To steal a saying from my favorite YouTuber, Jenna Marbles, I'm pretty sure I have what she likes to call the “too much” gene. I tend to pay way too much attention to things that don't actually matter that much, I overthink and overanalyze everything, and I'll usually pursue a project (or a person) long past its metaphorical expiration date. And that's exactly why, when I set my sights on finding out what happens when you stop using shampoo on your hair, I naturally extended the original experiment from a mere week to a full-fledged month. And that's also why, at the end of that month, I still felt like I probably should have extended the experiment to a full year, because, well, why not?
Despite the insistence of my too-much gene, I managed not to drag on this experiment for a full year, mostly because life just sort of got in the way. That, and my boyfriend was mildly grossed out by my presence by the time we reached the end of the month. And I was too, actually, but not exactly for the reasons you might think.
August 2017 turned out to be loaded with a whole lot more than just my no-'poo experiment. I began the month feeling healthy, motivated, and ready to tackle this challenge. But by the end, my body had contended with three different types of illnesses, and I ended up in London. (Fine, it was a planned vacation, my life isn't that exciting.)
Matrix artistic director Nick Stenson suggests washing your hair about two or three times a week as a good average. “This will help prevent color fading as well as focus on hair health,” he tells me over email in an interview for Elite Daily.
My own washing schedule's actually not that far off from what Stenson recommends. With a head of medium-long, naturally curly hair that errs on the dry side most days, my strands thrive best with a little extra natural oil -- which means I'm washing no more than every two days. Having said that, while this experiment technically started on Sunday, July 23, I didn't really feel like it began until later that week, around Friday, July 28.
This wasn't the first time I'd pushed myself past my usual limit when it comes to washing my hair. Out of sheer laziness, I've gone close to a week before without tending to my curly tresses. But I'd never experienced the wrath of the itchy phase -- not like this, anyway.
Maybe it was the fact that I knew the sweet, sweet relief of shampoo and conditioner wasn't coming anytime soon, or perhaps my scalp was just extra nasty that week. Either way, the dirty feeling on my head was quickly becoming too much for me to bear. It felt like someone had secured a helmet made of pure dirt on the top of my head, and no matter how much I scratched and itched and tried to style my hair in a way that soothed the discomfort, I couldn't remove it.
I continued to stick it out, my too-much gene throbbing with perseverance. After all, I had a slight breakthrough on July 30 -- one week after the start of the experiment began -- when I woke up with what appeared to be a slight bounce in my hair. It almost looked healthy, vivacious. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.
But then the next week began, and I found myself back at work, tending to my usual, day-to-day responsibilities -- or, at least, I was trying to. My dirty scalp was becoming much more of a distraction than I'd ever expected.
Seriously, though. You try scratching your head at work without anyone noticing the dry, white flakes flutter down onto your laptop, and let me know how productive you are. That's exactly what my days were starting to look like as I continued onward in my experiment.
By the time I woke up on Tuesday morning -- aka day 10 of no shampoo or conditioner -- I'd just about had it. My hair was becoming so saturated with oil that it was basically growing damp overnight as I slept, and then drying again in the morning into tight, ugly curls. That morning, I left my apartment to go to work after styling my hair in a sad side ponytail, my too-much gene steeped in utter disappointment.
Though I told myself I would go the full month using absolutely no products of any kind to wash my hair, I'd reached my limit after little more than one week of the experiment. I began researching other ways to wash my hair without shampoo or conditioner, desperately picking at my dirt helmet along the way.
After all of 10 minutes of searching on Google (I am an expert at this stuff, you guys), I settled for an approach of baking soda followed by apple cider vinegar: a method deemed appropriate “if you're stuck on a desert island,” says Rob Pizzuti, a Toronto-based master hair colorist. My 700-square-foot apartment in Bushwick counts as a desert island, right?
Pizzuti, a stylist for hair care line Pai-Shau, tells Elite Daily,
Baking soda is gritty and very absorbent, so that could work as 'shampoo' in oil removal and a light skin scrub. It could, however, strip normal to oily hair and rough up the surface of the rest of your hair.
Pizzuti actually recommends using baking soda to wash your face or teeth once in awhile instead, “if you need a super deep clean.”
As for the apple cider vinegar, he explains,
Vinegar in general has a very low pH in comparison to your hair's 5.5 pH. It could close down the cuticle layer slightly and make the hair shiny, but will not add any moisture.
And yet, that night, against all better judgment, I went home, and I did the deed.
What I love most about showering is how therapeutic the hot water and all of the suds and the soap feel against my skin. But, let me tell you, washing your hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda pretty much eliminates any sense of comfort whatsoever.
My shower took a hard, quick turn from a soothing, steamy slice of heaven, to a humid, hot, smelly house salad. I began with the baking soda, which served as my shampoo replacement. It surprisingly felt like a sandier, grainier version of most shampoos I've tried, but it was much more difficult to apply to my scalp. It constantly felt as if the baking soda was slipping through my fingers, and not actually landing anywhere near my matted tresses. Plus, the more I applied, the drier my hair seemed to be.
The ACV -- aka my "conditioner" for the month -- stung my tongue, and I panicked about whether or not the liquid had seeped into my eyes. Had it even touched my hair? What am I doing?
I stepped out of the shower, nearly gagging from the smell. Brushing my hair with my usual comb was much, much harder than usual, as the baking soda and ACV had left my hair dry and clumped together in angry knots. And, to my dismay, my hair still felt pretty gross and weighed down with dirt and grime. I started to wonder whether this whole uncomfortable process was even worth the effort.
But by the time I combed through the mess and went to town with my blow-dryer, the stench had lifted, and my hair actually looked (dare I say) clean, if not a little (a lot) frizzy and kind of dry. Hey, I'll take it over the dirt helmet any day.
And my hair still looked pretty decent the next day...
...and even the day after that.
Maybe the rest of the month wouldn't be so bad after all.
As awkward as it was to wash my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar the first time around, I stuck to this method for the sheer sake of avoiding the dreaded dirt helmet. I carried out my little DIY wash again a little over a week later, on day 19 of the overall experiment.
The second wash was more or less just as uncomfortable as the first. And, just like the initial wash, my hair still felt matted together into, what felt like, dirty knotted clumps.
And yet, post-blow-drying, my hair seemed to have the appearance of cleanliness. But that's the thing -- it just looked clean. Somewhere underneath that blondish-pinkish mess of hair, I could feel that thin, but noticeable layer of a dirt helmet. And it was f*cking uncomfortable.
This experiment was ultimately becoming a test of my very will and integrity as a human being rather than just a fun way to see what happens when you try out a weird hair trend. On top of getting hit with a stomach virus, a UTI, and a fevered cold in the span of just two weeks, I was still trudging along in my quest to see what the human scalp is capable of when you deprive it of its usual maintenance and care.
Perhaps it was my sickness-induced delirium that brought me to this perspective, but I found myself bragging to people who knew about the experiment that "I could do this all the time if I wanted to," that shampoo and conditioner are totally unnecessary, and they're just products marketed to us because we think we need them.
But deep down, I wanted my old products back. I wanted to step out of the shower and actually feel clean again. I knew I'd never willingly give up shampoo and conditioner in the long haul.
Still, ACV and baking soda were my best bet if I was going to complete the experiment. So, I washed my hair one more time with this method, on day 26, which also happened to be the night before I would embark on a 10-day vacation to London and Dublin.
In fact, I actually arrived in London that next day still technically pursuing the experiment (got to love that too-much gene, baby). But you better believe I enjoyed every steamy second when I was finally able to hop into the shower knowing there was no salad-like vinegar waiting for me. I practically wanted to eat my shampoo and conditioner, I'd missed their fruity scents and cleansing touch so much.
I'll admit, the first half of this experiment was pretty brutal. But hey, when you throw a UTI, a stomach virus, a fever, oh, and an international trip into the mix, going a month without shampoo or conditioner doesn't really seem like a big deal anymore. (The ACV and baking soda certainly didn't hurt either, I guess).
Life has a way of challenging you most when you least expect it. If there's anything to be learned here -- other than that expert hair stylists think cool, natural hair trends are best saved for desert island scenarios only -- it's that you and your body can probably handle a lot more than you give yourself credit for. That, and you can learn a lot about yourself just by tweaking something in your usual routine. Before this experiment, I never really thought of myself as someone who's that concerned with what her hair looks or feels like. But take away my usual products, and I somehow won't be able to go even 30 minutes without thinking about how itchy my scalp feels.
All in all, I definitely don't regret giving this experience a try. I love to learn about what the human body is capable of, and that's what this whole thing was ultimately about.
That, or the absence of shampoo and conditioner from a regular hair care routine is apparently a nightmare for your immune system. Who would have thought?