More shampoo, less shampoo, no shampoo? The DIY approach to hair care

One of my earliest hair memories is Wolf Girl, a game I played as a little girl with my older brother. We’d flip my hair over my face, a move we thought transformed me into a wolf. When I realized that other kids didn’t do this, I knew there was something different about my hair.

There was simply more of it – much more. But I had no reason to complain back then. I had great hair: long, dark, smooth, extremely thick. It was great for all sorts of cute little-girl styles: pigtails, braids, you name it.

Things didn’t take a dark turn until middle school – already one of the most traumatic parts of the human life span. A furious and coarse kink overtook about half my hair. Owning it was frightening. Taming it was impossible. While other kids were struggling with acne, braces and other physical awkwardness, I was in my room crying over my white-girl Afro gone wrong.

By high school, my horrible hair had earned me some cruel nicknames. I got straight perms a few times. They didn’t work.

Late in high school, though, an incredible thing happened: My hair turned good again. Actually, it turned amazing. Seemingly overnight, it thinned a necessary amount and took on an altogether new silkiness. Sure, hormonal swings of the teen years can lead to drastic hair changes, but to me, it felt like someone, somewhere, for some reason, had answered my every wish.

The adult years of my hair have gone pretty well, though I’ve grown neglectful. With as much hair as I have, washing and drying it can be a nearly one-hour ordeal, so it has become a low priority. Washing every few days has given way to washing once a week. I can get away with it because my hair is thick and not very oily. Luckily for me, top knots are in.

I justify my laziness with the doctor-backed message that unless your hair is oily, there’s no reason to wash it frequently. A hundred years ago, washing hair once a month was common, and 50 years ago, a once-a-week routine was the norm. It’s hard not to view frequent hair washing as yet another example of unnecessary excess in modern culture.

And your average hair-care product is already a study in ingredient excess. I recently tried to read the lists on the back of a few run-of-the-mill shampoo and conditioner bottles. The longest word among the countless polysyllabic compounds was methylchloroisothiazolinone, a preservative that the American Contact Dermatitis Society awarded the unfortunate title of 2013 Contact Allergen of the Year.

So I decided to try a more natural approach to hair care. Online, I found a simple recipe with a few household items – baking soda, vinegar, coconut oil and water – and headed to my kitchen. Seemed simple, but my hair emerged a greasy mess. Apparently, I had used four times the proper amount of coconut oil. (Even simple recipes require that you actually read them.)

I sought out Kim Wallace for advice. As the Kansas City woman tells it, she went “greener-slash-cleaner” beautywise several years ago, while she was writing the natural-beauty beat for Topeka-based Natural Home, a magazine later renamed Mother Earth Living. She confirmed my suspicions about the ingredients in common shampoos and conditioners.

“A lot of your standard hair- and skin-care products have very harsh detergents, and some of the sulfates are the same ingredients found in high-powered washes used to clean the under-hood of cars. We don’t need that sort of detergent on our skin and hair,” says Wallace, who now runs her own beauty blog at

I reached my own conspiracy-minded conclusion: Mainstream hair-care companies intentionally load your hair with horrible stuff so that you need more of their products to keep your hair decent.

Wallace has tried the household-item hair-care recipes, but she sticks with clean shampoo and conditioner brands that she trusts – ones that use organic ingredients and fair-trade standards. Occasionally, she adds an apple-cider-vinegar rinse or an argan-oil treatment to her routine. The overall result, she says, is that her hair stays very soft.

I decided to copy her regimen. I went to my local natural grocer, Green Acres, in the Northland, and found myself overwhelmed by options. A store employee made a convincing case for shampoo and conditioner from Acure, part of Florida-based Better Planet Brands.

“Everyone here has switched to that,” she told me. “It is incredible.” With pleasant ingredients such as blackberry, sugar beets, pumpkin and sunflower, I was sold. My inaugural washing and conditioning went uneventfully, and I do think that my hair is shinier, though I could be looking for it. I may try one of Wallace’s home-remedy treatments, if ambition strikes.

My quest to take my hair back to nature will go down as only the latest peculiar chapter in the odd story of my hair, but I think I’m permanently off the nonorganic stuff. It just feels right.

Now I’m ready for the next chapter: seeing what happens when I try to turn my nearly black hair blond.

Categories: News