Let me start this post by proclaiming that I am so thankful that I didn’t write up this FAQ early on in my shampoo-free journey. Because honestly? I had more questions, myself, each and every week, and finding answers was really confusing and often contradictory.
I went shampoo free in June of 2012, and I’m still shampoo free. Along the way, I’ve had many questions from my friends and family, so after months of testing and trying, I’ve finally written out the most common ones, and I’m giving my thoughts on each.
There are a lot of reasons why.
My initial reason was not very noble. Although I knew about the chemicals in shampoos and conditioners, I was mainly just curious to know if I could do it. When I read about Tsh doing it several years back, I was intrigued, but promptly tucked it away. I was afraid to try it due to some severe scalp issues I have had.
Those same scalp issues are what finally drove me to the point of trying it. And I’m glad I did. My scalp issues are pretty much eliminated without shampoo. I can go days without washing, whereas before, with shampoo, I had to wash daily. (*I do wet my hair most days that I don’t wash it, so that I can freshen/style it)
Bottom line: there are chemicals in shampoo, many that are known toxins. It usually contains mineral oil, which is a by-product of petroleum-based products (hello – gasoline…). Even if you have no concern of the chemicals, there are some reactions that might benefit from eliminating the ingredients in most shampoos.
At first, I mixed 1 cup of tap water with 2T baking soda, and I had all sorts of issues. My hair seemed to be transitioning a lot differently and worse than what I was reading. I finally came across this post, from In A Shoe, that mentioned issues with hard water and the need to boil the water, if your water is hard. I tried it and voila! Big difference. (*you could also use a Brita filter, so that you are using filtered water)
Massage the mixture into the scalp (not the hair) for a minute. As you rinse with water, work your fingers out through your hair to the ends. This allows the mixture to work through, but prevents the ends from becoming overly dry. Rinse well.
Follow with a (white or apple cider) vinegar rinse. A good mixture to start with is a 50/50 mixture — 1/2 c vinegar to 1/2 c water. (I’ve been known to use more…I sometimes just use some straight from the bottle). Vinegar can be a bit oily if you overdo it, so this will require some adjusting and awareness on your part. If your hair is oily, concentrate more on the ends of the hair, than at the scalp. I rinse the vinegar from my hair, but some people do leave it in…
Bottom line: the standard mixture that I use is as I mentioned above, but if you have hard water, you may need to boil it first. Baking soda does not dissolve in hard water, due to the extra minerals in the water. If you have dry hair: you may need to decrease the baking soda; oily hair: less vinegar.
Once I was committed, I started making large batches of the mixture, storing it in old plastic vinegar jugs and then filling an old ketchup bottle to keep in the shower.
There is some fun science to that whole ‘baking soda/vinegar’ combo, but don’t worry – you won’t recreate a science fair volcano.
Does it stink?
Not if you use the right balance and fully rinse it. While some have stated that they have experienced a residual smell from the vinegar, this is rare, and is usually the result of not rinsing hair fully. My hair has had a pleasant scent/non-scent to it.
Bottom line: be sure to rinse well. I’ve used regular distilled vinegar and apple cider vinegar full strength, with only a very minimal scent left behind. The secret: rinse really well (*you can add essential oils, like lavender, into the vinegar to help alleviate the residual scent)
How do you figure out what mixture to use?
When I started this journey, it was summer. My scalp was oilier and sweatier from running in the heat. At that time I used a 1 cup water to 2T baking soda combo. Through the fall and winter, I’ve noticed my scalp being a bit more angry again – it was drying out from too much baking soda. I reduced the baking soda to 1T to 1 cup water. I also added 4 drops of tee tree oil to every 2 cups of mixture (I use Desert Essence Organic Tea Tree Oil, but any tea tree oil will be beneficial. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can help with dandruff, which is usually associated with seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory skin disorder.) I concentrate massaging the mixture at the spots on my scalp that are the most irritable, and then work it through to the ends.
I’d suggest staring out with 1 c water to 2T baking soda if your scalp is oily. Less baking soda, if it is drier. Remember: you are focusing on the scalp and working out towards the ends. Even though my scalp was oily, my ends were dry and damaged from overprocessing, so I didn’t focus on working the mixture there. As I rinsed my hair the mixture worked its way through the ends on its own.
Some people prefer to make a paste with the baking soda and applying it to the scalp, or sprinkling plain baking soda onto the scalp. I had a difficult time working these through my hair sufficiently, without over doing it in spots, so the premixed solution works best for me.
Bottom line: There is a bit of playing around… It can be frustrating. But it’s worth it. Everyone’s hair and scalp are different. My hair is curly-ish, oily underneath, but dry on the top layer. So I concentrate the baking soda on the scalp and use my fingers to blend it towards the end. It cleans the scalp without drying the rest. Because my scalp tends to be oilier, I try to keep the vinegar on all the hair, but away from the scalp.
How often do you wash?
This depends. Occasionally, I wash my hair daily. Mostly, I wash one day, and just rinse with water the next day. My hair behaves better, and my scalp is less angry, but I still tend to fall on the oily side of the spectrum. So, I do what my scalp needs. Sometimes, it’s just water. This was totally new for me, because I have forever been someone who couldn’t handle not washing my hair with shampoo daily.
Bottom line: listen to your body. If your hair and scalp are clean, consider going a day or two between washes. If you are used to washing daily (like I was), try going a day in between. And if that proves difficult, try wetting your hair and massaging your scalp under the water.
How long does it take to transition?
My transition was weird. But I attribute most of that to the hard water. Once I started boiling the water, the issues I was having with my hair cleared up.
Bottom line: everyone transitions differently, but expect it to take 2-3 weeks for your scalp and hair to adjust. Expect your hair to feel icky, and sometimes dirty. That’s normal. Your scalp is used to trying to overproduce oil to make up for what shampoo strips from it. Hang in there! It will improve!
Can I color my hair?
I color and/or highlight my hair every six weeks. I admit to allowing my hair to be shampooed at the salon, but I’m ok with that.
I have a lot (tons!!) of gray hair. I have my hair highlighted to blend in with the gray. But I’ve noticed that since using baking soda, my grays are less dull and more bright.
Bottom line: it’s safe to color when shampoo free, but do realize that certain colors do, and will fade faster than others. I try to avoid washing my hair again for a few days after getting it colored, so make sure your colorist rinses your hair sufficiently.
*updated: in the Spring, I started have purple hair color added into my hair. It lasted a long time – in fact, my stylist was amazed by how long it lasted. This was while I was strictly shampoo-free. For a month in the summer, I alternated with a sulfate-free shampoo, due to the working out in the heat and some new scalp issues, and the color quickly faded. Just something to consider…
I have oily hair – will this work?
Yep. My hair had been oily for as long as I can remember. My scalp was oily but my hair was dry (from over-processing). Going shampoo free has helped my scalp regulate itself. Before, it was working over time. The oilier it got, the more I felt the need to wash. The more I washed, the oilier it got. Vicious cycle.
Bottom line: this works well for all hair types. Just keep an eye on your mixture, and how often you clean your hair. Don’t over do it. More is not necessarily better.
I have scalp issues – will this work?
Definitely! I’ve had scalp issues since my first pregnancy. My scalp can be calm for months and then BAM, flare up and be angry. Going shampoo-free has helped manage the inflammation on my scalp. The tea tree oil mentioned above is another great thing to consider.
Bottom line: going shampoo free can help with scalp issues (eg: seborrheic dermatitis), and dandruff. Just please, please, be sure to rinse well.
Worth noting: Seborrheic dermatitis can cause hair thinning and hair loss. Resolving this scalp issue can help prevent that.
Doesn’t this only work for curly hair?
There is a myth that this method of hair care only works with curly hair. While it can do fabulous things for curls, it also works well on straight, thick, coarse, even thin hair. I do not have thin hair (at all) – my hair is super thick, and yes, during the transition it was wild. I wore a lot of ponytails during that time. I’ve heard some with thin hair complain that it made their hair too flat. I’m not sure if that was only during the transition stage, and they gave up prior to get through it, but I know that my thick hair went from unruly and poofy during that transition, to calm and manageable once thru it.
Bottom line: all hair types can benefit from going shampoo free
What kind of ACV?
When I first went shampoo free I thought had to use apple cider vinegar (ACV) to rinse, but I only had white distilled the day I made the leap. It worked just fine. Well – actually, I wasn’t sure. My hair was such a mess while I transitioned that I thought it had to do with the fact that I was using white vinegar rather than ACV, but, as I mentioned above, it was the hard water, not the vinegar that made the difference.
I’ve tried white distilled, ACV and organic ‘with the mother’ ACV, and honestly, they all worked well for me. Organic ACV, with the ‘mother’ supposedly has more proteins in it that are really beneficial, but after using it for over a month, I didn’t see a difference from the other types of vinegar.
Bottom line: You may need to play with this some. ACV seems a bit oilier than white, but it didn’t leave my hair feeling oiler.
I will say that there there are many other uses for ACV with the mother that ARE worth using over distilled white, or plain ACV, but I didn’t see a difference – for me – in my hair… So cost wise, it made sense to stick with plain white or regular ACV for my hair. You may find that organic ACV with the ‘mother’ works best for your hair.
Yes! Coconut oil is a great leave in conditioner and deep conditioner. You can purchase regular coconut oil at most grocery stores, and after trying several brands and kinds, I realized they all work well in your hair, as a conditioner. But, after a few months I began purchasing Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil and realized that it smells amazing, like being at the beach (I didn’t get the scent from the non-organic.)
To use as a deep conditioner: heat 2 T coconut oil, so it is melted and clear. Make sure it’s not hot, and apply to hair. Work through all of your hair, using more coconut oil if needed. Once you’ve worked it through hair, place a shower cap over your hair for at least an hour. Wash from hair with your baking soda mix. It may require two wash/rinse cycles.
To use as a leave-in conditioner: heat/melt 1 T coconut oil. Rub a small amount into your hands and work through ends of hair.
Bottom line: it smells amazing, and leaves hair really soft. It is my favorite part of this entire process. Seriously.
Also, I’ve read a lot about the benefits for coconut oil for the scalp and skin.
WHEW! I know that some of this sounds hit or miss, and yes — there is a bit of trial and error. When you think about it, that makes sense: we aren’t all made the same, so it’s impossible for one way to work for everyone. BUT there are some foundations that I’ve tried to lay out for you that will, hopefully, help you get started and troubleshoot and/or adjust your mixtures and combinations as you go.
If anything doesn’t make sense, please feel free to leave your question in comments. I’d love to know if you’ve tried this and how it’s worked for you!