As the title suggests: I tried to do no-poo for 18 days. That’s no shampooing my hair at all, and if possible not washing for as long as my hair will permit, starting 1st June.
Yep, perhaps I have gone crazy, or perhaps I’ve been newly inspired? Or perhaps I’m just next level lazy. But now that lockdown is easing and I have had my COVID vaccine, what better way to celebrate re-engaging in social life but to… not wash my hair for almost 3 weeks. Lol. (To clarify, I am still showering during this period, just not shampooing my hair. Hygiene is important.)
To be fair, it’s something I have attempted and failed a couple of times in the past, so I don’t have high hopes that it’ll somehow come to fruition this time. In fact, this attempt comes hot off the tail of another failed attempt. I lasted about 4 days before my scalp got so itchy and gross that I had to wash it with water, and a week before I gave up and had to shampoo my hair. Same thing happened at the start of quarantine when I first saw videos about it cropping up on YouTube.
But COVID restrictions are being lifted, I have a much-needed haircut scheduled for 18th June, so figured I may as well try once more as a last hurrah, and will make sure to tip my hairdresser well when the time comes haha.
When I was younger, I only washed my hair every 3-5 days and it was always fine, but at some point in my life it was stigmatised and I was told that I should be washing my hair daily. That never came naturally to me because my hair just… never got that greasy or gross in a day? I did start washing my hair more frequently, and now that I think about it, all it did was make my hair greasier if I didn’t shampoo & condition it every day or two.
Fast forward to these days, there’s a huge No-Poo movement where many, many people claim to have not shampooed their hair for months or years and their hair looks great. All of a sudden I don’t feel bad for not washing my hair as frequently, and if there’s a chance I could wash it even less frequently and have it still be fine, perfect haha.
Naturally, if you’re reading this post, it means that… well, something has happened. Either I gave up, or I succeeded. Either way, there will be photos of potentially very gross-looking hair and scalp so if you’re morbidly curious and not easily disgusted, read on. If you don’t want to read about my full experience and would just like to skip to my key takeaways from this, click here.
Okie dokie, here’s Day 1:
I’d just washed my hair with shampoo and conditioner the night before, and these photos were taken in the morning. I guess as well as showing my squeaky clean hair, I’m also noticing that my hair is thinning. Urk. I swear the gap in my hair parting did not used to be that big. Gah!
Alright, not to gross you all out too much but these couple photos were taken first thing in the morning after not washing my hair at all for the past 4 days. I hadn’t brushed my hair yet, and the lighting and dishevelled way my hair landed made it was look extra rank in the photo on the left. However, the photo on the right was taken almost immediately afterwards, after I… repositioned my hair? LOL. Gotta hide that white patch, and apparently all I need to make my hair look less greasy is to change my parting. Oh, and stand further away from the window haha.
Then these photos below were taken only 2 minutes later. I brushed my hair. What a difference it made, eh?
To be honest, it’s not looking too bad. I think I’m doing better than before too; my last failed attempt had me desperate to wash it on day 4 with painfully itchy and greasy scalp, but this time I’d gone through day 4 and been completely fine. I hadn’t even felt the need to wash it with water yet, and after brushing it a few times it doesn’t look too different from day 1. Apart from my white hair; they’re definitely less hidden in these pics. Mmmm, love me some signs of ageing.
I’m pleased to report I have been doing quite well…? Yesterday I washed my hair for the first time since I started, and used water only. It was fine. I didn’t feel like it needed to be washed, per se; my scalp wasn’t super itchy and I wasn’t at the point where I was desperate to wash it, but I wanted to wash it to get excess dirt or what have you out. Plus, hair hygiene.
I was doing some research into the whole no-poo thing online and apparently a lot of people use alternatives and not just water. Well, blow me over with a feather. Castile soap is a popular one so I’m probably going to go out and buy some of that and see how it goes. I’ve read mixed reviews on baking soda/apple cider vinegar washes and am going to pass on that because I don’t want to risk damaging my hair, since the whole point of going no-poo is to… reduce… damage…? Anyways!
The other thing I’d discovered was people do this thing called screening and pritching. Wait, that’s scritching and preening. Basically like gently scrubbing/rubbing your scalp like you would do when you’re shampooing, which causes your head to create more oils, then the preening is using your fingertips to bring the oil down your hair in small sections.
I had started getting some small flecks of what I originally thought was dandruff but apparently it’s excess sebum. Either way it was a little unpleasant and I wanted to get rid of it. So I tried the scritching and preening thing. But really, if I already had excess sebum/oil, the last thing I needed to do was create more of it by scritching. Preening would have been enough. I guess that’s what made me finally decide I needed to wash my hair lol.
Combing and preening my hair before showering really helped. I washed my hair while preening it gently this time, on lukewarm water, then gently dabbed it dry with an old t-shirt. It was really comfortable actually. I’d like to add that by this time I’ve also become accustomed to the new feel of my hair, which is quite different from post-shampoo and conditioning.
My hair is naturally fine, but it always felt incredibly dry if I only shampooed, and if I also used conditioner then it became so soft that styling it in any sort of way apart from with a ponytail became near impossible. Gravity just needed to do its thing and my hair would come tumbling down.
Now, there are natural oils in my hair that allows it to hold more shape and volume. It’s no longer feeling as limp and fine while still being a decent level of softness and I kind of like it. It doesn’t feel greasy but because there is more oil in it, it feels different. Maybe like… more moisturised? As if I’d put moisturiser on my hair is probably the best way I could describe it.
It took some getting used to because I’ve never put moisturiser on my hair before so I didn’t understand what the new ‘normal’ feeling of it should be like. It’s like the first time I tried a new moisturising face wash; in the past I expected everything to be washed off and my face to “feel clean” (and dry). But the new moisturiser left my face feeling… moisturised. And I thought that feeling meant it was dirty, but it wasn’t.
The excess sebum can be a bit of an issue sometimes but I’ve been able to just wash most of it off over the sink. I’d get a little bit of water on one hand and just lightly wash my hairline and voila. Don’t even need to wash my whole head. You’re probably curious what my hair looks like right now? Of course I have updated photos :)
These I took right after I woke up and hadn’t brushed my hair yet at all. Not too bad! You can definitely see it’s no longer as soft as day 1 and I don’t really mind that. My hair has some natural curl to it and it was still slightly damp when I slept on it so it’s looking extra messy today.
The next set of photos are after brushing my hair. There are more flecks of sebum after brushing, which I guess makes sense because brushing near my scalp kinda activated it a bit.
But the biggest difference is the volume! My fringe isn’t just purely limp like before. See how it’s slightly lifted and framing my face? I could never get it to stay like that before, even if I used some sort of hair spray or other product, it’d just fall right back down. Now I don’t need any hair products to keep its shape, which works perfectly for me because I’m way too lazy to do my hair anyway.
I think I’ve finally cracked it. I believe I have discovered the answer; why people say you need to brush your hair a lot, especially with a wooden comb: because after much, much brushing, and getting the sebum from your scalp to the tips, it really does get really, really lovely.
I mean, I hope it’s not just me tooting my own horn but just look at this… Plastic combs really don’t distribute the oils like a wooden one does.
My hair looks and feels suuuper soft. And actually the more that I brushed, the softer and more luscious it became. I only roughly brushed it in the morning in the photos above, but I went back and brushed it a little more, then decided that the above photos didn’t do it justice. So I took some new ones. I know the soft light makes my hair look particularly soft and golden… but I kid you not it really does make such a difference.
I didn’t really bother taking photos on these days, because my hair really did just kind of chill out and look like day 11 on a daily basis. Some things I noticed though:
- The sebum traps a lot of dirt and grime and when you brush with your wooden comb, it helps to brush a lot of the sebum out of your hair entirely, so you get the dirt and gross stuff out. This did, however, mean that I ended up brushing my hair for 1-2 hours sometimes.
- I had to brush my hair a LOT after showering. I’d gently dab it with a cotton t-shirt to get some excess water out, then wrap it in the t-shirt to let it continue drying for a little while, and then literally comb it dry thereafter while trying to get the sebum down. This sometimes took 1-2hrs given the length of my hair, but it did mean that when I was finally done, my hair was looking and feeling great. The downside is, naturally, this was painfully time consuming.
- My hair felt fuller and softer, just like it usually does after shampooing and conditioning, but this time it was being conditioned by my own natural hair oils. And I didn’t even need any hair products because I would be able to just take some of those natural oils while running my hand through my hair, and just use that to give it a bit more volume and style.
- Sebum would collect on my comb and hands and it was really difficult to get out. I originally tried to scrape it out between the teeth of the comb, but it’d still stick on and was damaging the comb. Then I realised the easiest way to clean it would be to use a bit of shampoo on it and voila, all sebum gone. Seriously shampoo really does take the oil out like *snap* that.
On day 15 I washed my hair with water again because it’d been hot lately so my hair was getting gross. This time I took my wooden comb into the shower with me so I could brush it through in the shower to get it more clean. I got a few chunks of sebum out in the shower and otherwise my hair felt great; it was much easier to wash it with just water when I was able to comb it in the shower.
However, when I was brushing my hair again the next day I noticed that my hair started to develop a lot more breakages and split ends (previously I could look down at my hair see none), and I’m guessing that was due to excessive brushing or combing too harshly. The sebum that gets brushed out of my hair would stick together in clumps, which, on the bright side, made it easier to brush out, but on the flip side, because it’s so sticky it would cause my hair to tangle and then break when I’m trying to brush it out.
I’d been using a finer-toothed comb until this point because I felt like the finer teeth helped clean out the sebum more, but after I noticed this I switched to a wider-toothed comb, which felt much better and seemed to pull out less of my hair. It was still decently effective at distributing my hair oils and brushing out chunks of sebum. I tried to be more gentle with brushing as well. Good thing I was getting a haircut on Friday anyway so all those split ends would be cut off.
Also on day 16 I washed my hair with water again because I worked out and was all sweaty and gross. Sweat is water soluble so it’s fine to just wash it with water. I took my wide-toothed comb into the shower with me this time. This was the third time I’d washed my hair since starting no-poo. I did a workout on day 17 too but my scalp didn’t feel as gross so I didn’t bother washing my hair. It was getting washed and cut the day after anyway.
Top tip for water washing only by the way: go into shower with your hair up, wash your body first and then let down your hair to wash with water. That way you don’t get shower gel on your hair when you’re washing your body.
Let me preface this with I was not feeling well today. Ugh, it’s probably the excessive heat coupled with cold aircon that’s causing my body grief. I slept in late but still felt gross and groggy. My head started hurting as well, which was not fun. I almost considered cancelling my hair appointment but I took an aspirin and sucked it up and went. I’m glad I did because, despite the 41°C heat (106°F), as crazy as it sounds, I quite enjoyed being outside today.
But anyways, here are the photos I took right after I got up… as you can see, very, very groggy. And my hair’s messy and unbrushed.
As usual, after I brush my hair, there’s more sebum, so my hair looks a little more oily at the top until I brush it all through.
Today, though, I wasn’t going to bother brushing it too much because I was getting it cut. You can see that even though I didn’t brush my hair too much, it still looked fine when I went out. My hair has natural curls, so they look delicate when they frame my face, and the natural oils in my hair give it that volume I previously wrote about. Pardon the expression on my face, my headache was only barely beginning to subside at this point.
So onto my salon story! What’s it like to go to a hairdressers when you’re doing no-poo? Even though I’d only been doing no-poo for 18 days I still feel like it has been a very successful run (now that I think about it, it was probably helped substantially by my prior ‘failed’ attempt because I’d been training my hair to go longer between washes at that point already).
My hairdresser said that my hair looked strong and healthy and wondered why I was even getting it cut haha. Thus, clearly no-poo hadn’t been doing anything drastically bad to it, or so I’d like to say anecdotally over just 18 days! I told her I was doing no-poo, but I said it was fine for her to use shampoo today… She was lovely, though, so I wonder how it would have been if I asked for her not to use shampoo.
I asked her to go easy on the shampoo though and she did, but I think there was damage done regardless. My hair felt tingly and not necessarily in a good way when she was shampooing it. She went very easy on the conditioner too and only conditioned the bottom of my hair (which all got cut off anyway), but it wasn’t until I got home and took off my face mask that I realised just how strongly the shampoo smelled.
It made me feel a little nauseous, actually. That’s another thing I noticed over the past 18 days: I used to love using Herbal Essences and loved the smell of it, but since I’ve become accustomed to the scent of my own hair, even when I used shampoo to clean sebum off my hands or comb, I felt like it smelled really strong. Like, the scent of perfume in the shampoo was too strong for my liking.
I’m not sure how this one-time shampooing is going to affect my hair and its natural oils moving forward, but as soon as I got home I washed my hair with water again to try and get the smell of shampoo out as best as I could. I wanted my hair to smell like my hair again please. I’m not sure which brand she used but when I go back I’m definitely just going to ask for washing with water only. There’s no point being embarrassed or shy about it and I’d much rather not deal with the strong scent again.
Here’s my before hair right after shampooing:
And here’s my after:
She kindly didn’t use any products to style my hair and cut it according to its natural curls. I quite like it! The shape from the side as she styled it was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately my natural curls like to just go wherever they please so it already doesn’t look like that after my shower at home haha. From the front it looks a bit plain though, but I still like it. Well, mostly I just like the lack of hair and appreciate that it’s a cut I could never do myself with a pair of craft scissors over the sink in front of a mirror LOL.
I’m kinda disappointed I didn’t ask her to save some of my hair so that I could donate it, but I guess because it was being styled, the amount that I could have donated wouldn’t have been much anyway. Either way, that’s a lot of hair gone wooohoooooo! Good riddance, it was getting unbearably hot and heavy, especially with the heatwave we’ve been having in the Bay Area. Shorter hair would be far easier to do no-poo with as well.
…Yep, that’s right, I fully intend on continuing no-poo. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, I’ve enjoyed what it’s done for my hair and all in all, I see no reason to go back to regular shampoo for now. I’ve learned quite a bit through this experience and it’s been great for me. I was talking to one of my friends about it and, when she saw what it did to my hair, she said she wanted to give it a go because she had major hair envy. Even Jacky says he wants to try it and he’s always washed his hair daily for as long as he can remember.
It hasn’t stopped me from doing what I wanted (went for a hike on day 5, went to our friend’s house to help them paint on day 6, went out for walks, still did workouts etc.), though there were a couple of days I felt my hair had a bit too much sebum so I didn’t want to leave the apt. I could have just washed my hair but I also didn’t want to be over-washing during this ‘trial’ period.
One thing I haven’t tried is washing with a little diluted Castile soap or some sort of Castile soap rinse. I would like to try one every now and again to give my hair a better clean but since I’ve just had my hair shampooed, I’m not touching it for a while.
So, my key takeaways and top tips for water washing only:
(If you want more context to any of them, please read my full experience above!)
- Use a wide toothed, good quality wooden comb to brush your hair; be gentle, but brush long and enough to get dirty chunks of sebum out, which helps to naturally clean your hair.
- Expect to brush for a long time, depending on how long your hair is. No-poo is not low-maintenance by any stretch of the imagination.
- Use a little shampoo to wash the excess sebum off your hands and comb.
- It’s fine to wash your hair with water as usual after a workout.
- For longer hair, tie it up before you shower. Finish washing your body with whatever body wash you use first, then let your hair down and wash your hair to prevent body wash from getting on your hair.
- Brush your hair in the shower as well to help clean it more.
That’s it! Are you interested in no-poo? Have you tried it before? If so, any tips for me as I continue? Please let me know!