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)
By rotating between shampoos, do you mean switch between shampoos every other day or every other week? Month?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I think they recommend every day or two, but I switched a couple times a week.
I’ve been “no-poo” for nearly 10 years. Early on I found the baking soda wash was damaging my hair, so I adopted a different system:
1) I rinse my hair in the shower, combing my hair with a wide-tooth comb while my head is under the water.
2) After wrapping my head, turban style, to soak up the water, I use a clean, dry, terrycloth towel to stroke my hair from scalp to ends for 200 strokes. I flip the towel over at 100 strokes to use the dry side of the towel.
3) Comb out and set, or finish with a quick blow dry. The towel moves the sebum throughout the hair rather than stripping it. That sebum is valuable stuff; antimicrobial, antiviral, antibacterial; it protects the hair and keeps it from drying out and having split ends.
On the rare occasion that I get something greasy or gunky in my hair, I’ll give it a mud bath with Red Clay and a splash of raw ACV, rinse then proceed as above. I love the simplicity, safety, and frugality of this method; zero product means zero exposure to toxic chemicals (even “organic” shampoos and conditioners have ’em). By the way, we have hard well water, and I still have success with my Towel Method.
that’s great , if i could get to that stage would be fantastic because basically i’m trying to cut back on the consumerism as much as possible, for me is not only about health. I suffer from seborrheic dermatitis on the occasions that i’m more stressed , so maybe i should just stop using stuff on my hair, even natural the scalp doesn’t like most of the things. The clay that you mention will probably be the best when i need something else. I use henna once a year too and after the treatment the hair is a bit saturated on the top , but apart from that it’s ok and the scalp his happy. Maybe i’m taking the natural sebum out and the scalp does not like it. Any thoughts ? Thank you a lot, have a great day.
And best of all – no plastic bottles to throw away!
I’ve been no-poo for 7 years, using baking soda the whole time. About a year in, instead of ACV I started using Dr. Bonner’s citrus rinse. I only need to wash my hair every two weeks or so. Sorry to hear it’s problematic for others, but I suppose since I do it so infrequently its ok?
Tried lots of variations of eliminating shampoo with varying results. I have been working to resolve Hashimoto’s, so my hair is on the dry, damaged and sad side. I have ended up with a very happy routine of washing with EO brand conditioner alone a few times per week and just rinsing with water the days in-between. It is not drying and saves me from the unnecessary step of harsh shampoo. (I even found sulfate free ones to cause some damage for my hair.) As far as hair growth, only after years of removing heavy metals and other natural health interventions, was I able to tolerate high doses of Lugol’s iodine and the thickness of my new hair is much better. Hopefully the texture will improve in the near future.
I could not help but reply to this comment. Please know you can rub that iodine on your wrist with the other wrist and it will be absorbed with our staining anything. So much better and easier to do than ingesting. I use 2-3 drops daily that way and my thyroid panels are perfect. However, when I’m particularly fatigued I just repeat later in the day. Also if you get white (colorless) iodine, it must be Ammonium free, or it stings, you can apply to your scalp. white iodine promotes hair growth ( I only know of Dr Clarks white iodine in California). You kill two birds with one stone . Also add silica to your vitamin regime, I added it as bamboo. I got new visible hair growth and the hairline and top of scalp after 7-1/2 weeks of taking 600 mgs every morning. I did these protocols; bamboo and iodine separately. I know the bamboo worked!! Two other things to be ACUTELY aware of is to get checked for the MTHFR gene mutation. It’s a simple blood draw or you can get a do it yourself saliva kit for $99.00 at 23andme site if you desire more insight to your genetics. I mention the MTHFR mutation because once I supplemented with methylfolate (that’s the natural form of folic acid which is just vitamin B9) my hair shedding slowed and the inexplicable excess weight started to leave – hooray! Do some research on the MTHFR gene- it’s fascinating reading. (I’m a 57 year old in menopause). I learn so much from reading real people’s comments on articles, I hope this helps someone. Cheers!
This is great information-thank you for sharing!
That is really fascinating! I have debated if I can afford the MTHFR gene test, too. I’d like to know, because I am getting NOWHERE with my local medical team. I am 50, perimenopausal, and all I get when I complain about symptoms (that nobody else seems to deal with) is “It’s your time of life”. Or the one she says EVERY TIME I go in: “I think you are depressed. I can prescribe something for that.”. No, I am not depressed–I am angry you don’t listen.
I had recently started my own drops of iodine, after reading all sorts of things and comparing to my issues. Of course, that made my thyroid test appear okay. Ha ha.
I am interested in using the white iodine for hair growth–I used to cover my hair full time, and only recently started to have it open to the world on occasion. I think covering possibly made me lose hair around the hairline.
This helped me!!! I have been trying to figure out MTHFR for years I believe I have this issue and can’t seem to find a balance to hold onto minerals and vitamins . Which methylfolate do you take ??
I tried ‘no poo’ for about six or nine months a few years ago. It got SO BAD that I couldn’t even run a comb or brush through my hair. Awful. I’ve found a shampoo and conditioner that’s low in all the bad stuff 🙂 and only wash twice a week or so.
Actually, no poo is usually using conditioner to cleanse your hair not baking soda. Lots of good information on the no poo facebook group. They say baking soda should be used once and a while only to clarify.
That’s what I use. I wash my hair with conditioners that don’t have silicones (Suave Naturals for example). I have to massage my scalp more than I did with shampoo but my hair is so much healthier now. It’s been a few years now and my color actually holds better.
This is an interesting blog post, and not my experience, so I thought I’d chime in. I’ve been no ‘poo for…5 years?…and haven’t noticed the negatives that you mention. I do tend to use a commercial conditioner most of the time, so perhaps that helps balance it out. I’ll also mention that I only wash my hair 1-2 times/week. When I saw someone mention hair color change, I started paying more attention to my hair, but haven’t noticed any significant change.
Clearly, I may be in the minority, but I really like my whopping ~1 Tb of baking soda dissolved in water ‘poo.
Same here. I’ve been doing it for 3 years with great results! I had an initial adjustment period of a few weeks but it’s been great since then. My hair is way less frizzy and I can let it air dry and it looks good.
Same here, Colleen and Amanda. I’ve been using diluted baking soda and diluted ACV method for the past 2 years and my hair has never been healthier than it is right now. I often receive comments about how healthy and shiny my hair looks, and people are shocked whenever I tell them that I only wash it once a week with baking soda and ACV. I did discover along the way, however, that leaving the ACV solution in my hair (as opposed to rinsing it out) makes a huge difference and yields much better results than if I rinse it out. Perhaps leaving the ACV in your hair ensures an adequate level of acidity so that the hair stays “happy”. Also, when I wash my hair with the baking soda solution, I don’t actually “scrub” my hair with it — I mostly focus on my scalp by gently massaging it into the scalp, and then I let the solution gently “flow” through the rest of my hair as I’m rinsing it out.
I sure hope that people don’t give up on the baking soda / ACV protocol. If some individuals are seeing less-than-desirable results, I’m guessing that it’s due to one or all of the following:
1) washing their hair too frequently
2) scrubbing their hair shafts too roughly with the baking soda solution.
3) rinsing out the ACV solution instead of leaving it in
I have been using baking soda ( 2 Tbsp in 2 cups water) with and ACV (3 Tbsp in cups water with peppermint and rosemary EOs) for 1 3/4 years and really like it. There was an adjusment period to begin with. Yeah, I leave the ACV in my hair for awhile (as I shave my legs). After I brush my hair out, I put in a small amount of coconut oil (1/8 tsp) to help decrease frizziness and give my waves some bounce.
i used the no poo method for almost 3 months, my hair went through a nasty heavy greasy stage and then became very dry, felt like straw on the bottoms and I had a ton of breakage. I stopped the no poo and started using a Lush shampoo bar and am very happy with the results
The only problem with this is the Lush bars are filled with SLS and artificial fragrance.. I’m not a huge fan of them because they seem to be misleading people as being a ‘safe’ company when they are anything but.
Kelly A Crout
My husband and I have been using No Poo for 4 years now. I have thin poker straight hair and I had a terrible time for the 1st 6 months and almost gave up.
Then I notice there were no split ends and I wasnt losing as much hair as before in the brush so I knew something was happening. I still cannot use vinegar for rinse instead use aloe.
I add a drop or two of argan to my BS mix along with a drop or two of castile soap, a couple slivers of JR Liggits and some essential oils (tea tree or Lemon , Rosemary or Ylang and my batch last for 3-4 shampoos (shampoo twice a week.
My husband has very liittle dandruff since he switched ..before it looked like it snowed on his shoulders.
Thank you for informing us of the clay based shampoo, I will check it out.
Your first three sentences are exactly my experience. The first six months were a struggle, but since then, it’s been great, and my hair has never been healthier! I very seldom have split ends, and my hair is soft and manageable (I went whole-hog and abandoned all product as well, so it’s just me and a brush). I do use ACV as a rinse, but that’s a little more difficult to get right, so a lot of times I just use a commercial conditioner without -fates or -cones after the BS. And, I only wash every six to ten days!
My point is, I think everyone’s different, and not just with hair type. For me, this method works great, and the BS has not ruined my hair, but I also tweak it a few times a year to compensate for my cycle, my level of activity, what I eat, what the weather’s like, etc. After four years, I know what my hair needs, and am prepared to adjust my routine accordingly.
BTW, for other readers, to me, the point to going poo-free is saving: save money, save time, save my hair, save the planet. BS/ACV is, by far, the least expensive poo-free method, besides water-only. It’s the easiest to try, at least in my experience, and saves me tons of time, since I’m washing my hair so infrequently. My hair looks great most days, and I lose a lot less, plus I’m not using harmful chemicals (Lye? Really?) on my biggest organ–I could eat a big spoonful of BS/ACV, and it wouldn’t hurt me in the least. And I’m keeping those same harmful chemicals out of the water supply and not damaging my bathtub or plumbing. For me, it’s a win-win-win-win.
It’s been said before, and I’ll say it here – once the oils and lye have saponified fully, there is no lye left: only soap. Many people think that there is lye left in the final product – unless the soap is very badly made and far too much lye was used or the soap hasn’t finished saponifying, there is no lye left. Trying to make soap without using lye is like trying to make a baking soda/vinegar volcano without vinegar – it’s impossible; if you tried to make soap without lye, you’d be left with a pot of oil that will never turn into soap. All real soap has had lye in it.
I’m confused… As I understand it, no poo is not necessarily using baking soda and ACV, but any method at all that doesn’t involve a conventional shampoo?? I’m still right at the beginning of my journey but I’m trying water only (with the odd ACV rinse due to hard water) which I thought was the purest form of no poo?
I see the downsides to the baking soda on hair, but what about the apple cider vinegar as a “conditioning” rinse? How do you feel about that part?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I still do use diluted apple cider vinegar as a rinse and it works well. I also do use shampoo bars once in a while and it really helps to rinse with ACV