You know what I’m not a big fan of? Fat chicks going on YouTube or elsewhere on the web and declaring publicly, for all the world to see, that they’re Really. Going. To. Lose. Weight. This. Time. I don’t think holding yourself accountable to the anonymous inhabitants of the Series of Tubes accomplishes much, and when the majority don’t succeed, as is inevitably the case, they leave themselves open to even more ridicule from people who like to kick a fat chick when she’s down.
On the other hand, I’m, like, totally comfortable making a public declaration on the internet that I’m going to try to break my shampoo habit. Because I’m Really. Going. To. Do. It. This. Time. No really, I mean it!
A few years back– I can’t even remember how or why– I came across this blog post by Sean Bonner, describing how he gave up using soap and shampoo, and not only was he not a big smelly, greasy mess, his wife actually preferred him this way. That led me to the paleo web site Free the Animal, which is is mostly about dudes who follow the paleo diet, but also includes fascinating accounts by the site owner about his experience giving up soap and shampoo. Basically, the idea is this: shampoo is basically a detergent, and it strips your hair and scalp of your own natural oil, which you produce because it protects your hair and scalp and keeps them healthy. To compensate, your scalp starts pumping out extra oil, which means your roots get oily even when your ends are dry, and you wind up having to shampoo every day. The more you shampoo, the more you NEED to shampoo. It’s like you’re a shampoo junkie, trapped in a cycle of addiction. But if you could just stop shampooing, eventually your scalp ought to return to its natural state of balance, producing just as much oil as your hair needs to be healthy. These two guys had done exactly that.
Further googling showed that giving up shampoo was a trend among women, too. They call this lifestyle “no poo,” which is short for no shampoo. The benefits seemed many; the drawbacks, few. I mean, who wouldn’t want to help save the environment and reduce their own exposure to harmful chemicals while simultaneously looking better and saving huge sums of money? Sign me up for that shit! For that poo! For that no-poo!
Although some women stop washing their hair with anything but water, many of the no-poo chicks wash their hair occasionally with baking soda. Baking soda is cheap, y’all. I could totally do this.
Alas, I chickened out. The thing is, I have THAT hair. The kind that qualifies me for OPEC status after just 24 hours without a wash. I’m a greaseball. A greasemonkey. A greaseburger. There’s grease, y’all. That’s all I’m saying.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully believed in the notion that, after a while with no shampoo, my scalp with calm the heck down and stop pumping oil like a Texas geyser. I just didn’t think I could survive that long. After all, I can’t lock myself in my apartment for two months waiting for the well to run dry. I have bills to pay. I have to work. Gradually, I forgot all about this project.
In the few years between then and now, however, I have managed the housecleaning equivalent of giving up shampoo in favor of baking soda: I have given up almost all other household cleaners in favor of borax. I clean my bathroom with it. I clean my kitchen with it. I clean the tile floors with it. I clean the fridge with it (it works WONDERS in the fridge!). Sometimes I even toss it in the laundry. Borax is sodium borate in powder form, mined in the desert and dragged out in wagons pulled by mule teams. Hence the name 20 Mule Team Borax. Maybe they don’t use mules anymore. I don’t know. But the point is, yes, it’s a chemical, but at least it’s not an evil concoction of multiple lab-created chemicals with evil side effects. And it works in very, very low concentrations, so it’s crazy cheap.
A few weeks ago, my friend’s doula shared this blog post to Facebook from Fulfilled Homemaking, written by a stay-at-home mom who went no poo. Scroll through the pictures, and you will see that she waded through a hell of grease to come out clean on the other side, with absolutely gorgeous, healthy hair. Her hair type is not that different from mine. That means I can do this. At least in theory.
I think my adventures cleaning my home with natural sodium borate sort of primed me mentally to be ready to start cleaning my hair with natural sodium bicarbonate. So I googled some more. What I discovered is that there are lots of women out there who have gone no-poo, some of whom seem to have hair like mine– very fine, very straight, goes from zero to greasy in under 24 hours. Many of them have succeeded, and now follow either some variation of a regimen involving baking soda and apple cider vinegar, or nothing at all other than water. However, I also noticed that the majority of examples I found were stay-at-home moms. I applaud stay-at-home moms. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. So please don’t take this as a comment about stay-at-home moms. But some of them — not all of them, but some– are less frequently required to go out into the world with what I will call “office-ready hair.” In other words, their lifestyles are a little more suited to the initial greasapalooza period that happens in the no-poo transition before your scalp adjusts to not being stripped of oil every day.
I asked my own circle of friends if anybody who works full time outside of the home and has hair like mine (disappointingly fine and straight) had ever done this. As it turns out, a few people I know have tried it. I’ve seen their hair in meatlife, and I can attest that both of these ladies do, indeed, have very nice hair. I was encouraged. So I’m doing it.
I actually started testing the waters a bit last week. For all of last week, I still shampooed every day, but I used half my normal ration of shampoo. I managed to clean enough oil off the roots to leave the house without the risk of going up like Michael Jackson if my hair got a little too close to an open flame. But my hair started feeling grungy almost immediately, and by the end of the week I could smell it. I’m sure everybody else could, too, although nobody actually ran screaming in horror from the stench. By Saturday, I knew I couldn’t go on this way. Some women go cold turkey and just endure the greasapalooza as best they can, hiding themselves away from the world, or at least hiding their hair away from the world. That’s just not an option for me. So on Saturday, given the increasingly frightening state of my hair, I know one of two things had to happen: Either I would give up in defeat and run screaming back to my bottle of Paul Mitchell Shampoo One, or I would take the plunge and try a soda/vinegar wash.
Let me back up a bit and talk about the whole soda/vinegar thing a bit so you know what I’m talking about. It actually seems pretty rare for women who go no poo to actually go water-only. Most of them still wash their hair with something. Most often, that something appears to be baking soda in solution, followed by a rinse of dilute apple cider vinegar or some other acidic rinse as a conditioner. A very common regimen appears to be washing and conditioning this way twice week, sometimes with daily water rinses in between, sometimes without. Don’t ask me why, but I happen to have one of those red squeeze bottles you see for ketchup on picnic tables, sitting in a drawer in my kitchen doing nothing. So I tossed about two tablespoons of baking soda in there, filled the rest of the bottle with warm water, and hopped in the shower.
Now obviously, baking soda solution does not lather up the way shampoo does. I felt a little bit like an idiot massaging my scalp in the shower with no bubbles. But you know what? Who says there should be bubbles? The people who manufacture the shampoo, right? Because they stand to gain financially if they can convince you you’ve never really lived until you’ve experienced the luxurious lather that only their shampoo can produce, and that you’re an idiot to do what I was doing just then. So I soldiered on. After all, nobody was watching. I not-lathered. I rinsed. I repeated.
And after that, yes, I really did rinse my hair with diluted apple cider vinegar. And no, monkeys did not fly out of my butt. Apparently I did not dilute the vinegar quite enough, because even after a very thorough rinsing and drying, I was informed by my beloved that I “smelled like salad.” Okay. You live, you learn. But here’s the thing: MY HAIR LOOKED FREAKING AWESOME. And it FELT FREAKING AWESOME. Not only that, but I could run my comb through it more easily than I ever had in my life, and I didn’t hit a single knot. It was like hair heaven! And I had accomplished that with a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and about a quarter cup of vinegar. I shit you not. Or, I guess, I poo you not. I was amazed, y’all. Amazed.
On Sunday, I tried again, only that time I used only about a teaspoon of baking soda and a lot less vinegar. A second sniff test by my beloved showed I no longer smelled like salad. In fact, he stuck his nose right into my head and could detect no smell at all.
But of course, there’s a problem. The thing is, you’re not really supposed to do this every day. As glorious as the effect of the soda/vinegar wash is, if you do it too much, I hear it screws up your hair. Severe drying and breakage, dandruff so wicked it creates blizzard-like conditions, you know, stuff like that. In all things, moderation. So I clearly didn’t want to do this for a third day in a row. Thing is, I had to go to work on Monday. It was time to poo or get off the pot, so to speak. (An added benefit of going no-poo is being able to use the word poo all the time, which appeals tremendously to my inner five-year-old). One of three things was going to happen:
1. Do the soda/vinegar wash for a third day in a row, which might totally screw up my hair
2. Whimp out and go back to shampoo
3. Not wash my hair at all, and go out in public anyway. Not just in public, but TO WORK. TO MY JOB. WHERE PEOPLE I KNOW CAN SEE ME.
This was going to be the moment of truth. In desperation, on Sunday I begged for input from the font of knowledge that is Facebook. I actually found two people I know who have done this, and one of them even has hair that’s a lot like mine. There’s every reason to do this, and the only reason not to boils down, really, to vanity.
So this morning, I rinsed my hair in the shower, but I didn’t wash it. And then, I left my house and went to work.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’m having the best hair day of my life. I’m not. But I have never, ever voluntarily left my house without washing my hair. In fact, the only time I can remember doing it, I actually was in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital. Even last December when I found myself admitted to Lennox Hill for almost a week because my gall bladder was throwing stones, I begged the nurses to let me wash my hair on the third day because I just couldn’t take it anymore. But today, I left my house without having washed my hair with anything other than water, and it doesn’t look that bad. Even after just a few days substituting baking soda for shampoo, my scalp is already chilling out.
So here’s the plan: I’m going to alternate a soda wash and a water wash every other day for a week. If that works out, I’m going to see if I can cut back to washing with soda twice a week. If I can make it for a month like that, I think I may be able to jump off the shampoo bandwagon forever. There. I declared it to the internet.
I think I take a special risk doing this because I’m a fat chick. As I was googling, I noticed all of the women brave enough to post pictures of themselves going through greasapalooza were otherwise conventionally attractive, which of course includes being thin. Leaving the house with other than pristine hair, I will risk reinforcing a lot of negative stereotypes about fat chicks. You see a skinny chick with greasy hair, you probably assume she didn’t have time to wash because she was busy all day yesterday rescuing orphaned puppies or something. You see a fat chick with greasy hair, you know it’s because she’s lazy, sloppy, unhygienic, and doesn’t care about her personal appearance. Of course she’s gross– it’s because she’s gross, don’t you know? In reading other women’s blogs over the years, I’ve noticed there’s sort of a secret list of things some fat chicks are really reluctant to do in public because it reinforces negative stereotypes. They won’t ever order dessert in a restaurant, even if they haven’t had one on six months and they really, really want one, for example. Or if they’re in pain for some reason having nothing whatsoever to do with their fat– say, their feet hurt because of a blister from a rockin’ new pair of kicks– they will go to great lengths not to let it show, because they know other people assume they “did that to themselves” and they deserve it. Things that thin women never even have to think about. This is going to be one of those things for me. But the adjustment period shouldn’t last forever, and if I come out okay on the other side, the benefits will be worth it.