I haven’t used prefabricated shampoo or conditioner in almost a year. In fact, I haven’t used anything that remotely resembles shampoo or conditioner, but I can pick up my “hair products” at the grocery store. During these months, no one has politely informed me that the rats have moved into my hair or started leaving well-intended yet anonymous notes about personal hygiene on my desk at work.
Perhaps you don’t want to read about my hair-maintenance routine. After all, I can hardly be trusted as a source of hair-care expertise. I frequently have helmet hair because I ride a bicycle to work most days. I don’t blow-dry my hair. I have my hair cut about twice a year because I think going to the salon is outrageously expensive. When I was in elementary school, my well-meaning-yet-lived-in-a-bubble elementary school teacher was concerned that I was being neglected because my hair went every whichway except into French braids and cute little bows like the other girls’ tresses in Blue Valley. Years later, when I was an unruly teenager with the coiffure to match, my dad dragged me into a salon with a curling iron and a blow-dryer and implored the stylist to teach me how to use them.
My hair and I have the kind of relationship where we try to undermine each other in public, but I’d also never willingly make my hair look like an oily mass of road kill either. I may accept what my hair does with few protests or manipulations, but I also want to look in the mirror and like the way my hair looks naturally more days than not. Last January, I switched to using baking soda and apple cider vinegar on my hair. Although the switch is easy enough to make cold turkey, it’s also an extended experiment with proportions and pacing until you discover the correct quantities for your individual hair type. For my thin-yet-so-much-wave hair, about a tablespoon of baking powder and vinegar every other day seems to do the trick. Store-bought apple cider vinegar is an easy option, but I’ve also used homemade mulled blackberry vinegar, which smelled quite nice!
Using my hair products is straightforward. I keep a small mixing container and a jar of vinegar in the shower. On “shampoo” days, I’ll add about a tablespoon of baking soda to my mixing container. Then, I add water to the container and mix until it’s somewhat dissolved. I pour the baking-soda mixture to my hair and massage it into my scalp. After rinsing, I add about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the container, dilute it with water, and then pour the mixture over my hair, making sure to apply the vinegar conditioner thoroughly to my hair. Sometimes, if my hair could use some extra conditioning, I’ll use coconut oil either as a 30 minute hot-oil conditioning treatment or run a tiny amount through my ends as a conditioning “product.”
In the nearly a year I’ve been using this routine, my hair hasn’t undergone any dramatic transformations. I had read on some blogs about how women’s hair seemed to blossom into fountains of shimmering tresses that demanded to be touched and felt. Some women claimed to be accosted by strangers asking for their hair-care secrets. I’ll make no such claims. Instead, I can safely say my hair is as much as it always has been. The only appreciable difference I have noticed is that I seem to have a wider variety of natural highlights and shades of color in my hair than I did before. The difference is subtle, but I like it all the same.
Although my no-poo hair routine hasn’t resulted in any substantive change to my still untamed tresses, I have decided to continue using baking soda and vinegar. I began using them when I was exploring biodegradable and natural products to use on my hair to reduce my environmental footprint. Although many individuals who abstain from using shampoo claim important health benefits, the studies seem inconclusive, and those who scoff that my hair must smell like pickles or negatively impede my ability to interact with the larger world are wrong both because my hair doesn’t smell pickled and because my awkwardness is more of an impediment to social conventions than my hair ever could be. Aside from my desire to reduce my environmental footprint and use natural products, I’m also frugal. Baking soda and apple cider vinegar are cheap, especially when bought in bulk.
For me, going without shampoo has made fiscal and environmental sense. It’s a simple, minor change to my lifestyle, but I have always believed that the small choices we make in life reveal the most about what we value.