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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 coats 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.)
- 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 use to, making me realise just how much damage I was causing it with conventional products.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!