The Great No-Shampoo Experiment
When we got the skinny on the best way to wash hair, our biggest takeaway was that people don’t need as much shampoo as they think they do. In fact, many salons are debating whether shampoo is essential at all. “It’s something that’s being talked about a lot right now in the beauty industry,” said organic stylist Kristina Louise Welzien. “People are having these predictions that shampoo will no longer be needed at some point.”
We decided to test that theory with a little experiment of our own—what happens when you stop using shampoo?
Giving up shampoo for 30 days can help regulate oil production, improving the condition of hair and scalp.
Kristina’s shampoo expertise helped shape our strategy. “If we use anything that’s too astringent or too cleansing and we use it too often, it can actually have a reverse effect,” she said. In layman’s terms: the more often you wash your hair, the more oil your scalp tends to produce.
The Subjects and the Experiment
Two of our writers courageously volunteered to stop using shampoo for 30 days. To help them in their journey, Kristina created individualized regimens for each of them based on their hair type and styling challenges.
Kristina’s instructions: Aimee struggles with what Kristina says is a common result of over-shampooing—a combination of dryness and oil. She told Aimee to rinse her hair most days, and then condition the ends. “It’s [also] important to give a day or [so] between rinses when you’re not messing with it at all.”
To prevent oily roots, Kristina advised brushing or combing hair daily to keep the oils distributed, and to use a hair powder or dry shampoo. Aimee was told to take it easy on styling products, and to rinse her scalp once a week with an apple cider vinegar blend (see the recipe below) to avoid product buildup.
Week one: “Greasy, greasy, greasy. I rinsed it with apple cider vinegar [two days in a row] but it didn’t help … I feel like everyone can see how gross my hair is.”
Week two: “I broke down and got the grease out with castile soap (I used the bar, not the liquid), then rinsed with apple cider vinegar. I also bought a boar-bristle brush … to help distribute the oils better. Even [my husband]’s noticed how great my hair looked … I f***ing love it.”
Week three: “I don’t think I’ll ever buy a bottle of shampoo again.”
Day 30: “I have not had a bad hair day since I got out of the greasy phase of this experiment.”
Kristina’s instructions: Because Lisa’s curls were dry, Kristina recommended rinsing just once or twice a week, then conditioning the ends. “Even if you’re not shampooing, any time you get the hair wet you’re drying it out,” she explained.
For styling, Kristina suggested that Lisa fill a spray bottle with essential oil and spritz her curls whenever they needed refreshing. She could also use the apple cider vinegar blend once a week to cleanse the scalp, and brush or comb regularly to distribute oil.
Week one: “I had my hair [professionally] cut before the experiment, but today my ends feel frayed … My scalp itches like crazy and I’ve been noticing more dandruff in between rinsing days. I’m really frustrated with my hair [so] I’m keeping it back in a ponytail.”
Week two: “I felt like the curls were really heavy and not very bouncy, but someone told me my hair looked clean, so at least it’s looking better.”
Week three: “I wasn’t sure if it was okay to cut my hair during this trial, but I did it anyway—by myself, sans shampoo—and I LOVE it. I’ve never had a haircut I was really happy with, but it turned out exactly how I’d hoped … I’ve had several compliments, and people are surprised to discover I haven’t been shampooing it.”
Day 30: “I have had curly hair for 34.25 years and it once again resembles what it was like when I was two and it was unmarred by products and people called me Shirley Temple. This is the greatest day of my hair-life.”
Both Aimee and Lisa have fallen in love with their no-shampoo routines. Aimee’s combination of oily scalp and dry hair has balanced out; Lisa says her hair feels softer and her curls are bouncier. They both plan to continue skipping shampoo for the foreseeable future.
That’s not to say the shampoo-free lifestyle is for everyone. “Just like any trend, one thing is not ever going to be good for everybody,” Kristina said. “Though, as a hairdresser, I always think it’s great to give the hair a break from time to time.”
Want to conduct an experiment of your own?
Kristina gave us four reasons why you might want to give up shampoo—at least for a little bit.
1. You’re addicted to heat styling. “Taking a break from shampooing and getting a nice haircut can do wonders for healing the hair,” Kristina said. “Set your hot tools down for 2–4 weeks, take it easy on the shampooing, and your hair will be incredible.”
2. You have highlights or change your hair color often. Going blonde is especially harsh on hair, as is jumping around from color to color. Cutting shampoo from your daily routine will help your hair’s pH balance by restoring some natural moisture.
3. You get keratin or other straightening treatments. Kristina finds that “letting [hair] just chill out for a minute before getting another straightening treatment” helps prevent damage. This is doubly true if you keratin and color.
4. You have curly or textured hair. “Texture in general has a tendency to be more dry,” Kristina said. “If you’re shampooing it on a regular basis, textured hair rarely will have a moment to be naturally conditioned by its own oils.” She noted that natural oils can improve curl pattern and reduce frizz.
Ready to get started? Don’t forget your apple cider vinegar blend—here’s a recipe, along with some tips and tricks for using it.
Conclusion image by Matt Schwerin, Groupon. Progress photos by Kelly MacDowell and Mae Rice, Groupon.