So I had this epiphany some time ago about why are we even using soap at all, and it made me rethink my shower routine completely. All these “hygiene” products pollute our water, often comes in plastic bottles, and are in the end more harmful than useful on our skins. While ditching soap was a no-brainer, I had a hard time figuring out what to do with my hair, which would not clean with water only (some people only use water though and it works well for them). Prior to going no poo, I had used the Sukin range for more than a year, which is chemical free but with whom I was never really satisfied. My hair would get oily really fast and it would give me an irritated, itchy scalp. When I started looking alternatives to shampoo, I found a few people advocating for baking soda. While I found baking soda a good idea to clarify your hair and scalp from all the build up coming from silicone based shampoos, conditioners or other hair products; I decided to not do this more than once or twice after having looked into the nature of our hair and scalp. Commercial shampoos have varying levels of pH and more than often do not specify it at all. Professional shampoos often stick to low pH (<5.5) because low pH reduces friction and keep your cuticles closed, thus eliminating any frizzy effect and hair damage.
The idea when making DIY shampoo is to stay as close to your hair and scalp natural pH. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14, anything between 0 and 6.9 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and anything between 7.1 and 14 is alkaline. The scalp pH is 5.5, and the hair shaft pH is 3.67. This natural hair acidity prevents fungi and bacteria in the hair and scalp, and keeps the cuticle closed and healthy. Water has a pH of 7 in most places but can vary from 6.5 to 8.5. You can easily test your water pH by buying pH paper (or DIY) and dipping it in a glass of water. If you have hard water at home, you might think about investing in a filter to keep your hair from suffering.
Because baking soda has a basic pH of 9, and what it does is opening your hair cuticles wide open. This is why rinsing with apple cider vinegar (pH 3) will close everything off and make your hair shiny and silky smooth. While this works pretty well, this routine can weaken your hair overtime, making it brittle and dull. Baking soda might help to get rid of all the gunk accumulated on your scalp, but if you’ve been using a natural shampoo for months, you probably don’t need to use baking soda more than once or twice at the start of your no poo journey.
Cheap, quick and easy homemade natural shampoo
I am currently using chickpea flour, which has a neutral pH of 7, followed by an ACV (Apple cide vinegar) rinse to get my hair closer to their natural slightly acidic pH. Chickpea flour dissolves oils and sebum easily thanks to its natural surfactant properties (it has saponins). Chickpea flour has been used for years by Indian families to clean their hair and bodies, and I found it works wonders for my sensitive scalp but still leaves my very fine hair a bit dry. Results from homemade shampoos varies depending on the nature of your hair as well, so going no poo requires patience and some trial and errors. I also don’t deep condition my hair often (leaving argan or coconut oil on your hair a few hours before shampoo from time to time) so well…That being said, my scalp stopped over producing oil and irritation ceased. I can now easily wait 4 to 5 days in between washes (with the help of a cocoa/cornstarch home made dry shampoo on the 4th and 5th day). So surely that’s a no poo win!
How to: mix 3 heaped tbs of chickpea flour with water so that it’s runny but still manageable, add 3 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Apply on wet hair and scalp, massage it in lightly (don’t expect it to foam), leave for half a minute and rinse thoroughly. Put 3 tbs of ACV in a cup of water, and soak your hair/pour it over your hair. Best is to use an old conditioner bottle to spread the ACV Water mix evenly through your hair. Leave in half a minute, and rinse well. Let your hair dry naturally if possible.
Rye flour has a pH of 5.5 which coupled with an ACV rinse mostly on the hair shaft should work even better than chickpea flour. I haven’t tried it yet, but that’s next on my list. There are many women recommending rye flour on the interwebs. Most of them used it over time and claim their hair is top healthy and shiny.
UPDATE: I tried rye today, and I loved it! The texture of the rye flour+ water mix is easier to handle than the chickpea one, and definitely leaves my hair softer. Rye flour also happens to contain pantothenic acid (which is what Pantene Pro–V puts in its shampoo, along with nasties). So that’s it, rye will be the way to go for me from now on.
How to: mix 3 heaped tbs of finely ground rye flour with water so that it’s runny but still manageable, add 3 drops of the essential oil of your choice (optional). Apply on wet hair and scalp, massage it in lightly (don’t expect it to foam), leave for half a minute and rinse thoroughly. Put 3 tbs of ACV in a cup of water, and soak your hair/pour it over your hair. Best is to use an old conditioner bottle to spread the ACV Water mix evenly through your hair. Leave in half a minute, and rinse well. Let your hair dry naturally if possible.
Try to rinse of these mixtures as well as possible, but don’t be scared if tiny particles remains, they will be brushed off when dry.
Put your hair to rehab
When you stop using detergent, your scalp slowly re-learn how to behave by himself and you can get to a point where you could well be able to wait as long as 10 days or more in between washes. But if you’ve been using commercial shampoo / hair products for years, you will go through a transition phase where you scalp will go crazy and overproduce sebum. You will feel like thrice cooked french fries has been planted on your head, but you MUST stay strong. If after only a day or two you feel your hair greasy and can’t stand it anymore, use natural dry shampoo. Try to wait as long as possible before washing your hair again, to help your hair find its balanced state again. Simply mix cornstarch to raw cocoa to get a light brown powder (skip the cocoa if you have white or blond hair) and sprinkle on your roots all over your head. Massage it in with your (clean) fingers, et voilà! You can now wait another 2 days before washing.
While you should definitely be cautious if you have any kind of skin condition, sticking to low pH natural products such as besan / rye flour and apple cider vinegar is unlikely to seriously mess with your mane. Good luck and please share your experience!
Still not convinced ? Check out this Quora thread entitled “What happens if you stop using shampoo on your hair for a year?” which illustrates beautiful celebs shampoo-free manes and many people’s direct experiences.
The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality?, Int J Trichology. 2014 Jul-Sep; 6(3): 95–99.