With the increase of toxic chemicals entering into our personal care products it is not surprising why people adopt alternatives. Product-free or “no-poo” hair washing involves using a boar bristle brush, water and plenty of scalp scrubbing to clean hair without chemicals. A few hundred years ago, the idea of washing your hair sans chemicals would have been commonplace. Today it seems strange or even unhygienic; yet some people are turning back to traditional methods of haircare. Whether stemming from a desire to reduce consumption, avoid chemicals, relieve conditions such as eczema or dermatitis, or simply experiment, shampoo-free washing (known affectionately as ‘no-pooing’ or ‘water-only washing’) can be very effective in maintaining clean and healthy hair.
Why Washing Hair Without Shampoo or Conditioner Works
Hair becomes dirty because of two factors: trapped particles, such as dust, and sebum, a natural oil produced by the scalp which makes hair look greasy.
Washing the hair frequently with shampoo strips the hair of its natural oil, sebum. To compensate, the scalp will begin to overproduce sebum to make up for the lack, resulting in a cycle of overcleansing and overproduction of oil. Once the cycle is stopped, the scalp will eventually regain its normal equilibrium, resulting in the need for less frequent washing. A transition period of about six weeks is required to accustom the scalp to lower sebum production.
Trapped particles of dust and dirt can be removed to some extent by washing with water. To further clean the hair, a boar bristle brush can be used to brush the dirt right out.
How to Wash Hair Without Products
True water-only washing uses no products at all. In this case, the hair and scalp are simply washed vigorously under lukewarm water, using fingertips – not fingernails to remove any particles from scalp. Some people find that alternating hot and cold water helps to break through the sebum. Finishing the wash with a blast of cold water will lock down the cuticle of the hair, keeping it shiny.
Some people, while refraining from commercial hair products such as conditioner, like to facilitate washing and conditioning with natural products. Baking soda, vinegar, herbal teas, natural oils and butters, egg yolks and even yoghurt can form the basis of commercial product-free hair washing.
Using a Boar Bristle Brush to Clean Hair
Washing the hair is only one component of productless cleansing. A boar bristle brush is used to spread the sebum from the roots to the hair shaft, where it can do its job of moisturising and protecting the hair. Boar bristle brushes also trap dust and dirt in their closely-packed bristles, helping to clean the hair.
To prevent hair breakage, the brushes should only be used on detangled hair. Long strokes from the scalp to the tips of the hair should be used, to move the sebum down the hair shaft. Depending on the length of the hair, it may take several days for the hair to become coated with sebum.
Easing the Transition to Water-Only Washing
The six-week greasy period, during which the scalp learns to produce less sebum, can be frustrating. Greasy hair can be hidden under a hat or bandana, or disguised in braids, which hold particularly well in greasy hair. A boar bristle brush will polish the surface of the hair, which can make sebum look like hair product rather than grease.
It is possible to wean the scalp off shampoo. Alternating diluted shampoo washes with water-only washes will make the transition period longer but less severe. Alternatively, conditioner-only washing can be used for a few weeks before attempting water-only washing.
Some water-only hair washers experience a renewed greasy period some months into their new routine; this eventually settles down.
Written by Sarah Tennant