New Leaf: Chemical-free hair

By Lauren Belcher |
Photos by Lauren Belcher

It has been over one month since I have washed my hair with traditional shampoo and conditioners.

Since starting this no-poo lifestyle, as it is not-so-fondly called, I have eliminated every feature I used to hate about my hair. My hair is not frizzy, it’s not greasy and it’s not dirty. It’s clean, soft, shiny and healthy.

This new lifestyle is cheaper, easier and definitely better for the environment.

It all started when I stumbled upon a blog that chronicled the writer’s experience with her no-poo lifestyle. After reading her blog I became obsessed with the idea of not using traditional cleaning products in your hair. I had to try this out!

How to No-Poo
Items needed:

  • Baking Soda
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Containers


  1. Mix one tablespoon baking soda into one cup of warm water. That’s the ‘shampoo.’
  2. Mix one tablespoon apple cider vinegar into one cup of water water. That’s the ‘conditioner.’
  3. Put mixtures into separate containers and use as you would normally.

It’s as easy as that.


Shopping list before:          Shopping list now:
Dove shampoo $6 Baking soda $0.89
Dove conditioner $6      Apple cider vinegar $1
Total: $12 Total: less than $2

That was reason enough to try this out!

In order to continue the idea of being eco-friendly, I decided to use my empty shampoo and conditioner bottles as my containers for the shower.

As I was rinsing out my old bottles I was reassured that I was making the right move. The bottles would not rinse out. It took me quite a bit of time to get the water from the bottles to completely run clear.

Starting the shower, I wet my hair and grab the ‘shampoo’ bottle. Immediately I realized the first thing I didn’t like about this: I can no longer pour it in my hand. I am someone who likes to pour hair products in my hand and then work them through from the roots to the tips. With this new mixture, I had to just close my eyes, make a hand-awning on my forehead and pour it directly onto my head.

As I worked the mixture into my scalp I felt ridiculous. It felt like nothing was on my head but water. Even so, I continued to rub it in as if it were some magical hair elixir. After rinsing it out, my hair felt no different than how I had entered the shower, but it did feel less oily.

Maybe this would work after all?

After my shower, I warily grabbed my comb and started to comb out my hair. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as knotted as I thought and the comb did its job. Also, I noticed my comb, which is normally full of hair after a typical shower, was empty. Wait a minute! It was the same thing in the shower. Normally, I would comb my fingers through my hair and lose what seemed like half my head of hair, but now, barely anything.


I have begun collecting my hair in order to look at it under a microscope. That way I can hopefully see distinct differences as the month goes by.

I have been washing my hair with the baking soda and apple cider vinegar twice a week since I started. It takes a few weeks for your hair to completely adjust to the no-poo lifestyle so it has been excessively greasy since beginning.

A good way I have found to get through this phase is to keep my hair braided. No one has noticed so far!


Hair took about two full weeks to adjust. Now that the two weeks is over, my hair is tolerable and is starting to look healthier.


I brought my hair samples to the lab today. It was quite amazing what I saw.

Now I am no hair expert, and I do not claim to be, but there were clear differences between my before hair, my ninth-day hair and my hair today.

The hair seemed to be getting healthier with time. But I still wasn’t sure if I was getting real results. So, I decided to do a controlled experiment to be confident in my results.

Five vials: one with diluted shampoo, one with diluted conditioner, one with diluted baking soda, one with diluted apple cider vinegar and one with plain water (my control). I put hair from before my experiment in each vial and let them sit for a weekend. After three days, I went back to the lab to get my results.

As you can see, there were clear differences.

The conditioner seemed dull and dirty. Without shampoo, conditioner does not clean, it conditions. With shampoo, conditioner gives the appearance of health by making it soft and shiny.

The shampoo vial was interesting as well. This hair sample seemed coated more than anything. This reinforces the idea that shampoo strips hair of all oils, natural and not.

The baking soda and vinegar vials looked similar. To me, they looked like the best of both worlds: clean and healthy. Technically, you could use one without the other. Try doing that with shampoo or conditioner!

After my lab session, I was convinced. Although I did not particularly enjoy my experience, I have always known that it cannot be healthy to put chemicals on your body 24/7. This experiment was exciting because it showed me another way. You don’t have to use chemicals for everything. Do some research and you’ll find replacements for all of your daily toiletries. We ingest enough chemicals in our food, water and air. Why are we applying them directly to the largest, most absorbent organ we have: our skin? With a few easy changes to our daily routine, we could all move toward being chemical-free. And I promise you: you’ll feel better after making the change.

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