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. WellnessMama.com 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.

Comments

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

  1. Adam Avatar

    I would like to point out a flaw in this article, because I think your doing it wrong. Baking soda is not to be used to scrub your hair, but your scalp, to remove build up. I’ve been doing this for years and have gone from unmanageable hair to perfectly wavy hair. But I only use baking soda every couple of weeks to remove buildup. The rest of the time I use hot water and a fine tooth comb to rinse out dirt and sweat. I do use my acv almost daily as a leave in, as I’m styling my hair. (A couple of spritz from a spray bottle) It dries odorless, adds moisture, and helps defend against flakes.

  2. Luciana Avatar

    Actually, no poo is not washing the hair with baking soda. This is just one of no poo methods and it is even not recommended by most.
    No poo is just not using shampoo for washing the hair. Clay is no poo! Native Americans used clay to wash their hair. However, clay is also abrasive and we must be careful in using it.
    There is also no poo only with water, and it works perfectly with the water is neutral, free of minerals. I used to wash my hair only with water, and it was beautiful and odorless. (Of course, you must adapt your hair and scalp for not using soap, so it does not produce much oil.) But where I live now the water is hard, full of minerals.
    With hard water, no poo may be really difficult, but doable. I have my method and can share, if you wish. But now I am concerned about why my silver hair is yellowing. Perhaps, due to pollution or something like that. Perhaps you have some clue about it. Oh, and I also would like to know how prevent hair loss in a natural way — not using shampoo.
    Thanks for the text!

  3. Kelly Avatar

    No-poo isn’t defined as just using baking soda to wash your hair. No-poo means using a different method beside over the counter shampoo to wash hair and the belief that over the counter shampoos strip not only bad oils from hair, but also good. This article only addresses why BAKING SODA isn’t good for the scalp, not the no-poo. It is a very misleading title. But nonetheless, I still enjoyed the article. It was concisely informational 🙂

  4. Jenny Avatar

    I’ve been no-poo about 2 years now. I’ve done the Baking Soda and Apple Cider vinegar method. Tried the clay and egg yolk method. Tried the Arrowroot and activated charcoal method. Tried with coconut milk added or plain castile soap. The best method I’ve found so far is completely nothing. Either my hair was too dry or had a powder residue left. What I do is rub my scalp every night, use a boar brush and wooden comb after. I only wash my hair once or twice a week (tie my hair up and wash my body at least every other day if not more.) To wash my hair I use water as hot as I can tolerate and rub my scalp under the water for 10 mins; Use a plastic wide-tooth comb to comb my hair under the shower water. Then I turn the hot almost all the way off and flip my head over and rinse only my hair with as cold as I can stand. I may try to use soap nuts and see how my hair reacts to that.

  5. Rachael Avatar

    Yes! I knew baking soda was bad! What about this Rye Flour Shampoo? Have you heard of that?

  6. franki Avatar

    My hair started falling out years ago, I’m not sure how I learned about baking soda. I dissolved in water, poured over my scalp, rinsed & then used a small amt of high quality shampoo. The baking soda residue made it really foam up. This worked for 2 years & hair loss started again. So I stopped any shampoo & used ACV. I don’t like what ACV does to my back or face when I rinse it out & have been looking for alternatives for removing baking soda residue. Was poking around today because i need to wash my hair & am out of ACV. Trying to find out how white vinegar does in a pinch. Wonder if hydrogen peroxide would remove the baking soda? I haven’t had anymore hair loss but it hasn’t really grown back either. Biotin is supposed to help – I notice a difference in my nails but not hair. I usually pin hair up during cleansing & leave it alone til it’s dry because most of the breakage happened when I combed out wet hair. Pinning it up the right way sort of “sets” it so I have more volume after it dries and take it down.

    1. Shannnon Avatar
      Shannnon

      I wouldn’t think peroxide would be a good idea on hair that has breakage. It’s used as a bleach so I don’t think it would be a good idea on hair that already isn’t strong.

  7. Heidi Avatar

    I used no-poo for awhile–the baking soda one, followed by ACV. It was awful. I thought I needed to get through the transition stage, and for a short time it seemed like I had reached what I wanted. But then, probably because I have baby fine, ultra straight hair, things went south, and I bounced back to a shampoo a hairstylist sold. I am inspired here because, as many said, I thought “no poo” was ONLY the baking soda way of life. From what you offer, and from the comments, I see lots of experimentation going on in my home. LOL.
    I think we need to remember that because of diet, lifestyle choices, where we live–what works for one won’t work for all.

    I LOVE this article, Wellness Mama! I came here for a decent deodorant recipe and got lost in your site–AGAIN.

    I just taught a class for my job (I am a librarian)–we have free public DIY classes all the time for the patrons. I used one of your recipes, and gave credit to you. I told people that you have THE site for DIY for family! 🙂 I actually typed out your web site on my handouts so they wouldn’t get it wrong. Ha ha.

    Thanks for all you do!

  8. Shirley Avatar
    Shirley

    I have been washing my hair once a week with very DILUTED baking soda solution and then rinsing with very DILUTED vinegar solution for about 6 or 7 years. My hair will still go through stages of dryness or oiliness. I think it has to do with our diet! Our hair reacts to what we eat just like any other part of our body, so remember to also document what you are eating as you change your hair care routines. I know that when I eat a lot of eggs, my hair seems healthier. Just a thought…

  9. Deborah Avatar
    Deborah

    I strongly recommend against the lye soap. Lye is that strongest alkali you can buy. It’s so alkaline it can burn skin like acid and makes baking soda look good for your hair by comparison. Being in a soap, there are other ingredients with the lye making it less caustic but in the long run it’s not any better and possibly worse than using baking soda

  10. Selkaen Avatar
    Selkaen

    Like Jasmine I’m a big ayurvedic plant powders fan, which seem to be more popular in Europe than in the USA. I’m not a strict no-pooer since there are period I alternate with a natural shampoo bar, but these weeks since I dyed my hair with henna I’ve used shikakai to wash my hair with awesome results. I also advise sidr especially with a indigo-based color.

  11. Sarah Avatar

    I’ve “no-poo’d” for about 4 years now. i just use a natural conditioner, saturate my scalp, let it sit for a couple of minutes, give it a thorough scrub and rinse and i use a little extra of the conditioner on the ends of my hair as a styling product. i have dry skin and dry, curly hair though so this works best for me. i recommend the book “live curly, live free” for great info in the science of hair care!

  12. Anni Avatar

    I’ve been using natural organic shampoos and bars for years. Last year I tried the Morrocco Method. I used it for nearly six months and it was really bad. My hair was just greassy ALL the time. I returned using organic shampoo. I have to wash my hair every two days and use dry shampoo in between. If I go like three days without washing it and just using dry shampoo I think it looks greasy, but it feels really awful and it hurts. I would put my hair on a ponytail and it just really hurts my hair when its pulled up, because it is so greasy and goes against the growing direction.

  13. Tina Avatar

    Thank you very much for this post Katie. I had been doing no poo for a few years, was working ok, not great though, then I got this great idea just recently to leave the soda solution on my hair for longer, too long in fact, and it completely damaged my superfine hair. Had to cut it drastically, but it is still breaking, looks like it is going to take a long time for my poor hair to recover, not to mention to grow back to its original length. Still, it is all my fault I guess as I never used ACV after using soda. I am washing my hair with rye flour now and it is so much better.

  14. Darci Avatar

    The promo code for Morrocco Method doesn’t work to get 15% off. It gives the message “this coupon code has expired or is invalid”

  15. Kira Erikson Avatar
    Kira Erikson

    When I was a child I had a teacher in her late 50s. She remembered her great-grandmother from Scotland living with her family. The great-grandmother only washed her hair a few times a year. Apparently in the 19th century it was considered dangerous to wash your hair during the winter as you could get sick and die (no indoor plumbing, snow, no antibiotics, etc.) I tend to have very fine thin dry hair. Up until the age of 50 I only had a few silver strands, so I plucked them out. I also washed my hair only once or twice a week. About three years ago my dark beautiful hair went grey in just a few months. I was suspicious as I thought it should have stayed black with just more silver. I finally figured out that they are adding more and more chloramines/cloramines to tap water in Los Angeles, California. I used to bathe every night in an old fashioned tub and had beautiful skin (never even needed soap except for under arms and crotch). Again, skin also changed suddenly and got crepe like. I now find if I want my skin to be healthier I have to avoid bathing and just use a wash towel. At first I was able to protect my hair by washing with bottled water only. Then I think they began adding chemicals to even the natural spring water of Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead brands (due to drought they apparently now use artificial means of obtaining water that involves chemicals). My hair turned into brittle straw and began disintegrating. when I even rinsed it with water. About 4 months ago I went 5 weeks without washing or rinsing my hair. My hair was first very limp and lifeless for several weeks. I actually do comb my hair with a rubber comb several times a day. This helps distribute the natural hair oil down the hair shaft. I also wear a hat to protect my hair outside (if only I could wear an old fashioned bonnet like European women did to keep their hair clean for so many centuries — wish someone would bring back lace hair bonnets). At about 5 weeks my hair began fluffing out again. It also turned silky and dark and got some of its beautiful wavy texture back. I then washed my hair with some gentle shampoo. My hair looked even better. A couple of weeks later I washed my hair again with bottled water only — hair turned to straw again. I have found that my hair is best not washed for at least 5 weeks at a time. I’m now going to try going months without washing. My hair used to have a natural luster and I get some of it back the longer I don’t rinse with water. The hair looks darker just like a piece of colored fabric looks darker when wet. Last year I also tried a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses daily to bring back my hair color. It appeared to be working but I couldn’t stand the stuff. Also, the good results took several months to be apparent (as it only improves the hair inside the root that is still forming).

  16. Bethanie Avatar
    Bethanie

    Interesting to have come across this. I was just wondering what was going on with my hormones because one of my symptoms that I have been concerned with is how I have been loosing my hair, as if I just stopped breast feeding (Which was well over a year ago) and why is it so dry and flaking on the roots. I have been using Deva Curl no-poo shampoo and conditioner for a couple of years and just started having these problems in the last two months. I have curly hair and use pantene pro-v mousse to help with my curls. (I have tried every other expensive product out there and this is the only one that keeps my curls from going flat and frizzy). I am wondering if I should switch to a different brand of shampoo and conditioner now that I read this blog post.

  17. Naomi Avatar

    Actually I’ve practiced the no poo method for about ten months now and have never once used baking soda or even heard of others regularly using baking soda or even using it at all. Maybe a better title for this would be “the problem with using baking soda as shampoo” this really has nothing to do with no poo.

  18. Kendra Avatar

    Hi everyone. Just wanted to let everyone know what’s been working for me. I spent about 30 years of my life trying all kinds of products, commercial and natural, trying to get my mixed hair healthy and manageable. I am mixed, half white, half black. So I have always had trouble with frizzy, dry hair that never grew. For years when I was younger I used to chemically relax my hair to make it straight, until I was finally convinced by friends to go au natural. I have very tight curls. I tried the baking soda/ACV, which I ended up not liking. I tried Dr. Bronners and African Black soap for awhile. I still felt like it dried my hair out too much. I also tried all kinds of natural oils and serums to keep it shiny and not frizzy. As I become more and more crunchy I use less and less product. For the past year I have completely eliminated all products on my hair. The only product I use once a week or less is a soap nut conditioner that I buy online from Naturoli. My hair has never been healthier, longer, or shinier. I have always hated my hair but I now finally love my natural hair. Usually every other day I scrub my hair and rinse well with JUST water and comb with a pick every now and then. Sometimes I don’t even comb it, it keeps the curls more intact and bouncy. So just water and a natural soap nut conditioner once a week. So easy and affordable. I encourage everyone to reduce the products they use. I have done the same for my face. Just warm water rinse and a small amount of pure argan oil as a moisturizer once a day. I love that I spend so little time on getting ready. In the past, all the regiments and products would take forever and cost a fortune.
    Love your blog Katie. I learn so much every day.

  19. Shannon Avatar

    I got my Morrocco Method about a week ago. I got the starter package that came with the Feng Shea facial scrub and all the conditioners. My hair is still adjusting to the new regimen so it’s a little oily, but oh my gosh! I’ve been using the Earth Shampoo on my skin and it’s wonderful. I have trouble keeping my hands off my face because it’s so soft and it feels clean all the time unless I have makeup on.

    I wash with the Earth Shampoo twice a day and then spray with the Diamond Crystal Mist to tone, Finally, I put a tiny bit of Euro Oil on to moisturize. I use the scrub twice a week and the detox (clay mask) once a week. If it doesn’t work out for my hair I will continue buying the items mentioned above for my skin. I’ve been using the Earth Shampoo as a body wash too and my skin feels fabulous, I will report back after my hair finishes adjusting to say how that works out.

  20. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    I’ve been wanting to try Morocco method shampoo so thanks for the discount code. I finally placed my first order. I hope I love it.

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