Blame it all on my roots, but I’m strongly pro-shampoo. My thick, long hair tends to look and feel better when freshly washed. I normally shampoo every three to four days. But going any longer without washing it makes my fingers itch for the nearest baseball cap to hide my greasy scalp.
To my surprise, there is an entire online community living shampoo-free. The “no-poo” method uses our hair’s natural protective oils, called sebum, for flowing, healthy, non-toxic tresses.
So, my main question is: to poo or not to poo?
What Is No-Poo?
The No-Poo subreddit is an online forum dedicated to helping those committed to the no-poo life. And while skipping shampoo seems like less work, not more, the initial transition requires dedication.
Luckily, resources like the No-Poo Quick Start Guide help no-wash newbies and old hats alike. The subreddit dives into the nitty gritty so your hair doesn’t become, well, nitty gritty.
A major component of the no-poo lifestyle is mechanical cleaning. Reddit users swear by this comprehensive guide from Just Primal Things for rinsing, preening, brushing and upkeep tips.
At first glance, this process can seem a lot more complicated than sticking with your trusty shampoo-conditioner routine. So, why bother?
Reasons To Make The Switch
“No-poo isn’t just about learning to wash your hair with only water,” the No-Poo Quick Start Guide reads. “It’s about embracing your body’s natural functions and environment.”
“Hair that is allowed to be itself is textured, interesting, healthy, easy to manage and properly moisturized,” the guide continues. “Modern society defines ‘clean’ as stripped and sterile. No-poo defines ‘clean’ as healthy and comfortable.”
One Reddit user cited curiosity as one of the main reasons for their switch. “Shampoo is a fairly recent invention,” PomeloForest commented. “I assume people weren’t disgusting 100+ years ago.” The user also mentioned no-poo saved them money, controlled their scalp’s oil overproduction and mended their split ends.
As a skeptic, I must admit that this anecdotal evidence was pretty convincing.
The Earth Friendly Way To Wash Hair
Switching to no-poo is also good for the planet. The products you wash down the drain don’t disappear after they’ve left your bathtub. Neither do their containers.
In 2017, New York state officials called on the EPA to establish stricter drinking water standards after discovering dioxane had contaminated over half of Long Island’s water supply. This carcinogenic chemical makes the suds in your shampoo.
Moreover, hair care products are filling up our landfills at an alarming rate. The EPA estimates nearly 70% of all plastic packaging ends up in a dump. Once there, these containers take anywhere from 100 to 400 years to break down.
Plastic shampoo bottles became the norm in the 1950s—less than 100 years ago. So, every non-recycled shampoo bottle you, your mom and your grandma used is still sitting in a landfill (or worse, the ocean).
Finding The Science To Back It Up
The environmental evidence is not surprising—obviously, not using shampoo is more sustainable. But I wanted to find fact-based evidence that no-poo is the better option on an individual level.
A 2018 study found that no research has demonstrated any long-term dangers to using shampoo. However, “certain chemicals found in shampoos have the potential to irritate the scalp,” particularly in individuals with sensitive skin.
Ultimately, the study concluded that “not all synthetic substances are harmful, and likewise not all naturally occurring substances are safe.”
Other skeptical Reddit users took to the No-Poo sub seeking research that supports the hypothesis that no-poo is healthy (or necessary). I’ve found little scientific evidence thus far. But the diehard no-poo-ers make compelling arguments.
“Where are the reasons for using shampoo based on sound science (not endless advertising and marketing)?” One user wrote. “We evolved as a creature that did not need to apply anything to our hair. Why should we need shampoo now?”
In my search for no-poo answers, I felt as tangled as my hair sans conditioner.
Is No-Poo Right For You?
A quick scroll through the No-Poo sub shows hundreds of individuals with soft, silky and surprisingly not gross locks. Still, there seem to be arguments for and against this au naturale method.
In short, whether you do or don’t use shampoo is a matter of personal preference. I found more troubleshooting tips for fine-haired no-poo-ers than any other hair type, which could suggest this method isn’t ideal for thin hair.
Of course, the environmental factors are still worth considering. Switching to sustainably packaged, non-toxic hair care products is a way to shrink your carbon footprint without ditching shampoo altogether.
All in all, I ended my no-poo quest as skeptical as I began. From root to tip, my hair is two feet long. And as much as I would love to tend to my long locks all day, there isn’t room in my schedule for an involved hair care routine.
Nevertheless, the no-poo method is safe, sustainable and cheap. Online resources help in the transition from greasy to gorgeous. And in the meantime, maybe keep an extra baseball cap handy for those oily days.