No-Poo Update: In which my hair is saved by Alan Alda and some Hipsters

So here I am, nearing the end of week four of my no-poo experiment.  Time for an update.  They say the less you do with your hair during the transition period, the shorter the transition period will be.  If that’s true, I think my transition is going to take forever.  I’m trying.  I really am.  But the grease is getting to me.

In the two weeks since my last post, I’ve been out of town twice:  once to Washington DC for the Reason Rally, and again for a work-related conference in Seattle, from which I am just now returning.  Prior to the first trip, I had been reading a lot online about how conditioning with apple cider vinegar makes some people’s hair look and feel greasy.  I’m not sure exactly how that works, since there’s no oil in ACV, but that’s what people say.  As an alternative, some people condition with a simple chamomile tea rinse.  I didn’t have chamomile tea on hand, so I started rinsing with green tea instead.  In the morning when I brewed tea for myself, I just brewed a separate cup for my hair.  When I hit the shower after breakfast, I poured the no-longer-piping-hot cup of tea into my squirt bottle.  My perception is that it helped keep my head from smelling like greasy hair, but didn’t do much else.  Even after continuing to wash my scalp and hair with baking soda solution every other day, the buildup of oil in my hair was getting pretty unbearable.  Most days, the back of my head felt tacky like the back of a post-it note.  Not good.  I tried to convince myself it didn’t look filthy, but it really did.  It wasn’t such a big deal at the rally because we got rained on most of the day anyway, but showing up to work in that condition last week was rough.

Last Thursday, I decided to give my hair a really thorough washing with a triple dose of baking soda.  I was afraid it would really drying, so I followed with a rinse of minimal ACV in solution with chamomile tea, which I had managed to obtain by then.  While my first two ACV rinses made my hair look and feel great, this one just turned it into an even bigger grease pit.  My guess:  It has to do with the massive amount of oil that had accumulated in my hair in the intervening two weeks.  Maybe the ACV brings all the oil right to the surface.  I had to come up with a plan, because I was leaving the next day for a work-related conference in Seattle.  I packed some chamomile teabags and about half a cup of baking soda and got on the plane.

Like the green tea, the chamomile really helps keep my hair from smelling foul even when it’s really loaded with oil.  And my scalp didn’t seem overly gross.  But even on the days when I used the baking soda, my hair was still unbearably oily, and it still felt post-it-note tacky in the back.  I managed to drag myself out of my hotel room with my nasty hair on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, frightening small children at the Seattle aquarium and humiliating myself in front of my professional peers for the first two days of the conference.  I had a lovely dinner with a college friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years who happens to live in Seattle now, and although she was very gracious and did not bolt from the table at the sight of the dirty mess of hair that I had barely managed to contain with a new silk scarf, I felt self-conscious about it the whole time.

By Monday night, I was desperate.  I didn’t want to give up on the no-poo project, but this transition period was killing me.  I had developed a theory:  not only was the baking soda not really helping, but it’s possible the baking soda solution was somehow combining with the oil to form a paste on my hair, and that this was the reason my hair felt like a giant post-it note.  I mean, ewww.  Just, ewwwwwww.

Then all of a sudden, sitting right there at dinner on Monday night, I was visited by an apparition.  It was Alan Alda.  Yes, I realize Alan Alda is not dead.  But he appeared to me as an apparition nonetheless.  He had come to Etta’s Seafood in Seattle with this message:  BEER.  Remember the beer.

You see, when I was a kid, we watched M*A*S*H a lot at my house.  And after the famous final episode, we watched M*A*S*H reruns a lot.  And there’s an episode of M*A*S*H where one of the nurses gets her hands on a bottle of beer, and Hawkeye Pierce and his surgeon buddies are horrified, because rather than drink the beer, she planned to use it TO WASH HER HAIR.

I thought to myself:  Self?  The baking soda isn’t working for you.  At least not yet.  It’s weird that, in all of your googling, you have found no mention of no-pooers using beer to wash their hair.  But if Hawkeye Pierce came all the way from the Korean War to tell you about the beer, you really can’t ignore that.

You know the scene in Fiddler On the Roof where Tevye makes up the dream about how his wife Golde’s dead grandmother, Tsietl, came back from the dead to tell her it was okay for his oldest daughter, also named Tsietl, to marry Motl the Tailor instead of Laserwulf the Butcher?  And Golde immediately decides that if Dead Grandmother Tsietl came all the way back from beyond the grave to give the okay for Oldest Daughter Tsietl to marry her sweetheart, then all they can say is that it’s all for the best and it couldn’t possibly be any better?  You may not listen to the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof as much as I do, but just trust me.  That’s what happens.  And my visit from Alan Alda was kind of like that.  Including, if I’m going to be honest about it, that I just made all this shit up like Tevye does in the movie.  I didn’t really see Alan Alda at Etta’s.  But I really did suddenly remember the episode of M*A*S*H with the nurse who washes her hair with beer, and I concluded that I should wash my hair with beer, and that it was for the best, and couldn’t possibly be any better.

So now what I needed was some cheap beer.  After dinner, we walked around until we found a bodega that was still open and sold beer.  Everything closes earlier in Seattle than it does in New York.  We managed to find one, but it was in the hip downtown area, so while the beer selection was extensive, it was also hideously overpriced.  The store was closing soon.  I needed to find the cheapest beer, and fast.

I don’t usually drink really cheap beer.  Cheap beer may be cheap, but urine is absolutely free, and it looks and tastes about the same.  So why bother?  Unfortunately, because my eye was attracted automatically to the beers I actually know, I was having trouble locating some really cheap beer at this store.  And then I suddenly remembered:  Pabst Blue Ribbon, cheapest beer on the planet, and Official Beer of the Hipster.  Not to malign Seattle in any way, because I really loved it there, but I saw a lot of young people walking around Seattle who looked like they could have been from Williamsburg.  So I figured there must be some PBR for sale.  And there was!  I scored a 24-ounce can of PBR, and we hurried back to the hotel.

I did some googling, and it appears there is very little agreement over how to use beer in your hair.  Is it a shampoo or a conditioner?  Must you use it in conjunction with real shampoo, or can it function on its own?  What type of hair is it good for?  Every web site I found had a different story.  So I decided to trust that nurse from M*A*S*H, who, as far as I can remember, used it all by itself as a stand-alone product.

I made my first attempt that night.  In my trusty squirt bottle, I created a solution of half beer, half warm water.  I squirted it all over my scalp and hair and gave myself a thorough scalp massage.  All I felt was grease.  I went to bed with wet hair, hoping for the best.

Tuesday morning, my hair felt a little better, but not by much.  I decided to try another beer wash in the shower.  This time, although I am loath to admit this, I added a drop of the hotel shampoo.  Just a drop.  So I’m a backslider.  Sue me.  The thing is, although it did smell nice, that tiny drop of shampoo was so overwhelmed by the oil, it couldn’t even muster up a single bubble’s worth of lather.  I massaged in the beer solution, and again I felt a ton of grease on my hands.  The beer was breaking up the oil and dislodging it from my hair!  I combed through it to draw as much oil away from my roots and down the shafts of my hair as I could, and then rinsed the hell out of it.  The post-it-note tackiness was gone!  It definitely did not feel clean in the squeaky, stripped-of-its-oil sense you get with shampoo, but it was clearly an improvement.  And in fact, that’s what this no-poo thing is all about:  having hair that is clean and healthy without being stripped of its oils.  Had I hit upon the holy grail of no-poo?  Is beer the key to everything?

My hair looked better Tuesday than it had in three weeks.  A little flat perhaps, but shiny, and not obviously a pit of grease.  Wednesday morning I used up the rest of the can.  Results:  even better than Tuesday.  Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures to post, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Just because I  made up that shit about Alan Alda’s face appearing over my dinner table at Etta’s doesn’t mean I’m not being truthful right now.  This morning, I did a plain water rinse, and my hair looks just fine today.

So here’s my plan for the immediate future:  I’m going to go buy a sixpack of PBR and wash my hair with it every other day until it’s gone.  If I’m still happy with it at that point, I’ll reduce to every third day, and so on.  I want to see if I can reach the point where I’m washing with beer once a week, with water rinses in between.  Wish me luck!


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2 Responses to “No-Poo Update: In which my hair is saved by Alan Alda and some Hipsters”

  1. Alex Says:

    How is your no-poo life going? Did the beer work in the long run?
    I am trying to do the whole no poo thing but am scared of baking soda since I expect it to dry the crap out of my scalp. I am doing water rinses daily and then use a bit of shampoo every 3 days but I am trying your beer suggestion tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t have to go to work smelling like I slept on the floor of a bar….

  2. No Poo Update: It turns out, hipster beer is not a magic elixir « The Fat Chick Diaries Says:

    […] last I posted about my adventures in going no-poo, I had just discovered the joys of washing my hair with beer.  I was at a conference in Seattle, feeling humiliated about parading my greasy “transition […]

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