Green living

Plastic-Free Hair Care

March 11, 2018

I decided to stop washing my hair with conventional products almost exactly two years ago (though for years I’d often used more environmentally friendly products) as a result of researching for this article on ethical beauty. As I researched, I found myself going down an unexpected avenue of thought around hair care as I discovered lots of articles about either not washing your hair at all (lovingly called ‘no-poo’) or using natural ingredients.

Something clicked in me and I decided there and then it was no more conventional products for me. Time to try a different approach to my hair and see what happened.

When I decide on something, I throw myself in. So, suddenly I found myself totally preoccupied with trying new things, and my lovely family grew used to me doing things like harvesting and whizzing up aloe vera gel from our plant to try on my hair with honey (it didn’t work!), or soaking brown rice in water for a few days and washing my hair with the strained water. I remember one morning Greg looking at me with incredulity as I whisked up a raw egg in a dish and carried it upstairs to the bathroom….

Having read around, I decided I wasn’t going to go for the full ‘no-poo’ approach. It looked as if that didn’t work so well with hard water, and I figured that living in today’s polluted atmosphere meant my hair probably did need to be washed. But I thought if I stopped using chemical-filled products that stripped my hair of its natural oil (hence provoking it to produce more, which is why conventionally-washed hair needs washing again so quickly) it couldn’t help but be incredibly good for my hair and I could reduce how often I washed it, plus I’d be stopping using all those plastic bottles and would take another step away from the conventional beauty industry that ironically does us so much damage.

I kept a hair diary for the first three months, noting down each day how it was feeling, noting when I washed it and with what, whether it worked, how long I could go between washes etc. And my eldest daughter joined me and also stopped using conventional products.

So, two years in, how is it going? Well, here is what I’ve learnt:


  1. It helps that I don’t dye my hair or style it with any products (I don’t style it at all), and that it’s long so I can just put it back if it’s not looking so good. In the early days that was a real bonus. I don’t know how all this would work on dyed and styled hair.


  1. It does certainly go through a transition phase as your hair takes a while to catch up with the fact that it doesn’t need to produce so much oil anymore. How long that takes really does vary person-to-person but I see from my diary that by about four weeks I was beginning to notice a change.


  1. As in so many areas when you move away from conventional ways of doing things, your whole perception of what ‘normal’ is changes: and so part of this is changing your understanding of what natural hair feels like. When we use conventional conditioner, we’re not actually conditioning our hair in any way that benefits it (‘conditioner’ is a total misnomer): what we’re doing is applying chemicals that smooth down the hair and coat it to make it feel a particular way. That’s why the adverts say ‘for healthy looking hair’ – companies can’t actually claim that the hair is healthy, it only looks healthy. Actually, the opposite is happening – we are damaging our hair by using those products.


(Where the conditioning comes in is that we have been conditioned to think our hair should look a certain way and so it takes time to adjust to hair that is truly natural.)


  1. My hair has definitely changed. It is noticeably thicker than previously; I can go much longer between washes (I often leave it ten days, putting it back for the last few days); it doesn’t get itchy between washes like it used to, and the ends don’t split anything like they used to, making me realise just how much damage I was causing it with conventional products.


  1. My hair is inevitably getting older with streaks of grey, and my conclusion is that letting it go natural means I don’t always get the look I might get it if I smothered it with chemicals. And that’s a choice I make. I am aware my hair doesn’t quite look like Nicole Scherzinger or Sheryl Whatever-her-surname-is-now, but…you know… I can live with that!


  1. For my eldest daughter though, the results have been incredible and her hair has been absolutely transformed. It’s become long, thick and lush. She has hardly any split ends, and when she brushes it it’s like a golden curtain! I don’t know if it’s because her hair type is different to mine or because her hair is ‘younger’ (or if it is to do with the oil – see below). All I know is that it’s made a huge difference.


  1. So what do I use? I had great fun trying all sorts of different things and have settled on a few that work for me:
  • My basic ‘go to’ is one or a combination of some strange-sounding things I’ve discovered: shikakai, aritha and amla. They are different dried Indian fruits (aritha is actually the Indian name for soapnuts) and you can mix them with water to form a paste that you use to wash your hair with. I won’t say more because of the length of this article, but you can find out more online.
  • My other ‘go to’ is simply an egg! Egg contains both naturally cleansing lecithin and all sorts of good conditioning amino acids and other things (I’m not very technical!). I just whisk it up a bit, wet my hair in the shower, apply it (yes it does feel funny) and rub it in, leave it on while I have my shower and rinse it out (don’t use very hot water as you’ll end up with scrambled egg in your hair!). Your hair will feel different but I find it works surprisingly well. Sometimes I mix in a teaspoon or so of the shikakai and other things in the first point, and that’s really nice.
  • Bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar. I suspect these ingredients aren’t good for your hair long term so I don’t use them regularly, but if I want my hair to look particularly nice I use these because they have the best effect on my hair ever. Dilute a tablespoon of bicarb in 250ml of warm water, and a tbsp of acv in another 250ml of warm water. Wet your hair, pour over the bicarb mixture and leave for a few minutes or while you wash. Rinse it out. Then pour over the acv mixture and rinse that out.
  • Although I haven’t used them regularly, I do like the shampoo bars from Lush too and they have worked well when I’ve borrowed one from a friend and tried them.
  • I let my hair dry naturally and, once it’s just damp, I like to put a bit of oil on the ends. You can use any oil really, but coconut oil is the classic. Mali regularly oils her hair – mixing up coconut, almond and olive oil and rubbing it through her hair, then leaving it overnight before washing out with the shikakai mix. That’s too much for my hair, but hers thrives on it.

My overall conclusion is that we have been totally conned by the big pharmaceutical companies into spending literally billions of pounds on plastic, chemical-filled products that actually do our hair no good and pollute the natural world.

It’s time for a revolution!

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  • Reply Simon Leighton March 12, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Hi Ruth, thanks for this post! Great to hear the experience of others who have ditched the commercial hair products!

    I went ‘no poo’ back in summer 2014 and never looked back! It’s saved me a ton of money for starters as well as avoiding all those plastic bottles! Like you said you can go so much longer without washing your hair, I’ve made it past the two week mark plenty of times and my hair looks fine.

    It’s like you’ve said we’re lead to assume hair should be shiny and smell like flowers which is not what healthy hair is like. My hair, looks, feels and smells different but not in a bad way at all.

    The tips I would add are:

    A boar bristle brush is amazing! I use mine morning and evening everyday, as a guy with shorter hair its become a substitute for any kind of styling products. This is all I need to get my hair up how I like it. It also serves to redistribute the hair sebum, coating the hairs to keep them nourished while adding that little bit of hold, if my hair is looking slightly greasy, a good brush makes the world of difference. It’s also quite an enjoyable experience!

    I’ve had good experiences washing with honey. A dessert spoon of honey melted with some warm water makes a great shampoo alternative, smells great and tastes nice if it gets in your mouth! Leaves my hair feeling really nourished and healthy. Honey is naturally slightly acidic which is the natural ph of your hair. This is the problem with bicarb which is alkaline, which is why people tend to follow with the acidic ACV rinse. I just never bothered with the bicarb. the ACV rinse is my go to.

    Interesting what you say about the oils. I’ve recently started using my homemade beard oil in my hair like a conditioner massaging it in, leaving a few minutes and rinsing out. This is working really well, makes my feel thicker and healthier with a bit more volume and body. This may be better for some than leaving in over night? It a blend of carrier oils (Argan, Jojoba, Sweet almond, grapeseed, castor) and my homemade essential oil scent blend.

    • Reply Ruth April 29, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      So sorry Simon I’ve only just seen this! But great – I’m really pleased to hear about your own experiences. It’s a whole new way :-). All the best to you.

  • Reply Waneta Dawn March 14, 2018 at 8:19 am

    I found a recipe for a homemade hair dye. I changed it to meet my “requirements,” and discovered it is more successful at giving my hair body. It replaces mouse, styling gel and hair spray. I boil about 10 Tbsp of rosemary (not ground. Rosemary is the ingredient that gives the hair body and manageability.) 10 bags of black tea, and 10 Tbsp of dark coffee. Boil these together perhaps 30 to 60 min. Allow to cool. Strain the mixture into a 8 ounce (+ or -) sprayer. You may want to strain 2 or more times, since sediment does stop the sprayer. One can also apply via a puddle in the palm of your hand. Add 5-10 drops of sage essential oil to each sprayer to discourage spoilage. For fun, add a scent you love to smell when you apply the spray. Keep the remainder in frig or freezer until needed. With the sage added, the product in the sprayer has been ok being unrefrigerated. Enjoy your manageable, scented hair. Toss the boiled coffee, tea and rosemary into the compost pile. (Note: rosemary used alone can give hair a greenish tinge.) This mixture washes out every time you wash your hair. It is not thick, so you may want to apply it several times, giving the hair time to partially or totally dry between applications to avoid getting drips on your skin and clothes. If hair is silver or white, this mix will only tint it, but it is still useful for its delivery of natural body and manageability.

  • Reply Ruth April 29, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    That sounds really good, Waneta, thank you so much for sharing it here. Very interesting – there’s so much we can learn!

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