Perhaps “thought” is too serious of a word — I entertained the idea of not using hair products, sort of in the same way a person daydreams about their ideal job, house or vacation. “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple.”
Well, it turns out that it is really that simple. And it’s pretty healthy for your hair, too. In fact, it goes way beyond the insecurities of caring how your hair looks and smells. On a practical level, shampoos and conditioners have been known to solve many first world problems like “frizzy hair” but also more annoying ones like dandruff. Unfortunately, and as most people know, shampoos cause most of these problems — hence the need for conditioner to add moisture.
However, the problem doesn’t stop here. Since the scalp produces its own oils, one’s hair can look and feel greasy after a few days. The scalp is supposed to produce oils, but with the additional oils in conditioners, the problem snowballs into a greasy mess. Thus, the cycle of shampooing/conditioning continues.
At the beginning of summer I started using exclusively water on my hair. I did more research and read personal blogs about others who ditched the ‘poo. What I found is that the actual ingredients in shampoos and conditioners are one of many contributors to the oceans’ changing pH levels. The overall result is that the amount of minerals in the oceans increases, causing certain kinds of algae to grow and destroy some forms of sea life.
The water returns to us, as all things do, but with added chemicals like calcium. This, my friends, is called hard water (dun, dun, dun).
Hard water just means water that is high in minerals but also water that leaves residue. A relatable example of this would be calcium deposits in your shower. There aren’t conclusive studies on whether or not drinking hard water is harmful, but it leaves one’s hair looking rather undesirable if shampoo and conditioner aren’t used.
Thus, the cycle goes on. We use shampoo filled with toxic irritants (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), so we use conditioner to soothe the scalp, which then washes down the drain. This adds to the mineral content of ocean waters, which come back in our shower’s water supply. Although water goes through many filtrations on the journey to and from our taps, we can’t escape the fact that
shampoos directly harm us.
In addition to polluting the oceans by encouraging algae to spread (which lowers oxygen levels and kills marine life) hair products are chock-full of mutagens, neurotoxins and carcinogens. Chemicals, such as Triethanolamine — which are found in most shampoos and cosmetic products, lotions, etc, — have been studied and shown to cause cancer. And yes, I’m aware that chemicals are naturally occurring things, but that doesn’t mean “won’t cause illness.” At the very least, it can cause clogged pores or dry skin on your face. Of course, there will always be a myriad of expensive and inexpensive skin cleansers for that problem — but I digress.
Obviously I just have general, basic knowledge about the effects of the chemicals in shampoos
and conditioners, both with regards to body and the planet. However, I can list these benefits from my own experience of foregoing shampoo and conditioner: shorter showers, thicker hair, fast-growing hair (mine grew about 4 inches from May to August) and a whole lot of savings.
I understand that not everyone is on board, as it does take the scalp a while to regulate its oil levels and may feel uncomfortable for about a month. However, this shouldn’t be too discouraging as it only lasts a small amount of time.
There are many options — one of my favourites being the Knotty Boy All-Purpose Shampoo bar since I used to have dreads — which contain both vegetable and organic essential oils. Simple all-purpose baking soda works just as fine as long as you use small amounts (a tablespoon) if your hair is getting too oily. Or, if you’re one of those people, like me, who has incredibly dry skin, a little bit of jojoba oil now and then will cure any dryness and itchiness.
Eventually, your scalp will get used to the lack of chemicals being slathered on it, and the transition to good ol’ fashioned tap water.
graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf