I have had quite the journey to zero waste hair care. I had finally (sort of) figured out my curls in college when I decided to go to zero waste and had to re-evaluate all my products and styling tools. I didn't realize how much had changed until I wrote a blog about my zero waste curly hair routine. These days, I only get my hair wet a couple of times per week, I do regular hair masks, I avoid hot tools, and I never use shampoo. Giving up shampoo was one of the strangest and best things to come out of this whole hair journey, and once I figured out how to get through the adjustment period, I found my hair was much happier on the other side. Recently on Instagram stories, I mentioned that I quit shampoo and we got a flood of questions about how to do it. So here we are!
I grew up using drug store shampoos like Aussie and Herbal Essences, so it's taken some time to arrive at high quality natural ingredient hair care. When I first started experimenting with zero waste shampoos, I found the shampoo bar from Dulse & Rugosa, and later the just-add-water shampoo from Salon Solids. They are both great products and gave my hair volume, but I finally realized my specific curl type need a lot more moisture and also protein to get the curl definition I was looking for. Although you can find curl specific shampoos that don't strip the oils from your hair, I realized I was putting my hair and my scalp through a cleansing cycle that it didn't really need. I wanted a healthy scalp, I wanted voluminous roots, and I wanted happy curls. So after a lot of reading and Youtube videos, I decided to try going off shampoo for awhile and just see what happened.
I'm not going to lie, when I first tried quitting shampoo, it didn't go great. I told a friend's older sister I had stopped washing my hair and she responded "yeah, you can tell!" This made me laugh (classic older sister comment), but it also reminded me that I should find some minimal effort ways to make sure you could not, in fact, tell. My roots were probably a little oily some days, but the real problem was that I didn't have the volume or curl I wanted.
The first thing I did was to DIY a zero waste dry shampoo. (At the time I had read from Bea Johnson's recipes that arrowroot powder worked as a dry shampoo. Since then, I came across a more robust homemade dry shampoo recipe, but we also have dry shampoo in bulk now.) My idea was that if I could go longer between washes, but still hide any grease in my roots, I would eventually be able to give up shampoo altogether. As I soon discovered, that's partially true but not completely. Dry shampoo is great, but it isn't meant to be used more than a day or two in a row. It can actually clog your scalp, causing some irritation or flakiness, which is exactly what happened to me.
The benefits of brushing out your hair
Above: brushing temporarily softens my curls, but it brings the healthy oils from the roots to the tips to create a natural cleansing cycle
To have a healthy scalp, what you want to do is spend about five minutes brushing your hair out at least once a week. Sounds pretty simple, but five minutes feels longer than you might think. You're not trying to get the tangles out here, you're actually trying to activate circulation in your scalp, declog your pores, and most importantly, redistribute the natural oils from the roots to the tips. You will watch your hair go from normal to very oily in those five minutes. And that's good! It's nature's way of conditioning your hair and balancing your scalp. This has done wonders for getting rid of my itchy, flaky scalp and making it so I don't need shampoo in the first place.
Once I started doing this, you couldn't really tell that I wasn't washing my hair, and now each time I brush it out, I simply have to rinse thoroughly with warm water and apply a conditioner, and my hair is back to its happy, curly self. There was a transition period while I introduced the brushing, but it really only lasted a couple of weeks.
Note: It's important to brush when your hair is dry so you avoid breakage, and for curls I would highly recommend a wooden hair brush. This is to reduce frizz and protect your hair but it's also compostable at end of life.
Instead of shampoo...
Once I've brushed my hair, I immediately hop in the shower and rinse it out well, massage my scalp with my fingertips, and then condition with a curl specific conditioner. I apply the conditioner throughout, from root to tip. I like to scrunch the conditioner into my hair to encourage curls instead of squeezing or combing it through, especially if I've just finished brushing it. I leave the conditioner in for a few minutes before rinsing most of it out. After the shower, I will style with orange marmalade curl styler. Brush day is the one time where I might use a blow dryer on low heat with a diffuser, to re-activate my curls and get some volume back in the roots. Sometimes I will scrunch up the curls (never twist) and put it in a very high messy bun until it dries, which usually results in what I have named Lion Hair. That approach is probably not curly girl method approved but it works for me, especially if I'm in a hurry. Lots of curl, lots of body.
One other thing I do if I feel my scalp needs a little extra help balancing or rinsing the oil out is a vinegar rinse. I won't get into that here, but you can read my blog about how and when to do a vinegar hair rinse at the bottom of this article about hair masks.
I feel obligated to tell you that I do shower more than 2 times a week! It's just that some of those times, I don't get my hair wet. If I've done a workout but my curls are still in good shape, I'll tie my hair up with a scarf or a claw clip to get it out of the way. Other times, I'll rinse it just to re-style. At least 2 or 3 times a week, I condition my hair. No matter what, whenever I get my hair wet whether it's swimming in the ocean or rinsing to re-style, I apply a little bit of argan oil or leave-in conditioner to lock in the moisture. Lastly, I always dry with a Turkish towel or cotton t-shirt to reduce frizz.
Other things I do?
Sleep on a silk pillowcase (I got mine off of Etsy) which helps my second day curls look fresh. I haven't used hot tools in almost two years. From what I've read, they can be quite damaging for curls, so I quit straightening my hair and haven't looked back. I've finally been able to embrace my natural hair! Thank you to the modern beauty movement for normalizing natural. Although I have found a great curly haired hair dresser, I have been cutting my own hair for the last two years. I am probably not the best at this, but I know what I like, and no matter what I tell hair dressers, they always seem to cut my hair when it's wet and straight. I feel like I need to cut it dry and styled to know how the curls will behave and not cut it too short. Lastly, I do a hair mask once every other week.
That, my dear friends, is how I quit shampoo! My curls aren't perfect day to day, but my hair health has much improved because of my new routine, and I think even my friend's older sister would say you can't tell. 😉 Have you tried giving up shampoo? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments.