Shampoo, or Lack Thereof

From the Hair Archives
Normally, I stay roughly on Kitchen topics at GGK, however, my friend Thalassa over at Musings of a Kitchen Witch has been talking lately about other ways then shampoo to keep hair clean(you can find her posts here and here).  Since I no longer use traditional shampoo either, she asked me to talk about what I do as well.

Now, shampoo as we know it, didn't exist until the 30's.  While some shampoos began to hit the market in the early 1900's, they caused alkaline reactions, leaving a gray film on hair.  Dr. John Breck invented the first PH-balanced shampoo, and the companies ad campaign, featuring Breck Girls, lasted well  into the late 70's. 
Olga Armstrong, the first Breck Girl
This led to a cultural expectation of frequent hair washing., and the idea (at least in America), that oil in hair means that it's dirty.  I grew up in a family in which everyone washed their hair every morning, and my grandmother told horror stories about her years as a school teacher, and trying to get shampoo for one of her students who was teased for her stringy hair, only to have the child's mother say it "looked too fly-away" and put grease on it!  Even so, my grandmother would get her hair done at the hairdressers once a week, and usually only washed it mid-way if she had to, as it spoiled her look.

Cleo De Merode
So what did our ancestors do before the shampoo revolution?  According to this Victorian care guide, the solution was similar to many today who find that, unless their hair gets some foreign dirt in it, it needs no soap at all.  The guide stresses the importance of using a boar's bristle brush, and keeping it immaculately clean (even going so far as to suggest cleaning it with a diluted ammonia solution periodically).  It also suggests using a Castile soap (which has olive oil as a base, rather then the very harsh lye soaps which were the period alternative--no wonder people didn't use them on their heads!). The basic outline of their routine is to wash hair once per week.  Use Castile soap if one's hair is oily, but if it's dry, an egg yolk is a good alternative. and is a common cleaner for modern no-shampoo folks.  Hair was supposed to be brushed every night, the old "100 strokes" idea, which with a boar's brush and gently done, pulls oil down the length of the hair, keeping it from getting oily up at the roots, and drying at the base.  It's worth noticing, too, that it's suggested to rub the hair with flannel after, I'm assuming to soak up any additional oil the hair doesn't need.

If you want a great example of someone trying this method out, The Gibson Girl's Guide to Glamor has a very interesting post on the matter. 

So what do I do?  As an adult, I found that my hair did much better only being washed every second or third day (often depending on factors like how dry the weather is, where I am in my muenstral cycle, and stress).  While hair experts often disagree about how often is too often, many say that we wash our hair too often now, stripping it of it's natural oils at a rate that encourages the body to overproduce oil to catch up.

Via. Rapunzel's Delight 
A few years ago, I tried using no shampoo at all, and found it doesn't work well for me, personally.  My hair is baby fine, thin, and prone to being oily(especially at that time of month), and so all it did was slick to my head.  Someone with dry hair would have completely different results, though, and my friends who have tried this sort of experiment with "frizzy" hair find they often suddenly have curls.


More recently, I became interested in Castile soap and switched to Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, available at health food stores, and now at Target.  The label is truly amusing...it contains everything from recipe ideas to scripture references, and reads like a 19th Century cure-all peddler's schtick.  However, I have to say, the stuff works.  I have switched to diluted forms of it for hand soap and cleaning, too.  Direct from the bottle it is very strong, and will leave your hair stripped and tangled...I strongly discourage using it that way!

My Shampoo Recipe

3T-4T Dr. Bronner's Soap (whatever scent you prefer...eucalyptus can help with dandruff, though)
A few drops of Essential Oils
1T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Add to bottom of a large empty shampoo bottle.  Fill almost to top with filtered water.  Shake every time before use...this will leave a lot of foam on top that will make it easy to lather.

I use a rinse after that is Rosemary tea, and about a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. Since the Castile soap is gentle, but not PH balanced, it makes up for that.  The Rosemary is because I have dark hair, and am prone to a bit of an itchy scalp in winter.  For other suggestions, go to my second link from Musings of a Kitchen Witch above.

Even though my hair is currently very short, I also brush it regularly.  I find that it's more important to stimulate my scalp then anything else...and my hair is much healthier with more body.  Like the Victorians, get a good brush and clean it often!  Also, if you try this, expect to need less product...a lot of our modern hair products are designed to make up for removing our body's natural oils.

The Amazing Seven Sutherland Sisters!
Did you notice how much olive oil I put in?  That has reduced how oily my hair is, ironically enough...it also helps to calm my scalp down with dry winter weather.  My husband's hair is not as oily as mine, though, and responds better with just a few drops of olive oil (his hair has become much more manageable, as well).  Another interesting side effect is that I no longer have little eczema patches on my back and arms, something I've battled for years!

What about those days when I don't have time to wash, or I'm almost to a shampoo and my hair is looking nasty?

Corn Starch Dry Shampoo

1 cup Corn Starch
Essential oils to scent the hair, or dry herbs (will scent it much more slowly...I like mint)


Mix together and store in a small container in the bathroom.  To use, take about a tablespoon of the cornstarch, and rub it all over your scalp.  Don't worry about ends so much...just where it looks greasy.  Then brush, brush, brush.  It takes about 5 min to not look like a ghost.  You will be surprised at how full your hair feels (this is also a great thing to do before trying some of those old hairstyles).

So there you go!  This is what works for me, personally.  If you have something you do and love, please share it in the comments!

9 comments:

Coyote said...

Thank you for posting this! I find that washing every other day works well for me, but I'll try this recipe too, and let you know how it goes for someone with long hair. :)

Kjerstin said...

I do the same thing as far as only washing every 3-4 days, and it does wonders to keep hair healthy, especially long hair.

My mom's quit shampoo entirely -- it was too drying and turned her curls to frizz. Now she just conditions every few days and uses argan oil throughout her hair. It's made the curls incredibly luscious and pretty, and it smells amazing. Men will stop in the middle of conversations to figure out what the incredible smell is, haha.

Love this post, and your blog. :D

Jesse (Great Grandmother's Kitchen) said...

Coyote, thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear how this goes for someone with longer hair then mine.

Ok, Kjerstin...what is argan oil? I'm not familiar with that one!

Min Self said...

Thanks for the link back to my Gibson Girl blog! I too have actually ended up switching entirely to using soap instead of shampoo, myself, because in my case shampoo and its clean-rinsing properties leave my hair too limp and fine; the soap gives it a little more body and also gives my hairpins something better to cling to. (I do still use modern conditioner, though.)

Jesse (Great Grandmother's Kitchen) said...

You are very welcome, Min Self...I look forward to seeing where you go with that blog! It has a lot of interesting potential.
Thanks for sharing what you do as well!

Deb said...

Hi Jesse,
I really enjoyed this post. I love the history that you incorporate into everything.

I have been going without shampoo for the past 2 or 3 weeks, so i am still figuring this out. my hair is like yours, so I think I've at least established that I need something besides water. right now i'm using baking soda and trying to figure out how often--probably every 2-3 days. the other morning i got up and sleepily got into the shower and put shampoo in my hair without even realizing it. i guess the first step should be getting rid of the old shampoo bottles!

~~louise~~ said...

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Shampoo is one of my very best favorites! The stuff is GREAT on everything even in hair!!! (adore the label too)

I've heard of Oatmeal Shampoo but I've never tried it. I did put mayonnaise in my hair, once, talk about oily, lol...

Thanks for sharing another fascinating post, Jesse...

nuannaarpoq said...

Hey chica!

As usual awesome post...I had checked it out a while back, off my kindle...but responding on the fake keyboard is a PITA!!

And thanks!

Jesse (Great Grandmother's Kitchen) said...

Hah! Thanks Hun! I'm glad you got me to actually sit down and write it!

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