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Is it really healthier to live without shampoo?

When I was a teenager in the early 90s, there was a definite trend adopted by a specific type of hippy student I dated, who told themselves and those around them that hair was “self-cleaning”. For weeks, even months, they would refuse shampoo, resulting in hair that emitted cheap cider and bong fumes wherever they went and gradually became lanker, greasier and flatter.

The modern no-washing (or “no-poo”) movement is based on the same principle, and is not to be confused with the co-washing movement (a significant and increasingly mainstream shift, inspired by an Afro-Caribbean practice, towards washing hair frequently in conditioner instead of with detergent-based shampoos). The no-washing movement (and by that I mean umpteen blogs and online communities) skips the conditioner too, instead using “natural substances” such as egg, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar or just plain water.

Lucy Aitken Read, a blogger herself, is so pleased with the results of her ongoing no-wash experiment (two years and counting) that she has written a book extolling its virtues. In Happy Hair: The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo, she explains how she quit washing in order to cut down on chemicals in her household and simultaneously address her greasy hair problems. She admits that there was a tricky “smelly stage” during which she could do little but wear a head scarf, but claims that, over time, her (unarguably now lovely) hair became thicker, healthier and shinier as a direct result of not washing it.

The reasoning behind no-pooing is that chemical detergents in shampoo strip hair of its natural oils, causing the scalp to pump out too much, creating lank hair and a greasy scalp. Free of harsh chemicals, the hair restores its own balance, growing lusciously of its own accord. This claim is unproven but the anecdotal evidence is plentiful and compelling. What is not so persuasive is the cheery assertion that one can “push through” an extended period when hair smells like the bins behind a nightclub.

The other flaw in the no-poo argument is that it seems insistent on imagining that all modern shampoos are packed with SLS (a chemical foaming agent), when in fact you can now pick up an SLS-free shampoo for about three quid in Sainsbury’s. It also wilfully ignores the much more fragrant co-wash method (see above), and the abundance of modern brands making good shampoos with only natural ingredients and foaming agents (coconut oil being just one of them). All are available to anyone wanting to reduce their chemical intake – and require zero reliance on stinky headscarves.

Do you live without shampoo? Or co-wash? How well does it work for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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