Washing with water

We’ve come to the end of Plastic Free July and what an enjoyable, eye-opening time it’s been. I’ve met some lovely business owners and workers who understand the concept of producing less waste and will write about that in another post or two.

In July, I definitely reduced my plastic intake, but of course, no one is perfect so a few things still crept in. But I didn’t touch the top four nasties – bottled water and softdrinks, straws, all unnecessary* plastic bags (as per normal) and takeaway tea or hot chocolate (I don’t drink coffee). These are small but life-affirming wins for me!

I set another self-imposed challenge for the month … to finally do “no poo” – where you don’t wash your hair with shampoo or conditioner. Read more about the whole concept at this website. Some people wash with baking soda and rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar, others use solid soap and/or conditioner bars, some just even use conditioner only, but I wanted to be as minimal as possible.

Before the experiment:

My hair is very fine but there’s enough of it. It alternates between frizzy and limp. I’ve never been an excessive user of hair products, but on “special occasions” I’d try some mousse, hairspray, or volumizing powder. It’s time to ditch the lot of it!

Trying “no poo” has been on my wishlist for years, but I kept losing my nerve because there was a work event, or someone was having a party or someone’s dog had kittens … you get my drift. So when a work function on 28 June for 80 people passed, the window of opportunity opened.

Inspired by Ariana at paris-to-go, I decided to go straight for the desired end result – to wash only with water. We have very hard water here in Bern, with a lot of calcium, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

After the first week, I realised the lack of a transition period to just water might have been wishful thinking, so in an attempt to break down the oils a bit, every Saturday I “washed” my hair with the juice of one lemon, then rinsed it out completely.

Week one:

My hair felt good, it was slightly heavier and not so wispy, which is great because all the fine, tickly bits around my face (the aftermath of a terrible haircut) drive me crazy. I started a pre-bedtime routine – a scalp massage with my fingers for a few minutes, then brushing vigorously for about 10 minutes with a boar-bristle brush.

Week two:

I finally told Leo what I was up to, because there were some oilier moments this week! I washed my hair three times, and in between noticed it was becoming hard to brush, as the oils made the hair sit in strange directions. It almost had a life of its own! The nightly massages and brushing continued and the brush had to be washed after every use, because it would fill up with hair and a white kind of powder, which I have since read is sebum. At first I thought it was calcium buildup from the water. But it turns out it’s just all part of the process of natural haircare.

Week three:

I wore my hair up for most of this week and started wondering if anyone from work had noticed a change. Hair loss was another reason I decided to ditch the chemicals, but at this stage it feels like I’m still losing the same amount. Maybe this will change with time. The thought of light, fluffy hair was tempting, but I stayed strong! Leo’s been very supportive about the whole experiment too.

Week four:

On July 28, I asked my two male colleagues if they’d noticed anything strange about my hair over the previous month. Neither had an inkling (but I’m not really surprised at all!). On July 30, I posed the same question to visitors and the female’s only comment was my hair didn’t look as shiny as normal, and I agree. Maybe this is why people use the apple cider vinegar as a rinse? Leo asked if our hair is really meant to be so glossy? A good question and food for thought.

I turned a corner in the fourth week, and it feels like my hair, while still oily, isn’t AS oily. My regrowth is doing my head in though, and my hair definitely looks darker sans shampoo, but I’m avoiding the hairdresser for a while (they are so expensive in Switzerland, like most things!). I made a pact that when Plastic Free July finished, I would dye my own hair.

So today, August 1, the national day of Switzerland, I used the dreaded plastic gloves in the box of hair dye (argh!), and the plastic applicator tube (guilt!). While I feel like I’ve let the team down, I know I won’t be doing this too many times again in the future. Eventually my hair will be its natural, boring *gulp* mouse-brown colour. I may even try bulk henna in the future. But for now, that two-tone had to go! I did use a small dollop of the toning conditioner that came in the box, to try to set the colour. I have to admit my hair feels deliciously soft and weightless because of it!

The future:

I will definitely keep going without plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Maybe down the track I’ll try a shampoo/soap bar, but I’ve made a pact to give this water-only experiment a chance until we go to Australia at the end of the year. I’ll slowly fade out the lemon rinse to maybe once every two weeks, then once a month, to see how that goes. I haven’t had any problems with itchiness or flakiness or a dry scalp, which is great.

Do you do “no poo”? Have you tried washing with just water? Did you use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar? Do you swear by the baking soda method (a lot of people say it can be very drying)? I’d love to hear about how your experiments did or didn’t work for you.

If you’d like to read about more real-life no shampoo stories, here’s an article from The Art of Simple, from Just Primal Things (4 months with just water) and from The Hairpin (three years). You’ll find hundreds of examples doing a quick internet search. Of course they are all personal experiences and it differs for everyone, which is part of the fun (and patience required!) when trying something new.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

*I asked the local supermarket meat counter if I could use my own container. They said no for health and safety reasons. I had no time to find another butcher, so reluctantly accepted the steaks in a thin sheet of plastic, placed in a waxy paper sleeve. This is where my efforts really kicked in, knowing there had to be a better alternative out there …

8 thoughts on “Washing with water

  1. Ionela Mîndrescu says:

    I tried using just lemon juice for washing the hair, or apple and honey vinegar. I also tried the baking soda method, but unfortunately none of them were effective in removing the excess sebum from the roots, so I had to give it up after a few weeks (my hair is very fine and typically becomes oily after 2 days, at most). The one method that did work and I give it a go every once in a while, when I want to give my hair a break, is washing it with Indian ayurvedic herbs (shikakai, reetha, neem, amla and methi ), ground and infused with hot water. They really work miracles sometimes. Another thing that I often use is egg yolk, which I separate and use as a shampoo, massage the scalp and leave it in for about 10 mins, and then remove with concentrated warm lemon water. Twice, it leaves any residue. As for hair dyes, I’ve only used pure henna powder (body art quality) to dye my hair during the past 13 years, and I would never dream of using any chemicals ever again (after some horrid experiences in my youth). However, my hair is dark, so the henna only adds a nice acajou tint. But what I wouldn’t give to have lighter hair, so that henna would give it that wonderful deep Irish red color. After using henna for such a long time, I noticed that it’s a great conditioner and appears to have made my hair a bit stronger and thicker.

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    • fitfor15in15 says:

      Wow Ionela, it’s so wonderful to hear from you! What great insights and experiences! You’ve been doing this for a while, which is fantastic. Your hair is amazing and looks so lush and healthy, whatever you’re doing it’s working! I know what you mean about the oil and sebum. I almost gave up after week three, but when I got to week four, it seemed to get better. And then I went and dyed my hair – hopefully it doesn’t send me back to square one again. Washing with the Indian ayurvedic herbs sounds fantastic, I will definitely add that to my experiment list, thank you. Henna is on the list too (what I would do for stronger and thicker!), and now so is an egg! I wonder, when washing the egg out, if it will scramble if the water is too hot?! 😀 xx

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      • Ionela Mindrescu says:

        The egg will not ‘cook’ if you carefully remove the egg white and rinse with warm instead of hot water 🙂 I’ve had a few interesting experiences at first, when I didn’t know this.
        As for the rest, thank you. I try not to use any hair products, ever. The only thing I do use is a soft Romanian plant-based shampoo and that’s it. Also, sometimes I apply some extravirgin olive oil (also mixed in the henna paste I make myself at home woth henna powder, lemon juice, a tbsp of natural honey, olive oil, egg yolk and paprika – sounds delicious, right? 🙂 The crude olive oil is not easy to remove from roots and scalp, but it will go away eventually with lemon juice, baking soda etc.
        Btw, even if you dyed it, that’s not a problem. It’s not so easy going completely natural, particularly when we expect / are expected to look and feel a certain way 🙂

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  2. swissrose says:

    My mum used henna powder as a conditioner years ago and it was very good – and it’s a natural product, I believe.
    I haven’t gone completely no-poo but as I let my greys grow out a few years ago due to the chemicals in dyes I have gone very low maintenance. I use the cheapest shampoo from Migros which incidentally got one of the highest marks on being “natural” in a Kassensturz test (no parabens for instance) and it works fine for me – I also only wash my hair 1-2x week and use very little of the product. I’ve stopped using anything else on my hair, which is now long and curlier than it ever used to be… No-poo definitely takes a lot of patience until the natural balance of oils returns and yes, maybe different expectations of how hair “should” be! I find it’s not the oiliness that makes me wash my hair so much as the build-up on my scalp that can get itchy and call for a massage and rinse. You’re probably exactly right in doing massage and brushing!

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    • fitfor15in15 says:

      I’m hearing good things about henna, swissrose. I’ll keep an eye out for it in bulk, perhaps I can find it from an Indian foods store (which I’ve never seen but hope exists here!) It sounds like you’ve found the perfect balance for your haircare needs. Low maintenance is such a relief! A slick ponytail can work wonders – just look at the stir Robert Palmer’s backup girls caused! 😀 (Maybe we should ask our respectives for a scalp massage before bed, as part of the experiment?!)

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  3. Inge says:

    Great read! I really like that you keep going. For me the whole process took really long but now I only wash my hair with water every now an then. How much money I save!
    My hair also turned into a much darker color and is heavier now, not oily though. I’d love to be that blond girl again but my poor hair and scalp was in such a bad condition back then.
    If you keep going, all will be good!

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    • fitfor15in15 says:

      Hi Inge,
      Thank you for your story, and for the encouragement! This week it feels like things have really started to progress. After dying my hair on Monday, I washed it on Friday with water (didn’t really need to though!) and it still feels light and clean. It feels weird looking in the mirror, but I’ll soon get used to not being blonde anymore ahahahaha!

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