Q: I’ve been using a silicone-free conditioner to just co-wash for the last 6 months or so, and it worked well at first. I’ve started to get more oily lately and added in a sulfate-free shampoo, but I’m thinking about switching to baking soda and a/c vinegar. Does this give my hair everything it needs? If not, do you have other natural options?
A: To fully understand how to take care of your hair, you first have to understand your hair. Naturally, your hair and scalp produce what they need to cleanse and condition properly. Each hair strand begins in your scalp in what we call the “hair follicle”. This is the true “root” of your hair strand, as it is where growth begins and it is completely below the surface of your scalp. Near the base of your hair follicle is the “sebaceous gland”, or the oil gland. The oil gland secretes lubricating oil to cleanse and condition the scalp and hair and give it the moisture it needs. In theory, it should be all we need and we should be able to rinse with water and something acidic when the oil builds up and have clean, moisturized, healthy hair and scalp.
For centuries, women have been using this formula in the name of beauty, hygiene, and social status. Egyptians used to wash their hair with water and citric juices, then paint mud all over their heads to try to tame frizz and make their hair look shinier. French women used to make their own combination of clay and water to rinse oils out of their hair. Even women in America during the early 19th century would rarely wash their hair, knowing how harsh and drying alkaline soaps could be on their long hair. Instead, they would wash their hair brushes every day before doing their “100 strokes” before bedtime. The point of which was to distribute the oils at their scalp to the ends of their hair, which needed the moisture. This would allow them to go about one to three weeks in between washing.
Then came the first shampoo. At first, a miracle. And then, grossly misused and misunderstood. Ever since the first shampoo was introduced in the 1920s and then the first cream rinse shortly thereafter, we have been misusing the product. In the five years I’ve been dressing hair, it has become a daily conversation to teach my clients (and sister and boyfriend and friends) how to wash their hair properly. Our grandmother’s went a bit crazy when they finally had a viable option for washing their hair and now, we are still misusing it.
The problem with shampoo is that it strips our hair of the natural oils that our sebaceous gland secretes. We need those oils. As I explained, they moisturize and rehydrate and can take care of our hair properly if we can find the perfect balance. Most people think they have to wash their hair everyday… I know I used to. And when you do, you take what little oil your glands have been able to produce since the previous day and wash them out, replacing them with what your shampoo is made of and allowing your sebaceous gland to begin working overtime to produce the oils it can seem to keep. And then you likely go in with your conditioner close to the scalp and add even more heavy oil. Spend enough time doing this, and you will quickly notice your hair looking and feeling greasy. And wondering why you are washing your hair so often and getting nowhere. So you wash more and it gets even worse.
After hearing these complaints and doing my own research, I’ve come to what I feel is the best solution. I use it, my boyfriend uses it, my clients use it, and I think you should, too. I wash my hair about every three to four days. In this day, we have so many environmental factors to consider and most of us use products in our hair, so about once a week is pretty necessary. I have some clients with coarse, thick hair who can go longer, but you will just have to see how your hair takes to the new routine. On day one, I use a sulfate-free, paraben-free shampoo that boasts the use of lavender and grapefruit peel oil to balance and regenerate. I also use the conditioner that is ph balanced to work perfectly with it, but I only use it on the last four inches of my hair. Anyone that has longer hair would use it in the bit of hair that would go into a ponytail. I can usually go two more days with my hair unwashed. If I go one more day beyond that, I use a little bit of dry shampoo or a powder to soak up any unwanted grease, however, there usually isn’t much. My hair is pretty shiny, soft, and healthy. When I first began this routine, it took my hair about two months to adjust. But once I stopped washing out the natural oils I needed and replacing them with harsh shampoo, my hair kicked into gear and became healthy and hydrated again. This is why when you when first began the current routine you are on, it worked really well at first. Because you were giving your hair a break from shampoo and your hair was loving it!
I understand the concept behind the “no-poo” fad because as I’ve said, shampoos can be harsh. But they are only harsh when misused. My best advice to you would be to use the modern day conveniences we have. We are blessed to have a shampoo option and beyond that, options that are organic, sulfate and paraben-free, not tested on animals, and free and clear of chemicals. For some great options, I suggest Neuma, Pureology, Kevin Murphy, or Oribe. I would suggest using these as infrequently as you can get away with to start and then training your hair to go even longer between washing if possible. I would also use the conditioner that is ph balanced to work with your given shampoo every time you wash, but only through the ends. Beyond that, you can brush your hair and scalp regularly to distribute the oil, use a silk pillow to prevent damage and drying while you sleep, and use a soft, micro fiber towel to dry your hair off after washing. And of course, a dry shampoo in between for those days when it’s more humid or your scalp seems to be extra oily. Do this for two months and you will be astonished at how your hair looks, feels, and quite frankly, smells.
I hope this information helps and thank you so much for submitting your question!