Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Misadventures in Going Green: No Poo? No, Thanks.

Every now and then, I get notions about my hair.

It's long, kind of coarse, and very straight. I have very sensitive combination skin, and, unfortunately, it's a phenomenon that extends to the top of my head-- most shampoos make my scalp itchy and dry, but my hair has more of a tendency to be oily. The straighter your hair, the more often it generally requires washing. Wash it too much, and you'll just encourage it to produce more oil. In the end, there's a kind of not-too-dirty, not-too-clean sweet spot I need to find with each shampoo. After, of course, finding a shampoo that doesn't irritate my scalp and strip all of moisture out of my hair.

I tried having a "crunchier" hair regimen. I tried sulfate-free shampoos, and even gave a couple of all-natural, castile soap-based options a shot. In the end, I learned a few things:

  1. Hard water and actual soap (that is, anything that's just straight-up saponified fat) are not friends. This is why, if you have hard water, a lot of handmade soaps will leave your skin filmy and soap scum on your tub.

  2. You really, really don't want to mess around with combining hard water, soap, and hair. Not even a little.


[caption id="attachment_2226" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub. Good for the environment. Sucky for my tub.[/caption]

True soaps (as opposed to detergents), be they ever so natural, react with the minerals in hard water. The result is the deposition of waxy salts. These are annoying when they get on your bathroom surfaces or dishes. They are grody as hell when they get in your hair. Worst of all, they're extremely difficult to get rid of even when you switch back to regular shampoo.

Picture, if you will, hair that doesn't look like it's been washed in weeks. It's a stringy, clumpy, oily mess, and a mess you can't even style because every one of those clumps and strings is held together by thick, sticky, waxy gunk. So, no soaps for my hair. Helas.

When I heard about the "No Poo" method, it seemed worth a try. You wash your scalp with a baking soda and water solution, then rinse with vinegar and more water. Easy enough, right? Most of its adherents swear by it. They've developed softer, shinier, more manageable hair, and a hair product budget that comes in at under three bucks a month. It balances oily hair, clarifies abused hair, and, in short, is billed as pretty much the best thing to happen to hair since the invention of scissors. So, I gave it a shot. Why not?

The end result was not pretty. Even after trying a specially-modified version of No Poo for hard water, my hair felt just like it did with straight castile soap. I poured the baking soda and water solution over my hair, felt the "slippery" feeling everyone describes, and scrubbed away at my roots where my hair tends to be oiliest. After that, I rinsed with white vinegar and water, let it dry, and tried to brush it. Emphasis on "tried."

My hair was a sticky, nasty, gluey mess. If anything, it was worse than using castile soap. Worse, even, than homemade cold process soap.

In the end, I think boiling alone is insufficient for the hard water situations that I've experienced. To actually make this work, I'd probably have to lay in a decent supply of bottled water and avoid letting any of my "native" water touch my hair in the process. Considering that a big part of the appeal of No Poo for me was the fact that I'd be able to dispense with plastic shampoo bottles in favor of a little box of baking soda and some vinegar now and then, that kind of kills it. I'd be totally willing to give it another shot, but not until I've found either a different recipe or a water softener.

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