Sunday, September 19, 2010

Haircare From the Baking Aisle: Why and How

Same products, different packaging (you could make them look nicer...I am just not that creative.)

Awhile ago (I couldn't even tell you when), I saw a post in a parenting forum entitled "no-poo."  I figured it was another post about a constipated baby.  I then saw a post in another forum called "poo-free."  I thought, "geez.  Are full-grown women really having trouble using the word 'constipated?'  Why are they being so cutesy about it?"

So I finally opened one of these threads and discovered they were talking about their hair.  "Poo" was referring to shampoo.  They don't use shampoo.  So....they're not washing their hair?  Ew!

Trying to keep an open mind and discover why women wouldn't use shampoo, I finally read the threads.  The concept made a lot of sense!  (And I discovered they were washing their hair.)

Why no-poo?
I came to learn that there are a few basic problems with shampoos (and other haircare and beauty products):
  • Shampoos are awesome at removing oil from your hair and scalp.  The body being amazingly adaptive, when you keep removing oil with shampoo, your scalp will simply produce more and you get caught up in needing to wash your hair often.  Or perhaps you're someone whose scalp can never seem to catch up - you end up with dandruff and/or an itchy scalp, or frizzy and unmanageable hair.
  • Shampoos contain chemicals you can't even pronounce.  And these chemicals are being absorbed into your skin and bloodstream.  The idea that I should only put things on my body that I can put in my mouth makes sense to me; skin is the largest organ of my body and absorbs so much into my bloodstream.  It doesn't seem like such a good idea to daily slather on something I wouldn't eat.  Also, this is pretty convincing...(and the first product discussed is shampoo!)
  • Shampoos and other haircare products add up in your budget.  Especially if you're like me and always searching for the perfect combination for maximum hair management!  I've been using Aveda products for years even though they are admittedly out of my budget.  This was the biggest reason I decided to try natural haircare.

How do I wash my hair if not with shampoo???
There appear to be three basic schools of thought on haircare-sans-shampoo (I will try, henceforth, to call it 'poo-free, but I hate any of the names that include "poo!")
  1. Use baking soda and vinegar in place of shampoo and conditioner.
  2. Use shampoos without sulfates, and other specific products
  3. Don't use a darn thing.  
#1 is what I do, so I'll elaborate on that momentarily.

#2 seems like a load of crap to expensive and potentially hard-to-find load of crap - the shampoo they recommend is $18 for a 12oz bottle, and still contains all sorts of chemicals that I cannot pronounce.  Now that I've insulted this choice, if cost isn't a concern, it might be a good transitional product and routine, as it cuts out sulfates, which are particularly drying and irritating.  Sulfates, by the way, do not cause cancer as far as I could determine.  Anyhow, if this seems like a good baby step for you, I'm all about baby steps!  My own really took over 2 years!

#3...I haven't reached this point.  Maybe it has to do with my hair type, or maybe it's my lifestyle, or maybe I just haven't given it enough of a try.  But I cannot go completely without a hair product of some type or my hair is a mass of frizz.  And sometimes someone rubs jelly or yogurt or Unidentified Sticky Objects in my hair.  I have to be able to wash it...

My current haircare regimen, step-by-step:
1.  Wash with baking soda.  (My hair is wet at this point.)  I use my fingers to scoop some out of the tupperware I keep in the shower, close my hand around it, and quickly get the baking soda just wet enough to turn into a paste, which I work through my hair starting from the roots.  I comb it through with a wide-toothed comb, then let it sit while I floss my teeth (the only way I remember to floss is to do it in the shower!).
                                  Scoop o' clumped baking soda...                                                   turned into paste.    

2.  Rinse with vinegar.   I rinse the baking soda from my hair with water, and then use a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar to do a conditioning rinse.  I work it through, again using my fingers and then a wide-toothed comb.  I let it sit in my hair while I soap up (soap, by the way, is on my research-and-experiment-with-alternatives short list).  Sometimes I do a second vinegar rinse if my hair doesn't feel "right."
3.  Rinse with water.  I rinse thoroughly - again using a wide-toothed comb and/or my fingers.

Now, meet my one and only styling product:

That's a tupperware full of coconut oil...and evidence of my fingertips.  The stuff melts on my fingertips, but is solid at room temperature except in the hot summer.  I know, it looks a little weird.  I contemplated heating it up just a little and getting it to be all smooth and perfect on top, but then I thought readers might be freaking out that their own coconut oil was not behaving like mine!

I use coconut oil just like any styling product - but less of it.  I get a bit on my fingertips, rub my hands together, then run my fingers through my hair.  I usually then get a little bit more on my fingertips and scrunch, smooth, and define a few curls around my face.  It depends on whether I just washed my hair, or I'm a day or two in and my hair is just needing a tiny dab.

Then I take my oily hands and rub them on my face, lips, and elbows.  Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer!  (And it is a great cooking oil, too...)

I think I'm down to doing this whole routine about once a week.  In between, I wet my hair in the shower to various degrees to revive slept-upon curls.  I'll also use the vinegar if my hair is feeling dry or just sort of tangled (it is a great de-tangler, and I've heard of moms diluting it a whole lot and using it on their kids' tangled hair), and I'll add a little more coconut oil if it's looking frizzy.

It's hard to take myself seriously sometimes....

That's all there is to it!

A few more details and some troubleshooting tips:
  •  My hair is too dry/frizzy or my scalp is itchy/flaky/dry!
    • Baking soda is a weak base, so it can dry out your skin and hair and cause irritation.  Try rinsing it out sooner, or not even letting it sit at all before you rinse it out (more like you'd use shampoo - rub it in, rinse it out).  You can also dilute it further (even going so far as to make it into a spray).
    • Skip the baking soda and only use the vinegar for a wash or two (or five) - vinegar cleans as well as conditions.  The baking soda should really be reserved for when you feel your hair is greasy or truly dirty (like someone rubbed jam in your hair...which happened to me just this week).
    • You can make a "shampoothie" - I haven't tried it, but apparently cucumber will help. 
    • You can add honey to your wash routine.  I haven't tried sounds messy and not simple, and I'm all about simple.  How do I get the honey into my shower, and how do I get it into my hair without making a mess all over the tub (which I later will have to clean up...)?  Do I just drizzle it into my baking soda and scoop out the mixture?  I'll stick to the coconut oil until I'm feeling like I want to experiment again.
    • Add an oil as a styling product.  I've heard of using coconut oil or olive oil.
  • My hair is too oily!
    • Be patient.  You can wait it out after going cold turkey, or you can try to wean yourself from shampoo by washing every-other-day for a couple weeks, then every three days, etc.  If you're having an oil problem, I think I'd rather wean from shampoo and then go to the baking soda and vinegar, rather than wash with baking soda every day and then cutting that back.  I think the most frequently I'd use baking soda is every other day for maybe a week...but I think you'd start to notice irritation/dryness (in which case you can then use the tips above!).
    • Try lemon juice.  It's less drying and irritating than baking soda, and you can squeeze it right onto your roots from a lemon sliced in half.
    What kind of vinegar should you use?
    I started out using white vinegar, because I already had it in my shower (I use it as an after-shower spray to ward off mildew and soap scum).  It made me nauseous in the enclosed shower, and then I kept catching little whiffs of it for the hour or so after my shower.  (Note:  I was 30-some weeks pregnant at the time, and I have a really sensitive sense of smell that is in hyperdrive during pregnancy!)  So I switched to apple cider vinegar and haven't had a problem since.  And the smell does NOT stick around from either type of vinegar.

    If you're having a smell issue like I did isn't solved by changing the type of vinegar, you can dilute the vinegar and add an essential oil (but make sure it's something that is safe to be on your skin).  The essential oils can have other benefits as well, depending on which one(s) you choose.

    Also, the vinegar I use is maybe slightly-diluted, but I figure my hair is already I'm really lazy and don't want to deal with measuring anything.  So I pour in some vinegar and sometimes will stop and add water.  I'm very inexact...

    How do you go 'poo-free with young kiddos?
    I haven't figured this one out yet...we still have a shampoo/body wash combination for Bean.  When we are about out, I'll see what I can figure out that a) won't end up in his eyes (vinegar doesn't exactly stay put like soap suds do, and he's not great about keeping his head leaned back) and b) he'll be amenable to - 2-year-olds are such creatures of habit that he may insist we return to the usual stuff.  I'll update when I am into the research phase of this, and keep you updated when I try it out!

    The Beast and The 'Poo
    A bottle of shampoo recently appeared in our shower.  As far as I can tell, The Beast brought it home from the gym where he had been using it after workouts.  He has expressed an interest in trying out the baking soda and vinegar idea, and I think he'll try it when he runs out of shampoo.  Given that his hair is straight, and gets a little oily after not washing it for more than a day, I expect he'll have a very different experience from mine.  We'll post about it if/when that happens!

    Further information:
    • a short list of scary shampoo ingredients, and several ideas for troubleshooting your own natural haircare routine
    • The Story of Cosmetics (from the folks - namely Annie Leonard - who brought you The Story of Stuff)  If this doesn't make you want to ditch the bath and beauty aisle altogether (or write your congressman), I'm not sure anything will!
    • A post (and video) that I found particularly helpful when making my decision to no-poo and formulating my plan of action.  Mainly because she has hair that is similar in texture to mine.
    • My friend B's posts about starting 'poo-free and how it's going a month later.  Her hair texture is quite different from mine, and thickness and texture (as well as sensitivity/dryness/oiliness of skin) seem to make the biggest difference in the 'poo-free process.  She also wanted something that smelled yummy, so she added a cinnamon stick and vanilla extract to her apple cider vinegar.

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