Six weeks no-poo and I see Farrah in the distance...
March 26, 2014 1:17 AM   Subscribe

I made the leap and stopped shampooing my hair six weeks ago, learned how a high pH can really mess it up and have almost found my outer Farrah. Enter the apple cider vinegar rinse. Do you do this? What is the right way? My approach needs finesse. No-poo MeFippies: help me tweak my routine.

Recent post-shower itchies and scratchies sent me on a tear of discovery about using simpler, cleaner products with fewer or no chemicals. That's when I discovered a lot of people go "no-poo" and wash instead with baking soda or castile soap. I decided to try this for a month.

I have shoulder-length, fine, straight(ish) used-to-be-blond-but-now-dishwatery hair, cut in long layers. It is normal, as in not oily or dry. I wash it at least every other day. Without conditioner it's too dry and full of static. I've frequently used product, a mousse or gel or something. It can still be very flat. (Except for that one time in Hawaii where my host had me squish hibiscus leaves in a tub of water and use the sudsy result as a hair rinse in place of anything else. Then I was Farrah. My hair was insanely soft and full of body and it deserved to be in a commercial. I should have taken the hint then. But then again, it could have been the humidity).

Fast forward to week one of the no-poo experiment. I washed with Dr. Bronner's lavender (still using regular conditioner at that point) in a mop of wet hair (my version of diluting). I was Farrah again. It looked amazing! I washed every other day. But after several washings it began to look oily, so I stopped conditioning. It looked dull and unwashed, and I began to get a dry flaky scalp. Finally I learned about the necessity of the vinegar rinse (apparently I'd ramped up the pH and needed to lower it with an acidic rinse). My scalp recovered quickly after I began rinsing.

First I tried straight apple cider vinegar. I emerged from the shower with my hair looking greasy. Then I diluted with water 1:1. Much better, but still looked a bit oily by the end of the day. So I diluted further, perhaps 1:4. Still better, and the better days seem to be the ones where I rinse with my head upside down (letting the near-face hair get a less-direct rinse). Too much, it's oily looking. Too little and my hair becomes a bit dry and staticky. One unavoidable point here is that we have awful water, so hard with minerals it turns the tub green. I know this is a factor, but assume I can do nothing about this.

My general opinion thus far is wow, my hair looks and feels really healthy. It's soft, never tangles and has far more natural body than it ever has. More of a toned-down Farrah for the first day, and then it relaxes a bit by the second day. I definitely have to wash at least every other day or my hair begins to look oily. The extent seems directly related to how much I rinse, and I wonder if I'm missing a simple step. I've read over and over how people who go no-poo sometimes wash hair just once or twice a week, and I can't imagine doing that unless I get this figured out.

So what is the optimal dilution of water to ACV?
How much should I use when I rinse? (a lot? a little? does it matter?)
How long should I leave it in? (does time matter?)
Do I have to rinse every single time I wash, or is every other time ok?
Would ACV vs white vinegar make a difference?
Are there other home-sourced options that I should try? (I know Dr. B makes a commercial rinse)
I've used product (e.g., mousse, gel) just once or twice along the way, and it has very little effect. Is it possible the no-poo regimen changes the chemistry of my hair enough that it renders standard product useless? If so, are there home-sourced options for bodifying product?

Any other suggestions or anecdotes that may help? I'm definitely a convert but could use your collective expertise! Thanks!
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I use nothing at all, just comb it out under the shower.

The first month was itchy and flaky, but then it settled down. Now it's shiny without being greasy, and looks thicker than when I used shampoo and conditioner. It feels nice through my fingers. Never going back. Two years in, no troubles.
posted by bigtex at 1:36 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't used anything on my hair apart from water in at least three years, maybe four (it's been so long, I've lost track). Just water in the shower, and tbh most of the time when I shower I put my hair up in a clip, so really I rely on brushing to remove any lint or debris, and let my scalp take care of itself. Idk if this is relevant, but I use a The Body Shop wood quilled brush.

I do remember that by about day 10 it was greasy and itchy and horrible, and I would surely have given up (as I had quit several previous attempts at this stage), but I happened to get quite sick that day, and my hair experiment was the least of my worries. By the time I was well enough to re-evaluate my hair condition, it had started to improve and the itch had gone, so I persisted. But I really only got through that stage without caving and grabbing the shampoo because I couldn't. That part is the hardest

My hair took a lot longer (months) to truly settle than most no-poo bloggers say, but then again, they were using baking soda and ACV and I just used water, plus I had long hair even then. I would never go back either.
posted by Pigpen at 2:55 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: I used to shampoo with Dr Bonner's and an infusion of herbs (don't ask) and while my hair (blonde, very fine, oil-prone, ear-lobe length bob) felt terrific, it looked limp and flat. Even though I used a cider vinegar rinse to cut the effect of the soap, pouring a glug of vinegar into a very large plastic pitcher, adding shower water until full and awkwardly pouring it over my head.

Eventually I gave up on the shampoo but recently hit upon the idea of mixing the cider vinegar with xanthan gum powder which I bought off a DIY cosmetics site. It's a thickener and only needs a pinch to make the vinegar/water mixture gel into a conditioner-like glob. Much easier to use and now I can travel with it.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

When I wanted to try no-poo I found a helpful livejournal community which had lots of anecdotal advice, admittedly a lot of it contradictory! There doesn't seem to be any consensus other than trial and error to see what your hair likes. They probably do have a lot of specific advice about dilutions of ACV though. Try googling "no poo livejournal community" or something like that.

One thing I do remember reading is that Dr. Bronner's can be super harsh (don't ask me for specifics), and it seems that that isn't a variable you've adjusted at all- perhaps consider playing around with the cleaning part as well as the rinsing part of your routine?
posted by mymbleth at 3:12 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I rinse with apple cider vinegar, but I also use shampoo (Aveda). I've lost track of the website where I found the exact measurements and started to just eyeball it as my hair got longer. I have a 32 oz plastic cup from a fast food place in my shower; I fill it most of the way up with hot water then add a decent splash of the vinegar, dump it over my head and rinse. My (shoulder-length, curly) hair has been much prettier and more manageable since I started doing this and I eventually mean to drop the shampoo also.
posted by mibo at 3:46 AM on March 26, 2014

I'm not into no-poo, so I don't have much to add there, but it is important to know that washing your hair with dr bronners is essentially washing your hair with soap, which doesn't seem very no-poo.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:14 AM on March 26, 2014 [18 favorites]

I used a few drops of Dr bronners in 12 oz of water with about a tablespoon of baking soda. Of I get my proportions wrong and use to much of either my hair gets weird and sticky no matter what I do with vinegar afterwards. So yes, try dialing back how much of that you're using.
Also I make sure to really scrub my scalp. Not with my nails but fingertips so it helps loosen up all the dead skin cells and such. And have you tried a board hair brush? A lot of people seas by it for distributing oils. I didn't see any results with it though.

It takes time to figure out what proportions of vinegar you need. I do a couple tablespoons in a 12 oz of water. Just a little on my scalp but focus on getting it on the rest of my hair. And rinsing in cold water helps.
All my measurments are eye balled... I use water bottles witha a pop up top which makes it easier to squirt where I want it.
posted by missriss89 at 4:42 AM on March 26, 2014

Another thing you might try is brushing out your hair with a natural-bristle brush to distribute the oils more evenly.
posted by specialagentwebb at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2014

Just to sound a boring cautionary note, but I'm not sure that the no poo method is less harsh than conventional shampoos. When I was looking into it, I read that baking soda (I think it was the baking soda) is quite harsh on your hair, and ACV may be in some concentrations as well, especially combined. If it's working for you, that's great, but you might want to look into whether it actually is less harsh on hair (or you may want to stop if your hair starts looking trashed). Are you sure the pH of baking soda is less neutral than normal commercial shampoo? Some of the no poo claims about eventually producing less sebum are additionally rather suspect (discussed a bit on Reddit, which mentions some of the research). Also, my understanding is that soap (unlike most shampoos) reacts particularly poorly to hard water, and can leave a scum/residue that detergents (e.g. shampoo) generally don't. If you're still determined to use soap, Ida (of Chagrin Valley, a natural soap maker/seller) has some good tips here. In short, if no poo ends up not working for you or turns out to be too harsh on your hair, might be worth looking into other detergents (shampoos, not soaps) that are less harsh than normal shampoo (e.g. no SLS, or whatever). You might find this and this testimony helpful.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:44 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also, I think it bears stressing that just because things come from your kitchen cabinet and are "natural" and have no "chemicals" (whatever that means), that doesn't mean that they don't damage hair/skin (as this link says well). There's a lot of talk on some corners of the internet about "chemicals" etc., and a lot of personal anecdote, but I didn't find much in the way of convincing evidence for no poo. On the contrary, commercial shampoos on the American/European market have gone through extensive testing for safety and general good results. Again, if you're having hair flatness and post-shower itchies, that is definitely something to look into and change your hair regimen to treat (possibly through a dandruff shampoo or an anti-fungal, or stopping using shampoos with SLS if that is a particular irritant for your scalp). I'm just not convinced that no poo is either good for/gentle on your hair.

Some quotes from the link I mentioned. "When I posted that I was trying the no ‘poo method on Facebook, many of you wrote that baking soda had actually ruined your hair. Curious–and scared–I began researching. Evidently, baking soda is very alkaline and, although it may make hair soft in the beginning, it will overtime damage hair. This is the reason the No Poo method fails for many people: it is not pH balanced for the scalp or hair." A dermatologist on why baking soda and ACV destroy your hair: "With a pH of 9 – one hundred times more basic than water – baking soda is a known alkaline irritant (Journal of Cutaneous Pathology, 1989). According to renowned dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D., 'The first principle of shampooing: make sure your shampoo says it is pH-balanced and avoid those that are alkaline. Alkaline shampoos strip the hair’s natural oils and disrupt the acid mantle, causing dehydration and leading to porous, fragile hair.'" On castile soap (from Amanda): "Using highly alkaline solutions on your hair (baking soda, bronners soaps, etc.) though it feels soft and manageable that is really the disulfide bonds in your internal hair structure being weakened by the alkaline solution… To then bring your hair down to it’s proper pH a acidic solution (apple cider vinegar) when using a alkalinic cleanser is used, this is called clarifying. This dual process is not healthy for your hair or your scalp."
posted by ClaireBear at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

The No Poo method I'm familiar with, used by curly haired folks, is to "wash" with conditioner. Usually before starting this method you would strip your hair with a full on sulfate shampoo (think Suave). The stripping is necessary for people who were using silicone products, which build up and the conditioner-only method can't remove. I like this method, but I can see where it might be too much for fine hair.

My fiance scrubs his shoulder-length hair with water only, with some suave conditioner in the wintertime, and his hair is awesome.
posted by cabingirl at 6:12 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I did not have a lot of luck long term with no-poo, but several friends of mine still swear by it--but as far as I know, none of them are using castile soap. If the point is not to disrupt the normal oil balance of your hair, it seems like that would actually be far worse than most shampoos, especially if you're applying it directly to the hair. I still use actual shampoo but only wash every few days and that works for me, but one friend is conditioner-only and as far as I know the other's still doing "nothing with an occasional diluted vinegar rinse". Dr. Bronner's advertises their soap as strong enough to mop your floors with--I'd want to seriously dilute it before it touched my hair. Castile soap is not gentler for being more "natural".
posted by Sequence at 7:30 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing the conditioner only. Try a cheapy no-silicone one like Suave, and if you rub it through your hair, you get a little bit of lather. I've done it for years, and my hair is great.
posted by freshwater at 7:35 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

For hair that gets just a teensy bit too oily-looking by the end of the day, try using a soft cloth to absorb and redistribute the oil. Imagine you've put a bit too much furniture polish on a table: when you wipe it with a cloth, some of the polish gets absorbed into the cloth, and the rest of it gets spread around so the whole table shines. This works better than a hairbrush, because the brush doesn't absorb any oil. You just have to restyle afterward.

Another thing to try is a little baby powder directly on the scalp, and then use your fingertips to massage it in. This takes a lot of experimentation to get a sense of what the right amount is for you: start with as little as humanly possible, and keep adding infinitesimal amounts. If you put a little too much powder in one spot, just wet your hands, massage that spot, wet your hands again, massage some more. Rub a soft cloth or towel over the spot and try a hairdryer on the cool-air setting right on the spot while you use your fingers to massage and style. Don't use a hairbrush after adding baby powder, or else the powder will clump into dandruffy-looking clumps. Washing the next day (whether with shampoo or whatever substitute you're using) is probably necessary.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2014

Best answer: My method is to wash my hair with water. About every month or so it starts to get a bit too oily so I use a small amount of Deva conditioner. That's it.

It sounds like even as "no poo" you're still throwing a lot of different products at your hair -- daily conditioner, Dr. Bronners, now vinegar rinses... have you tried just doing none of that for a while? It's hard to tell whether your hair is naturally too oily or too dry because you never actually let your hair just be your hair: you've still been putting stuff in it all along, just different stuff.
posted by ook at 9:03 AM on March 26, 2014

I quit using shampoo several years ago. I keep my routine simple: I wash my hair only a few times a week (preferably just 2, absolutely never more than 3), using super-cheap Suave conditioner for the washing part, then a nicer conditioner to actually condition my hair. Every few weeks, I do an ACV rinse after the wash-with-Suave step. I dilute it 50/50 with water and use about 6 or 8 ounces (using a squeeze bottle to apply it), comb it through my hair in the shower, then rinse it out. Then I skip the second conditioner.
posted by scody at 9:18 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

For those of you that just 'wash' using a conditioner, do you you use product in your hair? If so, do you you only use product that you've made sure has no silicones or other nasties in it? Because I'm assuming the gentle, non-silicone conditioners don't remove the product unless you use something harsher.

Not to hijack, but does anyone have any recommendations/resources/links for styling products that are recommended for people that only use conditioner for washing?
posted by canda at 9:43 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm black with natural hair. I've no-poo'ed for years, replacing shampoo with a sulfate-free conditioner. I do ACV rinses once a month. (Just dilute the ACV with water, about 2:1), then I "wash" with this. This company's entire line is excellent.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 9:54 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

For those of you that just 'wash' using a conditioner, do you you use product in your hair? If so, do you you only use product that you've made sure has no silicones or other nasties in it? Because I'm assuming the gentle, non-silicone conditioners don't remove the product unless you use something harsher.

I currently use argan oil for styling, but have also used products with silicone in them. The conditioner wash has always handled it fine for me, and any slight build-up I've experienced comes out with the occasional apple cider vinegar rinse.
posted by scody at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2014

I just rinsed with water for ages when I lived in the country, and my hair looked great, but I don't feel it works for me in the city. I still only wash once a week, though.
posted by mumimor at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2014

I'm using the DevaCurl product line and it's made my hair more wavy and shiny and soft than it ever was. I use the no-poo wash and all their other products are cone-free. The wash is superb at cleaning the hair and not destroying it.

I had tried the co-wash way using Suave coconut conditioner as my "wash." I didn't like it at all; my hair did not seem clean.
posted by minx at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I stopped using shampoo/conditioner in January, and have been very happy with it so far. I have fairly fine, fairly straight hair cut into a longish pixie. It used to have no body whatsoever; then I cut it shorter, and it was better, but still really needed mousse. Once I transitioned to baking soda/vinegar, I stopped needing mousse, and it has more body than it ever did, even years ago when I had it this short. Currently, I use no styling products, but I might for photos or an important event.

So, once or twice a week (really whenever I don't like the feeling of my hair, or it's gone flat, but it's never more than twice a week) I scoop a bit less than a tablespoon of baking soda into a little 8-oz plastic cup, fill it up halfway with water, scrub it into my wet hair, and let it sit a couple of minutes. I rinse my hair and the cup out, then put about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in the cup, fill it up with water, and (head tilted back, because it's the opposite of fun to get in your eyes) massage it into my hair. And let it sit a couple minutes. Rinse, towel dry, comb into place, and that's it.

The only thing for me is that the vinegar scent sometimes persists, not in a stand-near-me-and-notice-it sense (I've asked), but enough that I'm planning on substituting half lemon juice next time I wash. I've heard people also using dilute essential oils, and may go with that if lemon is too drying.

Schedule usually goes:
Day 1: baking soda/apple cider vinegar; turns out poofy and somewhat flyaway if I use too much baking soda
Day 2: perfection
Day 3: perfection
Day 4: scalp massage with plain hot water; more texture due to oil, but looks nice
Day 5: same
Day 6: Rinse; usually want to wash it by now, but sometimes not
Day 7: same
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I first read the headline, I thought the implication was that you had gone 6 weeks without pooping. I was really concerned for you.

I read an article by a chemist about the "no poo" baking soda and vinegar cycle thing. The upshot was that essentially the alkalinity strips the outer layer of your hair off which for some reason looks great when you first start doing it and after a while it just sort of keeps eating away at it so your hair starts looking brittle. The vinegar doesn't serve to put back any of the old layers, but rather makes the existing part that's left look more shiny or something.

I'd just buy a bottle of Neutrogena Clarifying or something organic and without the chemicals you don't want. But then, IANYC (Iamnotyourchemist).
posted by mermily at 4:38 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this, especially your remark that

One unavoidable point here is that we have awful water, so hard with minerals it turns the tub green. I know this is a factor, but assume I can do nothing about this.

It might be worth considering a shower water filter, whether or not you decide to continue with the no poo. Hard water does funny things to hair (when I have had it, it has made my skin itchy and my hair both dull/dry and sticky - see here for some anecdotal experience). You can buy what seem to be fairly reasonably priced shower filters on Amazon here, although you'd need to make sure that the one you choose filters for hard water, as they filter for different things (chlorine, etc.)
posted by ClaireBear at 7:50 PM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Babyslime's livejournal was my go-to when I started no-poo - I haven't looked at this version of her faq, but it was useful years ago.

I think I actually found her through angry chicken/Amy Karol, and that link has maybe some other useful stuff in it.

My method for years was a ratio of a tablespoon of baking soda in a cup/250-300ml water, same again for the ACV, a tablespoon (maybe two) in a cup of water. I mixed it when the water was hot/warm, then bottled it and you can use it room temp or heated by letting the bottle soak in the bath water for a while if that's your thing. Filtered water when I live in hard water areas. I currently live with insanely hard water and I've dumped the ACV altogether and wash with just water more of the time. I know there's supposed to be a way to get the balance right, but I got tired of messing with it and gave up. I'll use jojoba oil on my hair after a wash if I'm feeling dry. I live someplace quite humid, though - in a drier climate I'm not sure skipping the ACV would work as well. I never washed my hair with this more than twice a week, mostly it's once a week with water washing/rinsing in between.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:48 AM on March 27, 2014

Oops - missed some of your questions - a) doesn't matter how much you use to rinse; b) I don't leave it in at all, just pour over and make sure I got all my hair with it and then rinse it out; c) when I live with normal/not crazy-hard water I rinse every time or my hair is too dry/not smooth and soft - but this is something you need to work out for yourself through trial and error; d) ACV v white vinegar - I don't remember this clearly, but I think there's a difference in acidity that might have an effect on how much you'd need to dilute it.
posted by you must supply a verb at 2:58 AM on March 27, 2014

Best answer: I haven't used shampoo or silicone-containing conditioner or silicone-containing gel in something like ten years, I'm not especially tied to any one product line, and I don't really pay much attention to how much I'm diluting the ACV when I use it (every few weeks, when I feel like it.) I don't use baking soda, that stuff will dry my hair out. Soap seems excessive. I've never had any problems getting my hair clean (of either the conditioner/gel I use or daily dirt and sweat) with just a lightweight non-silicone conditioner and some gentle scalp scrubbing.

The reason to use apple cider vinegar rather than white vinegar is smell. They're both acetic acid in the same concentration.
posted by asperity at 8:04 AM on March 27, 2014

Response by poster: Came back to mark as resolved and give an update. The stop if it "starts looking trashed" advice made me laugh out loud. ClaireBear's links are very useful and make me want to try to aim for more predictable pH balance. I may try some of the DIY pH-balanced shampoo recipes--but one that doesn't require a Tbsp of honey for each wash!

A few months in, I continue to wash with Dr. Bronner's about every 2-3 days. I use an ACV rinse most of that time, but skip it periodically. My hair is happy and soft and continues to have great body, better than ever in my life. No sign of brittleness. It's a perk that I can use the Dr. B's for so many things (e.g., body wash, laundry, teeth) especially when traveling. However, I'm aiming soon to try skipping it altogether and try the no-ANYthing except a good scalp massage in hot water and daily brushing with a boar bristle. Not super optimistic about how that will play out, but curious. Eliminating all product sounds great. My nasty hard water is going away, and I expect that to change everything. The effects of the regular Dr. B/ACV routine will likely be different. Thanks all for the advice.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:38 PM on May 13, 2014

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