A lot a people in the natural hair community are strong supporters of no poo shampoo alternatives when it comes to hair cleansing. No poo basically means washing your hair without all the harsh chemicals that conventional and low poo shampoos have. People’s concern with the allergic reactions and possible carcinogenic effects has led them on a search for replacements that complied with their needs and ideological position. In turn, the market was also forced to come up with solutions.
There are many chemical free alternatives to your regular shampoo, and they can be just as effective. Please understand that when I talk about “chemical free” I mean synthetic chemical as all things have a chemical composition, even our beloved water (H2O). Also, no-poo doesn’t mean that your cleanser won’t have any lather, there are plenty of natural surfactants able to create this effect. Maybe not at the level of the store bought one, but still one that lathers and is able to have a good balance between effectiveness and gentleness to scalp cleansing.
I’ve previously talked about soap nuts as a no poo alternative, and even provided you with a link to make your own recipe. Soap nuts are the fruit of small trees and they are full of saponins, a natural surfactant. This is the key ingredient in regular shampoo and is also responsible for the lathering/foaming result that so many have come to associate with an effective shampoo. Sure, it won’t lather in the same way but it is effective, has been used for centuries and is making a strong comeback.
This is a well know alternative in the natural hair community, there are many concoctions out there and you are welcome to try the one you like best, or to come up with your own. Many simply mix it with water or conditioner and rave great results from it such as more hair volume, strength and shine. If you’re considering this option follow it with a vinegar rinse to condition the hair, close hair cuticles and balance your scalp and hair pH. I personally don’t use it, read this post to know why.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Just as baking soda, ACV can be used as shampoo and it has many benefits. It can help with hair porosity, facilitate detangling, balance hair ph, reduce frizz or help with an itchy scalp. The recipes are many and can have as many or as few ingredients as you want. Try mixing 2 cups of distilled water, 2 tbsp. ACV and 1/2 cup Castille Soap. It is always good to check if pH is within 4.5 and 7.
Rhassoul or Bentonite Clay
Clays are a wonderful way to cleanse and condition your hair and scalp. Rhassoul and Bentonite clay are full of minerals and are extremely powerful when cleaning your hair and removing product build up. They will also condition and give shine and bounce to your curls. Mix your clay with equal parts of ACV and aloe vera. Apply the paste on your hair to cover all hair strands, let it sit for 20 – 30 minutes, rinse and continue with your washing routine.
Thought to have originated in the Castille region of Spain, this soap is made from 100% olive oil, but can be made with other vegetable oils. The great thing about this environmentally friendly option is that if you like a bit a lather/foam you’ll be pleased. For a simple recipe mix 1 part soap to 3 part water. You can also look for recipes with added ingredients such as aloe vera, essential and vegetable oil.
Also known as conditioner washing or washing conditioner, this is an option for those who don’t like using shampoos. As surprising as it may be, conditioners contain cleansing agents and can be a good option to wash your hair. This is so because they don’t strip your hair of sebum, they have emollients to keep your hair soft and shiny, humectants to keep it moisturised and proteins to strengthen it while at the same time cleaning your hair. Just make sure to give your hair a good massage. Many brands have tapped into this market segment and are offering cleansing conditioners or no poo conditioners such as the Deva Curl No-Poo Cleanser.
If you are thinking of going no poo with your hair, I hope I’ve given you a few options to start with. When going from regular shampoo to a no-poo hair regimen you must give your hair and scalp time to adjust to the changes you are making. You hair will feel strange, and maybe even hard to look at. Know that this is normal, give yourself at least 6 weeks to see any results. For some, they will be immediate, for others not so much. Results will also vary according to recipes, ingredients and measurements. So be patient, and experiment!
PH balance is very important for healthy natural hair, so if you’re making your own recipes use pH strips to test that your concoctions stay within 4.5 and 7 or use an apple cider vinegar rinse to balance the pH. If you want to know why, read this post about pH and this one for ACV.
I’ve never went no-poo, but some of this really sounds amazing. Do you have any suggestions for caucasian hair or will this work also?
Hi Lureita, this will work for any hair type!
Hi Monica! I am definitely a “no poo” type of girl. I have severe eczema, and using harsh Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-based shampoos would strip my scalp, make me itchy and uncomfortable, make my hair super oily very fast, and then completely stop producing oil. Switching to Sodium Laureth Sulfate-based shampoos helped a bit, but while they were less itchy and gave me one more day of clean, they still strip my scalp of natural oils and make it overproduce sebum (which I need elsewhere, stupid skin D:<).
I've been experimenting with no poo for a while. I'm highly sensitive, and I've found that baking soda and ACV are a no-no for me. The pH is wrong for skin (baking soda is too alkaline, and ACV is too acidic, though ACV is great for people with acne! Making the skin slightly more acidic is often helpful for acne).
Right now, I'm a huge proponent of co-washing. There are some products that are specifically for co-washing, but since conditioners usually have both water and oils, they need emulsifiers. Emulsifiers = surfactants, they both bond oil and water together. Basically, unless you're super oily, most conditioners will work.
I'd love to see a post on going no-poo! A lot of people have been overwashing their hair for so long that their scalp overproduces sebum chronically. It makes it really hard for them to transition!
Yes, there is the question of baking soda and AVC being to alkaline and acidic respectively. I have never used them myself, and I believe that ph is an important issue to factor in. I plan on having a post on Ph and the use of Baking soda and AVC.
As I say in the article co-washing also has some cleaning power (aka surfactants) and therefore can have synthetic chemicals that no-poo supporters want to avoid. However, as I discuss in my product ingredient post, there are natural alternatives to them (and emulsifiers as well) and you can find some brands that will give you this.
I have also briefly talked about the relation between shampooing and sebum over production in one of my early posts about shampoo. You can check it here. But, it’s clear that it needs a post of its own. 🙂
Thanks for your comments.
Wow.. this give me a great idea on where to buy a ”no poo” shampoo! Thank and great job!
You’re Welcome Mingyao!
Hi Monica, I just finished reading your article on your no-poo alternatives and felt you have done a wonderful job explaining some great choices for chemical free products. I have used the baking soda with apple cider and had a pretty bad reaction as I two have eczema on my scalp and it just made it so much more uncomfortable for me.
I would love to be able to find a product that I can use that doesn’t cause a reaction to my scalp, I’ve noticed you mentioned that you wrote a natural product post that I will check out and see what the alternatives are that you recommend. I am so thankful to have found your website do you have a recommendation for no-poo alternatives for eczema that you recommend specifically? Or perhaps a post on it? I look forward to hearing from you thanks again.
Hi Jennifer, banking soda and AVC can be a problem because they don’t agree with the scalp and hair’s ph. When making these concoctions one needs to test their ph. I would say that a soap nut shampoo is a good option, you can make one yourself (read this article and find a recipe) or you can buy one.