Not quite Cider-rella


SHONALI MUTHALALY takes up the No Poo challenge and goes shampoo-free. After a spirited start, she lasts a grand total of 30 days

I had an appropriately gasp-inducing opening for this story planned. Then, I washed my hair.

In hindsight, perhaps it’s for the best. It certainly makes movie dates easier. It was getting difficult to explain why I smelt like a slightly wilted salad by the end of the day. As it turns out, in the battle between Jean Paul Gaultier and apple cider vinegar, vinegar always wins.

It’s not easy being a toxin-shunning, earth-embracing eco-warrior. Especially if you’re vain. Born with a head of rebelliously curly hair, I learnt early in life that there are some battles you just cannot win. So, instead of attacking my hair with a battalion of brushes, straighteners and serums, I decided to go Bob Marley on it. Well, not full-out Rastafarian to be honest. Even the idea of dreadlocks makes me itch. But in a happy, hippy, give-peace-a-chance frame of mind, I decided to give up shampoo.

Dramatic pause. (I might not have been able to start my story by saying it’s been six months since I washed my hair, as planned. But I’m not giving up my ‘dramatic pause.’)

Enter the No Poo movement. Steadily gaining ground, it advocates completely eliminating shampoo — indeed all products with synthetic ingredients — from your hair care routine. Contrary to what we’ve been taught all our lives, no-pooers claim that hair doesn’t need to be rinsed, lathered and rinsed again till it’s squeaky clean. In fact, they say, it’s precisely this marketing-driven drivel that is to blame for dry, dull hair. Instead, no-poo advocates using natural ingredients: baking soda to clean your scalp, followed by apple cider vinegar for conditioning.

Over the past few years, concerned by a spate of news reports pointing out how many chemicals we expose ourselves to every day, I’ve steadily been cutting back on makeup and skin care products. The few creams and cosmetics I do use are usually from small, eco-friendly organic companies. On this basis alone, no poo scores. Advocating only products from your kitchen shelves, it limits your exposure to toxins.

Conventional shampoo has a cocktail of chemicals. It contains sulphates, either in the form of sodium laurel sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate. According to the Ecology Center, a non-profit organisation located in Berkeley, California, sodium laurel sulphate — used as a foaming agent — is a skin irritant, which produces nitrosamine, a substance linked to cancer formation. Then, there are the parabens, used as preservatives for their strong antibacterial properties.

Finally there’s fragrance, which could be the most toxic of all. In 2011, the International Fragrance Research Association (IFRA), an industry-backed trade group, gave the names of 2,947 materials used in fragrance compounds in their transparency list. According to Safer Chemicals (a coalition of consumers, organisations and businesses) about “100 of the chemicals on IFRA’s list can be found on authoritative lists of toxic chemicals around the world.”

There’s an added bonus: going no-poo makes you greener. Fewer products mean fewer plastic bottles, and fewer chemicals washing down the drain, into waterways. However, despite my tree-hugger leanings, I did need more convincing before dunking my hair in vinegar. I started combing through blogs and stalking no-pooers in online forums for more information. The claims were seductive: healthy, shiny hair that grows faster than ever before.

For a process that prides itself on simplicity, it’s actually surprisingly convoluted. You have various combinations and permutations of no poo. You can be low poo, and use fewer synthetic ingredients. Or OH poo, and eliminate just sulphates, silicones and parabens. You can be WO, which is washing with Water Only, or CO, which is conditioner only. If you Co-Wash, that means you are low poo, with a conditioner. If you are AO, that’s Acid Only, which means you use lemon juice, orange juice or kefir to clean your hair.

I try the purist route. I meticulously scrub my hair with baking soda, which turns into a gooey mess as soon as I add water. Then, after rinsing it off, I spray my hair with organic apple cider vinegar. On washing it off, I’m enveloped by nauseatingly self-congratulatory zeal. I begin shopping for spray bottles, essential oils and no-poo manuals online. (So much for minimalism!) I then work on converting my friends, all of whom wrinkle up their noses at my approach, and clutch their shampoo bottles protectively.

In my defence, I keep at it for a month. Let me hastily add that I don’t smell — after much debate three women friends kindly sniff my hair and then conclude that it smells of nothing. My hair does seem to grow faster, and the vinegar is a really efficient (and cheap) conditioner.

Encouraged by the experiment, by week two I start trying other natural products. I dust my hair in cocoa, instead of dry shampoo and smell like an oversized chocolate bar all day. Emboldened by a No Poo Facebook forum, with about 24,500 members, I make tea rinses — and wash my hair in a range of flavoured teas. I pour a cup of black coffee on my head, rub my scalp with honey and plaster my curls with aloe vera.

Missing the scent of freshly shampooed hair, I also start buying essential oils — and join an essential oil forum on Facebook, only to rapidly exit when they get into a big ugly fight on the merits of lavender.

Then, one day, after yet another sweaty workout at the gym, I start rifling through my bathroom shelf, which now looks like a grocery store. I rub a lemon on my scalp, and annoying little bits of rind lodge themselves firmly in my hair. I add vinegar. Then, I take a sniff, and give up. I just can’t stand the smell any more. Fortunately, one tiny bottle of shampoo escaped my purge, and I grab it now. Oh the joy of lather, of soap, of breathing in sweet, sweet chemicals.

So, I didn’t stay the course. But, I did learn a lot. After falling off the wagon, I’ve gingerly clambered back on, but with a modified version. Baking soda once a month. A paraben and sulphite-free, eco-friendly, responsible shampoo. Lots of toxin-free conditioner. But no more apple cider vinegar. Not even in my salad.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:15:10 AM |

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