Bad Hair Day? Hair Washing Alternatives

I haven’t washed my hair with shampoo for a few years now. And guess what? My hair has never felt better! And to be honest, I don’t know if it has looked that healthy in the years before!

I have washed my hair with rhassoul and aritha powder, horse chestnut deconctions and eggs. Yes, I definitely agree that using mud or herbal powders and potions on the hair sounds messy and odd! But it‘s wonderful from the itchy scalp point of view!

In fact, many shampoos can be quite damaging for your hair and scalp. One of the reasons for this is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which can still be found in almost all conventional shampoos on the market. Using organic shampoos containing betain or sugar tensides wasn‘t a solution for me either. It was like hell recollecting all the hair that I lost in my washing basin after shampooing! Luckily I have much of it! And now? No hair loss at all!

Unfortunately, there are still many more chemicals that can cause breakouts, irritation, itchiness or dandruff. Even some “organic” skin care manufacturers make false “all-natural” claims, but still use a number of chemical irritants. Phenoxyethanol, cocamide DEA, propylene glycol or artificial fragrances can cause severe (allergic) skin reactions. Silicones can build up in your hair, damage it and make it look heavy and uneasy after years and years of consumption. Alcohol can aggravate already existing problems and dry out your scalp.

Okay, okay, you say! No more bad shampoo! But then what? There are millions of methods that don’t include shampooing: using water only, Indian herbs, handmade soap or your own concoctions and mixtures. Personally, I prefer switching between washing with rhassoul clay and the so called conditioner only (CO) method. Yes, I know, conditioners are still commercial products. But I‘m checking the ingredients lists thoroughly before applying anything to my scalp!

However, different hair types react in a totally different way to different products! Just because I like something, it doesn’t make it automatically good for everyone. You‘ll still have to try those methods yourself to find out what works for you! Read on!

1) Rhassoul Clay

Rhassoul is a clay that comes from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. It has many other names, such as ghassoul, red Moroccan clay, lava clay or African clay. Rhassoul is rich in minerals like silica, potassium and magnesium. Compared to other clays, rhassoul has the most intensive power of absorption, which makes it ideal for cleansing and detoxing.

You can find rhassoul in most health food stores, specific organic shops or online. You can buy it either as a powder or in small pieces. I have tried the powder only, but I don’t think there is a huge difference. Traditionally, the pieces are used for hair washing rather than clay in powdered form. If you are allergic to nickel, don‘t try it though. Clay may contain traces of it!

It‘s simple to use. Mix the clay with warm water to make a paste. The clay may need to soak for a while to soften. The amount of clay required for hair washing varies from head to head: 1/4 cup of clay powder or 1/2 cup of clay pieces is a good starting quantity. To make the clay paste easier to apply and add moisture, mix some honey into the hydrated clay.

You can leave this paste in the fridge for up to a week, saving time for frequent washes. To this paste add some more warm water every time you want to use it until the mixture reaches a runny shampoo consistency.

Applied just like a mask (to wet or dry hair), it strips the hair of chemical build up and other residues and absorbs oiliness almost like a sponge. Maybe you‘ll find it easier to use a squeezable bottle to squirt the clay mixture all over your scalp! Leave on for a few minutes. However, do not try to massage it in! Clay pieces can have sharp edges. And NEVER try to let the clay dry on your hair: it’s going to be impossible to wash out and it‘ll make you look like a male lion wearing extensions! Rinse thoroughly!

Well, it can be a bit messy, but I love this! Rhassoul clay makes my hair soft and shiny. It‘s not a greasy shine, it‘s more like a glow! Moreover, my hair stays clean for a good while: The best thing about rhassoul is that your hair won‘t become that oily anymore on the long run. And washing with clay can add volume to your hair! Whether this is a blessing or a curse depends on individual preference. Some people report their hair feeling statically charged after a clay wash: in this case, adding a little oil to the clay mixture before applying it might help!

2) Conditioner Only (CO)

CO is exactly what it sounds like: ditch your shampoo and use conditioner only. This is quite a common shampoo-free method and is said to work especially well on curly hair, as it fights frizz.

Conditioners contain emulsifiers (from the chemical point of view, emulsifiers are detergents as well), and will thus wash your hair. However, emulsifiers are milder and not as drying and damaging as Sodium laureth sulfate, for example. Whoever tends to break out when using a face cream with certain emulsifiers in it, should choose another method though – or study the ingredients lists very well (as I do – I HAVE a problem with most emulsifiers)!

Anyway, use a gentle conditioner, preferably one with few ingredients in it, free from silicones, mineral oil, artificial fragrances, phenoxyethanol, propylene glycol, formaldehyde, parabens and other potentially harmful substances. My favorite ones are A’kin Al’chemy Unscented Conditioner (that‘s the best one ever!) and – surprisingly – some private supermarket brands (bad ingredients seem to be pricey!). Well, you’re going to use A LOT of conditioner! So it‘s not a bad idea to spend a little less money.

How to use: Massage the conditioner into your wet hair. Ensure that every strand of your hair is covered with conditioner. Your hair should feel really slimy! Leave it on for 5-15 minutes, depending on your hair type. Wet your hair and apply the conditioner a while before taking a shower and let it do it’s magic! Rinse out thoroughly. Finish with cold (or at least lukewarm) water, to allow the hair cuticles to contract!

Every once in a while, you‘ll need to do a clarifying wash with rhassoul clay or Indian herbs to avoid your hair looking weighed down or dull after a few months of “conditioning“.

If you have dry hair, you can also try this mixture as a special hair treatment to soften your hair and add shine:

– 4 parts conditioner
– 1 part honey
– 1 part aloe vera gel

Mix well, then apply to your wet or dry hair (especially to the ends). Cover your hair with a shower cap, a shopping bag or whatever, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Rinse well.

If you want to avoid all sorts of chemicals all at once, but still like to use this method, try this homemade conditioner (but I warn you, it’s complicated!):

Mash 1 banana and add 1 tbsp of honey. If you have dry hair, add 1 tbsp of olive, coconut or argan oil (or any other oil you like). For slightly oily hair: 1 tbsp of lemon juice.

Bananas have some kind of cleansing properties, but if you want to be sure that this mixture actually WASHES your hair, you can still add 2 egg yolks (see: 5 – Egg Shampoo) to the recipe or simply use it as a mask and then cleanse your hair with two tablespoons of aritha powder (3 – Indian Herbs) or rhassoul (1) or baking soda (6).

It’s not an every day solution though! Personally, I tried it only once! I didn’t like the banana smell in the end and found it far too much of a pain to apply and to rinse, but my hair looked great!

How to use: Apply to WET hair and massage it it. Don‘t forget the lengths. Wrap your hair very well! Use a shower cap (or something similar) and a towel that has to be washed anyway (it’ll smell like banana and maybe you’ll spoil it). Let it soak for 20 minutes up to half an hour. The mix shouldn’t dry on your head! And even if it doesn’t dry on your head, you’ll probably still have to rinse your hair very well and for a very long time. Combing your hair while rinsing it will help you to get out all the banana pieces!

If your hair is more on the greasy side, I wouldn’t recommend this banana mask, but it can be extremely helpful for damaged and dry hair!

3) Indian Herbs

Indian herbs or herb blends are an extremely mild cleansing alternative with a low pH value. Most of these herbs strengthen the hair roots and wash and condition your scalp and hair lengths at the same time. There is, however, a tendency to use some herbs – such as shikakai or aritha (also called reetha or Indian soap nut powder) – as a cleansing agent and to use other herbs – such as amla, fenugreek powder or hibiscus flowers – as a conditioning agent. There are also ready-made mixtures you can buy in health food stores or online. Because of their stringent qualities, shikakai and aritha naturally remove the dirt and excess oil accumulated on the scalp. Some Indians also use rice starch as a type of natural emulsifier to bind the herb powders together and make them easier to apply and rinse out. Please note that many of these herbs are not suitable for people with blond hair as they can naturally slightly darken the hair!

The traditional hair washing routine in India includes massaging the scalp with coconut oil, allowing it to soak in for an hour or two. Coconut oil is also a great natural remedy to combat dandruff and itchiness. Yet, if your hair is already greasy, you can skip that step.

Indian herb powders are made into a paste with hot water. Let the concoction cool down and work it into your hair. If it doesn’t foam, repeat! Then rinse.

Personally, I love it! My hair looks shiny and stays clean for a long time.

Basic mixtures:
washing: 2 tbsp shikakai or aritha (aritha is a little milder)
washing + conditioning: 2 tbsp aritha (or shikakai) + 2-3 tbsp amla

Here you can find more individual mixes to make at home.

4) Soapwart, Horse Chestnut, Soap Nuts

First of all, think of REAL sustainability: Soap nuts are becoming more and more popular in our Western world. This is why the prices in most countries of origin (like India), where many people traditionally still wash their clothes in the river, have increased so much that chemical detergents become the only option for them – and a harmful one for our environment (keep in mind that aritha – or reetha – powder is nothing else than dried and finely grinded soap nuts). Instead, try to make yourself a “shampoo” using local plants. Think of horse chestnut or soap root! Horse chestnuts are so much cheaper! Just go for a walk in autumn and collect them. Soap roots are a “wooden stick” that you can buy in a bag in some herbal, health food or online shops. Why using exotic plants, if you have manifold other choices?

Anyway, horse chestnuts, soapwart and soap nuts contain natural saponins (foaming substances), i.e. naturally occurring surfactants. These are not as brutal as SLS or other chemical cleansing agents and not as alkaline as soap. You can wash it out easily even with limy water – without any soap scum residue!

That‘s it, not more – not less!

Soap nuts, however, are not the best possible saponin source – they definitely cleanse your hair, but can also leave it a bit dry and somewhat “dull” (depending on your hair type, of course). I think, horse chestnut, primrose or classical soapwart roots (these contain the most saponins) can give you much better results in the end. They have a slightly lower pH value, so that your hair will become softer and much more manageable. Panama bark lies somewhere in between.

Here are some “shampoo” recipes and instructions:

Horse Chestnut Shampoo

Let 2 handful of chopped chestnuts soak in 2 cups of distilled water for 2 hours. Heat it up a little bit and strain before applying to your head.

Soapwart, Primrose or Panama Bark Shampoo

Ingredients
– 2 cups distilled water
– 1 1/2 tbsp dried soapwart, primrose root or panama bark (chopped)

Optional:
– 2 teaspoons dry chamomile flowers (to soften and lighten blonde hair), black tea (to add shine and texture to dark hair), stinging nettles, sage and/or rosemary leaves (dandruff), lemon verbena (citrus fragrance)
– 1-2 drops of essential oils of your choice – lavender (itchy scalp, dandruff, lice), tea tree or manuka (dandruff)

Instructions
Bring water to a boil. Add soapwart and simmer, cover for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, add optional herbs, then allow mixture to cool. Strain the mixture keeping the liquid and add a few drops of essential oils (if you want).

Soap Nuts Shampoo

Cook 2 cups distilled water and 12 soap nut halves. Cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

Pour the lukewarm decoction onto your head and let it soak for a while (while brushing your teeth, for example). That‘s an important point because the saponins do not “act“ as quickly as commercial detergents. If you have very thick strands, dip in the lengths first, then pour the rest of it over your head. Rinse. Finito!

So you say that it‘s a liquid and therefore probably difficult to apply? There is one simple solution: Fill the decoction into a bottle and shake it vigorously! It will foam! This foam can be incorporated into wet or dry hair, as you please. You could also add a gelling agent like xanthan gum to the mixture. This way, at least you can try to avoid to get the liquid into your eyes or mouth! It stings like hell! And if you are a gourmet, you definitely won‘t like the taste of it!

Saponin plants differ in scent and in the degree of softness they give to your hair. Panama bark doesn‘t feel like soap nuts, which feels differently from soapwart. You have to try them, to know which one works best for you (or if they work at all!). If the plant‘s inherent smell bothers you, add a few drops of essential oils. Or “refresh“ the decoction with a tablespoon of lavender infusion at the end of cooking time. Moreover, you can put in the same additives, you can find in many shampoos: panthenol, silk protein, glycerin … But since it‘s a very mild surfactant, you don‘t really need these. The additives in regular shampoos are just “smoothing-magic“ to fake “mild“ cleansing.

What do I think? I find it all far too complicated! I like to take my shower spontaneously!

5) Egg Shampoo

Personally, I don‘t like this method at all! Eggs contain a lot of protein, which is something that some hair types love, others hate. In addition, I didn‘t enjoy the fact that my hair smelled like eggs and my bathroom as well! However, it can be worth a try! I know that many people really like this! A lot!

Eggs are supposed to wash your hair, add shine, make it fluffy and deeply nourish damaged hair. It was commonly used in many countries, when shampoo – as we know it today – didn‘t exist. You can simply crack an egg and wash your hair with it as it is. Or you can mix an egg (or two egg yolks) with honey (equal parts): honey acts as a conditioner and takes away that eggy smell a little bit!

Or try this recipe:

Ingredients
– 1 egg or 2 egg yolks
– 3 tsp olive oil (6 tsp if you have dry hair / less or no oil if you have oily hair)
– 1 tbsp lemon juice
– ½ tsp apple cider vinegar

Mix well and massage into your moist hair. Rinse thoroughly with LUKEWARM water. The rinsing takes a good while! NEVER use hot water to rinse your egg shampoo! Apart from halloween: a scrambled-eggs-wig could always make you win a costume competition! The only problem is, that olive oil is quite difficult to get out of your hair when you don’t have a shampoo and have to use cool water only. Make sure that the egg is all out of your hair, then switch to warmer water to wash out the oil as well! Maybe an acid rinse might help too.

Some people say that the egg white can dry out your hair, so if you like you can try using only the yolks. You can make about one week’s worth of shampoo and store it in your fridge up to one week.

6) Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar

Washing your hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar is super-easy: basically, you “wash” your scalp with a baking soda solution and condition your lengths with an apple cider vinegar solution. To do so, put a tablespoon of baking soda and approximately one cup of hot water into a glass bottle. Shake thoroughly. Add 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 liter of water into another bottle. Apply the baking soda mix to your hair and comb through. It‘s more like massaging your scalp than actually washing your hair. That’s it! Just rinse with lukewarm water, finish with your vinegar solution, dry and style.

However, be careful when using this recipe. Baking soda is a mild abrasive and can dry out your hair. Don’t use this method to wash your hair every day!

You might have a transition period that lasts from a few weeks to a few months, where your hair reacts with excess oil to the lack of shampoo. This is perfectly normal. It’s used to having its oils stripped, so it might take time for your oil glands to stop producing sebum. You can also try to wean off baking soda and vinegar all together, relying on water only to remove dirt. I have never tried it though!

If you find that your hair is too oily (after the transition period), try using less vinegar, or not using it at all. Some people use lemon juice instead of vinegar.

You might have noticed, I‘m not that passionate about this method, but here you‘ll find loads of information about it!

7) Handcrafted Soap

I wouldn’t generally recommend soap: If you have very limy water (like me over here in Italy), the reaction between the hardness minerals in your tap water and soap can lead to soap scum in your hair (annoyingly gluey white flakes) and cause itchiness on your scalp. But for some people (luckily without calcareous water) this method works like a charm, so let me present it to you!

Why soap to wash your hair? Handcrafted vegetable soap is a natural product that most people‘s skin can tolerate without any problems. The natural glycerin retained during saponification gives your hair extra moisture while washing, but still cleanses it thoroughly. Many people think that their hair has a much better “grip“ and texture than after washing with a regular shampoo. Soap does not strip off too much natural sebum from your scalp as most shampoos do, but rather dissolves the dirt to remove it. You won‘t even need a conditioner after washing!

Is washing your hair with soap harmful? No! Although soap is very alkaline, this is exactly what will cause the cuticle to contract as soon as your hair comes into contact with the soap. Yet, you can still make an acid rinse to neutralize your hair after washing. It will make it easier to comb when dry!

There are basically three different “washing techniques“. Try them out to find the most appropriate one for you!
1) Foam some soap in your hands. Work the foam into your wet hair until your whole (!) hair is well lathered. You‘ll have to get new foam from the soap several times. Massage your head a little bit, then rinse.
2) Rub the soap bar directly on your hair in a circular motion. Don‘t forget the lengths. Rinse.
3) Mix some grated soap “chips“ with warm water in an empty bottle, let them soak for a while, then shake well. Use like a shampoo. Rinse.

Can I use a regular vegetable soap bar for my hair? Well, it is often reported that Aleppo soap works quite well as a hair washing alternative. Other handcrafted soaps can be good for dryer hair types, others might prefer special hair soap bars. These are less nurturing than other handmade soap bars and usually contain castor or coconut oil, so that they foam well enough and make your hair shiny. You‘ll find these soaps in many health food stores or online shops.

My hair, after washing with soap, is sticky, greasy and stringy. What am I doing wrong?
When washing with soap all hair (not just the hairline) has to be thoroughly lathered and massaged. If it doesn‘t foam enough, it‘s an indication that you should lather your hair once again!
2) You didn‘t rinse your hair long and thoroughly enough.
3) Limy tap water.
4) The soap is too rich for you. Use a less nurturing soap or a special bar for greasy hair.

My hair is dry like straw after washing it with soap. What can I do?
1) Perhaps your soap is not moisturizing enough for your hair. Try another one, for example a special one for dry hair.
2) Your acid rinse was too strong. It can dry out your hair.
3) Try to make your acid rinse in a different way. Try lemon juice instead of vinegar or add some honey to it. Again, it‘s always about trial and error!

After washing several times with the same soap my hair is not as beautiful as it has been in the beginning. Why? Many people who wash their hair with soap notice that their hair is at its best when switching between two or three different types of soap every once in a while.

Conclusion

How long it takes until my hair gets used to one of those alternative washing methods is individually different and depends on the cleansing technique you are choosing. If you have been using chemical products on your hair it will take a little time for you to start noticing the difference.
Still, for some it works immediately. Generally, it will take a little longer to adapt to the alkaline procedures (baking soda, soap roots or handcrafted soap), since even the most aggressive shampoo usually has a slightly acidic pH value. During the transition phase, your hair might look horrible, be oilier than usual or – in the worst case – be almost unmanageable. But for most of you these methods will work after a relatively short time and your hair will feel and look so much healthier! To keep the transition period as short as possible, try to deep cleanse your hair to remove silicones and other residues first by using an exfoliating shampoo or rhassoul clay. Or wash with a silicone-free shampoo before switching.

What about you? Have you ever tried any alternative method to wash your hair or are you sticking to your favorite shampoo?

© images by Svea

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14 comments
  1. Zee said:

    yaaaay! thank you 🙂 now I have a lot to experiment!

  2. Zee said:

    (does the banana and honey homemade conditioner really work as a cleanser too? I know you can wash your face with honey but… I don’t know, it sounds weird as a pseudo-shampoo :D)

  3. Svea said:

    Yeah, that’s really weird! And it’s complicated! Maybe I made this recipe sound too easy and relaxed! I just added some more information about it to the article! 😉

    Anyway, I hope you’ll find something that works for you!

    • Zee said:

      thanks 😉

  4. Zee said:

    Now that I come to think of it… You live in Italy too – where do you find indian herbs here? I wish I could buy Hesh products because they are nice quality and pretty cheap, but it seems I can only find them on the Internet (with really high delivery costs). On the other hand, I find that buying indian herbs at the herbalist’s shop might turn out to be quite expensive

  5. Svea said:

    Oh yes, I’ve just checked it… I don’t use Indian herbs that much any more (arita/reetha = soap nuts) and I bought my last shikakai packages in Germany. I totally agree that the herbalist’s shops over here in Italy are famous for their fictitious price management! 😦 You might find these herbs in some ethnical shops, but you’ll never be sure if these aren’t contaminated with pesticides or other kinds of chemicals.

    There seems to be only one Italian online shop, where you can buy a good quality shikakai, reetha or amla powder – http://www.ecco-verde.it/khadi/shikakai-in-polvere – but it’s still quite pricey and you have to spend at least 40 EUR to get it delivered for free. Ladri!

    I wish I could help you a little more…

    • Zee said:

      Hehe, yaeh, that one is my favourite online shop 🙂 They’re quick, reliable, kind and always available for inquiries. And, for some products they offer really good prices, let’s say lower than some other websites and real shops. Another thing I like, is that delivery costs decrease depending on how much you spend, so you do not only have the “either full costs or free delivery” choice. So yeah, I generally prefer to be patient and make an order when I have quite a few things on my wishlist 🙂
      Unfortunately, Khadi products are not what I call value for money, so even though I have some stuff ready for an order and should get free delivery, still I don’t like the idea of paying something more than its actual value. I also wanted to try neem powder for my skin, but again, at the moment they only have a Khadi powder mask with neem (which, it goes without saying, costs far too much) 😦
      There are some “green/organic” shops in Italy, but they usually apply a big mark up and do not always offer a really huge choice of such things, since they sell both food and cosmetic products.

      But I will not give up the search! 😡

      • Svea said:

        Yes, it feels like pouring your money down a rat hole, seen that you can get the same stuff for 1,50 £ in the UK. If you should come across those herbs at a more reasonable price, let me know! I’ll let you know as well! 😀

        I’m still getting many of the products I’m using in Germany, simply because it’s so much easier to find all those strange “esoteric” organic items (although I don‘t believe 100% in organic labeling).

        Here in Italy, it‘s stressful sometimes.

  6. Zee said:

    (Good?) news! 🙂
    I’ve found an Italian retailer for Hesh products (and not only those..) that’s called Panda Shop. If you happen to live somewhere near Rome, you’d probably better go directly there and buy from their (real) shop. Otherwise, they also have an e-commerce website, where delivery costs are around 8€ (agh!), which might be acceptable only if you decided to make a consistent order that’s worth the expense. The (tiny) good point is that they do not jack up prices…

    • Svea said:

      Thanks a lot, Zee!!!
      Sounds quite good! Unfortunately I don’t live near Rome. That would be nice!!! 😀
      On the other hand, Indian herbs don’t go off that easily, so a huge order would be a great idea!
      Nite Nite! I’m EXHAUSTED!

  7. Yuriy said:

    Another question for you about dr.alkaitis lol! What do you think of their shampoo? They don’t have a conditioner (so it must be conditioning?) but I do use it (the shampoo) and it’s okay…. it’s my first organic shampoo so I did kind of expect the no-foaming thing. My hair feels pretty weird after washing it (as if it still has oils and is still dirty) I blow dry it half way (with very low heat) and it still feels weird the whole time but only when it is 100% dry, then surprisingly it feels amazing and soft…. so it gets the job done I guess? Is that how most organic shampoos are from what you remember when you used them? The ingredients seem good too but not sure if I’ll repurchase because of the price tag…I know you’d agree on that lol but let me know 😀
    Thanks,
    Yuriy

    • Svea said:

      Hi Yuriy,

      yes, no organic shampoo will give your hair that “squeaky“ clean feeling! It might feel a little weird in the beginning because these shampoos actually DO leave a little bit of your natural sebum on your scalp. They do not cut dirt, but dissolve it without destroying your skin‘s protective layer of lipids.

      The Dr. Alkaitis shampoo seems to have great ingredients and doesn’t contain betaine, but I think that doesn’t justify the extremely high price tag. Skin care companies are quite good at making us believe that their products are special (and therefore pricier than other products [that are crap for sure 😀 ] ), but I think that there are lots of less expensive brands out there that contain nice ingredients as well.

      If I really wanted to use a shampoo, I‘d go for Aubrey Organics or A‘kin (= no betaine, very mild formula). But, as you know, everyone of us is different, so you‘ll still have to try a few products to see which one works best for you!

  8. Angel said:

    Can I just mix the horse chesnut powder with some water and rub it into my scalp, like I did with aritha powder?

    • Svea said:

      Hi Angel!

      Unfortunately, those chestnut pieces can be really sticky, so you‘d have trouble to get them out of your hair. Just strain the mixture, dip your hair lengths into the liquid first, then pour the rest of it over your head. Let it soak for a while (at least 10-15 minutes). I know, it‘s a little odd to use in the beginning (personally, I find it a tad too complicated as well), but it works!

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