Shampoo Free Methods of “Washing” Hair

by Kate on May 2, 2012

in Green Living, Hair Care, Health, Healthy Living, Natural Beauty, No Shampoo Method, Simple Living

I recently decided to try out this whole “No Shampoo” (otherwise known as “no poo”…which makes the whole thing sound terribly unhealthy) trend.  You’ve heard of this yes? No? Well, I hadn’t either until recently, but it’s been around in various forms for years. Why? Most people gravitate toward no ‘poo because they either want to avoid un-necessary  chemicals, or they want to restore the health of their hair.

There are actually several different mainstream shampoo alternatives, so to start I thought I’d give you a quick overview:

  • Conditioner-Only: You massage a ton of silicone free, cheap and lightweight conditioner like Suave into your hair, let it sit for 5-10 minutes and rinse it out well.
  • Low-Poo: Shampoo and Conditioner as usual but switch to a sulfate free organic formula.
  • “Classic” No-Shampoo: Gradually wean yourself off cleansing with anything other than water by using baking soda and apple-cider vinegar.
  • Water Only: Many people use one of the above methods and space out their washes gradually until they are eventually using water only.
  • Sebum Only: You stop even wetting your hair and allow your sebum to do what it was naturally intended to do (keep your hair and scalp clean).


The benefits of using sulfate free shampoo and conditioner are pretty mainstream these days, but in case you aren’t aware, the theory goes like this: Most of the sulfates in mainstream shampoos-sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate-strip your hair of its natural oils which essentially makes your scalp freak out and go into oil production overdrive. Thus, you have to shampoo every day (or 2 if you’re lucky). It’s a crafty little business trick, no? All the big beauty corporations need to do is trick you into trying one of their harsh shampoos once, and you’ll be coming back for more until someone convinces you to wean yourself off. When you do try to wean yourself off, it can be a bit of a trying process. Your scalp becomes so accustomed to its increased oil production levels that once you stop using a harsh sulfate shampoo, it takes a while for the scalp to slow its oil production. So, you might be a greasy mess for a week. That said, if you wean yourself off with the right products (I’ll describe how I did this below) you can avoid this phase.

On a personal note, my main motivation is getting my hair back to it’s natural thickness. My hair has always been fine, but there was a lot of it. Due to highlighting and heat styling, I’ve lost a fair amount of volume and I want it back. Plus, washing your hair every day is such a time suck. Who needs to spend 45 minutes getting ready every morning? Not me!

What I’ve Tried and What I’m Doing Now

I first decided to put away the Pantene about 2 years ago when my hair had grown so weak from highlighting it was breaking off constantly. My hairdresser recommended I go sulfate-free, so I headed to Whole Foods and bought Giovanni Smooth as Silk. I love Giovanni products. They’re great for a first time low-pooer because they aren’t completely chemical free (they do contain some sulfate derivatives so they still lather…something most sulfate free products don’t do) which makes it less likely you’ll have an adjustment period. That said…they aren’t completely chemical free. So after I’d gone through my bottle of Smooth as Silk, I switched to Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose: my favorite! It doesn’t have much of a lather, but the smell is divine and it always got my hair plenty clean but kept it soft too.  There’s a matching conditioner as well that’s incredible, but thick, so use sparingly to start.  I used the AO until I decided to embark on more of a no-poo routine.

Which brings me to: my current routine. I’ve decided I want to try to go water only. But as I mentioned before, I have incredibly fine hair that’s prone to greasiness so I knew I’d need to wean myself off shampoo to get there. So I’m doing the conditioner only method. Conditioner Only? On Fine Hair? Yep!  What does this work, you ask? Because most mainstream conditioners (NOT organic ones) contain mild surfactants which, when left on long enough, will remove excess oil and dirt from your scalp without stripping all the good oils. By leaving more oils on your scalp, you’re basically telling it to slow down oil production, which helps prepare you for going water-only.

I use VO5 kiwi lime clarifying conditioner. I dilute it about 50% with water to help it lather and then massage a big glob into my wet hair and scalp. I then allow it sit for at least 5 minutes,  but 10 minutes gets my hair cleaner. Then I massage my scalp while rinsing thoroughly. My hair has never looked so healthy or been so bouncy! Right now I do this every other day and use  a little dry shampoo if I need to on the off days.

So what can you do?

With all of these methods, the goal is to gradually space out your washings to train your scalp to produce less oil. Sebum (the oil your scalp produces) is actually nature’s cleanser. It has all kinds of delightful anti-fungal, antibacterial, and nourishing properties so don’t worry, you won’t be filthy. So with all that in mind, I say just pick whichever one your gut instinct tells you is right for you. Only you can know the condition of your scalp, how prone you may be to certain scalp conditions, and what your personal standards are for your hair’s appearance (if you can handle greasy hair for a few weeks, then sure, go water only cold-turkey).

And keep me updated! It can really help to have a buddy going through all this as there can be a bit of a transition period. So what do you think? Are you going to try this? Or is it all too hippy-dippy for you?

I’ll try to follow this article up with more specifics on each of these methods, but for now, if you google any one of them you can find more specific instructions and recommendations.

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*In the spirit of full disclosure, links to products in this post may be affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission if you decide to purchase any of the products I recommend. Know that I only recommend products that I have used and love myself.

*I am not a doctor, a nurse, or any kind of health practitioner. I’m just a gal with a pretty keen intuitive sense, great research abilities, and curiosity that is easily peaked. Please understand that my advice is really just another opinion and it’s for you (and your doctor) to decide the best course for your health and well-being.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

beautywhizz July 15, 2012 at 10:09 am

Great post. I have been reading about no poo idea and felt more and more inspired. I switched to SLS products some time ago, but still wash my hair every 2 or 3 day. Usually the third day after washing is a pony tail day! I am going on holidays soon and will try for 2 weeks to go no poo and see how it goes. Lots of sea water might help!


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