It’s hard to step out of the house these days without seeing an advert for hair products. Whether your locks are too lanky, your scalp is too greasy, or your style is just not quite right, if you believe the billboards then there’s a shampoo or a conditioner out there that can fix it all.
Modern shampoo has only been available since the 1930s, when it was developed as an alternative to soap, but as a result of our growing obsession with personal hygiene the global hair care market is estimated to reach a value of more than USD$80 billion in 2016.
Not everyone is convinced of the need for so many products, though, and there’s a growing movement of people starting to clear the bottles out their bathroom cupboards in favour of cheaper natural alternatives.
“My motto is that if you can't eat it, don't wash with it – it all ends up inside us one way or another.”
Writer, blogger and ‘no poo’ advocate Lucy AitkenRead hasn’t used shampoo on her hair for three years, and is so happy with the results that she’s written a book called Happy Hair: the Definitive Guide to Giving Up Shampoo. As well as offering encouragement and sharing the stories of people who live without shampoo, she lists the benefits of more than thirty alternatives, including lemon juice, tea and coconut oil.
“People commonly turn to baking soda and apple cider vinegar to replace shampoo and conditioner. There are heaps of alternatives, though – ones that are more nourishing. I prefer using eggs and honey and herbs from the garden. My motto is that if you can't eat it, don't wash with it – it all ends up inside us one way or another.”
Lucy and other followers of the ‘no poo’ movement, which includes celebrities such as Adele and Gwyneth Paltrow, believe that regular use of shampoo causes more problems than it solves. The theory behind ‘no poo’ is that left to its own devices, or washed with natural substitutes, our hair and scalp reach their natural balance and end up in better condition.
"If you wash every day, it dries out the scalp and hair, encouraging your glands to become 'overactive' by striving to replace the natural oil. However, leaving it to build up will cause similar problems."
However, Craig Withers, Director of Urban Escape Hair in Melbourne, believes that rejecting shampoo entirely is an unnecessary move, and says it’s more a question of finding the right frequency of washing for your hair type.
“Should you stop washing your hair? No! Do you need to wash your hair every day? No! Scalp oil is good for you, but just like chocolate, in moderation! If you wash every day not only is that a waste of money and product, it also dries out the scalp and hair, encouraging your glands to become 'overactive' by striving to replace the natural oil. However, leaving it to build up will cause similar problems.”
He goes on to say, “The needs of every person vary, due to their environment and diet, but a good guide is to wash about every 3 days and it’s certainly acceptable to give it a good rinse after a workout or if needed. Most hairdressers I know wash their hair once a week. The best strategy is to use good products, shampoo twice to ensure a proper clean, and be sure to thoroughly rinse conditioner out.”
Proponents of ‘no poo’ argue that in addition to the positive effects on their hair, there are environmental and economic benefits that also make it worthwhile: fewer plastic bottles in circulation, less exposure to sulphates and parabens and, of course, less money spent on products.
But even the most ardent supporters admit there can be a difficult transition phase as your hair adjusts. “No poo is definitely becoming more mainstream,” says AitkenRead. “But you have to really want to do it because the first stage can be quite tricky. I recommend learning how to tie a good headscarf!”