I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.
If you’re one of my long-time readers and friends, you very well may remember my enthusiastic posts about “no ‘poo” natural hair care.
I raved about it. I loved it. I had fantastic results. I had to tweak my system a couple of times, but I was convinced that I’d never want to care for my hair any other way.
However, as time went on, I started to wonder if no ‘poo wasn’t such a great option after all. And then I became totally convinced of it because of what it did to my long, healthy hair.
Ugh. Friends, it ain’t pretty.
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Wait, What Is “No ‘Poo”?
If you aren’t familiar with no ‘poo haircare, allow me to back the train up and explain.
No ‘poo means no shampoo. If you have young children in the house, it’s probably hard to get past the term ‘poo and apply it to haircare, I know.
Typically with no ‘poo haircare, you wash your hair with baking soda and water and then condition it with a vinegar rinse (usually apple cider is used, but some people use white distilled).
I first read about the routine here and was instantly intrigued. It took me a while to try it, but once I did and once my hair adjusted, I was hooked.
Why I Loved No ‘Poo
I like simple. I like natural. I like frugal. You really can’t get much simpler, more natural, and more frugal than washing your hair with baking soda. Unless you just do water, which suits some ladies just fine.
The ingredients list on typical bottles of shampoo and conditioner is scary. Plus, while using standard shampoo and conditioner, I had to wash my hair daily. There was no way around it, no matter how many times I tried to go every other day between washes. Once I started out on a natural living journey, I just wasn’t thrilled with putting so many chemicals on my head and in my hair so often.
With no ‘poo, there were no funny ingredients. I started going every other day between washes, then every three days, and finally every four days. My hair wasn’t flat, limp, and weighed down anymore, and it felt really clean and free. It was easy to style, it looked healthy, and it felt great.
I cringe when I see this picture now. There was so much breakage happening here!
When Others Jumped Off the Bandwagon
After some time, maybe two years or so into no ‘poo-ing, I started reading a few things here and there about baking soda being rather hard on the hair. Ladies were saying they tried it and felt that it dried their hair out and made it brittle.
I’d love to say that I took their words to heart and began researching the effects of baking soda on hair more extensively. But I didn’t.
I thought that these ladies just weren’t doing no ‘poo the right way, like using too much baking soda, washing too frequently, and not doing occasional oil treatments like I did. Or maybe their hair tended to by dry anyhow and so they just weren’t a good fit for that kind of hair washing routine.
So I continued on with no ‘poo, but I didn’t forget the experiences that these ladies shared.
And Then The Breakage Began
I started to notice severe breakage in my hair a little over two years ago, which would have been a little over two years into my no ‘poo ways. I started finding sections of hair that were only about 3-4 inches long on the top of my head along my part.
At first, I thought it was all due to a bad experience I had while using a vacuum with my hair down. I still feel that the vacuum cleaner fiasco had a lot to do with the sudden breakage that started. I mean, you’re not doing your hair any favors by letting it get sucked into a vacuum and tightly coiled around the spinning brush while frantically yelling and trying to get the thing turned off.
I realized, however, that it wasn’t just the vacuum cleaner accident that was causing the breakage when sections that didn’t get caught in the vacuum started breaking off just as short as the others. Months later I read this article from my friend Kristen of Taming Rapunzel and I recognized that what happened to her client was exactly what happened to me.
The change in my hair’s texture was gradual. So gradual, in fact, that I didn’t really noticed how brittle my once soft and silky hair had become until it was breaking all over. And then, it was too late.
Assessing the Damage
When I stopped using baking soda to wash my hair, I actually did it before I fully realized how damaged it had become. It just felt a little dry, and I was curious to try the new shampoo bars that Tropical Traditions was carrying.
Once I started washing with the shampoo bar, my hair started to feel like it did before no ‘poo came along. It became soft and silky again and didn’t have the coarse, straw-like feel that had developed with baking soda. It also didn’t knot and tangle so easily.
However, though the texture of my hair started to improve greatly, the breakage continued. Even today, almost a year since the last time I used baking soda to wash my hair, I still have breakage. Too much damage has been done.
To help you understand, before my hair started breaking, it was down to my knees at its longest. (In case you’re wondering how it got to be so long, I actually don’t cut my hair at all. No, not even trimming.)
Now my hair reaches my hips at it’s longest section, but that section is very thin and continues to break. My guess is that after all of damaged sections have broken off, my hair will be mid-back. I realize that’s still long to most people, but compared to where it was, that’s a tremendous amount of damage.
And it’s quite disheartening.
Could No ‘Poo Work for Some?
I hesitate to give a blanket suggestion like “Never ever ever ever ever ever wash your hair with baking soda! Ever!”, but it’s tempting after my experience.
Is it possible that occasionally washing with baking soda could work for long-term haircare? Sure, it’s possible I suppose. Maybe using baking soda every few months would work for cleaning and clarifying without doing much damage.
I don’t know. And because I don’t know, I won’t recommend it or suggest it.
One thing I’ve really come to believe through my studies with Vintage Remedies is that we should never use our families (or ourselves, for that matter) as guinea pigs for home remedies and natural living adventures. We ought to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what to expect.
Sadly, my no ‘poo experience was really a natural living experiment that yielded devastating results. I hate seeing how damaged, broken, and uneven my hair is, knowing that it will be months before all of the damaged sections break off. Yes, it will regrow, but the interim isn’t exactly fun.
Even more than that, I really cringe to think that someone may have followed the suggestions I gave here or in person and ended up with hair damaged from baking soda no ‘poo. It truly saddens me to know that I gave such bad advice!
I wish I could undo all the damage that baking soda did to my hair, but I can’t. I can, however, share with you in the next post what I’m now using on my hair, and also give you some other ideas of gentle ways to naturally care for your hair.
Before you check out my suggestions for other natural haircare options, be sure to read the follow-up to this post, Yes, I’m Sure It Was the Baking Soda. It has an FAQ on my experience, as well as some really important info on baking soda’s chemistry and how that can effect hair.