No ‘poo? Why many are giving up on shampoo
Angela Mulholland
Sunday Oct. 16, 2011 
This is going to sound odd but here it is: I haven’t washed my hair in three weeks.
I’d like to make it clear that I haven’t given up personal hygiene altogether, in a Zuccotti-Park-inhabitant kind of way. I have showered regularly over the last three weeks. But I haven’t washed my hair in the usual lather, rinse, repeat way.
Instead, I decided to go “no ‘poo” — an awful-sounding moniker that isn’t at all what you might first think. It simply means giving up shampoo to either save your hair, save the environment, or save a few bucks by breezing right past the hair care aisle at the drug store.
I guess I fall into the first camp; I’m trying to save my hair. The sands of time can be cruel on a woman, and I’ve noticed of late that my coif has become, well, a bit of a fuzz ball. There are days when my head can look like a mushroom cloud.
So I decided to dive into this no-shampoo trend. Actually, it’s hard to tell if forgoing shampoo really is a trend. There have always been shampoo-eschewers. But when actor Robert Pattison and Prince Harry are willing to admit they don’t wash their hair and can’t remember the last time they did, maybe skipping shampoo really has gone mainstream.
If “no poo” is an underground movement, it’s certainly getting plenty of attention. Type “no poo” or “no more shampoo” into Google and you’ll find dozens of articles. They’re in everything from mainstream beauty magazines, to “mommy blogs” that are often written by all-natural, stay-at-home moms who bottle their own peaches and crochet their own washcloths.
I’m not one of them. What I am, though, is fed up with my head. So I signed up to drop out of hairwashing.
At first, I tried skipping the washing altogether, and replacing it with diligent hairbrushing. The bloggers I had read contended that shampooing strips hair of sebum — the oily substance secreted by our scalps — and that if we overwash our hair, our scalps produce extra oil to try to compensate. But if we cut out the shampooing and can just push through a temporary greasy period, our scalps will catch on and produce less sebum.
Dermatologist Dr. Benjamin Barankin, the medical director of Toronto Dermatology Centre, says that’s nonsense.
The amount of sebum anyone produces is determined by their genetics, their age, and to a certain degree, the season, he says — not how often we’re washing our hair.
While many of us don’t need to wash our hair every day, Barankin says there are plenty who do. A teenager with oily skin, for example, will probably produce a lot of sebum and need to soap up their head every 24 hours. So will someone with dandruff, he says, because dandruff is not caused by a dry scalp, as many might believe, but just the opposite.
“The dry flakiness is actually caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp. If you secrete a lot of oil, and if yeast feasts on the scalp oil, you will get dandruff or seborrhea,” he told
“So if you’re prone to getting seborrhea because of your genetics or because of your age, you need to be shampooing every day, absolutely,” he says.
Barankin points out that sebum can give off a musty odour, especially when yeast begins to feed on it. Alas, that musty odour is exactly where I got tripped up.
The scepticism kicks in
After going without shampoo for a little more than a week, I could no longer stand the smell of my own head. Sure, my hair was sleek, and less puff-bally. But when your five-year-old doesn’t want to give you hugs anymore because you’re “kinda stinky,” that’s a problem.
So I headed back to the all-knowing Internet and looked up the homemade shampoo recipes I’d heard about that uses baking soda. Actually, baking soda pretty much IS the recipe. You take about 1 tbsp of the stuff and either make a paste with it with just a little warm water, or dissolve it completely in a cup of warm water. You then work it into your scalp, for a minute and rinse it out.
I was sceptical of this one; baking soda is lovely in scones, but to wash hair? When I tried the paste, it felt like rubbing fine sand into my hair. And when I rinsed it out, I missed that usual silky feeling we get with regular shampoo. In fact, my hair just felt weird afterward; almost gunky. 
But when my hair dried, I was surprised to find it worked great. My hair looked washed. And gone was the musty smell.
There are some natural hair care recipes that call for an apple cider vinegar rinse to use as a conditioner, but I’m sorry to say I haven’t been able to go that far. For now, I’m still hooked on conventional conditioners then drench my hair in silicone and whatever else. But I think I get this whole no-shampoo thing.
Matt Price, the campaign director at Environmental Defence, says he’s not surprised that the no-shampoo movement has caught on with so many. He says while there are plenty of alternative, natural shampoos out there, it’s hard to be sure they’re much better.
Part of the problem is that labelling laws in Canada are weak, so even with the natural stuff, one can’t always be sure that all the ingredients in the bottle will be listed on the label. It’s also true that new science is emerging all the time about chemicals and their alternatives and it remains unclear whether all the stuff in even the “natural” shampoos are safe.
“There are so many chemicals out there that it’s hard for us to stay on top of them — let alone the consumer,” he says.
To buy ‘natural’ products requires a certain level of trust in the manufacturer. But skipping shampoo or making your own are the perfect workaround, he says.
“The big thing about the no-shampoo movement is that people are sort of bypassing a lot of this stuff and saying, ‘Well, I could look for natural products but then maybe the ‘natural’ products aren’t so natural. I don’t want to have to have a science degree when I go to drug store to shop for shampoo,” he told me.
Chemicals part of the price of beauty
Price explains that Environmental Defence is concerned with a number of chemical families used in personal care products, notably: phthalates, parabens and the common detergent called sodium laureth sulfate (or SLS).
He says a number of studies have suggested these chemicals might be endocrine disruptors or carcinogens. While the science to this point on the dangers is suggestive and not conclusive, his group remains worried about the effects of these products over time.
Shampoo might be one those products that we use for just a few seconds before washing off, but Price says his group worries about the cumulative effect of everything we put on our bodies.
“In the course of getting ready every morning, the average person probably uses dozens of products, from soaps, lotions, conditioner, makeup and perfume,” Price says.
“Often, these chemicals are studied in isolation. So they say the exposure is minimal, but that’s not the real world. In the real world, we get up and basically put on a cocktail of these things on our skin. And we know that our skin does absorb it,” he says.
Dermatologist Barankin doesn’t share those worries. He notes there are some people who have highly sensitive skin and react to some shampoo ingredients, like sodium laureth sulfate. But he says those people are in a tiny minority.
“Certainly SLS is widely used but it’s widely used because it works. The vast, vast majority of people have no problem with it,” he says.
The solution for people who find conventional shampoo irritating is to switch to a milder brand, not to give up on shampoo altogether, Barankin believes.
“If you have a problem, talk to your dermatologist. We have lots of options available. Sometimes you might just have a scalp condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated,” he says.
Still, I think I kind of like my new baking soda shampoo. To be truthful, I don’t think it’s really solved my fuzzy hair problem (scroll through the pics above to see the results). Perhaps nothing will. But I like the idea that instead of paying for a $15 bottle of shampoo, I can get by with bottle of diluted baking soda that costs just pennies and lasts months.
Best of all, I’m back in my five-year-old’s good books. She no longer turns up her nose at me. Except when I serve her cauliflower.