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.
This article was written in April 2019 but I updated it with some of my favorite new finds in July 2020!
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.
Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective
The lush conditioner bar really didn't cut it for my curls. I need a bit more hydration and moisture - curls tend to just drink moisture! However, we found a cocoa butter conditioner bar for Eco Collective that I love, especially for travel!
Update: We found the dreamiest curly hair conditioner, in bulk! It's thick, creamy, and locks in the hydration which really helps shape and define my curls. I adore it. You can order it from our bulk section even if you don't live in Seattle! Check it out.
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.
Update: I found a leave-in conditioner spray for Eco Collective! I'm obsessed with it. Great for detangling and just locking in your healthy natural oils. A must for curly hair!
Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective
I learned from Stevie Van Horn that if you brush your hair for at least 2-3 minutes every few days, it brings the oils that develop in your roots all the way to the ends, naturally conditioning your hair. It also exfoliates your scalp and increases blood flow, which promotes hair growth. Hello!
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.
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.
The other trick I love is using dry shampoo between washes! Aersol cans can be really damaging to the environment, so 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.
My hair is dirty blonde, but for darker 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!
Update: we now have a premixed dry shampoo in bulk! It's made with baking soda, cornstarch, aloe leaf powder and other hair healthy ingredients. I keep mine in a small mason jar with a shaker lid. I also wrote a blog about how to match your dry shampoo to your hair color!
Sometimes I'll do an apple cider vinegar rinse for scalp health and a little extra shine!
Dry shampoo, $2.01/oz. at Eco Collective
I still have the quandary of styling gel. It's been on the back burner as I finish using up the styler I have, taking comfort in the fact that I've reduced the amount of packaging by quite a bit by buying the largest size I could find. Recently, I’ve been inspired to explore recipes for making your own curling gel... I’ve have found that ingredients like flax seeds, coconut and castor oil also have a wonderful effect on curls, so I’ll be experimenting with my own recipes soon.
Update! We found an amazing styling gel in bulk that has totally replaced my old favorite that came in plastic. It has a lot of hold, for defined curls and you can order it in a mason jar if you're local or an aluminum bottle if you live farther away!
If you want less hold and more shine for your beach waves, or just a way to condition and style at the same time, I also really love our curl custard.
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.
When I'm trying to pack light, I use a dry formula styling gel that you mix with hot water to make when you get to your destination. It comes in a little packet, and it's absolutely brilliant. Pro tip: you can add more or less water to get the consistency you like. I do a little less water than instructed for a stronger hold. And don't forget a little jar or cup to store it in while you're traveling!
Metal soap tin, $4.99 at Eco Collective
It's an ongoing journey!
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.
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!