When I first started going natural with my personal care products, choosing a cleaner shampoo and conditioner was high on my list. Before I started reading labels, I was using DevaCurl’s No Poo Cleanser (not the same as the no poo method – confusing, I know) and their One Condition. DevaCurl seemed like the logical product choice for me – after all, my hair salon uses, stocks, and recommends their products and they’re a globally recognized brand for curly and wavy hair. But once I found that they use formaldehyde-releasers as their preservatives, it was easy to decide that I would no longer be using their products.
Initial searches on Google and Pinterest lead me to the “no poo method,” which seemed like the holy grail for earthy crunchy people who wanted a safer alternative to their conventional shampoos. The number of posts about people using this method is overwhelming, so I figured if it’s this popular it’s worth a shot. But alas, just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.
The “no poo” method asserts that all you need to effectively and safely wash your hair and scalp are: baking soda and diluted apple cider vinegar. Actually, some proponents of the “no poo” method say to use straight-up apple cider vinegar (*cringe*). Not yet knowing any better about the anatomy & physiology of the hair and scalp, especially with regard to pH, I set out giving this method a try. Every 2-3 days I would wash - or more accurately, scrub - my scalp with the baking soda, then rinse out thoroughly. I then sprayed a diluted apple cider vinegar mixture using a 3:1 ratio of water to vinegar from scalp to roots, let sit for a minute, then rinse out thoroughly. That was it for my wash and condition routine.
My inner cheapskate was thrilled about all the $$$ savings on this new routine, but after noticing my hair feeling brittle and dry, I decided it was time to do some more digging. I quickly learned why the “no poo” method is a one-way ticket to dry, brittle, damaged hair and an irritated scalp. Let me explain why:
Baking soda has a pH of ~9.5. Even when diluted like some Pins talk about, the pH will not get much lower than ~8. Our scalp & hair has a natural pH of ~4.5 thanks to our acid mantle, a thin film on the surface of our skin which acts as a barrier to bacteria, viruses, and other potential contaminants and irritants. Using baking soda to “wash” (read: scrub) your scalp will literally destroy your acid mantle. Also, it is impossible to avoid over-exfoliating your scalp when cleansing with baking soda. Exposure to highly basic solutions will cause the hair’s cuticle to “open up,” which causes frizz, dryness, and susceptibility to breakage and damage. Ultimately, cleansing with baking sodamakes your scalp more prone to infection, irritation, and inflammation, and an unhealthy scalp breeds unhealthy hair.
Straight-up apple cider vinegar has a pH of ~2, and properly diluted you can get an ACV mixture to have an appropriate pH of ~4.5. Regardless, “washing” your hair and scalp with baking soda then following up with a much more acidic solution is chemically shocking your hair cuticle. The baking soda causes the shingle-like tiers of the outermost layer of your hair to “open up,” and the apple cider vinegar solution is supposed to “close” and “smooth” these shingles back down. While that might happen for the first few times that you try the no-poo method, the huge difference in alkalinity and acidity between these two cleansing steps will damage and weaken the hair cuticle over time. The cuticle will not be able to fully close and smooth down, and the continued routine of highly alkaline substance to highly acidic substance will make your hair extremely brittle, dry, and dull. Many people who have tried the no-poo method for several months note that theirhair becomes thinner and falls out much more than their usual shedding. If you ever use heat styling appliances, the damage will happen even faster.
Once I fully understood the anatomy & physiology of our hair and skin along with the importance of products with the appropriate pH, I dropped the no-poo method like it was hot and I set out doing research & development of what became our Oat & Aloe Hair Cleansers and our Post-Wash Herbal Lemon Rinse.
I totally appreciate the sentiment behind the no-poo method: that most conventional shampoos are loaded with harsh cleaning agents and a plethora of less-than-ideal ingredients. However, that doesn’t mean that your only option is baking soda and apple cider vinegar! Regardless of whether you buy Bright Body products or not, if you’re invested in finding a truly safe and effective hair cleansing routine, here’s what you should look for:
- A sulfate-free, low to no-suds hair cleanser. Ideally, look for a product that has more water-soluble hydrating ingredients than oil (or safe fatty-alcohol)-based moisturizing ingredients. Water-based ingredients like aloe vera and plant hydrosols will help condition the hair even while cleansing, and the oil- or fatty-alcohol-based ingredients will seal in the moisture from the water-based hydrators.
- A silicone-free, water-soluble conditioner and/or finishing rinse. Look for a product that has a balance of water-soluble and oil- or fatty-alcohol-based ingredients. Find a product that has a small to moderate amount of sulfate-free surfactants(not listed among the first three ingredients) so that you’re reducing your likelihood of buildup and allowing for easy product distribution.
- Other ingredient considerations. As always, make sure to look up the product and its ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database. Choose a formula with safe preservatives, essential oil-based fragrance (or fragrance-free), safe emulsifiers and pH adjusters, and one that is alcohol-free. Note that fatty alcohols might appear to be alcohols on first glance – when you look everything up on the EWG Database, make sure to learn whether something is a fatty alcohol – which acts like an oil – or a regular ol’ alcohol.
The idea of not using harsh foaming shampoos is not the problem – but the practice of using baking soda and apple cider vinegar is a big problem for the long-term health of your hair and scalp. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater - rather than ditching all professional haircare, instead look at your ingredients and choose your products wisely.
If you’re interested in learning about our Curly Hair Cleansing System & Straight Hair Cleansing System, just click on the links! We also recommend watching the method videos that explain how to use our unique method.
Until next time,