The Paleo Mom Doesn’t Wash Her Hair!!! Ew, Gross!

August 2, 2012 in Categories: , , by

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(Created as a guest post for Well Grounded Hopes)

Three months ago, I gave up shampoo.  All shampoo.  And conditioner.  Yep, I no longer wash my hair.  But it isn’t gross, at least not now that my hair has adjusted (I admit that it was touch and go for a couple of weeks there).  As granola as it sounds to say that I don’t wash my hair, you would never know it (no dreads, no flies buzzing around me at all times, no slime oozing off my head).  Actually, my hair looks and feels healthier than ever before.

This was a long, long time coming.  I have had an itchy flakey scalp for as long as I can remember.  By the time I started high school, I had learned to wear my hair in pony tails and buns just so that the flakes wouldn’t frost my shoulders throughout the day (I was teased enough without giving my tormentors that kind of ammunition!).  I used to love weekends because I could sit and scratch my scalp and let the flakes land all over the floor before giving my head a good wash and wiping up the mess (sorry for the visual).  I always used special dandruff shampoos and toward the end of high school, started using topical steroids for my scalp to help control the inflammation.  My doctor said I “just” had some scalp psoriasis and suggested I use baby shampoo.

Baby shampoo didn’t help, plus it dried out my hair which was quite long most of this time.  So, I changed shampoo and conditioner brands sometimes as frequently as every time I bought a bottle.  Some would cause an instant burning sensation (my scalp would turn red for a few days then the skin would flake off like a bad sunburn) and I would have to toss the bottle after one use.  Some brands would seem okay for a while, maybe even a few months, before I slowly developed a reaction.  Sometimes I would react worse to the shampoo and sometimes I would react worse to the conditioner.  This may have been an allergy, a chemical sensitivity, or a case of contact dermatitis or psoriasis aggravated by the chemicals in my shampoos.  Eleven years ago, I gave up “cheap” shampoo and started only using the high quality products sold in my hair salon, but I still had to change products every few months.  My four-year flirt with brightly colored hair and fancy styling products ended when I became violently allergic to the hair dyes and every product my hair salon sold.  So, seven years ago, I started using organic, “chemical-free”, fragrance-free alternative shampoos and conditioners.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I used all of them because I STILL developed sensitivities to them and their matching conditioners and had to switch brands every few months (for a while I even used olive oil as a conditioner and just changed shampoo brands).  This may be because many “chemical-free” organic shampoos only avoid certain chemicals (like parabens) and many still contain some plant extracts that really amount to the same chemical, even if it does originate in nature.

As I continue to battle with autoimmune disease, attempt to adhere to the restrictions of the autoimmune protocol and to heal my body through diet, activity, stress management, prioritizing sleep, sun exposure, and supplements, I have started to evaluate my health through a more focussed lens.  It is such hard work to get my body to heal and any exposure to irritants, allergens or toxins is going to slow it down.  So, something like an itchy flaky scalp is a big sign that there’s something I’m missing.  It’s also a very discouraging sign that my body has not fully healed in spite of my efforts, which really makes me feel like I am waging an uphill battle. 

My decision to give up shampoo came just over three months ago when I last got my hair cut.  I knew that my scalp was starting to show the hallmark signs of a new shampoo sensitivity (although this time, it had been almost a year).  I was frustrated trying to implement the very overwhelming autoimmune protocol and was only seeing very mild improvement to my lichen planus (this is right before everything started to come together).  The hair dresser admonished the obviously poor health of my scalp the entire time she was cutting my hair (crediting inferior hair care products in spite of the fact that the shampoo I was using was purchased from her salon!), and pushing her favorite special scalp healing treatments very aggressively.  The barrage got to me.  I caved and bought a $30 bottle of a daily treatment for my scalp.  I went hope and tried it.  My scalp burned so badly I had to hop in the shower and wash it out immediately.  My scalp was beet red for three days before the skin flaked off in sheets, burned and killed by this product that was supposed to heal my scalp.  I was so discouraged to have such a violent reaction (I thought that, with paleo, these types of violent skin reactions that have plagued since I was 13 years old would be a thing of the past).  The silver lining is that this was one of the events that helped me find a higher compliance level with the autoimmune protocol.  And, it was the last time I washed my hair with shampoo. 

There are some really good reasons to give up shampoo, or at least to read the label and purchase carefully (for referenced summaries of potentially harmful chemicals in cosmetics, including shampoo and conditioner, see this report by the David Suzuki Foundation or this website by the Breast Cancer Fund).  I’ll just state right up front that I’m not a big fan of the scare tactics used in many websites listing all the potentially dangerous side effects of chemicals contained in soaps, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and cosmetics.  Using a line like “this is an ingredient in anti-freeze, would you put anti-freeze on your baby?” just makes me mad and triggers my stubborn rebellious side.  Show me some science that these chemicals are harmful and that they can be absorbed in significant quantities through your skin or have additive effects over time; then we’ll start talking.  But, some of this data actually does exist for some chemicals commonly found in shampoos and conditioners and also common contaminants (much of this data doesn’t exist yet).  More convincing to me is that some of the chemicals commonly used in shampoos are common allergens and irritants (which is different than being toxic).  Some are estrogen-mimicking compounds (again, different than being toxic).  But to be honest, I’m not sure this would be on my radar if I hadn’t had such a long term battle with my scalp and my health in general.  For me, the choice to give up shampoo was purely a reaction to not having any shampoo brands left out there that I hadn’t already tried and developed a sensitivity to.

Has giving up shampoo made me healthier?  I can’t honestly say yes.  But, it has changed my hair.  It took about three weeks for the oil production in my hair to slow down (at first, I cleansed daily with lemon juice, but I don’t anymore).  Now, my hair has a very lanolin-coated feel to it (like soft pet hair, maybe?) but also feels very soft and smooth.  It is definitely a different feel to how my hair has ever felt before and I still feel like I’m getting used to it when I run my fingers through my hair.  My hair has a fabulous shine, but always looks like it needs to be combed (I blame the too wavy to be straight, not wavy enough to be curly quality of my hair here).  There are still a couple of odd flakes, but my scalp doesn’t itch (unless I eat something I shouldn’t!) and there’s no redness anymore.  And that is definitely an improvement! 

So, what do I use on my hair?  Most days, I just use water and give my scalp a bit of a massage in the shower.  Every 3-4 weeks, when the oil build-up gets to be too much, I cleanse my hair with baking soda and then condition my hair with lemon juice.  I achieve this by mixing 1-2 Tbsp of baking soda into a cup of water and slowly pouring it over my head in the shower.  I rinse fairly immediately because I feel like the baking soda strips too much moisture from my hair and my hair will feel too dry for several days afterward.  The lemon juice helps neutralize the baking soda and restores some of that sheen to my hair.  I place the lemon juice in a small spray bottle and spray my already wet hair, massage in, then rinse out.  I have found that how long I go before I need a baking soda/lemon juice clean is longer every time.  Perhaps eventually, it won’t be needed at all.  I don’t use any styling product whatsoever in my hair and I don’t think that this would work for someone who really likes to style their hair using any kind of gel, mousse, mud, or spray.  I’m glad I went through the adjustment period with short hair, although now that my hair has such a lovely sheen, I am thinking about growing it long again.  I save a ton of time by not having to wash and condition my hair every morning.  Not to mention all the money I save by giving up shampoo! 

There are lots of recipes out there for homemade shampoos, but I don’t think they are necessary, unless you have a lifestyle where your hair really gets dirty.  So yes, I don’t wash my hair.  But my hair is gorgeous and my scalp is healthier.  I’m actually wishing I’d tried this about two decades ago!

Comments

This is really interesting to read about, a topic I’ve have entertained a few times. A few questions: Do you use soap on the rest of your body? Have you tried a soap based shampoo bar? Why lemon juice instead of apple cider vingear as a rinse? How frequently do you shower and fully wet your hair without using the baking soda treatment? Is this water cholorinated?

Hope that’s not too nosey! Thanks for a great post!

I fully wet my hair every day in the shower, and it is chlorinated water. I got 3-4 weeks before I do a baking soda treatment. I have never tried a shampoo bar (never even seen them!) I do not use soap on the rest of my body (and haven’t for years and years), except if I’m shaving. I shave my armpits every day, so I guess they stay clean that way. LOL! I used lemon juice because I like the smell better than vinegar (they are considered interchangeable for this purpose). Plus I like the ideas of promoting some highlights. ;)

Yeah, no-poo! It’s the best way to go. I decided a while back that I didn’t want sodium laureth sulfate or any of that nonsense anywhere near my head. Turns out none of it was ever even necessary.

I tried to do the baking soda wash thing. I wanted to love it, really, but I couldn’t. Maybe my hair is just too long and thick, but I could never get it clean, but my hair got so full of static that it was literally unbearable. My hair was constantly clinging to my face and everything within a foot of my head. I now use an all natural unrefined shea butter shampoo which works much better, and has also helped my itchy scalp.

In the winter, mine would get static-y, so I would spray some StaticGuard on my brush and run it thru my hair. Since it didn’t get to my scalp, I wouldn’t have any problems with it. (I have the same scalp story as above, and all I can use – without any problems – is baking soda & acv or lemon water.)

Ok but the sweating thingI …what about sweating on not using soap on your body? Not to be stupid, OR condescending, don’t you have BO?? LOL! I just stopped using regular deodorant and switched to the natural stuff without lead, and even doing just that it’s been an adjustment. I get stinkier faster it seems. ;)

It definitely depends how active you are, how healthy you are, and how clean your diet is. Shaving or other exfoliating practices help, but there are plenty of chemical-free soaps and deodorants you can try if you prefer to use one. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

My friend, who is Paleo most of the time (most due mainly to wine and occasional non-Paleo splurges), just told me this morning that her hair has been falling out. I was shocked when she showed me just how much! Her doctor was unable to give her any suggestions as to why. She asked me if I thought it could be a Paleo side effect but I thought not. Thoughts?

Two possibilities come to mind. First is that her hair might be falling out because of dramatic changes in estrogen levels (this should slow down as her body adjusts). Second, is she could have alopecia, which is an autoimmune disease. This post is written about psoriasis, but many of the ideas would apply to alopecia, specifically that transitioning to paleo might mean eating more eggs, nuts and tomatoes which could aggravate an existing autoimmune condition:

http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/04/modifying-paleo-to-treat-psoriasis.html

I hope this helps!

or a thyroid connection? There’s a lot of talk about low-carb and IF being hard on a woman’s thyroid, and those can be a big part of some peoples’ paleo. In my case paleo helped hair loss and scalp itch (I also went co-wash only about once a week) so that’s the only thing that comes to mind in the other temporal direction. Sarah, what say you?

Totally possible too! Another one of those borderline autoimmune conditions (Hashimoto’s and Grave’s) that can become worse with a paleo diet rich in tomatoes, eggs, nuts (which alot of people increase their consumption of when they first switch). And many people cut salt way back (which I recommend) and switch to sea salt (which I don’t recommend unless you are also eating plenty of fish and/or seaweed), which means their iodine intake drops dramatically, which can further stress the thyroid. Going too low-carb and inappropriately IFing brings excess cortisol into the mix, which also aggravates existing conditions.

Thank you for these replies! Autoimmune does play a factor in her case and I sent her the link to this post. We’re going to discuss it this weekend! Very much appreciated, as your info always is!

I know I’m a bit late with the reply But I had some hair loss recently due to what I believe was heavy metal toxicity due to my copper IUD. She may be sensitive to heavy metals.

I have been using baking soda and water to wash my hair for a few months now, I like it but I am really interested in just using water. How do you transition over? Do you just have to be patient like when switching from shampoo to baking soda. While in the transition how often and with what do you suggest washing with?

The transition can be a bit gross and yes, patience is really all that’s needed. I would suggest slowly trying to increase the length of time between baking soda washes. Part of this is getting your hair follicles to slow down oil production and part of it is getting used to different textured hair (more oil and more lanolin).

I stopped using “regular” shampoo & conditioner about 6 weeks ago! After years of being told by hair dressers to stop washing my hair everyday I finally took the plunge. I’m sooo happy I did. In the beginning I experienced awful greasiness but now I have beautiful, never frizzy hair! I’m at the stage where I wash it every other day to every 2 days. I’m still building up to a full week.

What a battle! I do not wash my hair often but when I do I use a shampoo in which the first ingredient is neem oil, followed by shea butter. I found one that includes rosemary oil. As a teacher, rosemary oil is one of the best deterrents for head lice.(Not that this is the current topic)I could not imagine why lice would want to leave the beautiful little heads of my kindergartners.

Perfect timing! My husband has been using baking soda and vinegar for almost a year now. He still has very dry scalp. I will recommend to him that he try only using water on some washes to see if it helps with that. I cut my hair short so I am going to try going shampoo/conditioner free also. I have been washing my hair 2x a week for years now and when pregnant I can go 3x every 2 weeks. My friends think that is dirty, but I think that they are killing their head with all this 2x a day hair washing. Glad to know other normal people out there are trying this and having success.

I’ve been no-poo for about 4 months. But I’m still finding my hair to be “sticky”. I can’t figure it out–am I not getting the baking soda out enough, am I not using enough baking soda and the little amount I do use is just sticking to the oil in my hair and staying there, am I using too much white vinegar to “condition”? I find I have to use actual conditioner about once a week just to “break up” the stickiness. Then its fine again for a couple more days. And ideas where I’m going wrong?

I know this was posted almost two years ago, but do you have hard water? I had a terrible time with the transition because of my hard water until I read about a way to combat that. You have to boil a cup of water, then dissolve 1 tbsp of baking soda into that. It’ll get all fizzy and feel slimy once it’s cooled. If your mixture wasn’t feeling slimy before, that may be the problem.

I have been doing no-poo for over a year now using a handful of baking soda to wash and diluted ACV for rinse. it can tend to make it frizzy, so I use Argan oil to moisturize after washing. I rinse daily and have recently started stretching out washes to once per week. I might try for longer but like to exfoliate my scalp periodically. my hair felt sticky at first but resolved that by using less ACV, it doesn’t take much.

I tried the baking soda – apple cider vinegar routine for several months. It seemed to help the itchiness, but not the flakiness. I went back to T-gel a couple time a week. Just water – who would have thought? That plus paleo (which I am just beginning to explore) might help my dry skin/scalp issues? I don’t have other health issues, but my husband has many. I am interested in curing through diet, but he is not. I hope I can lead by example. My 8y/o doesn’t fall asleep easily and my 5 y/o doesn’t stay asleep. I am also hoping some of the mood issues several household members face might be improved as well. Oh, this entire food thing has gotten confusing. I used to think I knew what healthy eating looked like. Now, I am not so sure. I appreciate the science links and support in your blog. I love that this is a lifestyle that is also forgiving – the kids don’t have to give up holiday treats, but I hope they will learn to recognize that some food make them feel yucky and begin to self-monitor. I think it will be helpful to think of it as a transition that may take a year or so. Anyway, I am glad this blog is here.

Last summer I tried to stay poo-free but I was not very happy with the itchiness and flakiness. I returned to use baby shampoo, but it did not make any difference. After reading this article I stopped using shampoo again, but this time I bought a brush with wild pig bristles. Before washing my hair I comb it and try to reach every piece of my scalp. Since then the flakiness almost went away (I sometimes see a few in my hair, but no more on my shirts), the itchiness is gone, too. The brush soaks up the fat and scatters it on the rest of the hair (hair ends). My hair is now thicker and looks healthier than ever before. I can style it and it stays where it should be without using any styling products and is not looking fatty.

PS: when not using the brush the flakiness returns after a few hair washes, I guess the brush brushes out a great number of them, as I have to clean it very well after every use.

I’m terrified of going poo free. I have been excessively oily since I can remember and I have very straight tangly hair so one day without washing ends up with an oil slick to the ends of my long hair. Never had a problem with my scalp either. I have gotten rid of the nasty chemicals though by making my own soap with organic natural ingredients and soothing essential oils. This way I can make sure there are nourishing oils on my hair without the dirt and lint it picks up.

I love that post. A former pupil of mine – I’m a retired teacher – in a facebook post – about half a year ago – let everyone know that he does not wash his hair, I mean does not use anything else but water. I gave it a try. I works. I’ve changed the method a little bit: I use a powerful look warm water jet. — Well, I’ve developed thi idea of not using chemical shit: I use just water – no soap, no bath shampoo at all. Definitely I do not stink. — I still use soap to wash my hands or whenever or wherever needed.

For those whose hair is too long for intense baking soda cleaning every few weeks: mix 2 tbsp baking soda in a can of coconut milk. Use like shampoo everytime you wash. I have long hair and this works great for me. At first I still had to wash my hair every 2-3 days but within weeks I was able to go 6-7 days without any oil build up that felt greasy.

I was just reading a post on the Thank Your Body website and she included a quote from one of her fans who had commented on her blog:

“Using highly alkaline solutions on your hair (baking soda, bronners soaps, etc.) though it feels soft and manageable that is really the disulfide bonds in your internal hair structure being weakened by the alkaline solution.The colors and perms that are performed use this method to work, they “open up” your hair to deposit the color or permanent, then a clarifying shampoo is used to “close” your hair and lock the color or permanent in. To then bring your hair down to it’s proper pH a acidic solution (apple cider vinegar) when using a alkalinic cleanser is used, this is called clarifying. This dual process is not healthy for your hair or your scalp. (…) This is why so many shampoos on the market advertise that it is pH balanced. Because that is very important. So forcing your hair to go up to an 8 or 9 and then forcing it back down to a 4.5 in a short period of time is very damaging. -Amanda (awesome TYB reader)”

She includes a do-it-yourself shampoo recipe (which I haven’t tried yet): http://thankyourbody.com/ph-balanced-shampoo-recipe/

Its so hard for me! detox from shampoos is really tough! not to mention tghat these are the times that I am trying to grow my hair.

By the way
most girls say that shampoo is toxic – they know that
so they use conditioner everyday
is conditioner more toxic and harmful than shampoo?

I just noticed that my shampoo & conditioner contain soy protein, and I”m trying to avoid soy. I have no scalp problems, but is this as bad as eating soy?

Some people do react to the ingredients in their skin/hair-care products, but if it doesn’t seem to cause problems for your scalp or your hair, it should be fine. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I’ve been trying to go more and more natural with my hair and skin care but my issue is tangles in my hair. I have a lot of long hair and without a heavy conditioner it is impossible to get a brush through. This is complicated by very hard water that will make my hair feel “sticky”. Any suggestions?

Some people have success with apple cider vinegar as a detangling rinse. You might also consider a filter on your shower head, which has worked wonders for me. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

My daughter has recently had very weird scalp issues. She started itching last fall. To the point of breaking the skin. When I first looked at it it looked like something had bitten her several times where it was itching. It also had some spots that looked like Cradle Cap in a baby. I suspected Yeast overgrowth because I read somewhere that Cradle Cap is a fungus (as is Dandruff, even though when I asked in my salon they giggled and said no)
We have recently done an elimination diet and her skin issues (bumps on back of upper arms and very rough almost caloused elbows and knees) are getting better. We also did a stool test and she had “Many” yeast so we are starting nystatin and doubling the probiotic she has been on since starting the Elim diet. My question is this, how much of this do you think is leaky gut/yeast and how much is shampoo?? (before starting the elim. diet we resorted to selsun blue but I knew that was bandaiding the problem – since starting the elimination diet she has been using a gluten free shampoo (no selsun blue) with only a light itching twice with no breaking of the skin)
Thanks for all of your posts, I am still trying to make my way through your book in small bites and use it a lot as a resource just to look things up. I am learning so much and between you and my Functional Medicine Dr. (and friend :) I really feel like I am finally getting answers that actually work! :)

It’s hard to say, but probably a little bit of both. I think most allergic reactions, even topical ones, can be attributed at least in part to leaky gut. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Excited to read this! I rarely wash or even get my hair wet … and it looks healthy and great 95% of the time (when it doesn’t is usually when I don’t have the time to brush the oils from my scalp out to the ends of my long hair!) I have been struggling to know what to wash my hair with since what I typically use I have to drive an hour to get, and I just don’t have the time or money to do that right now. I will definitely have to try the baking soda thing.

I first used baking soda one week ago. I have done this 3 times now (it gets better each time). I just wanted to comment that my hair has stopped falling out so much. All day long I usually pull out loose strays and for the past two days, there have been NONE – except a few in the shower.

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