No Poo Update: It turns out, hipster beer is not a magic elixir

When 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 phase” hair about in front of hundreds of my professional colleagues and one old friend from college.  The night before I had to give my own presentation at the conference, just in the knick of time, I decided to try washing my hair with beer.  I bought a big can of Pabst Blue Ribbon because it was cheap.  It worked, and my hair looked great for my presentation.  I thought I was on to something.

Yeah, no.  As soon as I got back home to New York, it stopped working.  Maybe the tap water is just different here.  Who knows.  It was the same type of let-down I felt when the magic wore off after my first weekend of baking soda washes.  None of the subsequent washes worked as well.  Beer definitely breaks up the oil in my hair, but instead of washing it out, it seems to just sort of redistribute it along the shafts in a big, goopy, half-oil, half-beer natural disaster.  It does not look good.  It does not feel good.

By the end of April, pretty much everyone I knew was begging me just to go back to shampoo, perhaps because they were tired of looking at my nasty hair, but definitely because they were concerned about the state of my mental health.  I, of course, was stubborn, and refused to give up.  It’s not so much that I am inherently full of the desire to persevere.  It’s more that I refused to accept that all of my suffering up to that point had been for naught.  Either way, though, I definitely needed a new game plan.

For a while, I followed roughly a three-day rotation of baking soda, beer with or without green tea, and either a second day of beer/tea or a water-only wash.  Every day, my hair looked like crap– just different crap, depending on that day’s treatment.  I kept telling myself I was still in the transition phase, and it would gradually get better as my scalp produced less and less excess oil.  But when the hell was that going to be?  Would I still be sane when that day came?  Would my nasty hair have alienated everyone I know?

Things finally came to a head, no pun intended, on one particular Monday in May.  Even though I had done a baking soda wash in the morning, my hair was still a major greasepit by the time it dried.  Also, I was experiencing the same problem I had every day I washed with baking soda:  MASSIVE static electricity that would not go away, despite the fact that the hair strands themselves were weighed down by an Exxon Valdez-level oil slick.  It was like the worst of all possible worlds.  At this time of the semester, I couldn’t even hide in my office, because I was in the middle of supervisory observations, watching my staff work in the most public area of our department.  By the end of the day, I felt overwhelmed with humiliation.  When I got home, I ran to the bathroom, grabbed a bottle of shampoo from under the sink, and washed my hair with it.

The key point here is that I washed my hair in the sink.  If I had just hopped in the shower, I might not have noticed this:  The rinse water coming off of my hair was DARK BROWN.  That’s right, boys and girls:  The baking soda had so completely failed to clean my hair that on the same day as a b.s. wash, shampoo was dislodging massive amounts of dirt from my hair.  This is New York City, after all.  We are not known for our clean air.   I guess it’s also possible that residue from the green tea and chamomile tea rinses I had been doing were building up, because the baking soda doesn’t even have the chops to wash THAT out.

So I’m done with baking soda.  I mean, really, fuck that.  The question is, why does it work for other people and not for me?  I reread some of the blogs and other pages on the web where I had gone for information when I first decided to go no-poo.  One of the things I detected in retrospect was a lack of agreement on what the baking soda is supposed to be.  Some people are using it as a solvent. like Windex or Lysol, dissolving it completely in water before putting it on their hair.  Others are using it as an abrasive, like Comet or Ajax, making a paste and scrubbing their scalp with it.  The other thing I noticed is on many of the more popular no-poo blogs, the blog posts come with dozens and dozens of reader comments begging for assistance with failed no-poo attempts.  The baking soda isn’t working for them, and they’re not sure why.  Usually the response is to suggest that commenters experiment until they find something works for them.  Now, I absolutely believe the people who report positive experiences with baking soda are telling the truth.  Many of them have the photos to prove it.  And I absolutely believe that “keep experimenting until you find what works for you” is very reasonable advice, and I do not find fault with anybody who says that.  But I have experimented for as long as I could stand it, and I’m giving up on the baking soda.

After doing a full shampoo on the Day of the Big No Poo Freak-Out, I discovered that, in fact, my scalp really is producing MUCH less oil than it used to.  So the theory that your scalp will calm the heck down if you stop stripping it of its oils every single day actually appears to be true.  But it still does produce enough oil to need to be washed in some way.  For now, instead of no-poo I am doing low-poo:  I wash with about a quarter of the amount of shampoo I used to use.  It’s not even enough to create a lather.  It’s enough to keep my scalp clean and free of oily-head-stink, but it leaves enough oil in my hair to obviate the need for conditioner or detangler.  When I feel like I can, I skip a day, and I do still occasionally do a tea rinse.

The one problem I have is with the blow-dyer.  Blowing my hair dry is harder on my hair now.  Natural hair oils don’t protect it as well as Paul Mitchell leave-in conditioner, which I had been using since high school.  But that conditioner contains the dreaded dimethicone, right up there with sulfates as something worth eliminating.  So I’m trying not to go back to it.  Now that the warm weather is here, my plan is to stop blow-drying my hair altogether, at least until it gets cold again.  Because of the type of hair I have, that invites a completely different type of bad hair day, but I’m going to try to make it work.

I don’t have photos of any of this right now, but I’ll try to post something in the next few weeks.

I still have three cans of PBR under my bathroom sink if you know anybody who actually drinks it.  Trustafarians need not apply.  Y’all can go buy your own beer.


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4 Responses to “No Poo Update: It turns out, hipster beer is not a magic elixir”

  1. Alex Says:

    Awesome, thanks for the update 🙂 I tried the beer today… it didn’t work for me and I am getting sick of this “condition” my head/hair is in right now. I think you are right, especially living in NYC requires some actual cleansing.
    I did some more research and apparently there are a few products on the market catering to people who want less harsh chemicals in the shampoo. I found this:

    I will try and use a bit of this every other day or so whenever I feel like a water rinse isn’t cutting it anymore (btw. I had got this coupon code BUY183 for 5 bucks off any order if you want it) .

  2. Yessenia Says:

    Thanks for this post! I went no-poo over a month ago, and I noticed that my hair would always go nuts when I decided to go swimming. I use s swim cap but still it isn’t enough. My hair ends up greasy, dirty and it feels like I have a cap of oil stuck on the top of my head! So, today I am off to buy some Burts Bees Shampoo because I cannot take it anymore!

  3. Elisa Says:

    I totally appreciate your post. I have been doing no poo for about two months. My hair is worse than it’s ever been and EVERY DAY is a bad hair day. I’m tired of it. I’m going to try low-poo. Other than Burt’s Bees, are there any other “healthy” shampoos I can try that don’t cost an arm and a leg?

    Another weird thing that’s been happening is that my face has been breaking out like crazy, especially near my forehead, but now pretty much everywhere. I read on another blog that this happened to another no-pooer. I wonder if there’s a connection??

  4. Tracy Says:

    I’m trying no poo- it’s been a week. After reading this, I’m not feeling very hopeful. I don’t even know why I really tried as I’ve been using all natural shampoo bars with much success for the last year or so. Have u tried that? Also, what about natural conditioner? I use Giovanni brand. Can you tell me what ingredients may not be so favorable in a conditioner. Thanks for your witty posts!
    Pupusas! 🙂

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