The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)

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The hidden problem with no poo- and what to do instead
Wellness Mama » Blog » Beauty » The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)

As women, we tend to be finicky about our hair: all the curly-haired girls want straight hair and all the straight-haired girls want curls. But we all have one thing in common: the desire to have beautiful, healthy hair, preferably in a natural way.

Lots of naturally-minded folks recommend no poo, but is it really best for your hair?

What Is No Poo?

In case you’ve been living under a rock or you’re new to the crunchy mama crowd, “no poo” refers to your hair, not the other thing it sounds like.

Those who practice “no poo” are simply forgoing shampoo in favor of using baking soda to wash their hair. Typically, proponents of the no poo method suggest using diluted baking soda to give your hair a scrub, followed by a rinse of diluted apple cider vinegar.

It sounds like the perfect solution: natural and cheap. However, if you’ve gone that route, odds are, you’ll come to some bumps in the road sooner or later.

The Problem with No Poo

Baking soda sounds like a perfect choice for keeping your coif clean because it’s such a great cleanser. After all, I use it in my homemade cleaning supplies all the time. Try to use it for long though, and you’ll see why it isn’t right for hair maintenance.

Lots of us start out loving the no poo method: it seems to create manageable, clean, even bouncy, voluminous hair. But before long, many will start to notice something: dry, unmanageable hair. Breakage. Buildup. You might even be tempted to go back to conventional hair care products just to restore our locks to health.

There are a few reasons for things going south:

Baking Soda= Wrong pH for Hair

Because the natural pH of hair and skin is between 4.5-5.5, it is slightly acidic. With a pH of 9, baking soda differs vastly on the pH scale from hair. It is much more alkaline.

When you repeatedly wash your slightly acidic hair with a highly alkalized solution, you force your hair to drastically change its natural makeup. Eventually, your hair will become dry, frizzy, and begin to suffer from breakage.

The purpose for the apple cider vinegar rinse following a baking soda wash is to restore acidity to your hair. However, most people are unable to perfectly dilute and balance each step in order to restore proper pH. Not to mention, it’s difficult to evenly wash every strand of hair with each solution, making sure none are missed.

Baking Soda is Abrasive

Baking soda is one of the best natural solutions for scrubbing everything from tile grout to bathtubs. It is not great, however, for scrubbing hair. It’s simply too abrasive.

Just rub a little bit of the fine, white powder between your fingers and you can see why it does such a great job of getting things clean. The microscopic crystalline structure of baking soda creates jagged edges which scrub away at dirty surfaces.

You can imagine why setting those jagged edges to cleaning delicate hair might cause problems. Baking soda will eventually tear away at delicate tresses and cause damage, resulting in dry, breaking hair and split ends. Some no poo users have even reported losing clumps of hair.

It May Strip Hair of Natural Oils

Because baking soda is abrasive and too alkaline, it will eventually strip away the natural oils coating your scalp and hair.

That natural oil is present to protect your scalp and hair, keeping it healthy and manageable. Because we all have differing body chemistry and use different products, the amount of oil can vary greatly from one person to the next. That’s why some of us can get away with only washing our hair once in a while, and others can’t seem to go longer than a day between washes.

I found that when I switched over to natural hair care, my hair became more balanced: not too oily, not too dry, and I’m able to go longer between washes because my scalp and hair are healthy and happy. It can be normal for your hair to go through a period of detox as it adjusts to natural hair care, as conventional shampoos can also strip away those natural oils.

As your hair adjusts, it may become more oily or drier than usual, but as you settle on a natural hair care routine that’s right for your particular hair, it should even out.

However, don’t mistake your hair rejecting the no poo method for detox.

Your Hair Isn’t “Detoxing”; it’s Being Damaged!

Don’t keep scrubbing away with baking soda, hoping your hair will adjust! In many cases, the baking soda is actually causing damage to the hair. I’m certainly not a fan of most conventional shampoos, but they are designed to be the correct pH for hair.

What to Do Instead of No Poo

If you don’t want to thwart your healthy, natural hair care efforts with no poo, there are still lots of great natural hair care options.

No Poo Alternatives

  1. Clay-based Shampoos. Who knew that putting clay in your hair could make it cleaner and healthier? I was a skeptic at first, but now often turn to clay based shampoos for my hair. I make my own detox shampoo but I also use this pre-made all-natural one from Morrocco Method and I really like it. As a bonus, these products have a lot of added beneficial ingredients that nourish hair.
  2. Make a shampoo bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at making old-fashioned soap with lye. Find a specially formulated bar soap recipe for hair here.
  3. Make a shampoo from soap nuts. Soap nuts aren’t just for laundry! Soap nuts shampoo is incredibly inexpensive to make and completely natural. Find the simple recipe here. (Note that this will not work on all hair types and seems to be the toughest to get right.
  4. Make a dry shampoo. No matter the kind of shampoo, the science says fewer washes means healthier hair. Want to freshen your hair between washes while you’re figuring out the perfect no poo alternative for your hair? Try a homemade dry shampoo, with versions for both dark and light hair. Try this recipe.
  5. WellnesseAfter years of experimenting with all of the above, I finally got to fulfill a dream and create my own shampoo and conditioner line that’s natural and actually works! Our Cleansing Shampoo and Conditioner (as well as our Smoothing Hair Care Kit for wavy/curly hair) meet every one of my (many) criteria for hair and scalp health.

Find What Works for Your Hair

Whether your hair is curly or straight, thick or thin, oily or dry, most of us will find that the no poo method isn’t ideal. However, we all have different hair care needs based on our own individual chemistry.

Experiment with the suggestions above until you find what works for your hair, then come back and let me know your results!

Have you ever tried “no poo?” Did you have any of the problems described above? Share below!

Find out why the "no poo" way of washing hair isn't best in the long run, and get the scoop on my favorite natural shampoo alternatives.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


165 responses to “The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)”

  1. Elizabeth Avatar

    I just want to point out that no poo does not specifically mean washing with baking soda. Many of the options you mentioned to do instead are considered no poo. And many of them still need an acidic rinse afterward, like with bentonite clay and anything soap based (castile, or something made with lye/sodium hydroxide).

    Other acidic rinses would include coffee, black and green tea, hibiscus tea – all of which do not need to be diluted beforehand like vinegars do.

    I hope this helps others!

  2. Mary Talbot Avatar
    Mary Talbot

    I am relatively new to making my own shampoo and no poo. I do occasionally use baking soda and water rinse as a clarifyer, but I usually add citrus based essential oils to balance the PH out a bit. I would not use this as my usual cleansing method. Also, that PH reading, is it for straight baking soda, or for baking soda massively diluted with water? Also, the PH of actual water can vary wildly between regions. I usually use a combination of herbal teas or hydrosols, liquid soap, distilled or filtered water, and essential oils as a shampoo, and sometimes add a bit of vitamin E oil and/or glycerine if my hair seems dry. My hair does tend to be dry but my scalp gets oily. I follow with an ACV rinse or herbal hair rinse. An herbal hair rinse can actually, correctly formulated, be used as a no poo too. It’s all about research and experimentation and finding what works for you. I seldom wash my hair with shampoo now, just use a rinse usually. Also I make a dry shampoo powder, and a dry shampoo spray to use when my scalp seems oily between cleanings.

  3. Allison Avatar

    I’m not sure you fully understand the “no-poo” method. There are as many methods as there are diversity of hair, You only explained one method, one that I believe is incredibility uncommon and definitely not recommended by people that understand scalp health. The goal of going no-poo is to work with your scalp’s natural oil, not against it. I stopped using shampoo ten years ago at the suggestion of my professional hair stylist. I’ve never used baking soda, honestly I’ve never heard of using it. And I rarely use ACV, and only watered down. After 30 years, I finally won my battle against severe flaky build up, intolerable itch, and incessant frizz.

    I once heard a saying, “don’t blow out someone else’s candle to make yours shine brighter.” If you have a good product, that’s great. Let it stand on its own merit. You don’t need to discredit or invalidate something that is good and working for so many people in order to drum up sales.

    Thank you 🙂

    1. Danielle Avatar

      I think you might be assuming her intentions here, she originally wrote this article in 2017. I also recall for a while there that the “no poo method” name was commonly used to refer to the baking soda/ACV trend, it was a big thing a few years ago. This was also written years before her hair care line was created.

    2. Amanda Avatar

      Will you share your method? I’m looking for a no poo method. I am trying to rid my home of all chemicals. Thank you!

      1. Verity Avatar

        There’s a great community at reddit’s r/NoPoo that can help you figure out a routine suited for you!

      2. Audrey Avatar

        Check out the no poo fb group as well. That’s where I started my no poo journey.

  4. Kat Avatar

    I tried the no poo method for six months as an experiment to see if it helped tame my fly aways. It did but boy was it a lot of work. I did a lot of research first and knew to experiment a little and find my hairs needs. I had long and curly hair which…meant the preening took at least 45 minutes a day.

    All in all…here’s what I found.

    I had soft water so that was good. And I had long curly hair which was not great.

    I used no products in my hair and would wash with straight water every day (curly hair…so can’t brush it if it isn’t wet so I had to do a water wash every day unless I did tight braids) and during the first few weeks where it got really oily I kept my hair in braids.

    I found for me that washing my hair daily with just water and Sundays putting something in my hair to cleanse it works great. I used just the apple cider and water for awhile but found a standard shampoo in small (dime sized) amount just on the scalp works better.

    I also found that preening took forever. I imagine if someone has shorter and straighter hair it wouldn’t be so big a deal but with long curly hair….45 min minimum usually twice a day…just took a lot of work.

    Now what I do is I use shampoo and conditioner only as needed. I shampoo in tiny amounts on Sundays and occasionally on a Wednesday if I’ve been extra sweaty or it feels like it needs it. Then I use some leave in conditioner. That’s it.

    I did find that after i did the no poo method I can’t hold hair dye in my hair anymore. I assume it’s because my hair has such crazy moisture now (it’s unbelievably soft) that no dye gets in there. I tried to dye my hair with a permanent dye a few months ago and it just rinsed right out except for my very front where all the grey is. So I had a blotch of greenish hair at the front (i tried to dye it dark dark green) and then my natural dark brown moving to ombra auburn on the rest of my hair. did NOT look good.

    Sucks that I can’t dye my hair at all now…I like experimenting with colours. But…it is nice that my hair is super healthy. When all my other curly haired friends complain about the humidity frizzing their hair mine is fine. I can use my fingers to swirl it into perfect curls without needing any hair product. And how I brush it (when it’s wet) can set it to be slick or volumous without the need for any styling products.

    So…the pros of the no poo method were that it really did make my hair super nourished and soft.

    The downside is that I can’t dye my hair and that it took too much time to maintain.

    The happy medium works best for me. Shampoo sparingly. Condition as needed. That’s it.

  5. Mark Avatar

    I know this thread is a little old, but I thought I’d contribute something from a man’s perspective: I stopped using commercial shampoo several years ago, and substitute Dr. Bronners. Just a couple of drops of the selected flavor–I like peppermint and almond–rubbed between the hands and into the hair. I then rinse the soap out and apply a rinse of rosemary water that I make at home. Leave that on for a couple of minutes, then rinse it out. Leaves my hair soft and manageable. I’m 58 years old and still have a full head of hair.

    1. Lynn Avatar

      No poo is so much more than baking soda. I dont use poo. But never ever tried baking soda in my hair.

      Instead of telling what is bad. No poo can do lots of good. Like water only. Or apple cider viniger rinse. That is really good for your ph balance.

  6. Hanna Avatar

    I just use VEGETABLE bar soap instead of shampoo (it’s super cheap $1/bar). The reason is when I look at the ingredients, it’s all the same. I use no conditioner, as I don’t wash the oils out – just the dirt, and the soap is gentle (only 5 simple ingredients – water, lye, oil, fragrance, salt) and oily (from saponifying) to not need it. I also don’t wash everyday – which also makes not needing conditioner better.

  7. Casey Avatar

    Garbanzo bean flour has been working really well for me! It stays clean for a long time and I’ve gone to washing my hair once a week. The only thing is my hair is really long and I need a good conditioner or else I spend way too much time brushing through it.

  8. Jacque Avatar

    Im 58 and haven’t used anything but water on my hair for 4months. I have naturally curly hair, do not dye it.
    I get compliments on my hair daily. I’m surprised my head doesn’t stink. I probably spend 5-7mins of massaging my scalp in the shower daily. I was thinking of trying baking soda, vinegar etc,, but after reading this post, I will just continue to do as I’ve been doing. Not sure how long one can go without washing, but 4 mos and counting. The first few weeks were itchy. But not any more.
    Thank you for all the info.

  9. Kate Avatar

    No-poo has been working great for my hair for almost 10 years now. I experienced the downside initially but since then haven’t had those issues at all! My guess is because I only wash my hair 1-2 times a week.

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