With today’s no-shampoo movement ascending to Rapunzel-like heights, what are the pros and cons of leaving your lustrous locks to fend for themselves? And, how did it all get started?
The fact is, throughout history women used all manner of natural and homemade concoctions to cleanse and manage their hair. Without indoor plumbing, Victorian women (most with waist-length hair) surely didn’t wash their hair every day, especially with the daunting task of heating up substantial amounts of water and providing for hours of air-drying time. And, history tells us without the harsh detergents and chemicals in modern shampoos that strip the scalp of necessary oils, or sebum (which in turn causes the scalp to over-produce oil to compensate), women could go a lot longer between washings. But when they did shampoo, egg yolks, cold black tea, rum (said to keep hair disease-free), rosemary tea, or castile soap shavings (because it is mild) were favored.
In Godey’s Lady’s Book (1869), for thorough hair cleansing it was recommended to beat the yolk of an egg with a pint of soft water. The mixture should be applied warm, it says, and rinsed out with warm water as well.
With regard to the use of cold black tea, Victorian practitioners recommended applying it to the roots (or scalp) at bedtime with a small sponge and again in the morning. Best practices also included brushing 100 strokes each night, to help distribute natural oils.
Vinegar was another go-to method of cleansing the hair for 19th century women, and is clearly a factor in today’s suds-free movement. Proponents of going suds free suggest starting with a baking soda paste worked into the scalp, followed by a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse.
Edwardian women (1901-1910, when King Edward succeeded Queen Victoria) made shampoo tonics of ingredients that may have included bay rum (not liquor – more like an astringent), carbonated ammonia, tincture of cantharides and more with hair dressings that may include a mixture of lanolin, rosewater, lard, and rose oil. Synthetic shampoos did not appear in the marketplace until the 1930s.
Today’s no shampoo movement favors eliminating shampoo altogether as proponents and some medical professionals believe a gradual reduction will cause sebaceous glands to produce oil at a slower rate. Speculation is that a two-to-six-week period is required to alter the scalp’s chemistry, and it may take as long as a year for the hair and scalp to completely adjust (some practitioners claim they go through various periods of greasy hair, dull hair, etc.). Among concerns and reasons for adopting new shampoo practices are chemical additives such as parabens (known to cause endocrine disruption, among other health issues) in today’s shampoo products that can result in toxicity. Other additives have been labeled as human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency, and still others have been linked to Alzheimer’s and nerve damage.
Plastic containers, waste, and landfills are also catalysts in the no shampoo movement, though recycling may be an option.
If you want to go shampoo free, there are many paths you can take to start the process but here is one suggestion:
- Combine baking soda and water to make a paste.
- Rub all over wet hair, concentrating on scalp and roots. Let sit for one minute and rinse well.
- Add one to two tablespoons apple cider vinegar (not white) to a cup of water. Pour on hair, this time focusing on ends as opposed to scalp and roots. Then rinse well with plain water.
- Stay away from styling products as well.
Employ this method for two weeks, during which time your hair may appear greasier or even frizzier, but remember it is going through an adjustment period to achieve its natural balance. After this time, it is recommended to reduce the amount of baking soda and apple cider vinegar used, eventually eliminating both and relying strictly on water to cleanse your hair. In time, you may want to resume using the baking soda paste and apple cider vinegar rinse once a week if you feel your hair needs something.