Very cool! Thanks for all the info. I may have to try this, too.

  3. What proportions do you use to make your vinegar/soda concoction? I'd so dearly love to jettison the shampoo/conditioner train. Do you want to provide a recipe? We wash (hair) once per week when not undertaking strenuous activity, but due to my daughter's long hair, we're stuck on conditioner to reduce tangles. Sounds like you're not having the usual dread-locked experience. Thx.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, folks!

    Anon, to answer your question: I don't have a specific recipe for either of the mixtures. The baking soda gets mixed (pre-shower) in a jar with some water until it forms a type of slurry or mud. When I "pour" it on my hair, I do it in several places at a time and pop my head under the shower spray a bit to allow the slurry to spread a bit. Then I just rub it in all over the place. You have to be very thorough - it won't clean your scalp/hair by itself like shampoo will. I have to scrub the crown of my head and then bend over and do the nape as a second phase. It takes longer than shampooing.

    Word of caution: baking soda, as you know, contains sodium, so it's salty. Salt + eyes/mouth = unpleasant. So rinse carefully.

    The vinegar: I pour a couple of slugs (maybe 1/4 cup) in the jug and fill it to the brim with water (total 2L) and then pour it slowly over my head. Sometimes I lean over and dunk my hair right into the jug before I pour it over, just to make sure I've gotten the ends well-coated. Of course, the vinegar mixtures gets applied after I've carefully rinsed the baking soda out of my hair.

    Also: no dread-locks.