Why I gave up shampoo for 6 months. How it went and what I learned from it.
They say that if you stop washing your hair it will eventually begin “cleaning itself”. The theory goes that your scalp produces natural oils which will keep your head and hair clean, but by using shampoo we strip away these natural oils and your scalp then over-compensates, which is why our hair becomes greasy.
If you want to get “self-cleaning” hair, however, you have to go through the pain of not washing it and enduring a few weeks of greasiness until your hair and scalp adapts. In a society where we are expected to look clean, this obviously presents some problems.
However, during April-September 2015 I took a cycling trip around Europe. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to forgo shampoo and make my hair “self-cleaning”.
How did it go?
For the first few weeks my hair did indeed become slowly more and more greasy. The grease crept down the length of my hair until, within 5 weeks, my hair was lank and felt damp to the touch. I combed twice a day to keep the tangles away, and rinsed my hair with water every other day. It didn’t smell, but it didn’t look good!
Around this time, based on the advice of a friend, I bought a brush and began brushing my hair thoroughly in the morning and in the evening. This improved my hair over a week or two. It didn’t stick together as much and it fell better. I was hopeful that it would become clean, but after a few weeks I realised that it still wasn’t really there.
I then did some more online research and learned about close-bristle brushes and the right way to brush your hair so that the hair’s natural oils are spread evenly. I bought a close-bristle hairbrush and did as instructed. After five days of doing this my hair transformed and seemed almost as clean as regular shampoo-washed hair. I was thrilled – I thought I had finally got there.
Here’s where slow disillusionment began to set in. Over the next 3 months my hair would go from almost clean to greasy again to almost clean to greasy again… all the time I felt like I was being teased… just one more week and I’m sure it will get there, I kept thinking.
After 6 months of cycling me and my partner Eric finally arrived back and stopped cycling every day. Now that I was not doing large amount of exercise (and sweating a lot as a result) I wondered if my hair would finally make the improvement I had been hoping for. I kept my fingers crossed, but it didn’t. In fact the opposite happened: it got significantly worse over 2 weeks. I suspect this was to do with the change in my routine upsetting some sort of hormonal balance that was going on (I won’t attempt to be more scientific than that, as this is total speculation!).
2 weeks after arriving back I accepted that it would never feel as clean as I wanted it to and finally washed my hair for the first time in 6 months. It felt amazing! My hair was so light, soft and clean. I felt much better, but I also was gutted that my efforts had in the end come to nothing.
Things I learned
Although self-cleaning hair didn’t work out for me, I still felt as if I learned a thing or two.
1. This technique is not for everyone. I have always had oily skin. I think that my scalp simply produces a lot of grease, so without shampoo I would have always been a bit on the greasy side!
2. But it can and does work for some people. My partner Eric also stopped washing his hair, and it looked fine. I recently met another person who doesn’t wash her hair, and it looked perfectly clean, though I think it took about a year for it to settle. It certainly is easier when you have short hair, and I think if you have dry skin it is more likely to work for you.
3. Having self-cleaning hair was not a time-saver. One of my motivations for having self-cleaning hair was the time I would save by not having to wash it. However, my time on hair-care was quadrupled (at least!) by the amount of time I spent combing my hair. I think that if you did get to the point where your hair is in good condition you wouldn’t have to brush as excessively as I did… but I think that it will still take longer than the quick wash and rinse of shampoo.
4. The way I view shampoo has changed. At the start of this experiment I saw shampoo as an unnecessary product that we had all been duped into believing we needed. Now I am grateful to shampoo, as I can now appreciate that it allows oily-complexioned people like me to have the silky, soft, shiny hair that only a few genetically superior types would have naturally had in the past. All hail shampoo!
5. It’s true to a certain extent that the more you wash your hair, the more you need to wash it. Post-experiment I am now washing my hair once per week. Though I imagine that once I go back to work and have to be more presentable, this will become once every four days.
I went into this experiment believing that people can have clean hair within 6 weeks of not washing it. I now believe that there is not a “one size fits all” approach. It depends on your biology, your hair length, your daily activities, your diet and probably some other factors that I haven’t thought of.
Having said this, if you are considering trying it, I hope you are not discouraged. It can work! It’s just worth knowing that the results and the time it takes will vary from person to person.
Below is the diary I kept (with photos – brace yourself) of the first few weeks I went shampoo free. I hope this information has been interesting and useful to you. I’m not a hair expert by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have any questions I am happy to answer them based on my own experiences.
Week 0: Sunday 29th March
Today I washed my hair for what hopefully is the last time. This picture is of my just-washed hair.
Week 1: Sunday 5th April
I am in unknown territory – I can never remember a time where I didn’t wash my hair for 7 days.
I have been combing it in the morning and evening (to help stimulate my scalp to produce the natural oils and spread those oils throughout my hair) and rinsing it with hot water every other day (to get rid of the sweat, essentially).
It is definitely greasy at the top of my head, though past my ears my hair still feels clean.
I’m thinking of wearing my buff as a headscarf so that I don’t look so gross!
Week 2: Sunday 12th April
Apologies for the lack of updates recently, I haven’t had decent wifi in a while.
I gave Eric’s hair a smell – for purely scientific reasons you understand. I would say it smelt like hay. It wasn’t unpleasant. Eric returned the favour and said that my hair smelt like (it pains me to share this, but here we go, I’m going to do it) “a warm rodent”. I think he might have been taking the piss. Or possibly coming from Eric this is a compliment. I don’t know, he’s a complex man.
Anyway, the hair was still bad. Especially around the mid-section, where the “sticky” grease rather than the “oily” grease is still lingering. I felt like it was worse than the week before (where I was feeling quite optimistic). I can’t tell whether things have got worse, or whether I am just losing sight of what normal hair is like??
Finally, we jumped the gun with Eric’s hair being “done”. When you get your fingers in there it’s still quite oily at the roots. Nice.
Week 5: Tuesday 6th May
I’ve been looking forward to getting to this stage because hopefully soon he magic will happen!
However, at this time things are fairly dire.
My hair looks permanently wet. The grease goes pretty much all the way down the length of my hair. I think from the front it doesn’t look quite as bad as from the back (as every time I see a photo of the back of my head I think: oh God).
Eric’s hair is feeling pretty good. Lightly oily when you touch it, but I would say it looks clean.
I miss having lovely clean hair. I have found myself looking jealously at other girls’ shiny clean locks.
Still nearly there, right? Right??
Week 6: Thursday 14th May
I had been holding back on an update for week 6 because I was hoping for some noticeable improvement. Has there been? Maybe a little. My hair still has that wet look, but I would say that the strands are less clumped together.
Myself and Eric have now implemented a regular combing routine, with 100 strokes in the morning and 100 in the evening. We were combing twice a day before, but not for very long.
Eric has also volunteered to have a photo of his hair taken (now that it’s looking clean). It’s still a bit oily when you touch it, but it looks normal.
Week 7: Tuesday 21st May
Good things are finally happening! My hair feels significantly cleaner. The strands no longer look damp, they ‘fall’ and move like clean hair.
My hair still feels oily to the touch, and you can see it does still look a bit greasy… But what an improvement!
Week 12 and a half: Sunday 28th June
Well, I went very quiet for a while.
Over a month ago I was full of optimism, sure that on week 8 I would be saying – all done, it’s cleaning itself!
I kept combing and combing and combing… and it sort of got a bit better, then a bit worse again, then a bit better, then a bit worse again…
After a while I realised that this wasn’t going to work. It was time to buy an actual brush. (Until this point I had just been using a comb.)
So I bought a hairbrush at a supermarket, and started brushing and brushing and brushing…
There was an improvement, my hair was less greasy. I kept at it for a few weeks, and again my hair got to a certain point and stopped improving. The brush was not enough.
So when we got to Rome I went and bought a close bristle brush, which my friend had advised me to do a while ago.
The evolution from comb to brush to super brush!
I also conducted some online research into BRUSHING TECHNIQUE. Here is what I learned…
How to brush your hair
1. Use a comb to detangle your hair. If you brush tangled hair you will damage it. Also, don’t brush with wet hair, this can also cause damage.
2. The Cousin It stage: bend over and let your hair hang down over your face. Brush from the nape of your neck to the tips of your hair. Cover all areas of your hair with your brushing. Do this for a little while (I count 20 strokes). Apparently the nape of your neck is where your hair is at its oiliest, so by doing this you are distributing the oil all over your hair.
3. Toss your hair back (it helps if you imagine yourself emerging dramatically from the ocean) and brush from your hairline backwards. Again, I count 20 strokes and cover all areas of my hair. Here is a jaunty photo to illustrate:
4. To be extra thorough, I found that brushing from your parting outwards helps too.
5. Repeat this process at least 2 more times. The more, the better.
6. CLEAN YOUR BRUSH. I’m talking about a sponge, soap and running water. I won’t describe what will come out of your hair, but trust me… You won’t want it going back in again!
FYI, this brushing technique is not just for people who want self-cleaning hair. According to the people who were able to put together a web page (so are obviously experts) this will make your hair stronger, shinier, healthier and generally more awesome.
After 4 days of doing this once in the morning and once in the evening, my hair has finally started behaving itself! Hallelujah!
NOTE: Although in the end my hair became greasy again and I eventually started using shampoo, I have left instructions on brushing technique etc. up, as I believe that even though it didn’t work for me, it could work well for other people.
Disclaimer: no guarantees though, try at your own risk 🙂