Some say quitting is tough, alternatives get tricky; ‘I smelled like scrambled eggs’
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL // JULY 11, 2022
It’s been more than two years since Laura Curtis-Moss last shampooed her hair.
Ms. Curtis-Moss is part of the “no poo” movement, a backlash against modern haircare. Making the switch takes serious commitment, with a few hair-raising weeks for converts and their families before the benefits start to shine through.
The 35-year-old environmental charity worker, who lives in Edinburgh, wanted to use less plastic, and her scalp had been feeling dry and sore. Remote working gave her a chance to experiment, and so she lathered up for a final time in early 2020, ahead of a job interview.
Then came the hard part. “It was pretty horrific at first,” recalled Rebs Curtis-Moss, her wife. “It looked greasy and unwashed for quite a few weeks.”
But Laura pushed on. About six months in, she realized her hair was stronger and softer than before—“probably in better condition than it ever had been,” she said. She now only washes with hot water, with an occasional vinegar rinse after working outdoors to get rid of campfire and other smells. Her wife hasn’t been converted and is content to use a shampoo bar to reduce plastic waste.
Many others have been drawn to the trend. The “NoPoo” subreddit has nearly 350,000 members who compare notes, share resources and support those struggling through the process. TikTok videos tagged #noshampoohave notched roughly 55 million views.
Glenda Folsom, a community coordinator at an elementary school in Pennsylvania, swears by using a $200 hair brush that she saved up for and two evenly beaten egg yolks to make her hair look fuller and shinier.
“I let it sit in my hair until it gets kind of gross,” the 40-year-old said, leaving it for several minutes. She separates the yolks beforehand, or she risks slow-cooking an egg in the hot water of the shower, because egg whites cook at relatively low temperatures.
But the results are worth it. After finishing by rinsing with apple cider vinegar, Ms. Folsom said, “I want to go out, leave town and go somewhere and show it off.”
Other alternative methods involving rice water, or chickpea or rye flour have proliferated.
Those who argue for an all-natural approach say the chemicals in shampoo strip hair of natural oils, causing the scalp to overproduce them. They say that leads to a vicious cycle, where people rely on shampoo and conditioner to fix problems created by those very products. Many no poo-ers also balk at the waste created in producing and packaging shampoo.
The community has developed its own jargon. “Co-wash” means to use only conditioner; “WO” stands for water only. Going “low poo,” the less intense option, is to use it less frequently or choose a gentler shampoo without sulfates.
Ella Smith, a 30-year-old musician in California, experimented with a host of remedies for nearly two months last year before giving up.
Her boyfriend had been supportive as she went from one ingredient, such as cocoa powder, to the next, at most rolling his eyes. But he almost gagged when she came out of the shower after smearing her hair with eggs.
“I smelled like scrambled eggs,” Ms. Smith said. “Which is good when you’re walking into a house. But not when it’s on your body.”
The only thing that worked for Ms. Smith was an elaborate method called scritching and preening that requires massaging the scalp to loosen up oil or grime, and then using the fingers to stroke the hair section by section from the roots to the tips, to distribute natural oils from the scalp. But the routine took more than an hour, defeating her purpose of ditching shampoo for a no-frills lifestyle.
Marie Ng, the founder of a productivity app, chanced upon the topic on Twitter in mid-2020. Melbourne, Australia, where she lives, was locked down, and she liked the idea of helping both herself and the environment. She went cold turkey for three months, before switching to using shampoo occasionally.
“The transition was horrendous,” Ms. Ng said. Her hair reached a peculiar stage of feeling oily, flaky and coarse at the same time, like she had just come out of the ocean. She took to wearing a beanie when she was out with friends, whatever the temperature.
“I had to explain to people that my hair is disgusting,” she said, recalling one winter meal when she kept her beanie on inside a restaurant where the heat was on full blast and everyone else shed their layers.
Ms. Ng went fully back to shampoo after a year, after she started dyeing her hair.
Big Shampoo is, naturally, not in favor. Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders brand says using a paste of baking soda, for instance, can upset the natural pH balance and harm both hair and scalp.
“Don’t listen to the hype—the best way to keep your hair clean and scalp healthy is still a good shampoo and conditioner,” its website says. P&G didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Rebecca Glon, an IT and exhibits manager at a museum in Western New York, said her hair thinned and hardly grew after she used baking soda as shampoo and apple cider vinegar as conditioner for nine months. She said the damaging effects were still evident a decade later.
Saiful Yusoff is a 24-year-old accounting student in Malaysia with rich, black hair that fell to his chest. He said he had a hellish first week after he stopped using shampoo in early May. The grease was constantly on his mind, he said, and every hour he had to tell himself to calm down.
But things improved after the second week. His sister, who was initially horrified, later gave him the all-clear on his appearance. And his hair started to form big, natural waves. Since his family all had straight hair, he turned to his mother for answers.
She presented a photo he had never seen before, of Mr. Yusoff’s father. Nowadays the older Mr. Yusoff is bald and has nagged his son about cutting his hair. In his youth, though, he rocked a long, wavy mane.
Write to Elaine Yu at email@example.com