Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Great Hair Experiment of 2009

I have not used shampoo in 5 weeks. That's right-- over a whole month without any lather of bubbly shampoo. If you hang out much in real life or online around green/environmental-type people, you are sure to have heard about this already, but in case you haven't, it turns out that you can wash your hair with baking soda and condition it with apple cider vinegar. Crazy, right? I've heard about it a number of times (here and here, among others) but when Tsh at Simple Mom (who probably doesn't remember me but who I met when I lived in Austin during grad school) wrote about it last month, I finally decided to give it a go. The idea is that shampoo unnecessarily strips natural oils from your hair (which are actually good for your hair), making it produce more oil to compensate and embroiling you in a vicious cycle of needing shampoo to get rid of the excessive oil. The more shampoo you use, the more you need. And using a tablespoon each of baking soda and apple cider vinegar is much cheaper and friendlier to the Earth than a tablespoon each of shampoo and conditioner. It sounded a little insane to me and like there was no way it would work, but that was my same initial response to, oh, cloth diapering, breastfeeding past a baby's 1st birthday, making bread at home, or any number of other things that I now do with enjoyment so eventually I decided to give it a try. Five weeks in, I am a big fan and I don't see myself going back.

The most significant thing I noticed is that my hair, well, still mostly just looks like my hair. I interpret this as a positive and it makes me ponder all the shampoo and conditioner (and the bottles they came in) that have been manufactured and shipped and purchased and recycled in the pursuit of cleaning my hair, when it turns out my hair looks pretty much the same without it. Not entirely the same, though, and the differences are positive. My hair is softer, shinier, and has lost that straw-like feeling. It also has more volume, and I think this whole baking soda/apple cider vinegar thing might make the biggest difference for people who feel like their hair is flat and limp. I am really happy, and I have been having way more good hair days since I kicked the shampoo habit. These differences are pretty subtle, though, I admit. Rob, for instance, says he cannot see any difference at all. (Men!) I had only the barest hint of a transition period (when some people feel really oily while their hair adjusts to not having its natural oils stripped away) that lasted maybe two weeks, but it was really not noticeable at all. Of course, curly hair pretty much never looks greasy or oily, even when it is, so I had that going for me.

So here's my routine: I put about 2 tablespoons into a squeeze bottle (like one of these) and fill the container up with warm water, then shake to mix it up. This amount will last me about 5-6 uses and I keep it in my shower. I also keep a plastic cup in my shower and pour about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into the cup right before my shower. During my shower, I get my hair wet, then use the squeeze bottle to apply the solution to my scalp and roots (I don't work on the rest of my hair much), massaging it in. I rinse it out, then take my cup containing apple cider vinegar and fill it up with warm water from the shower. I pour this diluted vinegar on to my hair from the cup, concentrating on my ends, then rinse this out. It does smell like vinegar while I'm doing this, but only until it's all rinsed out. That's it! Then it's on to whatever concoction of styling products I have decided to try that day. This routine has had no problem getting product out, in case you're wondering.

A few aspects of the new hair routine have taken some getting used to. My very first impression was, "Gosh, this feels different." When you have been accustomed to the bubbly soap-y lather of washing your hair with shampoo every single day of your whole entire life, it does feel kind of weird to forego it. Washing your hair with baking soda feels not at all lather-y but instead just slightly slippery; it is a different sensory experience. The next thing is that the mixed-up water and baking soda mixture must have a significantly higher thermal conductivity than shampoo because it feels COLD going on my head on a cool morning. It is, of course, the same temperature as the shampoo since they have both just been sitting in our bathroom at thermal equilibrium with the everything around them but it feels a lot colder. I suppose I could get around this by mixing up new baking soda solution every morning right before my shower using warm water; maybe I will do this during the winter if it really bothers me.

And the last thing that has been not-quite-awesome is that I feel like more hair is coming out in the shower. I got a little concerned for a while there, actually, and I am still not quite sure why this has happened-- is my hair breaking more? is this just normal shedding of hair at the end of its growth cycle (that somehow I wasn't noticing before)? In all my googling, I have not come across anyone else having this particular problem with the baking soda/apple cider vinegar routine; in fact, people are always waxing eloquent about how gentle baking soda is. I started this whole experiment almost immediately after frying my hair with some home hair dye, so I originally thought that my hair was just brittle and damaged and breaking from that. I feel like that should have calmed down by now, though... I am not sure. I don't feel like I have more breakage and I certainly don't have more split ends (although curly hair pretty much hides any split ends); if anything, I think my hair looks better. I guess I will just monitor the situation and re-evaluate if it starts to seem like my hair is all breaking and falling off.

Delving into the natural hair care world made me curious about some of the styling product recipes that people have out there and those have been less than successful for me. I tried using coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner and styling product and although it made my hair look pretty good (and smell DELICIOUS) it made my face break out wherever my hair would come into contact with it. I tried making hair gel from flax seeds and this did not work for me. The gel did not have enough hold and it wasn't very shelf-stable; I would have to cook a new batch every few days because it went all runny and non-gel-like pretty fast.

This experimenting made me rediscover the online curly-hair community (yes! people have whole message boards about having curly hair!) and some of the routines and styling products that those people like have been great for my hair as well. The most common routine is based on this book and also involves eschewing shampoo, although in favor of a cheap conditioner that will clean your hair gently instead of baking soda. Right now, I am alternating days of using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar (any day that I work out and get sweaty) with days of just using conditioner (actual conditioner, not the apple cider vinegar) and this is working great for me.

And now I have written paragraphs and paragraphs about my hair. I should stop now.


Amy said...

I have been wanting to try this for a while now, but I am really worried about that transition time! I work in an office setting, and a couple of weeks, heck a couple of DAYS of greasy hair just won't do! My concern over this is made worse by the fact that my hair seems to have been changing recently. I used to be able to wash my hair every other day or every third day with no problem. But sometime in the last six months or so, it changed to where if I don't shower everyday, my hair looks NASTY. And my hair is straight and thin, so there is no hiding the nast.

I'm glad to hear it worked for you! Think I should go for it anyway??? Any ideas of how to get over the greasy stage without much ado?

Anonymous said...

This sounds cool. I think I'll try it.


Oh. Never mind.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm intrigued. Save money, save the earth, better hair... I'm in. Thanks for the inspiration. Kathy

Christy@pipandsqueak said...

Interesting. I may have to try it.

Julia said...

Amy, this may work really well for you, especially if you feel like your hair is thin and flat. I don't know what kind of transition period you might be in for, but one thing to try would be to start on the BS/ACV, then use shampoo a few days later when you feel like it's too greasy, then do the BS/ACV until you can't stand it, then shampoo, etc. I think this would make your transition period longer but might make it so you feel more presentable in the meantime. The baking soda *does* clean your hair so it's not like skipping a day of shampoo. My transition was no big deal at all, so I don't have too much else to add. I hope you can figure out a way to try it if you're interested!

Eva said...

Two things:

1) I'm really tempted to do this, but I still have to figure out how to safely carry large enough amounts of vinegar during trips (it feels funny to carry salad dressing with your toiletries). I am also concerned about your "extra volume" statement, that's the last thing my voluminous hair needs. Maybe I'll toss shampoo and stick with conditioner for a while. (Niv is very concerned about the whole idea, by the way)

2) During a patchouli stage that my parents had, I was a tiny ballet dancer with serious gel needs, so I did the flaxseed gel thing for a while. I don't have good memories of that time, it didn't work as well and I sometimes found little seeds on my hair.

Kiki said...

Very interesting. Sounds like some work. Mixing and such before getting in the shower. But, definitely interesting. What about skipping washing? Does it help if you wash every other or does your hair get greasy like it did before?

astropixie said...

i'm a couple weeks into the baking soda/cider vinegar routine, and i've been eagerly awaiting your hair story ;) great post!

my hair feels thicker and fuller, and i'm noticing a loss of hair too. more comes out than usual right after the shower... as opposed to my previous experience where i continued to shed hair for hours...! so i'm not worried about it right now.

my hair doesnt feel smoother, instead it feels more textured. it used to be so smooth that it would fall right out of twists, but now it likes to go up and stay up without the need of 17 hair pins!

i dont use any other styling products. never have - i'm stingy and too lazy! i think i will add some essential oils to my mixture though, because i think my scalp is a bit dry. it gets a little itchy at the end of the cycle before i'm ready to wash again. maybe i'll implement your periodic use of regular conditioner. thats a good idea!

overall, i'm pleased with the results and dedicated to continuing the experiment! my hair almost feels as natural as when i used to swim in barton springs every day instead of showering. ah, i miss the sweet springs of austin.

now i have written quite a bit about my hair in your comments.... time to stop!

amydove said...

I want to try this but keep putting it off. I have now actually placed the supplies in my bathroom, and now that I have a free weekend I might give it a go. Thanks for sharing!

(And the thought of little ballerina Eva with flax seeds in her hair makes me laugh)