If you are suffering from dry, weakened and damaged hair, dandruff or hair loss for various reasons, it is advisable to wash your scalp with only mild cleansers and support its healthy skin microbiome. You can take care of your hair in a non-toxic way, i.e. without the use of irritating and harmful substances. Let's take a look at how to do it.
How to start
If a woman (or man) is determined to give up harmful chemicals in her hair care, then she should first of all think about whether she only wants to replace the current hair and styling products with more gentle and non-toxic ones, or whether she wants to go the way of the so-called living care, which is a method that is based only on the use of natural powders or mixtures. In non toxic hair care you therefore have two options to choose from. You can, of course, continue to use packaged shampoos as you were used to, but with a gentler formula. We call these shampoos "low poo". The second variant is the "no poo" method, where shampoo is not used at all. In translation, it is a word game that originated from the English without (no) shampoo (poo).
Non-toxic (low poo) shampoos
A non-toxic shampoo is still a classic liquid product, thus it will be preserved by some substance. Non-toxic shampoos must contain only mild and gentle preservatives, such as fermented extracts. They also contain other components such as oils, plant extracts, ingredients that help emulsify and adjust pH and essential oils that replace synthetic fragrances. Even a non-toxic shampoo can be not tolerated well by some sensitive people, because of some plant components that might be difficult for people with allergies. Here, in general, we can recommend reaching for shampoos suitable for sensitive skin that have sugar-based surfactants (like Lauryl Glucoside, Decyl Glucoside, Coco-Glucoside, etc.), which are e.g. i+m Shampoo For Sensitive Skin or Hemptouch Gentle Hydrolate Shampoo. You may have to try several non-toxic shampoos before you find the one that best suits your needs and has the optimal pH. Why do we mention the pH? Healthy skin and hair depend on the right pH balance which ensures their beauty and health. For skin an optimal pH oscillates in the mildly acidic levels 5.5. For hair the optimum is more acidic, depending on the hair type, with values ranging from 4.7.
Picture: Liquid shampoo
In natural personal care it is possible to find shampoos also in the solid format. This form reminding soap is in the non-toxic care perceived more as a compromise. Why is solid shampoo controversial?
Solid shampoo is not a soap, despite this description from some manufacturers. Sometimes it is referred to as hair soap. Solid shampoo is the mixture of solid surfactants and various additives or herbal extracts that are supposed to be beneficial for hair. It sounds good, but it might have some drawbacks. The basic problem is that there are only a few types of solid surfactants available for manufacturing of these products and many times they do not pass the conditions of the non-toxic lifestyle. If the manufacturer uses so-called sugar-based surfactants, it is acceptable from the non-toxic point of view, but usually these are high on pH range and thus not suitable for long-term use. It is thus suitable, or even inevitable to use the acidic rinse to close the hair structure, or spray the hydrolate on the hair as a leave-in conditioner. It is also good to know that solid shampoo contains surfactants in high concentration (unlike the liquid shampoo where these are diluted in liquid already) which are applied on the wet hair. For this reason, this kind of hair care is completely inappropriate for sensitive people or people with hair scalp issues. Thus we recommend using solid shampoos only occasionally in cases like traveling. It has its pros too, benefits are that it does not contain preservatives, it is compact and due to high concentration you can use smaller amounts. So it is up to each individual to consider the pros and cons themselves. In our web shop, we selected a solid shampoo from Botma & van Bennekom.
Suggested technique for using a low poo shampoo
Step 1: Properly prepare the skin for washing
Before using the low poo or no poo method is this step super important and many women (or men) make mistakes here. The skin needs to be prepared for the washing by making it wet well. Short shower on the hair is not enough. The hair scalp must be really very wet. Let the water in the preparation phase for the wash penetrate to the hair and scalp, ideally twice as much as you think is enough.
Step 2: Wash the scalp, not the hair
Apply shampoo to the palms of your hands, work it in your hands and then apply on a few points on the scalp, not only on one spot on the head. Then start massaging the scalp. It is not important to apply the shampoo to the lengths, as you are washing primarily the skin and the hair will get washed by the rest of the shampoo during the rinse.
If you are using a shampoo with very gentle sugar-based surfactants, it might happen that during the first application the shampoo will not foam much. To make the gentle shampoo foam properly you need more water, not more of the shampoo. Therefore do not apply more shampoo, but more water and continue in the scalp massage. If you manage to foam the shampoo by this method well, typically there is no need to re-apply the shampoo after the rinse. But if you feel that the shampoo did not foam well, rinse the first once and replicate the procedure again. Add again a small amount of the product and try foaming it well with adding more water on the head skin.
Tolerability of the shampoo
Tolerability of the shampoo is dependent on its composition and the washing technique. If you feel tension on your scalp or it feels itchy, check whether you followed the right washing technique. Problems with the hair skin originate many times when the shampoo is not rinsed well. The residuals from the shampoo then stay on the scalp and can irritate it. The skin can get more oily or react with the appearance of dandruff. If you are sure that the washing technique is correct, but the shampoo irritates you despite it, you can be sensitive to the concrete formulation of the shampoo or the shampoo’s pH. Some natural and non-toxic shampoos use alcohol as a preservative which in high concentration can cause irritation or dryness. Then either choose shampoos that use fermented extracts for preservation or those that alcohol is in the last position in the ingredients list.
Conditioner: yes or no?
For the majority of the shampoos it is necessary to use the conditioner after washing. Shampoo opens the hair and washes it, conditioner then closes the hair and smoothes their surface. If the shampoo has pH that is rather higher than optimum (optimum pH ranges between 4.5-5.5) then certainly use the conditioner or the acid rinse. Some conditioners are used only for the lengths, others are meant for the hair skin too. Or you can try using a floral water that can serve as a leave-in conditioner, leaving hair smooth, shiny and scented.
What to avoid in non-toxic hair care
Before purchasing the shampoo or conditioner always check if the ingredients list does not contain unwanted substances - or shop in our Pure’n’well webshop, where we have only non-toxic products that are checked by our partner, a non-profit organization “Svet non-toxic” that has been studying this topic for more than 10 years. A non-toxic hair care product should not contain any silicones, petroleum derivatives, harsh preservatives or synthetic perfumes.
Are you also interested in other non-toxic topics? You might like:
- Pavlistova, Pavla and Hrivnakova, Katarina. Svet non toxic: mene je vice, CPress, 2021.
- Documents from the Facebook group of a non-profit organization Svet Non Toxic. https://www.facebook.com/groups/www.svetnontoxic.org/