My zero waste curly hair routine

I have a very unpredictable head of curls, and once I figured out a routine in college, I stuck to it like a religion. But I hated going through those plastic shampoo, conditioner and styling gel bottles. I had switched to paraben and sulfate free products to be more Earth-friendly, but the packaging still felt excessive. When I started going zero waste in 2016, I started a new curly hair journey to see what worked for me.

It starts with experimentation

To be honest, the first thing I did was to buy a salon size bottle of the curl styling gel I loved, to hold me over while I experimented with zero waste hair products. Having this bulk version of my favorite product as a backup made it way easier to take the plunge of trying all kinds of sustainable products until I found a new routine I loved.

I started using the Lovely Rita shampoo bar from Dulse & Rugosa and a conditioner bar from Lush, to see how I liked them.


The shampoo bar comes in paper, is packed with nutrients, and was an easy switch to make. It was cleansing without stripping my hair of its natural oils, and I started shampooing my hair less often.


Genevieve washing her hair with a shampoo bar

Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective


The conditioner bar was great, but it wasn’t giving my hair quite enough moisture. Curls drink moisture. I tried using apple cider vinegar, but it wasn’t quite right for me either.

After a little research, I learned from Stevie Van Horn that brushing your hair for at least 2-3 minutes every few days brings the oils that develop in your roots all the way to the ends, naturally conditioning your hair.  A wooden brush helps to reduce static and breakage, and lets your hair reap the most benefits from this biweekly brushing ritual. This helped my hair health quite a bit and simplified my routine, allowing me to go longer between washes because my scalp and my hair were more balanced.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered a leave-in conditioner spray in bulk at the Soap Dispensary up in Vancouver. It was lightweight, and the perfect thing to tame flyaways and nourish my curls. This in combination with my conditioner bar and regular brushing has become my new routine.

Wooden hair brush and glass jars filled with hair product

Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective


Instead of relying on the volume I used to get from regular shampooing, I learned to dry my hair in a way that diffused my curls and lifted my roots. There are so many great videos about how to diffuse curly hair.

Dry shampoo

The other trick I love is using dry shampoo between washes! I had switched from aerosol cans to a salt shaker style brand from Captain Blankenship, but I was still concerned about the life span of the packaging. I was delighted when I learned Bea Johnson’s hack of using arrowroot powder for dry shampoo. It’s lightweight, soft instead of grainy, and so cheap! I get mine from our bulk section at Eco Collective.

I’ve never colored my hair so it's usually a blonde to brown mix, but for dark hair my friend Sedona Christina suggests applying dry shampoo the night before so it soaks up the oils overnight; by the time you wake up, voila, no white flecks!

Scooping dry shampoo in the bulk section

Organic arrowroot powder, $1.75/oz. at Eco Collective

Styling gel

I still have the quandary of styling gel. It's been on the back burner as I finish using up the large bottle I have, taking comfort in the fact that I've reduced the amount of packaging by quite a bit. Recently, I’ve been inspired to explore recipes for making your own curling gel. I’ve have found that ingredients like coconut and castor oil also have a wonderful effect on curls, so I’ll be experimenting with my own recipes soon.

On the go

When I travel, I put my shampoo bar in a soap tin and bring a little glass jar of conditioner and one of curl gel. If I’m going to the beach, I’ll throw my wooden brush in my bag as well because hello, tangles! And I never leave home without an organic cotton hair tie.

Soap tin

Metal soap tin, $4.99 at Eco Collective

It's an ongoing journey!

The wonderful part about Eco Collective is that if we can’t find a product in bulk locally, we make a point to buy it in bulk for our store! We joke that the bulk section is our personal armory of zero waste. We just added a curly hair conditioner, a leave-in conditioner and a bulk styling gel. After all my exploring, I’ve really enjoyed the brands we chose.

It took a long time to create the perfect zero waste routine for my hair, but it has been so worth it! My hair is the healthiest it's ever been. My advice is to go natural, take the time to learn about your hair type, and have fun trying new things from local brands you love.

Genevieve and her healthy curly hair

If my curly hair journey has taught me anything, it’s that every one’s hair is unique.  What works for your hair?  What have been your favorite zero waste solutions? Tell us in the comments below!


  • Genevieve Livingston

    Hi Shelby! Thanks for reading – I love these questions. I also get the 80’s look when I brush my hair dry :D. I tend to brush it right before I wash my hair, so twice a week at the very most. Some curly hair specialists say to brush it when it’s wet, so I’m not sure which causes less breakage. For second or third day curls, there’s a few things I do. I use dry shampoo to get the volume back, and a lot of times I’ll put my hair in two french braids, mist it with a leave-in conditioner spray, and let it dry before unbraiding to get some waves going again. Another trick is to lightly wet your hair in the sink and use a little styling gel. Also, search Pinterest for “monday morning hair styles” when you’re feeling like rocking the no-styling look. Curly hair journeys are the best!

  • Shelby

    When do you brush your hair? Even if I use a wooden paddle, brushing my dry hair becomes a frizzy mess so I’m assuming you brush when it is wet? Also what do you do for second-day (and third, etc.) curls? I feel like my best curls are after a shower but I don’t want to have to either shower or throw it in a bun if there is another way!
    Thanks so much and always excited to hear about curly hair journeys!

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