Experts explain the benefits of this popular haircare method, and what to know before making the switch.
woman rinsing hair getty
Credit: Piotr Marcinski/Getty

From minimalist homes and capsule wardrobes to eating clean and simplifying our skincare routines, there's no doubt about the fact that many of us have been craving the "less is more" lifestyle. But when it comes to our hair, should we be taking the same approach? A shampoo-free routine makes it possible. The haircare practice is exactly what it sounds like-washing your hair without shampoo-and it's become more popular over the years in both the beauty and wellness worlds and among sustainable living advocates. If you're wondering what all the fuss is about-and how you might approach it yourself-we asked the hair experts comb through the hype for us. Here's what you need to know.

Your Hair's Natural Oils Can Be Good for You

While we may often feel the need to wash our hair more often to avoid that greasy feeling, your hair's oils aren't actually that bad, according to Dr. Michele Farber, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York. "Your hair naturally has oil because there are sebaceous glands around each hair follicle on the scalp and these glands produce oil to help protect the hair," she tells us. "It can form a barrier to the outside environment and help moisturize hair as well as provide antibacterial protection." And while it may seem like a natural part of your routine to wash those oils out, Dr. Farber notes that overwashing can dry out your hair. "It can irritate the cuticle around the hair and upset the scalp's microbiome, allowing for inflammation."

No-Shampoo Can Benefit You-and the Environment

For Nackie Karcher, a hairstylist and owner of The Karcher Salon in Brooklyn, skipping shampoo means giving your hair more time to be in its natural, healthy state. "A no-shampoo routine means no detergents, so you're not stripping the natural oils from your scalp and disrupting the 'eco-system' of your scalp," says Karcher, who has switched over nearly half her clientele to a detergent-free routine in the last five years. If you're washing your hair every day, you could also seriously be drying your scalp out. "Often, we feel like we need to condition our hair to add oils back in, but over-washing and conditioning can also cause the scalp to produce more oils. This then makes hair feel greasy by the end of the day and gives the illusion that you need to wash it again." In other words, giving your shampoo a rest may just be giving your scalp a break, too.

Moreover, many conventional shampoos often contain silicones (identified by ingredients that end in "-cone"), which are used to help the product spread throughout your hair and lock in moisturize. However, these silicones can also cause build-up in the hair and scalp and, once they're washed down your shower drain, they do not breakdown either, remaining in waterways indefinitely.

No-Shampoo Doesn't Mean "Not Clean"

Just because you're not washing your hair with shampoo regularly doesn't mean you're stuck with dirty hair. "People often write off 'no-shampoo' as not cleaning your hair, but this is certainly not the case," says Jackie Bauer, creator of New Wash, a hair cleanser and alternative to shampoo. "We're all for clean and conditioned hair and scalps, we just think it can be done more gently." As Bauer explains, many conventional shampoos are formulated with the same kinds of ingredients used to wash dishes and cars. "They're no doubt effective cleansers, but they can also be very harsh and unnecessary. In order to maintain the health and integrity of your hair and scalp, you need to treat them gently."

There Are Many Ways to Go Shampoo-Free

In addition to switching to detergent-free cleansers, like New Wash (which also offers refillable packaging with their subscription service), many no-shampoo fans have eventually found themselves taking a water-only route. According to the haircare movement's official website, other alternatives include swapping in baking soda (dissolved into a cup of water and massaged into the hair) or pairing it with an apple cider vinegar rinse, especially ideal for those with dryer scalps.

What to Know If You Want to Make the Switch

Wondering whether adopting a no-shampoo routine could be right for you? First, remember that everyone's body is different and, as with any other beauty routine, you may need to do a bit of trial-and-error to find the method that works best for you. "Our oil glands are under hormonal control and depending on whether a person's hormones are balanced or not, they can experience an overproduction of oil," says Dr. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist at New York's Wexler Dermatology. "Problems, like dandruff, can occur when there is an excess of oil production mixing with a build-up of dead skin on the scalp." If you plan on changing your shampoo routine, Dr. Fusco recommends finding a product or method that not only cleans your scalp but also removes dead skin as well as surface oils.

Keep in mind that the transition will take some patience and commitment. One of the first steps: "Take it slow. Don't cut out shampoo cold turkey," says Stevie Van Horn, a lifestyle blogger and sustainability influencer who's been shampoo-free for nearly three years. "I would start by slowly using shampoo less frequently and brush your hair often to release the oils from your scalp and distribute them. Our hair produces its own conditioner, we just have to open our pores up again." Though there will be greasy days along the way, Van Horn simply says: "Embrace it! Make it work by slicking your hair into a nice top bun, or wearing a hat on days you don't want to deal with it."


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