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. Kirstie Rowland Avatar
    Kirstie Rowland

    Hello! I am a no pooer! I DO NOT wash my hair with baking soda. I repeat: DO NOT. I tried it a few years ago on my first go of no poo and it made my hair and scalp feel so awful! This time I am simply using water, ACV once a week and I brush my hair with a boar bristle brush! I have had very fine hair all of my shampooing life. I also suffered from dandruff and psoriasis all over my scalp. All the dandruff shampoo in the world did not work. Now with my new no poo routine, my hair has never felt better! It is shiny, thick and a beautiful color! I am also psoriasis free! I will never go back!

    Be well – Kirstie

    1. Araceli Avatar
      Araceli

      Not all no-pooers use baking soda, in fact, all of the alternatives you’ve listed I’ve seen on no-poo sites. The point is to just not use conventional shampoos that will strip your natural oils. I actually use your clay shampoo recipe (with a few modifications), but I only need to use it about once a month after going no-poo. My hair is shiny, flake free, and growing quickly! 🙂

  2. Erika Avatar

    Hi!
    I’ve been washing my hair with rye flour since december, because a friend recommended it to me. It took my hair way too long to adjust, so I started rinsing with diluted apple vinegar which helped a bit. I didn’t want to use baking soda, because I know it’s pretty strong. But when my hair didn’t seem to be adjusting (it just stayed sticky and greasy) I decided to mix it into my rye flour once, because I had heard that adding baking soda one time helps speed up the process of flushing out the bad chemicals. And it really helped! I haven’t used baking soda afterwards, but now when I wash my hair with rye flour (around 3-4 times a month) and rinse with diluted apple vinegar (nearly every time I shower) my hair gets clean!

    My only concern (and this has happened with every natural solution I have tried) is that I can’t brush my hair, because that would ruin my hairbrush. I currently have to use a wide toothed comb, because it isn’t too hard to clean. The reason is that when I comb my hair, something gray (I’m guessing it’s related to greasy dust) is deposited on the comb and sticks to it. Do you know what causes that and what I can do about it? I really miss using a hair brush…

  3. Dianna Kouns Avatar
    Dianna Kouns

    I have the original Curly Girl Handbook. In it, Lorraine Massey suggest washing your hair with conditioner, light conditioner to thick & creamy, depending on your hair type. She only suggest baking soda if you have a real build-up of product or oil in your hair.

  4. Ashley Avatar

    So what if you just went no nothing, except a good finger scrub and water? No abrasive, no alternative pH to worry about?

  5. Karen Avatar

    I started using natural products like Maple Holistics but doing the no poo method is interesting so I want to try it out in the future.

  6. Jodie Avatar

    I use a no-poo method (and have for over a decade) and have never used baking soda. In fact, I have never seen it recommended in any article or video talking about it. I have no idea where the author gets the idea that no-poo proponents ‘typically’ use baking soda.

  7. Karen Avatar

    I have natural curly hair and I really struggle with dry brittle hair. After researching I found the “no poo” concept. I use a slightly different “no poo” though. I use conditioner instead of shampoo. A good conditioner without sulfates or silicones. My hair has been much healthier!

  8. Charli Avatar

    Several years ago I developed a sensitivity to commercial shampoos. The dermatologist I saw prescribed an extremely harsh cleanser that only made it worse. The only time I had anything itch worse was when I had chicken pox. So I took matters in my own hands and used straight AC vinegar to cure the rash and then started using baking soda and water to clean my hair. It did work great for a couple years, but then I started to notice that my hair was getting brittle. So I decided to stop using any sort of cleanser whatsoever. It has been a year now and my hair has never been healthier. I still rinse it every two to three days to redistribute the natural oils, but that’s it. My daughter, who has extremely curly hair, stopped shampooing her hair at about the same time and her hair has become much more manageable.

  9. Sarah Avatar

    I tried the diluted baking soda and this is all true. It worked great for a while, then it was awful so I switched to eggs. I loved the egg with lemon oil and jojoba, but I would still do the diluted ACV after. Only downside was the prep and my hair smelled like wet dog :/ My husband brought home an “African Mud Shampoo Bar” from work (health food store), it was a free sample ???? I love it so much. I only need to use it every 4-6 weeks, still do the ACV and occasionally the homemade dry shampoo if it starts looking greasy.

  10. K Avatar

    I thought the no-poo is literally using just water. The baking soda & vinegar is, in my opinion, an alternative branch of thought for hair care. So, do you think that a complete water-only washing is problematic?

  11. Jenn Avatar

    I tried the no-pop method and my hair started falling out in huge clumps. The build up was very waxy in nature and coated my boar bristle brush to the point of having to wash it 2-3 times during the same brushing set. I have low porosity hair, very fine, thin, straight hair but I have a lot of it. I literally felt like I was balding after the first 2 wks. I used a very very diluted baking soda mixture once a week followed by diluted ACV spray. I would water method only in between that and stritch & preen as well. My mother has the exact same hair as me and she had the exact same problem. I wouldn’t recommend it for people with our types of hair. I stopped after the 3 wks because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have had any hair left!

  12. Stayc Avatar

    I use an oil wash 2-3 times per month on my scalp and hair, and only use conditioner with similar consistency as the oil to wash out the oil. In between oil washing, I only use conditioner to cleanse my scalp and hair. I’ve used baking soda and vinegar on my hair and it is so harsh on my scalp and doesn’t make my hair look and feel nearly as soft as the oils.

  13. Amanda Moon Avatar
    Amanda Moon

    I’ve used baking soda w/ acv rinse for about 4 years now and love it. I have very thick, curly hair, and I was only twice a month. (Water rinse at least 3x/week.) I wonder about the ratios — when I first started I used 1 Tbsp / 8 oz of water but didn’t empty the whole thing on my head. Now I use about 1.5 teaspoons baking soda for 8 ounces and use it all each time, finger combing it in as I go. Then, before rinsing, I give myself a good 2-3 min scalp massage. The ACV rinse ratio is about the same, but I add essential oil for the smell.

    I do use a natural curl enhancer on wash days, but just that first day.

    My hair has never been more manageable, and my stylist always comments on how healthy it is (even though she could easily be selling me product instead.)

  14. Nina Avatar

    I feel you are misunderstanding the no poo movement/method – nobody, ever, at least no one I have ever heard of, recommends washing your hair with baking soda and vinegar on a regular basis.. Definitely no one from the no poo groups and websites.. The whole point of no poo is avoiding dangerous chemicals and finding whatever natural alternative works best for you. From what u describe above u are actually using the no poo/low poo method with succes 🙂

  15. Trisha C Avatar

    Diluted sulfate-free shampoo is what finally worked for me after being sulfate-free for almost three years. I first tried the baking soda routine, which either left my hair still greasy or really brittle. I’m sure my hard water made it worse. I also tried rye and clays and I think everything in between. I shifted to a shampoo bar, which seemed to still leave my hair a little flat. I’ve finally landed on a dilution of Desert Essence shampoo (sulfate free), followed by an acid rinse (Dr. Bronners). With the hard water, I have to use distilled water to mix my acidic rinse and for my final rinse. But I don’t mind since I only wash 1 -2 times per week. Alas, my hair feels as great as it did before I quit slathering it was all things unhealthy. I’d love to shift to water only washing, so I’m slowly reducing the amount of shampoo I add to my mixing bottle. And of course, brushing it daily with a boar bristle brush and using dry shampoo (corn starch and cocoa) are key parts of my routine. With this, I can comfortably go 4 days, sometimes 5, between washes.

  16. Shawna Romero Avatar
    Shawna Romero

    Hi there! I have gone on your website several times over the last couple of years in search of alternative methods for household/beauty routines. In regards to your method about eliminating shampoo and using baking soda instead, I have never tried that. However, up until two years ago, I was washing my hair with Castile soap and using apple cider vinegar as a conditioner. It worked well, but I wanted to see if I could keep my hair healthy without using anything at all. The first time I attempted this, I went back to my regular routine after three weeks because my hair felt so oily. On March 2, 2016, I decided I would give it one more shot. I began using only water on my hair, and magically I did not experience issues with oil buildup. It has been almost two years now, and I still only use water that wash my hair. The only “product” I ever use on my hair is coconut oil. This is only done on occasion when my ends are feeling a little dry. I couldn’t be happier with my decision to change! I also have my husband and two boys using only water. I will never go back to “traditional” or even “natural” methods for washing my hair again! Though I didn’t make the switch for money, it could definitely be an incentive for those looking to save on supplies.

  17. Andrea Bonin Avatar
    Andrea Bonin

    Hi, I used what I now know was too much baking soda. The recipe I followed was a 3:1 water:BS ratio. I had long, thick hair so I mixed up quite a bit. I was having problems with itching and flaking so I thought a gentle scrub would be helpful. After a little bit I started feeling some tingling and became very worried, so I rinsed it out and poured an acv mixture over my hair. I always lose quite a bit of hair during the day and in the shower but since then I’ve noticed I’ve lost a LOT of hair and the texture is not the same. I’m reading elsewhere on the internet that I could have permanently damaged my scalp/hair which is terrifying. Did anyone else have experience with this?

  18. Elizabeth Avatar
    Elizabeth

    Hey,
    I love reading your blog and always refer to it when searching for natural alternatives. I’m having a hard time choosing which shampoo method to go with. I have tried a few in the past: Castille soap made my hair too dry and I used Morroco method for about 5 months and didn’t fall in love with it. Which one do you use the most or would you recommend?

  19. Sadie Avatar

    This is just about how baking soda isn’t good for your hair, it doesn’t have any supporting facts why the no poos multiple other recipes aren’t good. Extremely disappointing…

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