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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wellnesse! After 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!
Discussion (164 Comments)
I put bentonite clay powder in my dry shampoo mixture with cocoa powder and arrowroot and it has been a great success! I’d like to think my hair is receiving the same benefits from the clay in dry shampoo as well. It does a fantastic job of absorbing excess oil and giving my hair some texture. Great post!
I use a vinegar solution or just water. The vinegar solution helps with de-tangling.
Once in a while I do a final rinse with a can of beer (that’s too old for drinking). I can’t remember where I heard that a beer rinse is supposed to be good, or why. My hair seems to like it. What is your opinion on a beer rinse?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve never tried it, but I’m curious to try it now 🙂
Yes! I agree. Beer is great for a last rinse. When I do use it, it give my hair a lot of body.
Edith D. Thurman
Yes no poo has NOTHING to do with shampoo, but EVERYTHING to do with conditioner! Like cleansing conditioner! Every conditioner is actually a cleansing conditioner. That’s why I only use conditioner without the bad ingredients for over five years! Plus you don’t actually have to make anything! Funny how when you stop using shampoo you start to notice just how much conditioner actually foams up. I do love your blog, and emails, but shampoo is horrible for your hair,
What’s brand do you use?
What conditioner do you use?
This one! https://wellnesse.com/products/conditioner
I tried the no-poo method and it was an utter disaster.
After have used a bunch of SLS-free, non-gmo, no-dyes or fragrances, organic – pretty much the purest shampoos one could buy from a store, I was finding that I was getting greasier and greasier in that I was starting to have to wash my hair every other day – which was far from my goal. Ultimately, I wanted to be able to wash my hair every three days.
Hence, I tried no-poo and found that it stripped hair of color (we are talking even your natural color 🙁 and made my hair super dry and brittle. I stopped no-poo after reading a blog in which the person who had been doing no-poo for years had bleach-blonde hair because of all the damage (they were not naturally that blonde). That to me proves it is not normal/good for hair.
I tried not to go back to the darkside of using terrible shampoos, so I started with a Davines from Italy – which wasn’t the best, but I’m happy to report that I now bounce back and forth between two really wonderful natural shampoos and can typically make it every three days. I use EO brand shampoo and an organic shampoo from Neal’s Yard Remedies – Wellness Mama you would love NYR!
Those aren’t alternatives to no poo, they all fall under no poo. No poo is simply not using conventional shampoo. Baking soda is just currently the most well known version, even though it’s, in many people’s opinion, one of the weakest options. 🙂
Check out the big no poo group on Facebook, it has a pretty comprehensive list of some other options. I personally use shikaki powder and/or sifted rye flour for myself, and aloe vera gel or honey for my toddler. Sometimes a shampoo bar. We generally wash once a week. You just have to experiment to find out what works best for your hair.
I agree with the experimenting! Rye flower works for me too! Sometimes I add clay, sometimes I do herbal rince.
Katie thank you for all the healthy hacks you teach us!
Another vote for rye flour! I’ve washed my hair with it once a week for the last six months, and it has never been happier and healthier. I even have some natural curls. Who knew?
How do you wash your hair with rye flour? Just regular rye, like bread, flour?
Yeah, I agree with this and just wanted to add to the discussion that although I’m pretty new to no-poo and still in the transition phase, I have seen warnings about baking soda over and over again in the information I’ve read, so I’ve only used it one time so far and had no issues, but plan to use different types of flour instead.
Also, this part of the article seems inaccurate to me: “Those who practice “no poo” are simply forgoing shampoo in favor of using baking soda to wash their hair.”
I’m not trying to pick on the article but this particular sentence seems to be false from what I’ve read about no poo, and I think it could make people shy away from trying it.
I started using shampoo bars from Chagrin Valley over a year ago and have found they work pretty well. For those almost year, though, there was a lot of buildup, so I used diluted apple cider vinegar (1 part vinegar, 3 parts water) and a few drops of lavender essential oil to cover the vinegar smell, to reduce the buildup. I still get some buildup but it takes longer. I’m not sure, though, if this is good for my hair or not so I might try the Morocco Method and see if that helps thicken my hair or grow in places it’s traditionally struggled to grow/where I still have wispys, fly-aways or baby hair.
do you have hard water? it seems if you have hard water, you need a diluted acv or lemon juice rinse to get rid of hard water buildup. Just be careful, lemon can lighten your hair! I have hard water and I’ve been using Shea moisture brand shampoo followed by a dilute acv final rinse.
We live in a hard water area and using soap creates soap scum on your hair which builds up over time and is incredibly hard to get off. It’s also disgusting!
I mainly just use water and a good rub with a clean towel while the hair’s natural oils are soft from the shower (in Elizabethan times they used linen “rubbing” cloths to clean the hair). Sometimes I use Rhassoul clay powder mixed with water which gives me soft clean hair and has not created any blockages in my drain so far (I have been using it for a year).
I’m interested to try using Aloe Vera gel too.
I would like to Thank you for your Blog. and for all the E-mails I received from you. You’ve been bless to me and my whole family and Friends. I love what you do for us Busy Moms. I love all the Recipes you have. and have been making them for my family. works great than store bought and chemical free. I came from a big family. My Mom always make natural Remedies for us kids when we were young. it reminds me of what you do for your family and you share with Us. I can thank you Enough for what you do. May God Bless you and your Family. Like my Mom Said. All the Good Things we do here on Earth, Blessings will come back to you and your Children.
Thank you Again!
Katie - Wellness Mama
Thanks for your kind words!
Actually when I first learned the no poo years ago it had nothing to do with baking soda…this is the first I’ve heard that. I was introduced it by my hair stylist. She showed me the book Curly Girl. She then picked up her book of ingredients and pulled a bottle of conditioner off the shelf and showed me there are cleansers in conditioners. The idea is to use a high quality conditioner. Shampoo adds to many cleansers and roughs up the cuticle on us curlies. My hair is healthy, my scalp less itchy …I’ve been able to grow my hair long due to less haircuts and my curls look great. Everyday I get compliments on my hair.
I was thinking the same. Never heard of using baking soda. I just use a homemade bar off etsy, every few days, and I’m good.
I’ve also used the “no poo” brand for curly hair as well. There are a lot of extra ingredients in there though that makes me skeptical whether it’s that safe or not. It’s at least better then ones with parabens and sulphites though.
I’ve been following the curly girl method for well over 3 years now. No shampoo, sulfates, silicones, drying alcohols, etc., have touched my hair in this time and I love my hair and my curls! I’d never even heard of using baking soda.
Same here Holly. I use the curly girl method as well and have never heard of washing hair with baking soda. And even if I did, I am pretty positive I never would give it a try. But, as an fyi…the information presented is good non-the-less. Thank you Wellness Mama.
Emily Griffin - Waldron
What about those that don’t use anything to wash their hair? Most people who do the “no poo” method just rinse their hair with water.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Without the baking soda, there shouldn’t be the same damage to hair 🙂
I use a really dilute (3 parts water/1 part Bronner’s Castile Soap) “shampoo” about every two weeks, with a water wash in between if I need it. ALWAYS an ACV rinse – it’s what makes a water wash meaningful, really. Works really well for me.