So I discovered a group on Facebook for No Poo and Low Poo enthusiasts and read up on different methods. On Dec. 30th I began a new quest for healthy hair.
For those of you unfamiliar with the No Poo movement (he he he, I couldn't resist!) here it is in a nutshell: stop using commercially made shampoo and conditioner. Styling products too. Wash your hair with homemade concoctions. I'm not a dirty hippie. I don't go weeks without bathing. I don't smell nasty, I don't look oily. My hair usually has no scent at all, which kind of bugs me to be honest. I will often add essential oils to my potions to make my hair smell yummy, or put some on my hair brush. I don't want to be that woman who walks into a room and everyone gags from the overpowering fragrance, but a little bit of scent is lovely.
It's been quite a journey of experimentation. I tried water only, then acid only. I washed occasionally with egg yolks, shampoo bars, or low poo to get out any hot oil treatments that I did. I tried every conditioning rinse under the sun. I made my own hair gel, leave in conditioner, hairspray, and sea salt spray. Some things were a total failure but that's how you learn, right?
Here are some before and after photos.
The top two photos are from my low poo days and the bottom two are what my hair looks like now. My hair looked nice in the before photos, right? That took a TON of styling product to smooth it down and total dependence on a blow dryer and flat iron to style it. Plus frequent dying to cover my grays (gaaaaah!) Air drying without product was simply not an option. Here's what it looked like air dried:
Ok, to be fair, that was in Key West in July, quite possibly the most humid place on earth. South Florida in the height of summer is the armpit of hell. But still, not a good look.
So what did I do to improve the health of my hair and save a chunk of money to boot?
Five Commandments of Hair Health
#1: Thou shalt not use anything on your hair with the word iron in it. That means you, curling iron. You too, flat iron. Blow dryers are ok on low heat only! And only occasionally. But 90% of the time or more I let my hair air dry.
#2: Stop using harsh, chemical-laden hair color and start using henna. Henna is a plant. They pick the leaves, dry them, and grind them up, just like basil or oregano. You buy the henna powder and mix it up with the liquid of your choice (water, tea, vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, coconut milk, etc.) to make this green mud that's the consistency of pudding. It's bizarre and it smells like wet hay. You apply it to your hair and leave it on for hours instead of minutes. I'm not gonna lie, it ain't pretty. I spend my day praying the UPS guy doesn't ring my doorbell. But it is GOOD for your hair. It's so good, you can do it every week if you want to. I color my roots now once every 2-3 weeks and I'm doing zero damage to my hair. In fact, I'm conditioning it. If you don't want red hair you can try indigo or cassia, or a blend to get the right color for you. It requires more advance planning, to be sure, but it's no more difficult than dying your hair at home with a box of Nice N Easy and it costs waaaaay less than going to the salon. And it doesn't fade. It is truly permanent. I've heard it said that henna is not a fling, it's a marriage. I thought long and hard about going this route due to its commitment but I'm so glad I did!
#3: Wash your hair no more often than every four days. Even if you don't do the whole no poo thing. Here's my very unscientific take on traditional shampoo:
Shampoo is designed to remove every ounce of oil from your hair. Especially if it uses sodium laurel/laureth sulfate. That will degrease your driveway. Unfortunately it removes all the natural oils too (namely your sebum) which is good for your hair. Sebum protects your hair, conditions it, and lubricates your scalp. Remove it all and you will have dry hair and scalp, so you spend lots of money on artificial products to replace all the oil you just stripped out. When I used to use drugstore shampoo there was no way, absolutely NO WAY, I could not follow it with conditioner. It felt like straw in the shower, I couldn't detangle it, and looked hideously awful. I used twice as much conditioner as I did shampoo and because I have thick hair, it was not uncommon for me to use a whole bottle of conditioner in a week or two. But I digress...
When you wash with shampoo your scalp says, "Oh crap! She just removed all the sebum. Let's make more, pronto." So the next day you're already oily, and the day after that you look like you haven't bathed in three weeks. So you feel like you HAVE to wash your hair. Then your scalp says, "Dammit! She did it again! Ok, back to the drawing board." So it's a never-ending cycle. The more you wash your hair, the more you have to wash your hair.
How do we fix this? Stop using products that strip all the oil from your hair, and stop washing daily. If you're not ready for no poo, use low poo products. That means no sulfates, no silicones, no parabens. Not in your shampoo, not in your conditioner, not in your styling products. Not ever. Then start washing your hair every 4 days. You will be a greasy, nasty looking mess for a while. Will that be a week, a month, six months? It's different for everybody. How greasy your scalp gets now and how often you wash now plays a big part in this transitional period. For me, it was super short. I had a week of looking greasy and that was it. Hopefully your hair is long enough to put in a bun, french braid, or other undo. Invest in lots of headbands and cute scarves. They will camouflage your nasty roots until your scalp gets the memo and says, "Oh! The sebum is still there. No need to make more. Got it."
#4: Thou shalt feed your hair with food from your kitchen.
If you want to go even further, stop using anything on your hair except all natural (usually food) products. You can wash your hair with raw eggs, castile soap mixed with coconut milk, rye flour, honey and aloe, soapnuts, shampoo bars, baking soda, oat milk… the list goes on and on. You can wash your scalp with nothing but water too. I've never struggled with an oily scalp, except for that first week of transition. My issue has always been dryness, even though I now live in the hot and humid south. I tried acid only (AO) for a long time, which is where you don't use anything that removes oil on your hair since there's really none to remove. I used lots of ingredients that are conditioning, like coconut water, molasses, coconut milk and aloe, honey, coffee, tea, and beer. The problem is that I want some sebum! I want to be able to brush my hair before bed and have it be smooth and glossy and feel amazing. If there's no sebum to distribute down the length of my hair it just gets dried out.
So now I'm washing every 4 days with coconut milk and castile soap using this recipe: http://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/2012/03/homemade-coconut-milk-shampoo.html. I am washing more frequently to increase sebum production, which is the exact opposite of what most people need. I'm just weird that way. I don't have dandruff or an itchy scalp, thank goodness, but my scalp just doesn't get greasy. I have not washed for three weeks at a time (I would usually get my hair wet and scrub my scalp with water every 2-3 days, then follow with some sort of conditioning rinse) but my scalp was never oily. Maybe this will help my scalp produce enough sebum to protect and condition my hair without making it greasy. That's my plan anyway. It's only been two weeks so the jury is still out. Because castile soap is extremely alkaline you need to use an acid rinse afterwards to restore your hair's pH balance so I use a cup of water with a spoonful of lemon juice in it.
I like to do lots of deep conditioning too since I'm trying to make up for years of harsh treatment of my poor hair. The best conditioner I've ever used is this recipe below.
Mix one part canned coconut milk (the fewer ingredients, the better) with three parts aloe vera juice or gel (found in health food stores or in the laxative section of places like Walmart.) Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze. Drop one cube in a cup of hot water and let it dissolve. Then dunk your ends into the mixture first. Pour the rest over your head, comb through with a wide tooth comb, cover with a shower cap, and leave on for 5-60 minutes. I like 20 minutes under a hood dryer on low heat. Then rinse with cool water. Don't use two ice cubes thinking more is better. Coconut milk is full of healthy fats and therefore oily, so use too much and you won't be able to get it out without washing. One cube is just right. I should say that I have very thick, coarse hair. It's not fine and I have a ton of it. If you have fine, oily hair you might apply only from the ears down, or use even less than one cube. You may need to experiment if it weighs down your hair or makes it look oily.
5: Thou shalt scour YouTube and the internet for no heat curling methods. Seriously headband curls and sock buns are my best friend these days.
This is from an overnight sock bun. Just put a bun on the top of your head before bed and wake up to big, loose curls. There is no product in my hair, I swear to you. No gel, no hairspray, no silicone serum. I rub some jojoba oil or argan oil on my palms and smooth them over my hair if it looks frizzy, but that's the extent of my routine these days. Here's the tutorial:
This is from scarf curls. I took this photo at 7:30 pm, so you can see they had lasted all day and still looked great.
The curls above are headband curls. You would swear I used a big barrel curling iron, wouldn't you? I made my own tutorial since most versions give you a big flat spot on the crown, which I hate. I need big hair!
Straightening using ginormous velcro rollers. It's really interesting the way my hair color changes in different lighting. Sometimes it's dark brown, sometimes it's deep red, and in the sun it's super red.
And last but not least, more scarf curls. I used smaller sections and ended up with spiral curls.
You'll notice how much my hair has grown too! I really should have measured it before I began this journey but the photo below is from November 2014. I had just gotten it cut and colored at the salon. She used all kinds of straightening serums, a blow dryer with a round brush, and a flat iron.
This one I just took last week on April 20th after a recent henna application. This was after air drying and I think I had used some aloe juice as a leave in conditioner. I mix it 50/50 with water, put it in a spray bottle, and spray it in after I get out of the shower. I definitely need a trim along the bottom but now that it's growing so much I don't want to cut it! And look how shiny it is. That's from the henna, lots of deep treatments with coconut milk and aloe, and overnight oiling. (That's where I massage jojoba oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or whatever suits me that day into my scalp at bedtime. I comb it through, put it up in a bun, sleep on it, and wash it out the next day with the castile soap/coconut milk shampoo.)
You be the judge! Seems to be working to me.