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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Water-only hair washing, one year on

It's been over a year since I last used shampoo on my hair. I won't say since I stopped washing it, because I still do wash it, but with plain water only. I did try not washing at all (sebum only) but didn't get on well with it. On the other hand, I'm very happy with water-only washing; it's not just stubbornness that's made me stick with it for over a year.

I was a bit puzzled in early October to see a tuft of short hair growing from the crown of my head.


I hadn't cut it, I didn't think I'd lost any hair there, so why the tuft? I didn't worry about it too much until a couple of weeks later, when Ian said, Why have you got a bald patch on top of your head? A bald patch?! He was right, too...


Although this was quite alarming, I wasn't overly worried as the hair was obviously growing back - the skin wasn't smooth - and it was only a small patch. On the other hand, if that spread all over my head...

I monitored the situation for a week or so, as growth shows up quickly in very short hair. It shouldn't be many days before the bald patch was hidden again, and indeed that's what happened... but then it was back. At this point I started to worry. If the hair keeps falling out then I have a problem. I did a bit of online research, and learnt that patchy hair loss is not that uncommon in women, and has all sorts of causes. It can just happen and then get better again. That was reassuring, but not entirely helpful.

After a bit more reading and thinking, I came to the conclusion that the most likely cause was a bad habit I'd developed - scratching. From reading the Long Hair Community forum (whose abbreviation I can't see without thinking Large Hadron Collider) I'd got it into my head that scritching is good for hair, and this developed into a bad habit. With willpower backed by the fear of going bald, I managed to stop... well, mostly stop, and I'm glad to say my hair is growing back happily now. I may be tufty for a while yet, though.

My current routine is to wash my hair in hot water about twice a week. This shifts some of the sebum, which I find is now a waxy substance, rather than oily, and softens what it doesn't shift. Once the hair is dry (to avoid breaking wet, fragile hair), ideally within a few hours of washing, I brush thoroughly with a natural bristle brush. Because the brush is dense and my hair is at this point covered in a soft wax, this is very hard work and can make my neck muscles ache. As well as spreading the sebum along the length of the hair, brushing removes quite a lot of it, which then needs combing out of the brush afterwards. Apart from that, I just use my old plastic brush every morning, as I used to. Sometimes I don't get round to using the natural brush after showering, sometimes I use it more often.

So how is my hair? Apart from the slight stickiness after showering (which isn't evident just by looking at it), it looks pretty good. It's at its best the next day, looking good and feeling soft and silky. It also has a lot more life than it ever used to. About eighteen months ago, when a hairdresser offered to put a bit of body into my hair by blowdrying, my response was, Good luck with that. Now I have that naturally. I love the way it bounces back when I run the brush through it. I think it's still improving, too, very gradually.

Oh, you want a photo? Oh, OK then!

Hair that hasn't seen shampoo for over a year


  1. Wow! I'm impressed. I haven't used shampoo for over 3 years, but I haven't been able to go water only. I use a weak baking soda wash with a citric acid rinse and it works well for me. I tried to go water only, but it was like I was wearing a sebum helmet, and even 2-3 hours of brushing a day wasn't sufficient to deal with it. But I'm very happy with my system and haven't had any bald patches.

    I must say, your hair look gorgeous!

  2. Thanks, Cat! :-)

    I did try bicarb, but it did terrible things to my hair. Maybe if your hair's fairly resilient, bicarb is just what it needs, but mine is pretty pathetic and can't stand up to it.

    I'm pretty sure the hair loss is not a direct result of no shampoo, more a result of me reading about managing 'poo free hair (and getting it wrong).

  3. Here's a rarity - a post from the husband!
    I also joined in the non-shampoo lifestyle as I have hair that if anything, is longer than my wife's. I was fed up with it being dry and knotted after shampoo/conditioner but was still nervous about ditching the products.
    I'm about 8 months in now and though I'm far less into the whole brushing thing than my good lady, I'm pleased with the results. I did once accidentally use shampoo (we had some left over, so I've been using it as shower gel) but my hair didn't seem to mind and quickly settled back to normal.
    So, be brave. Ditch the shampoo!

  4. Wow, your hair looks great :)

    Can you link to your favourite no poo forums/sites (assuming you have some)? (The LHC doesn't seem to be no-poo only and Googling sends me to sites that are no poo but use a double dose of conditioner instead...!)

  5. Hey Louisa :-)

    I try not to obsess about this enough to have a favourite forum/site, and haven't actually looked at any for at least the last nine months. I think I just googled and trawled through a lot of rubbish (as people often do when they land on this blog by the same route) until I found something that made sense.

  6. Your hair looks really good. I haven't been brave enough to go shampoo free, myself.I would like to as I have an itchy area at the back of my head that actually feels worse after I've used shampoo, no matter what kind I use.

  7. I must first say that I'm so thrilled to find your blog today. I've stumbled onto some real treasures today through EcoCatLady's blog. I need to remember to thank her.

    It's wonderful to find so many other folks that are focused on a simple frugal life in order to better enjoy their life.

    My husband and I are on this journey as well, although not as far down the path as some that I've visited today.

    I've never even thought of going shampoo free! My husband has encouraged me to wash my hair less often but this is new to me. I'm definitely interested in this concept as my head itches even though it's freshly washed. I've often wondered if the shampoo causes the itching.

    Lovely to meet you! I'm very much looking forward to following along your adventures!

  8. Hey there, Alyson and Poppy, how nice to meet you! I love the way blogland brings together like minded people who I'd never bump into in real life. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. :-)

  9. Hello there,

    I think this blog is just brilliant :-) You're both an inspiration to people such as my partner and I who're both intrigued by living away from the rat-race.

    Kindest regards,


  10. Hello Mark,

    Thank you for your lovely comment! It's nice to know there are like minded folk out there :-)


  11. Hi Rachel, dropping in again after a month's bout of annoying illness. You sure are keeping busy! Plants, tree cutting and discovering new veggies. Very cool. ^_^

    I'm still a-crafting but oh so slowly as my joints are acting up again - just do sometimes. So I'm crocheting slowly, sewing a little and tonight started a knit project on a 4mm knook. Can't continue whittling for a while... but had 3 in progress at last check.

    I started the baking soda regime with 2 tbsp of soda in 2 cups water and that gets the hair nice and shiny after a quick Apple Cider Vinegar leave-in and wash out. Oddly enough, whenever I use commercial shampoo, my hair gets dried out and ugly looking, go figure.

    Not brave enough to try water only though. Is your hair water only? Do you any natural herbal pomades or anything like that in it as well?

    Cheers until next time. <3

  12. Hi Dana :-)

    Sorry to hear about your illness and joint problems. I hope the crochet and knooking doesn't hurt.

    Yes, my hair care is literally water only - nothing else. I tried a nettle rinse, which had worked quite well as a conditioner, but it didn't do anything for my hair on its own, so I stopped bothering with that. Now it really is just water. Try it - you might be surprised!

  13. Hi Rachel
    Loved your blog. Whereabouts in Wales are you? I am in Llanrwst near Betws-y-Coed.
    I often have an itchy scalp after shampooing even though I am careful to choose products with no SLS or Parabens so I may just have to try this.
    The only trouble is, being just slightly vain, I still colour my hair to hide the grey sneaking through at a rapid rate (I'm only 53!) I suppose this would have to go too :(
    Thank you for inspiring me. I am a crafter and have just started a natural bath products business so this would tie in well with my ethos. Lesley x

  14. Hi Lesley,
    Thanks for your comments :-)
    We're some way south of you, in Devil's Bridge near Aberystwyth.
    Notice the grey sneaking into my hair? I'm only 37! I'd rather have vibrant, healthy hair with a bit of grey than flat, lifeless hair (as I had before) that's all one colour.
    Rachel x

  15. Hello Rachel!

    I like your self-sufficient lifestyle and you are very lucky that you two think alike. I want to ask whether washing hairs with only water helps in increasing length of hairs or not? I noticed it with my sister. She usually wash hairs with only water and apply shampoo once a week and got some really long hair in the last 4 months. Have you noticed any such trend?

  16. Hello Aliya,

    I had hoped my hair might grow longer, but sadly it hasn't. It's pretty much exactly the same length as it was before I started this (or should I say stopped?) Disappointing, but my hair is very thin and fine, so I guess there are limits to what can be done!

  17. Lovely blog ! Im a 23 yr old fellow from India , Bombay and i stumbled upon your blog! N im so glad i did :)
    Iv a head full of hair but its thin n not dense. N quite recently i started exp a lil more dan usual hairfall , so the internet research :D il try going shampoo free n post if it works :) iv a funny scalp though. Dry after shampoo n oily after two days of nt washing :(

  18. Great blog! Im on day 8 of water only and my hair looks an awful state. I washed my hair before every second day with shampoo and Im guessing it will take a while to settle down.It used to be gresey enough even on the 2nd day. I brush it with a brush that is as close to a boar bristle brush as I could find. My hair is long (about 4 inches below my shoulders) and dyed. The ends were so dry today compared to the hair closest to the roots i put so extra virgin olive oil on the ends (A tip I read on one of the many pages on water only washing). I also tried scritching today...it felt good but dont think ill do it too often after your experience.

    1. Hi Triona :-)
      That sounds very similar to my experience, though I did try no washing at all to start with, which was even worse. I hope you can cope with the awfulness until it settles down.

  19. Going no-poo has me quite nervous - I haven't used any cleansing or moisturising products on my face for a long time and my skin is great, but the idea of using just water on my hair has me quaking in my boots. I'm not keen on the idea of waxy sebum, but your hair looks fantastic.

    1. Thanks :-)
      Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I was really nervous about trying it, and it was pretty horrid in the transition, but I'm glad I did.

  20. This is how it worked for me. The overall tip is to aim for water only, avoid washing the scalp, and egg wash as a last resort (avoiding the scalp) ideally once every 1-2 months, no less.

    Before I started, I shampooed every 3 days. The BS and AV worked only once for me. For 3 months, I tried BS 1/wk but made my hair dull & brittle. Plus, loads of sebum buildup on my scalp that couldn't get washed out. The straw-like hair was gone but my hair still gets greasy after 3-4days.

    Finally, after I tried washing my hair with 2 egg yolks, all that sebum was completely gone. The buildup never came back and my hair looked so SHINY, soft, and healthy!! 3 months of the sebum produced less oil but I still get oily within 3-4 days after showering but this time my scalp doesn't "feel" greasy, very tolerable. However, I noticed you cannot use the egg method unless your hair is absolutely nasty from oil buildup. Using around 1 or 2 weeks, oil production will increase! Use the egg on the ends of the hair only. Leave the oil on the scalp, teaches your hair not to produce oil.

    Now I am just allowing my hair to be greasy for an extra couple of days before I shower. That way, the longer my scalp stays oily, the faster my hair will learn to be less greasy. Best if you can go without egg washes for at least a month at a time.

    1. Interesting, thanks. I'm not sure I could manage to wash the ends without getting egg yolk all over my scalp, but I might try it.

  21. DH has done quite a while with wAter only and has lovely soft hair. I've managed a week and a half so far and my long hair feels like glue... Although it looks fine... Maybe a bit greasy. Any tips? How long does the miserable stage last?

    1. Sorry, I can't offer much more than to ride it out. I started by trying no washing at all for a couple of months, and that was really horrible, so when I washed with water it was a big improvement (much more than I expected). That doesn't really help you. Are you using a natural bristle brush? I find that really does remove some of the sebum from my hair. If I get lazy with that, the sebum starts to build up on my scalp, and then I get itchy, and I scratch...

  22. Hi, Rachel!! I've read your site before with great interest and wanted to go "water only" for a while. Today is my first official day. I used baking soda for 3 years, but got dependent on it like I did with shampoo. Now, I want to go "water only". I have 2 questions however. Where I live it gets deadly hot and humid in summer. What can I do to ease my transition at this awful season? Second question. Society will not allow me to be gray-headed. I'll be 54 soon. But, I have a baby face that doesn't match gray hair! How can I emotionally cope with pesky grays? I just can't let go of hair color! Thanks Rachel! (and Ian too!!)

  23. Hi there Rachel! I am trying to water wash my hair too. I have African American tight kinky coily hair. Whereas you have a good amount of oil, my scalp produces too little so I add 1/4 cup of Sunflower oil to my hair, working it through like a shampoo and then rinse it out in the shower with hot water. Then, there's just a little slick and I rinse over my hair with cool water to close the cuticle (and of course wipe the tub afterwards as it can get slippery). It's not quite water only but it is shampoo free and it works very nicely. All I need is water and oil (sunflower, olive, or coconut). I save a lot of money.

    1. I would like to start this as well! What steps do you take after you step out of the shower? How often do you wash with oil?

  24. Hi Rachel,

    Really cool to read other people living the life and writing about it. I started no-poo in January and am now trying WO. I started a blog about living naturally, I'm hoping to write more but another reason i started the blog was to meet others, so nice to meet you :-)


  25. Hi Rachel,
    I also use water-only and I was really excited when I found your post. I noticed that when I showered at home where we have softened water then my hair was fine, but when I showered else where with hard (not softened) water I got kind of a waxy build up. Since reading your post I'm thinking it was just the sebum. I'm used to using a wide tooth comb and combing my hair out right out of the shower when it's still wet. Do you just leave your hair in a towel to dry? The only reason I comb it straight away it because otherwise it will dry in some funky ways and shapes. I'll definitely look in to getting a natural boar bristle brush though, thank you for the post!

    1. Hi Leah,
      That's interesting about the hard water. Let me think... hard water has minerals dissolved in it - I wonder whether they're reacting with the sebum to make a waxy residue.
      I usually run a wide-spaced, plastic bristled hair brush through my hair before leaving it loose to dry. It's probably similar to wide tooth comb you use. It's just the fine natural bristle brush that I avoid when it's wet, because it does pull on the hair.

  26. I am just in to my fifth month of WO and from reading a few blogs today, I am concluding that I suddenly have a waxy sebum build-up. VERY annoying. It wouldn't be quite so bad except that there is a yellowing tinge that shows in the white hair that surrounds my face. The darker back hair does not show the tinge. I'm sticking it out though.

  27. Hi, interesting blog and a conversation I hope to add to concerning WO and doing something about the greys, yeah and the whites - naturally. I have long dark brown fine and pre WO unmanageable flyaway curly hair and since, well three weeks in now I am impressed, it's not dry any more and split ends, where did they go and with them the impossible knots. My hair was gone curlier and it has bounce. Sebum production doesn't seem too bad where I wonder of that was my hair pre-prepared through only washing it once a week when I was using 'poo', but anyway, so far it's working for me. Now the greys and the whites, I colour them with henna and indigo, a right messy job but I am happy with the results, the greys go red and the whites a golden yellow and the remaining dark stuff in sunlight has a red tinge, in fact in some lights the hair looks highlighted.

  28. I,m SO glad you did this experiment and wrote about it on here !
    I gave up using all the plastic bottles of hair product gunk a couple of years ago .I was sensitive to everything and much happier and more comfortable for not using it .My reasoning is tribes living in the rainforest dont use it..why should I ? :)


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