Giving Up Shampoo & Conditioner

So before I gave up deodorant I gave up using shampoo and conditioner. Boy, time is flying fast, as it must have been over a year ago.

So you’re thinking my hair must be pretty gross by now?

Definitely not. Why not? Because I wash my hair with liquid castile soap. You can read more about castile soap here.

So my hair must be pretty frizzy and dry, yeah?

Nope. It seems that hair doesn’t really need conditioner as long as the soap is mild enough, and rinsing with apple cider vinegar smooths the scales on the hair shaft. And I’m not blessed with fabulous hair to begin with … I have long, curly hair. Curly hair tends to be dry because the shape of the hair shaft inhibits the natural scalp oils from distributing along the shaft properly.

Since abandoning shampoo and conditioner, my hair has been just as good as before, when I was also using a leave-in conditioner. It also seems to get less oily. I no longer get an oily patch on the back (this was how I used to determine when my hair needed a wash). In fact I wash at least once a week mostly because my curls need rejuvenating, rather than my hair feeling unclean (but I don’t exercise or use any styling products).

So what exactly do I do?

I use a liquid castile soap shampoo from Willows Natural Products. It’s plain castile soap made with a mixture of oils including olive oil, but definitely not palm oil. Liquid castile soap has a watery, rather than creamy, consistency so I’m careful not to pour too much out. I shake or pour into my palm and rub well between my hands before applying it to my hair. I generally only wash once, sticking mainly to my scalp (this is highly advisable for curly hair) letting the rest of the hair get washed by soap run off. I wash once a week or whenever my curls need reinvigorating (they tend to fall out as they get slept on, tied up etc).

After shampooing I spray a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water onto my hair and distribute it evenly with my fingers. I rinse this off after I’ve finished washing the rest of me.

Once my hair is towel dried, I comb with a wide-toothed comb (someone I know with curly hair once said she should have been born with a warning sign ‘Do Not Brush When Dry’. That statement is so true!), I give my curls a scrunch and then I let my hair air dry. I used to, but no longer, use any leave-in hair products.

How to select a soap

Finding a natural soap shampoo that suits your hair may require some trial and error. Even the variation in pure castile soap ingredients could influence compatibility with your hair. Fancier commercial natural soaps can have even more variation in ingredients, such as essential oils, honey, milk, beeswax or even beer, which may or may not suit your hair.

Firstly, pure castile soap comes in two forms, bar and liquid castile soap. It is also possible to dissolve solid castile soap and make your own liquid. Some people have no problems with bar soap, but I definitely prefer liquid castile soap for hair.

Secondly, the soapmaker has a variety of oils to choose from and not all the oil is saponified (reacted into soap). Some is left over and this is called superfatting. The soapmaker chooses the percentage of superfatting to ensure no lye remains in the soap (which can burn skin) and to provide different levels of moisturisation. The percentage of superfatting may vary from 0%-10%. Lower percentages of superfatting are usually used for house cleaners and higher amounts for body soaps. So pure castile soaps can vary in the quantity and type of oil still remaining in the soap.

Some people complain that they don’t like the feel of their hair when they wash with castile soap. There are a few reasons why this might be. Many proponents claim that it is simply a case of your hair adjusting from normal shampoo as the silicones wash out. Marie from Humblebee&Me points out that if the scales on the hair shaft aren’t smoothed after washing, hair will feel coarse and tangly in the absence of silicones. Rinsing with apple cider vinegar (or any acidic rinse) is therefore necessary to smooth the scales after washing on an ongoing basis.

I also think that the superfatting in soaps may not suit some people’s hair, leaving residue in their hair. If you are having problems with the feel of residue in your hair after using a natural shampoo (and you are already using a vinegar rinse), it may also be that the type or quantity of oil, or some other natural ingredients doesn’t suit your hair. Olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, jojoba oil, and castor oil are some of the oils that can be used in castile soap and these vary in their lightness. So choosing a different formulation might improve the affect on your hair. Additional oil can also be added by the maker after saponification is finished to make it more moisturising. You might need to avoid these, or alternately add more oil of your own choice to a bottle for dry hair.

My goal is to make my own liquid castile soap from locally grown olive oil.

How to use an apple cider vinegar  (ACV) rinse

I have found the easiest way to apply an apple cider vinegar rinse is with a spray bottle. The proportion of vinegar is also up to you. Some bloggers recommend 50:50, others one eighth. Again, I think this will vary by hair type and soap used. I suggest start off with 50:50 and reduce it if you think your hair becomes too dry. You can also vary how long it is left on for. After a couple of weeks (when your hair has supposedly “detoxified”) you can try without the rinse. I have found continuing to use an apple cider vinegar rinse to be better. Remember to close your eyes when you spray it on as it will cause eyes to sting.

Conditioning Treatments

If you delve into the internet you’ll find a vast array of recipes for hair conditioning treatments, so this topic deserves a post all on its own. However, I’ve tried a few oil-based hair treatments and not had much luck. I find the oils so hard to get out, leaving my hair feeling too oily. By the time I’ve washed my hair thoroughly enough to get the oils out, my hair is left even dryer than it was before the treatment! So I’ve given up for now. If my hair gets dry (usually because I’ve started washing it twice instead of once) I just pull back on the washing and the ACV rinse.

Customising Castile soap and ACV rinse

You can have fun with customising your own pure castile soap and apple cider vinegar by:

  • Adding more oil to the liquid castile soap to increase the moisturisation (up to 10% of volume depending on the original superfatting of the soap, try 5% to start with)
  • Adding essential oils to your liquid castile soap or apple cider vinegar rinse (up to 1.5% of volume, but 1% is usually enough)
  • Infusing your apple cider vinegar with botanical ingredients like rosemary, mint or lavender (make a tea with the herbs and boiling water, then use to dilute the vinegar).

Some ideas to try:

For Oily Hair: Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Grapeseed oil; Lime, Basil, Thyme, Patchouli, Tea tree, Lemongrass essential oils

For Normal Hair: Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Grapeseed, Olive oil; Peppermint, Rosemary essential oil (supposedly also stimulates hair growth)

For Dry Hair: Sweet Almond, Grapeseed, Olive, Macadamia oil; Chamomile, Lavender, Sandalwood, Rosemary Essential oils

For Dandruff: Clary Sage, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Patchouli Essential oils

I hope that you decide to take the plunge and try more sustainable hair care options. Enjoy!

Some good websites for further reading


Jenni Raincloud

Wellness Mama


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