Help my hair survive a trek to Everest Base Camp
September 11, 2010 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be doing a 16 day trek soon, with no opportunity to wash my hair during that time. I would like to look good in the photos (and avoid a nasty itchy scalp) - how can I keep my hair looking good, or at least not looking like I've been dunked in a vat of oil?

I have thick, shoulder-blade length hair. I wash my hair about once a week normally (I have dry hair - any more often and it turns into a massive frizzball). This includes days when I go to the gym and get sweaty. The other 6 days water doesn't touch my hair. That might sound gross, but this has been my routine for several years and my hair looks good and doesn't smell or get greasy until day 7.

On trek, a "shower" will consist of a bowl of lukewarm water in the evening - perfectly adequate for washing me, but not suitable for washing / rinsing my hair. Plus for most of the trek, it will be too cold to even consider a cold water wash.

Can I "train" my hair to last an extra day each cycle to get up towards 16 days?

I've heard of dry shampoo - does it work? Recommendations for products available in the UK would be great...

Should I just suck it up and resign myself to wearing a beanie with my hair in pigtails for the last week of the trek?

Any other suggestions welcome...
posted by finding.perdita to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would put in in a braid or two and just leave it. Unbraiding and rebraiding every couple of days may prevent or alleviate itch.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 5:23 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you take baking soda with you? I've used a few teaspoons on longer hair in the past with okay results. I've also used perfumed talc, but the perfume annoyed me.

I read Into Thin Air a few weeks ago--the trip sounds pretty rigorous. Enjoy!
posted by dragonplayer at 5:25 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dry shampoo would be worth a try, at least. I've used baby powder in a pinch before - more for situations like needing to run to the store for milk on a weekend morning than for two straight weeks without a shower. But hey, why not? You basically have nothing to lose in this situation. Especially since you're already only washing it once a week.

I don't think "training" will work - I've been trying to train an extra day between washes into my oily hair for years. No difference.

Rinsing occasionally might help, too. You wouldn't need to completely soak, lather, and rinse - just wet your head. I find that a pint of water is plenty to completely soak my hair. If you were curious about that sort of thing.
posted by Sara C. at 5:32 PM on September 11, 2010

Most of the "no poo" schemes I've heard of involve frequent rinses with cider vinegar. So probably not ideal for two water-restricted weeks where one will be constantly on the move.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on September 11, 2010

I have shoulder-length hair, usually worn in a ponytail. I shampoo my hair maybe once a month, though I have gone several months without a washing. I do rinse it in the shower most days, but not always. I don't use dust or dry shampoo or anything. And I'm a big, sweaty guy. I've asked my wife to let me know if my hair gets nasty or smelly, and she hasn't noticed anything. I wash it after camping trips, to get out the campfire smoke smell, but that's about it.

Don't worry about it. You'll be fine.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:36 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes dry shampoo works, I've used Batiste and Klorane in the UK - Klorane was better for my hair. I'd experiment before you go in case it flakes up on you or you're sensitive to it or something. Klorane is hypoallergenic, I can't remember if Batiste is or not. Klorane is also okay for frequent use.

16 days is a fairly long time though, and grease won't be the only dirty stuff in your hair. If you can wash it every now and then that's be better I suspect, but for in between times it should be okay.

Mini plaits never worked for me, way too itchy - but a good old fashioned headscarf does wonders. Wrap up in one every day and it should stay clean enough for dry shampoo only.
posted by shinybaum at 5:36 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe have a professional braid your hair? I've heard that some people get braided dreads for Burning Man week. I don't know how well they come out, but maybe something like that. I'd ask a professional.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:43 PM on September 11, 2010

I've used trucker/no-rinse shampoo before--it's worth a shot, although as kalessin stated, I've heard of plenty of people swearing by not washing their hair. Apparently you can't train it; you just need to go a really long time without shampooing your hair before it resets its natural oils. Think of it like going through coffee withdrawal: it suuuuucks at first, but when it's over, you feel much better. Here's an interesting blog about it.

Also: nothing wrong with pigtails and cute caps!
posted by blazingunicorn at 7:21 PM on September 11, 2010

Another place to get no-rinse shampoo is from a medical supply store. It's used in nursing homes and the like.
posted by CathyG at 8:08 PM on September 11, 2010

Best answer: I think that just rinsing it, massaging your scalp really well, with that lukewarm water once, halfway through the trip, will totally suffice. Be extra-minimal with the personal washing that day and do your head instead.

/I also have thick, wavy, dry hair
posted by desuetude at 8:27 PM on September 11, 2010

I did the not washing your hair thing for a couple years, but while I wasn't using soap I was using a load of hot water. Also, until my scalp caught on to the fact that it could ratchet things down a bit my hair looked pretty rough. You probably are ahead of the game in this regard since haven't been washing your hair every day.

Avoid getting stuff into your hair to begin with. Braiding your hair is a good idea. Or follow Bob Marley's lead and get yourself a tam or something to keep your hair up in whenever there is a chance that what you're doing will get into your hair. (I can't imagine the grief of getting sawdust out of dreadlocks.)

Also, get a natural bristle brush and go crazy with it every morning and every evening. Wash the brush last of all when you wash up in the morning.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:51 PM on September 11, 2010

Best answer: Try to avoid touching your own hair (braids would be a good idea for this reason). Your skin contains oils that will contribute to greasiness.
posted by jojobobo at 9:19 PM on September 11, 2010

Seconding the baking soda treatment - I have been "shampoo-free" for 2-3 years now - but suggest you start a coupla weeks in advance, if at all possible, to give your scalp a chance to adjust & lower its sebaceous oil output. The adjustment period is extra-itchy time!

Most of the "no poo" schemes I've heard of involve frequent rinses with cider vinegar. So probably not ideal for two water-restricted weeks where one will be constantly on the move.

Sara C., the purpose of the vinegar is to neutralize the baking soda. Not necessary if your hair isn't really long, and not necessary in the short term.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:59 PM on September 11, 2010

Lots of places in Khumbu you'll get enough water to wash your hair. Squeeze some extra stove fuel and a folding bucket into your pack. Then wash your hair normally.
posted by Ahab at 11:24 PM on September 11, 2010

You can pick up Batiste in pretty much any decent sized chemist or supermarket. It also comes in various scents, (which is good if you want to cover up the smell of unwashed hair, not so much if you have allergies,) I like the coconut/tropical one.

Batiste is mostly marketed at people attending weekend festivals, though. If you go with dry shampoo, I'd hunt around for the brands aimed at the bedridden, which may be more effective longterm.

But I think getting cornrows would be easier for your situation. No need to carry cans of spray or hairbrushes around with you and it'll keep your hair off your face.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:10 AM on September 12, 2010

Best answer: Batiste is best if you have blonde hair, as even their spray for dark hair is very light. Bumble & Bumble hair powder is more expensive, but much better for dark hair.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:03 AM on September 12, 2010

Would cutting your hair short just for the length of the trip reduce the chances of it getting stringy/ oily and looking bad in pictures? Also, shorter hair would mean less water needed to wash it if you decided to use that day's water allotment for your hair, or even for the use of dry shampoo.

Also, I second the use of Bumble and Bumble hair powder for dark hair.
posted by Everydayville at 11:45 AM on September 12, 2010

Brushing it is supposed to redistribute the oils.
posted by gjc at 1:43 PM on September 12, 2010

Best answer: Seconding Ahab - you can wash your hair there. Not every day, but enough. Some of the tea houses above Namche offer "showers" - you'll see signs. They boil up some water for you, and put it in a bucket with holes drilled in the bottom (or similar DIY type solutions). Also, if you're going in November (high hiking season), it's not THAT cold, I seem to remember washing mine in a few cold lakes/streams (with appropriately environmentally friendly products). I have naturally greasy hair, and I'm not obsessed with cleanliness but not a slob, but I don't recall ever thinking "ugh, my hair is sooooo gross!" We did usually wear hats or beanies, since it was either extremely sunny and/or chilly. And pony tails, braids, etc. became the order of the day bc of the breeze, hair would be everywhere.

I wouldn't worry about it too much; Just smile in the pics, you'll look great!

An idea might be to bring a small sun shower. On our hike anyway, we only really hiked in the morning, and spent the afternoon bumming around camp playing cards or drinking tea in the huts. (The length of hiking days is limited by altitute gained, not distance or tiredness). Plenty of time to warm up the water on sunny days (we had plenty of sunny days my year).

Have fun!
posted by bluesky78987 at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all! (I love the fact that a question which, lets face it, is all about my vanity, gets more posts than questions about kit or training)

Cornrows / braids - I did think about that, but they'd leave some exposed (very pale) skin which would need sunscreen, which would defeat the purpose for me.

Cutting my hair short - good suggestion, but short hair doesn't suit me at all (I learned the hard way)

Self-cleaning - I've thought about this, but I have an office job, so can't afford to let it go manky before it gets better

I'm taking the Gokyo Lakes route rather than the Khumbu valley route, so tea houses have less competition and fewer facilities. But on a short trek day, I guess I could deal with cold water - good point.

Thanks again!
posted by finding.perdita at 4:15 PM on September 13, 2010

After having a surgery that made it extremely painful to raise my arms or lean in any direction, I tried various methods to keep my hair "clean" and non-itchy for a week to two weeks until I recovered. None worked well. But here's my experience with various methods. I have long, fine, straight hair that gets greasy a day quicker than my thicker-haired friends. I wash my hair every other day normally, but can go three days before I feel it's outwardly noticeable. My number one method is to wash my bangs, not my hair. This can allow me to stretch it an extra day or two and pass for freshly showered, but obviously you need bangs. (However, washing only the topmost layer of hair may work the same.)

1. French Braid--my mom braided my hair on day one. I was hoping this would be the long term solution, but she made it a bit too tight and then it began to itch. I took it out by the end of the night. I think I could have gone at least 7 days were it to have been better constructed, but probably not more than that without the itching being maddening.

2. Cornstarch--I have tried this on numerous occasions when I have to go to a function and haven't washed up. It turns my hair "grey" and doesn't seem to remove any grease.

3. Liquid sprays that are said to "clean hair" (Pur Express by Jean Marc Maniatis, etc...) These, I find, make hair look greasier. It may smell good and clean and perfumy, but I don't think they aid in aesthetics.

4. Wetting hair lightly and toweling it off--again, this almost makes it look greasier and can make it itch.

5. Wiping my hair with a pad soaked in rubbing alcohol--no real effect.

6. Using oil blotting papers or even tissue and toilet paper to absorb the oil--the oil blotting paper was covered in oil, but my hair was still oily as well. Tissue and toilet paper made me look like I had dandruff the more aggressive I became at "making it work."

Oddly, I never tried dry shampoos because they were all too expensive in my opinion and I just broke down and washed my hair.

If I were you and could already go one week, I'd try the braid option for the hike to be sure my hair doesn't pick up lots of dust and then maybe take it down for the picture. Even with fine hair, when my hair has been braided and is all kinky, I can pass for showered because the curl detracts from the greasier scalp area. Or I might experiment with washing only the topmost layer of hair in a cup of water and see if that helps any.

Good luck!
posted by LillyBird at 10:07 PM on September 18, 2010

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