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The Lab Rat: My “No-Poo” Do

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I have not washed my hair in three months. Yes, on purpose. 

On July 20th, I decided to stop washing my hair. There were many reasons for my decision, some environmental, such as the wasteful plastic generated by shampoo bottles and the thought of shampoo leaching into our groundwater. Some reasons were personal, such as my hatred of dragging huge tubs of hair product on every vacation. The main reason, though, is the belief that our hair doesn’t really need shampoo at all. 

The driving force behind the “no-poo” movement is the idea that our hair produces enough natural oils to keep it shiny and healthy and shampooing strips away these oils, making hair dry and brittle, as well as causing the other problems that hair products are supposed to “fix.” For years, I’ve heard stories about people who claim not to wash their hair, or to only use conditioner, but how many people actually try out those recommendations? Although I’d tried alternative hair cleansers before, I’d never completely given up my every-other-day wash. But I thought that if I could make my hair healthier while saving money on beauty products and helping the environment at the same time, I would give it a shot. 

And So It Begins …
I was prepared for the fact that in many ways, my hair is less-than-ideal for this experiment. Although it’s dry and not oily, it’s incredibly curly and textured. I also use styling products—a lot of them—and I wondered exactly what would happen without shampoo to wash away the residue. Curly girls are encouraged to shampoo less often anyway, so I decided that my new regimen would be shampoo- and conditioner-less—I’d just rinse thoroughly in the shower, still use my old styling products, and every couple of weeks I’d “wash” with baking soda to eliminate grime. (Some blogs and Web sites recommend using vinegar as a conditioner.) It seemed simple. 

After doing loads of research and reading blogs about giving up shampoo, it seemed that the first few weeks of transition were supposedly the hardest. My hair didn’t get as itchy or greasy as I’d been led to believe it would, but it often looked lank or drowsy. Rinses with baking soda definitely helped to wash away buildup, but there were a lot of ponytail days at first, even if nobody else seemed to notice a difference. I thought that after the initial period of discomfort, my hair would acclimate and become manageable again, but in fact, I began to notice significantly more flyaways and frizzies, which I tried to smooth with hair products. But without conditioner to tame my curls, it became unruly, and I began having trouble working my styling products through my hair. It didn’t feel soft and silky like the no-shampoo blogs had promised, even as I began to get more and more compliments on my hair’s improved body and texture. I wasn’t crazy about the way it felt, but I couldn’t deny that my hair had rarely looked better.  

Eventually I started to have terrible snarls that I couldn’t untangle without using a wide-tooth comb. I hated raking the comb through my hair, leaving giant gobs of discarded strands in the drain, but it was the only way to get rid of the snarls. The big problem was that even though I was supposedly being kinder to my hair by allowing it to retain its natural oils, the new regimen was actually more damaging, since the detangling and styling were resulting in so much more breakage. Eventually, even the number of compliments on my hair weren’t enough to make the new regimen worth it, since I was actually spending even more time on my hair than before, pulling and tugging on snarls and painstakingly coating every strand of hair with product. 

A Tweak for the Weak
By late September, I was just about done with pulling out giant clumps of hair every morning, and the ends were feeling more and more dry and strawlike. (I was also a little afraid to go near open flames or stables.) One day, in a moment of particular weakness, my hair felt so dry and thrashed that I decided a little bit of conditioner couldn’t hurt—immediately, it became bouncy and soft again, with all the texture, but none of the snarls and tangles.   

Honestly, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t completely kick the hair product habit. To me, the best outcome of my experiment would have been ending up with lustrous, shiny, naturally perfect curls without any products at all. The worst case scenario was that it would be a disaster and I’d go crawling back to my bottle of chemicals. It turns out that the end result is somewhere in the middle, but leaning slightly toward the no-poo side. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever totally break my addiction to the beauty aisle. However, even though I can’t get away from conditioner, I have no plans to start using shampoo again, and I think that my hair looks better right now than it has in years. Even on days when I don’t style my hair, it still looks great. I even shed less now, leading me to envision a future where my hair is strong, healthy, and breakage-free.  

I made it through the uncomfortable first couple of shampoo-less weeks, but I know that plenty of people are far more addicted to shampoo than I was, and for them, it might be harder to break the habit. For them, it might be those first greasy days that make things difficult, while for me, it was the unrepentant tangles. Ultimately, it’s just another personal choice, and for every dozen stories about people who gave up shampoo and love it, there are a few stories of people who just couldn’t do without it. I think it’s liberating to know that I really can get by with one less beauty product clogging up my shower caddy. The no-poo movement may not be for you, but it’s definitely for me. 

Photo: The author reveals her no-poo do. 

The Lab Rat is dedicated to testing curious and dubious beauty, fitness, food, and lifestyle trends. If you’ve ever wondered whether a particular pop culture fad is worth trying or buying, email The Lab Rat at


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