All of my life, my hair has been sort of an.. issue. It knots, it tangles, and my sensitive scalp is always dry.

Recently, I’ve run into two conflicting issues: my super dry scalp has suddenly started producing a lot of oil… but it’s still super dry. A clarifying shampoo seems like a great solution for an oily scalp, but in reality, it’s not. Shampoo is extremely drying, and the dryness it creates signals your body to produce even more oil. Here I am stuck in this biofeedback loop with no apparent solution.

(*cue lightbulb please*)

..Until I realized it was a man-made biofeedback loop.

Before you dismiss this entire article as me going off the deep end or giving up on hygeine: I promise you, this is not that crazy. My hair is still shiny and clean every day. I still have very high beauty standards–including a total disgust of oily hair–and I’m not giving that up for some crazy experiment (sorry, I have to draw the line somewhere).

So why are we shampooing our hair anyway?

Googling “The History of Shampoo” was actually a fun part of this experiment. Evidently, shampoo was invented in India as early as 1500, and the Europeans brought it back home (It used to be in bar soap form!) Hair was only washed once a month even in the 1800s, and later once a week in the early 1900s.

Today, daily shampooing is the norm, though it is warned against by dermatologists and beauty experts. It’s not that great for your scalp–the skin on your head.

So what’s so bad about shampoo?

Nothing is quite as satisfying as the sudsy lather that you get from washing your hair thoroughly with shampoo. But did you ever stop to think where those suds are coming from?

In 1930, Proctor and Gamble introduced the first sulfate-based shampoo. This is definitely a moment in history for the beauty world. I mean c’mon–the sudsy feeling is seriously good.

Sulfates are surfactants, which are chemicals that can separate the oil and water–meaning they’re great at separating the oil from your hair and washing it away with the water. But, they don’t just get the oil out of your hair, they strip the oil from your skin as well. Sulfates are incredibly drying, and can be irritating for those with sensitive skin (like me!).

Let me be clear: Sulfates are safe, they’re just annoyingly irritating to use sensitive-skinned people.

So why did you stop shampooing?

I have every intention of keeping my hair clean. I just don’t want to irritate my scalp so badly and have bad-smelling, bad-looking hair that needs washed so frequently. I could try sulfate-free shampoo, but first I wanted to try a solution that didn’t involve spending more money.

I read a woman’s testimony on Quora, talking about how she quit using shampoo 3 years ago, and now just washes her hair with conditioner once every 2-3 days. She said “Prepare for a LOT of hair”; evidently, her hair had gotten so thick that people on the street would stop her and ask if she was wearing extensions or a wig. They wanted to touchher hair. Wow.

Evidently, shampoo and conditioner is all “clever marketing”. The chemical surfactant in shampoo does a great job of stripping your natural oils, and conditioner does a decent job of replacing the oil with better smelling oil. So.. what am I doing?! Wasting money and creating new problems. I hate being duped.

I already use Clear shampoo and conditioner, to prevent dandruff and dryness, but here I am drying my hair out with shampoo every week. So forget the shampoo, I still have this non-drying conditioner. Why not try it just once?

I was now ready to join the no-poo movement.

Plus, I have a lot of cool people to join me in my no-pooing:


Mirand Kerr, Jennifer Anniston,  Amanda Seyfried — AND ADELE — are all no-pooers.

No-poo: The Experiment

My first time bathing without shampoo, I almost didn’t know what to do. I followed the instructions of the woman on Quora: I was going to use conditioner to rinse my hair. Like does dissolve like after all, so an oil-based conditioner should dissolve the natural sebum oil from my hair, with enough scrubbing.

I put a ton of conditioner on my scalp and it felt really weird. For years I had been avoiding putting conditioner near my roots, because I was convinced it would make my hair sticky and oily. I kept pumping and pumping it out of my giant bottle; there is definitely no such thing as a quarter-sized dollup in this process.

I massage the conditioner aggressively into my scalp, covering every square inch of scalp twice. This probably took a good 15 minutes. Then, I let the conditioner sit for about 10 minutes while I bathed and then rinsed it out–again, a little aggressively–and made sure to rinse it again.

The Result

I was surprised to find that my hair wasn’t oily.. at all. It took a long time to air-dry, and I couldn’t put it in a bun wet (which I usually do), but it did air dry and it was perfect.

My hair looks so healthy.

I’ve been “shampooing” with conditioner for a week now, and my hair is probably in the best shape it’s ever been. My scalp is much less flaky and dry; it’s slowly improving.

I did try washing with no product–just with water, as you’re technically supposed to be able to do–but my hair just wasn’t ready for all that. It was oily within half a day. I couldn’t get a good enough rinse.

What’s Next?

I miss the satisfying feeling of a good lather, but not enough to go back to shampoo.. probably ever.

I’m going to stick with this routine for 1 month before I decide next steps. My first week has been great, but it is really time consuming. I need to take a 30+ minute bath to do it right, because you need “physical agitation”–that is, aggressive scrubbing–to get the conditioner to dissolve the oil in my hair. That takes time.

Evidently your hair is supposed to need washed much less–like once a week–but it takes time to get back to that natural state. We’ll see!

I am interested in trying a sulfate-free shampoo as well, if this continues being so time consuming. From what I’ve heard, though, sulfate-free shampoos are such a let down because they still don’t lather and need a lot of scrubbing to get the job done.  So I’m not sure I see the advantage over just conditioning, but I’m open to trying it out!

This process has inspired me to start rethinking my entire beauty routine. Realizing that the process of the “oil change”–the stripping of oil via shampoo and re-oiling with conditioner–is all a very well marketed, man-made process has caused me to ask myself “What am I using and why?” I’m definitely going to take a more critical eye toward my beauty routine and strip it down to the bare essentials.

Who should consider giving up shampoo?

If you have dandruff, a very oily or very dry scalp, or even if your starting to thin out, you should consider going no-poo. Whether it’s for less irritation or flake, or just a chance at growing more locks–there’s no reason not to try!


What do you think? Would you go shampoo-free? Weigh in below!

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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