Tuesday 16 July 2019

Why I stopped washing my hair

Spurred on by a yurt-dwelling hippy she met in a field, Kate Gunn opted to join Gwyneth Paltrow's 'no poo' gang. All was going well, until vanity got the better of her...

Kate Gunn as she usually looks with shampooed hair.
Kate Gunn as she usually looks with shampooed hair.
Mother Nature: Kate Gunn as she usually looks with shampooed hair.
Kate Gunn during her no shampoo month

As I sat barefoot on the grass at a festival listening to a self-confessed yurt-dwelling hippy extoll the virtues of giving up shampoo, I thought to myself 'Why not?' She made a compelling argument for it, with her own hair looking pretty good after three years of 'no poo' as it has been termed.

Of course the more obvious question to ask would have been 'Why?' Rather than 'Why not?' There seemed to be a lot of compelling answers to that one.

Firstly there are the toxins that we are slathering onto our heads each time we wash our hair. Among many others one of these is cocamide DEA, which is found in a huge number of shampoos available on the high street. Lucy Aitkenread, who wrote The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo, states that "Cocamide DEA is not only an allergen with high potential as an irritant but it is a known carcinogen and banned in some States".

And with our bodies absorbing 60pc of the topical products we use, we've got to agree that this can't be a good thing.

Secondly there are the many benefits for the hair itself - thicker hair, more defined curls, more volume and no dandruff are all potential advantages.

As I had been camping out for the past four days at the festival without washing my hair, or myself for that matter, I already had a good head start.

And so my no shampoo journey began.

I had been warned that there may be a 'smelly phase' and that it could get so greasy I would want to hide it under a headscarf for a week or two, but I'm happy to report that I got off lightly on both counts.

For the first two weeks of no shampoo - traditionally the worst period - my hair was a little lank and greasy. I experimented with using the recommended bread soda and water as a shampoo substitute, and diluted cider vinegar in place of conditioner. The key is to rinse the vinegar out really well or you end up smelling a bit like a chip shop. I learnt this the hard way.

It took about a month for me to find the right levels of each mixture for my hair, but once I upped the amount of bread soda I was using, the difference was amazing. Suddenly my hair felt properly clean again. The greasiness was gone and it simply felt thicker and healthier than usual.

I experimented with avocado, coconut oil and egg, which is a fantastic natural conditioner. A tip for anyone thinking about trying this out though - hot showers and raw eggs don't mix. Now let's never speak of this again.

The biggest issue that I found however wasn't in fact dealing with my hair, it was dealing with other people's perceptions of my not washing it.

"You're doing what?!" my sister asked, recoiling in horror. "Can I…touch it..?" asked a friend who looked like she was about to poke a dead animal with a stick.

My first trip to the hairdresser as a 'no poo' disciple was, shall we say, interesting. I explained what I was doing and why. "Okaaaay" she said, looking at the crazy lady and no doubt wishing I was someone else's customer.

However, when it came to the blow dry she said she was pleasantly surprised - she had thought the hair would be greasy and that the heat of the hairdryer would result in smoke (nice), but the truth was that she wouldn't have been able to tell that it hadn't been washed had she not known.

The next challenge on my list was a holiday to Portugal. What about the sea water, and the chlorine from the swimming pool? Could my hair survive on bread soda and vinegar alone? And could I resist the little bottles of posh shampoo and conditioner in the bathrooms?

In fact it turned out to be easy. With naturally curly hair I usually don't bother blow drying it when I'm away. This time the natural oils in my hair helped me go from Monica 'It's the humidity!' hair to those proper natural curls that some people even pay for (above). A definite win.

Another benefit I found was the frequency in having to wash it. In the past I would have washed my hair with traditional shampoo every two or three days. Now I found that I could go for up to a week without a (natural) wash being needed.

The theory behind this is that shampoo actually washes the natural oils out of your hair. We then use other products to put it back in, leaving our hair confused and over-producing its natural oils. When left to its own devices good old Mother Nature kicks in and it starts self-regulating the amount of oils that are actually required.

Of course this isn't a new theory, and I'm far from the only person to have tried it. The practice has been adopted be certain groups for decades, and in fact synthetic shampoos only came on the market in the 1930s - so before that everyone was 'no poo'.

However in recent years the movement has really taken off - and a quick Google of 'no poo' will now bring up a wealth of resources on the issue.

People from all over the world have now whole-heartedly embraced it, some going so far as to not even use water. But that's just weird.

It's not just for hippies either. Dr Naomi Lavelle from Galway also recently tried out the 'no poo' method.

"I joined the 'no poo' challenge last year as I'm not a big fan of all the products we cover our bodies with and had considered this option for a while," she says.

"When I discovered I could actually 'clean' my hair with vinegar and bread soda I was sold. (No need to hide my manky hair for months until the 'natural oils' took over!)

"I had fairly good success originally, my hairdresser even commented on how nice my hair was looking.

"I should have done a bit more research before starting… when I discovered I could wash my hair with egg I decided to have a go. Big mistake, I guess I used too much and despite repeated attempts at rinsing, I had dull, sticky hair for a week. I cracked and reached for the shampoo.

"I have not been put off by this experience and would definitely give it another go, but this time I would do my research before ditching the shampoo. I like the idea of making up your own shampoos from natural ingredients and think it is the way I will go next time. Who knows, maybe by this time next year we'll be a 'no poo' family."

We even have celebrity company, with both Adele and Gwyneth Paltrow admitting in the past to being advocates of the movement.

There are many more people that follow the process on their children, keeping the chemicals away from their bodies for as long as possible.

So what happened with me? Did I go the distance? Well, after about two months of seeing through the grease and the ridicule, missing out on the lather and scent of those lovely bathroom bottles and standing strong with my hippy hair, I was met with a test I hadn't envisioned - I got asked out on a date.

"Wash your bloody hair,'' my sister demanded. So I did.

Irish Independent

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