Hot water rains down from the showerhead. You reach for the bottle, flip it upside-down and squeeze just enough shampoo into your hand. Within seconds, your hair has become a bubbly coif – one that will be clean and healthy once you rinse it. Or, at least, that’s what you think.
The “no-poo” movement has begun to garner an increasing amount of support from followers who believe that shampoo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But what’s wrong with this bathroom staple, you ask? Well, they say that it can cause more harm than good. And it’s not just about the way hair looks – shampoo can damage a person’s health and the environment, too.
As you might imagine, the “no-poo” contingent’s decision to avoid traditional shampoos cuts down their bills. But it can also save time spent washing and drying hair every day. Most shampoo avoiders end up with hair that needs much less maintenance – they can go extra days without a wash.
The “no-poo” movement doesn’t suggest you skip washing your hair altogether, though. Instead, most of those involved in the life-without-shampoo revolution make their own cleansers. And they do so with common household items. But be warned: these products are ones you’d never expect to work as effective stand-ins for shampoo.
Read on to find out why exactly so many people have given up on their go-to shampoos. Then, you’ll learn 20 alternative ways to keep your mane clean, shiny and voluminous. Chances are, you will have most of the ingredients in your pantry and fridge already. So when you’re done reading, you can give your hair an all-natural wash.
Shampoo seems to serve a vital purpose – cleaning our hair of oil and debris that builds up throughout the day. But the formula you use may be drying out your strands as it pulls away these unwanted elements. That’s just a broad overview of the negative effects of shampoo, though – specific ingredients can further damage your mane.
For starters, many shampoos contain sulfates such as ammonium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. Either way, when you see these listed among the ingredients on the back of your bottle, you know that you have a very powerful detergent working on your locks. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Both types of sulfate apparently rely on a chemical reaction that binds cleansers to the oil on your strands. So, when you rinse, all of it washes away with the suds of your shampoo. But this process can be extremely drying. Some sulfate-infused cleansers also leave strands brittle and frizzy afterward.
So, shampoo can be considered a detergent in the way that it bubbles up and strips away oils and dirt. But people haven’t always used – or felt like they needed – such a powerful aid in cleaning their hair. For instance, do you know that before the early 20th century, people simply washed their hair with body soap?
But before civilization began to modernize – and minerals began ending up in the water supply – the water-plus-soap combination was enough to keep hair clean. Plus, soap was gentle enough to leave the hair’s protective oils in place while it cleansed strands. But once alkaline water started flowing through the tap, soap had the opposite effect – leaving hair rough and weak.
The predecessors to modern shampoo solved this problem, but at a cost. In fact, the same problem emerged that shampoo users today have to deal with. The products stripped the hair of its built-in protective system – oils that keep strands strong and soft. And many modern formulas continue this trend by mimicking the makeup of detergents we’d use to, say, wash our dishes.
But it’s not just the shampoo suds that cause problems. Did you know that other ingredients used to make and preserve these products can be harmful to our overall health, too? For instance, some shampoos contain parabens, which do help stall bacteria growth inside of bottles. But parabens also have links to breast cancer cell growth – perhaps because the additive can mimic the estrogen hormone once in the body.
Check your shampoo to see if it contains sodium chloride, too. This is just a fancy way of saying salt, which manufacturers use to bulk up the thickness of all types of hair products. That’s fine – it’s technically an all-natural solution – unless you have a dry or itchy scalp. In those circumstances, adding salt on top of that can cause further irritation.
Another potentially dangerous additive which might show up on the ingredients list as quaternium-15. Worryingly, it acts as a formaldehyde releaser. This salt is a proven carcinogen and it can absorb right through the skin – as proven in studies on animals. Still, manufacturers use quaternium-15 because it is an effective preservative.
And formaldehyde can break down over time. It can also react with other preservatives – releasing its unsavory elements into the cleanser with which you wash your hair. On that note, another damaging element you might find on the ingredients listing is alcohol.
You might wonder how alcohol would end up in shampoo in the first place. Wouldn’t it just dry your hair? Well, not always; cetearyl and stearyl alcohols actually help your strands hold onto their hydration. You should also be on the lookout for any alcohols with a “prop” in their names – such as isopropyl or propanol. These can wick even more moisture from already dry hair.
In addition, shampoo can hurt your hair by way of synthetic additives – both colors and fragrances. Dyes can transform your cleanser so that it dispenses in a palatable hue. But you’ll pay a price for aesthetics, as most of these color-changing ingredients come from either coal or petroleum.
Even shampoo fragrances – a big reason why we love our hair products in the first place – can be a detriment to your mane. The ingredient listing that reads “fragrance” can be an umbrella under which thousands of hidden chemicals hide. Plus, unnaturally scented formulas can hurt your scalp and skin.
It’s not just you that can be hurt by your shampoo, either. Think about it: what happens when you’re done using your shampoo? It rinses down the drain, and the cleanser’s chemicals and additives flush into the water supply. Sulfates, fragrances, formaldehyde, alcohol – none of it will help keep H2O clean.
For these reasons and more, many people have made the decision to ditch traditional shampoos. This isn’t to say they’re not washing their hair, though. Instead, they’ve found natural methods for cleansing their strands. And you, dear reader, can try these at home, too. So here are 20 ideas, many of which you’ll be able to pull out of your pantry and sample in your next shower.
20. Baking soda
On the subject of pantry staples, you probably have a box of baking soda laying around. And it turns out that this confectioner’s must-have makes a pretty great shampoo. The website Plant Essentials recommends scooping a tablespoon of it onto your wet scalp and then rubbing it into your roots like you would with a traditional cleanser. For a more thorough wash, you can follow it up with an apple cider vinegar rinse.
You may not be familiar with amla, but you’ve probably heard of gooseberries. Well, the former is the dried-out version of the latter, and it makes a fabulous natural shampoo. According to the website Lulastic, you’ll need to combine it with water – preferably in cast-iron cookware – until you have a paste. Leave it to set overnight, then wet your hair and leave the amla mask to work for 30 minutes. A thorough wash afterward will reveal cleansed strands – all thanks to a few gooseberries.
18. Oat milk
It’s not just a mix-in at fancy coffee shops; oat milk can cleanse your hair in place of shampoo, too. Reach for this alternative cleanser if you have scalp irritation or dandruff, as oat milk has plenty of anti-inflammatories. Beauty Heaven recommends applying it like a hair mask, massaging it into the scalp and then running it through the rest of your locks. After a half-hour, you can rinse it out and enjoy silkier, shinier strands.
17. Sage, rosemary and mint
Yes, it’s safe to assume this natural shampoo will smell just as nice as the over-the-counter herbal formulas you used to buy. Blend up to two tablespoons of rosemary, sage and mint with eight ounces of water, three ounces of castile soap, and a quarter-teaspoon of olive oil, according to Orglamix. The resulting shampoo will gently cleanse your strands so that they retain their natural moisture.
16. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a slew of beneficial properties that you may already know. But you may not be aware of its ability to gently strip oil from your strands. Beauty Heaven suggests mixing two to four tablespoons of the stuff with one-and-a-half cups of water. After that, you should work the mixture into your hair from the roots downward. Then simply leave it in for about five minutes before rinsing.
15. Lemon juice
If you have dry hair, don’t fret. A lemon juice wash can help restore some hydration to your mane. It’s also a great option for blondes; a bit of citrus can mute any brassiness, much like a purple shampoo you’d buy at the salon. So, squeeze an entire lemon into a cup of water, then massage it into your hair. Wash it out after two minutes and move onto the rest of your hygiene routine.
14. Salt and cornmeal
Apparently, not all natural shampoos require wet hair. Grab an empty shaker and whip up this stand-in for dry shampoo. All you need is a half-cup of cornmeal and a tablespoon of salt, according to website The Right Hairstyles. Mix it together and sprinkle it over greasy roots for a quick oil cleanup. And there you have it – no shower or shampoo required.
13. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera’s not just a nice-looking succulent to stick on your bookshelf or bedside table. For instance, did you know that its gooey insides have antibacterial and antiseptic qualities? It’s also incredibly moisturizing and softening. Use all of this to your advantage by massaging a bit of aloe vera gel into your scalp before rinsing it away to reveal hair that’s clean and soft.
Sure, it might be hard to imagine cracking an egg over your head. But it’s worth a shot – this is one of the best alternatives to bottled shampoo, according to Beauty Heaven. The egg white plucks dirt from your strands, while the yolk hydrates your mane. Scramble both parts of the egg together before slathering it on your hair and letting it sit for three minutes. Just be sure to wash with cold water – you don’t want cooked egg on your head, after all.
11. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has acne-fighting qualities – those are pretty well-known. What’s a bit more surprising is that this natural ingredient can also battle dandruff, scalp-based psoriasis or otherwise severe irritation. Add a few drops of the essential oil in with water, then give yourself a scalp massage with the mixture, Beauty Heaven recommends. Relax and then let the tea tree soak in for five minutes before washing it out.
The sweetness of honey doesn’t just make your tea taste better. It does wonders for your hair, too. Try and find raw honey, Orglamix recommends, and then mix a quarter-cup of it with one cup of water. You can drop in a bit of essential oil such as cinnamon or lavender for a bit of natural fragrance. Then, blend all of it together in a bottle, rub a bit onto your scalp and rinse.
9. Avocado and baking soda
Why not skip your avocado toast tomorrow morning and make that fruit into an all-natural shampoo instead? You just need to blend an entire ripe one with two teaspoons of baking soda and a quarter-cup of water, the website Prevention says. That’ll turn into a paste, which you can slather onto your hair, rinse out and enjoy smoother, cleaner hair.
Clay of the Rhassoul variety has a slew of minerals – calcium, potassium, magnesium – that repair hair damage. It also pulls any dirt and excess oil from the scalp, too. But you’ll have to turn the clay into a paste before using it, according to Beauty Heaven. Just add a few tablespoons to boiling water to make that happen. Then, slide the cooled clay into your hair, let it work its magic for three minutes and rinse it away.
You read that right: Coca-Cola. To give thin tresses a bit of a boost, you can try washing your hair with the world’s most popular soda. It’s more like a quick, sweet rinse for locks that adds body – at least temporarily. Naturally, this one’s not recommended for long-term or routine use – it can leave sugary residue on your mane over time. But for a quick pick-me-up sans shampoo? You can’t go wrong.
Bizarrely, beer has it all in terms of hair care. Wheat proteins found in the drink boost strand strength, and complex carbohydrates supply locks with moisture. It’s also super easy to use as a shampoo. Just crack open a can or bottle, pour it over your hair, rinse and enjoy a shinier, more voluminous mane.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. And, according to no-poo-ers, it keeps their hair healthy, too. It makes sense – considering the fruit has tons of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to bestow upon your hair. Lathering up with applesauce imbues all of this goodness into your locks – leaving behind soft, lustrous strands.
Next time you brew yourself a cup of tea, save one mug for your mane. Pouring herbal tea directly on the scalp – once it has cooled down a bit, of course – can cleanse away impurities. You can also mix it with baking soda and a few drops of essential oil to create a more well-rounded cleanser. Some people swear by this method and even particular teas. For example, they say chamomile softens hair, while black tea lends some shine to brunette locks.
3. Coconut milk and olive oil
It seems like coconut-based products can do it all. And, when it comes to beauty, they kind of can. To create your own coconut shampoo, Beauty Heaven suggests using can of the fruit’s milk and three-quarters of a cup of castile soap – plus a teaspoon each of coconut oil and olive oil. This mixture has a months-long shelf life, and it will hydrate and cleanse your scalp with each use.
You’re probably grossed out by the notion of slathering your head in mayonnaise, but don’t give up on this idea just yet. The creamy condiment contains eggs, oil and vinegar – each of which can be beneficial for your locks. So, slick some mayo over your scalp and let it sit for ten minutes for a three-in-one punch of goodness. And once you rinse it off, your hair will look shinier and feel stronger.
1. Rye flour
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you use rye flour on its own for your hair. Instead, start by running two tablespoons of flour through a tea strainer, then adding water to it to make an almost-liquid, all-natural shampoo, HuffPost recommends. Slick that onto your hair and rub it into your hair and scalp. After five luxurious minutes, wash it off to reveal clean hair – no chemicals required.