Sarah Breen: 'My week without shampoo'
Experts claim we're over-washing our skin and hair, so Sarah Breen shunned shampoo for a week to see why people are in a lather about going 'no poo'...
Glee star Naya Rivera raised eyebrows when she said on ABC's The View that washing daily was a "white-person thing". Responding to moderator Nicolle Wallace, who confessed to showering up to three times a day, Naya said: "I think that white people shower a lot more than the ethnic."
For most people I know, showering is a prerequisite to getting dressed in the morning. But experts agree that many of us are probably over-washing our bodies - with potentially harmful side effects.
"It's not really necessary to wash your skin and hair every day if you have a sedentary job and don't exercise," says clinical dermatologist Dr Katherine Mulrooney. "However, it's very much part of most people's daily routine as a 'wake-up ritual'.
At the opposite side of the spectrum there are a growing number of people who have decided that washing has had its day. Advocates of the "no poo" movement (that's poo as in shampoo, not the other thing) claim that ditching shampoo completely keeps hair healthier and makes it grow faster.
New Zealander Lucy Aitken Read hasn't used shampoo in three years. So devoted is she to "no poo" that she's even written a book, Happy Hair: The Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo, chronicling her journey.
"I wanted to be more careful of the chemicals I was putting on myself," she says. "I thought I'd give 'no poo' a crack and was surprised with the results. A massive bonus has been finding my hair is naturally much more voluminous and healthy than it was when I was using shampoo."
Intrigued, I decided to give it a whirl. Lucy warned me that the transition period, those days after you've thrown out the poo, are the hardest. "Hair becomes waxy and heavy as the scalp gets utterly perplexed with the oil production cycle," she says.
And so, I simply stopped using shampoo. Let me preface this by saying I'm not too precious about my hair. I don't spend a lot of time styling it and I can easily stick it up in a topknot when it's having a bad day.
My biggest problem with not washing my hair was related to my head. After four days my scalp felt positively filthy. After five, I was actually irritable. I overcompensated in the shower by scrubbing my limbs pink. After six days, I wanted to burn my pillowcase and everything my head had touched. My roots were slick, the ends matted. My sanity was at risk, as was my skin: new spots were popping up along my hairline.
In my hour of need (I had to leave the house and socialise with humans who have eyes and noses), I found a "no poo" approved cleansing solution recipe online containing just two ingredients - bread soda (one part) and water (three parts). Feeling sceptical, I mixed it up and rubbed it into my oil-leaden head. The results were passable. While my roots were certainly less oily, the lengths, starved of conditioner, became a brittle matted mess when they dried. Not a good look on anyone.
According to Dr Mulrooney, it's pretty easy to reverse the damage of over-washing your skin and hair. And you don't have to do anything so extreme as to shun soap altogether.
"Simply take less showers," she says. "They should be short and lukewarm, and you need to moisturise within three minutes of drying your skin to lock in moisture, in an effort to restore your natural skin barrier."
As for going "no poo", she doesn't see the appeal.
"I don't feel there is any advantage," she says. "It allows a build-up of residue on the scalp that can lead to irritation or dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis."
I'm off to think about that now, in the shower. Pass the shampoo, please. I promise to never ever say a bad word about it again.