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THE CHALLENGE:

Skip shampoo for three weeks and use baking soda and vinegar to clean hair naturally.

A hair-raising start:

I’ve long been leery of the chemicals in conventional shampoos and conditioners, but most natural versions I’ve tried leave my thick hair feeling greasy and flat. Then I read online about the “No ’Poo Movement,” where you stop using shampoo completely. Enthusiasts claim that after an initial break-in period while hair adjusts to the change, it reverts back to its natural, lustrous state.

The last lather:

The night before the challenge, I did a final deep cleaning with shampoo and conditioner. By day three, my normally dry hair looked dirty, and by day four, my whole head felt greasy and sort of waxy. I was definitely a little grossed out, but apparently, the look is normal: The harsh ingredients found in conventional shampoos “clean” your tresses by stripping away their natural oils, called sebum. Your scalp then works overtime to replace the lost moisture, resulting in even more oil. I looked online to see what more experienced No ’Poo’ers had to say, and the general consensus was that it would take three to four weeks for my mane to adapt to the new regimen.

A new “shampoo”:

Four days in, I reluctantly tried the washing method favored by most No ’Poo’ers: Baking soda and vinegar. I mixed a tablespoon of baking soda with a cup of warm water and massaged it into my scalp for a few minutes to gently get rid of residue. Then, I conditioned with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with a cup of water. The vinegar was supposed to balance my hair’s pH, but I was skeptical of whether it would do anything other than make me smell like a salad bar. After rinsing, my mop didn’t feel the same as after using conventional shampoo and conditioner, but it definitely felt cleaner than it did before I hopped in the shower. Without telling them about the vinegar, I asked my husband and a friend to sniff my hair after it air-dried. Thankfully, both confirmed that I was odor-free.

Rinse and repeat:

For the following two and a half weeks, I stuck to washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar every three or four days. Instead of my usual styling cream, I got texture and volume by coiffing my damp hair into a pile of braids on top of my head (once dry, I would take the braids out and tousle my hair with my fingers). Around day 10, my hair started to feel softer and take on a healthy shine. Three weeks in, my locks took longer to get greasy in between baking soda and vinegar washings than they used to with shampoo. And as long as I let my hair air-dry, it felt smoother and less frizzy, since the strands were moisturized by their natural oils. (When I tried blow-drying, it left the ends a little dry.)

My advice:

If you want to reduce your exposure to unnecessary cosmetic chemicals, slash your primping time, and improve your hair’s texture, I’d recommend giving No ’Poo a try. A tip for getting through the greaseball break-in period: Brush your hair regularly to distribute the oils near your scalp—and be prepared for a lot of ponytail days!

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