I stopped using shampoo (and conditioner) two years ago.
Quitting mostly happened on accident, but now that I’ve seen just how unnecessary shampoo ever was to my hair’s health and appearance, I don’t see myself ever going back.
I explained how this experiment started and some of the initial results in my first post, and now that it’s been two years I wanted to expand more on what I’ve learned and seen related to not using shampoo. Luckily, at least a dozen of my friends have tried this as well since my first article, so I have a bit more data to reference.
Quitting shampoo is fairly simple… you just stop. I know it’s tempting to think you need special products, or natural remedies, or a shaman to come bless your hair or something, but you don’t. You just stop using it.
The hard part is the adaptation period. Depending on how long your hair is, how good your diet is, how well you’re sleeping, how naturally oily your hair is, and other health related factors, your hair could take anywhere from one week to over a month to adjust.
During that time, your hair gets oily, flat, greasy, smells bad, your scalp gets itchy, and you’re generally not all that pleasant to look at. This is why most people give up. You’ll get self conscious around one week into it, think “Nat must have been wrong” and scurry back to the shower to chemically assault your hair into compliance.
But if you can wait out the adaptation period, your hair will adjust and you’ll reach the point of just needing to rinse it with water every day or three to keep it looking nice.
And when you do make it through that period, you’ll probably notice a few effects that I’ve noticed and that my adapted friends have reported as well:
The biggest one is that your hair gets healthier. It has better color to it, isn’t as dry or brittle if that’s an issue for you, and stays healthy looking for longer than shampoo-adapted hair.
Now that it’s been so long since I stopped, I can easily go 2-4 days without rinsing it without a noticeable hit to its appearance. When I was using shampoo it would start to look greasy and get oily once I hit the ~20-24 hour mark since shampooing it.
Now, the only negative effect from not rinsing it for a few days is that my scalp gets itchy. But if I’m rinsing every day, my scalp never gets itchy, hair never gets dry, and it never starts to look oily.
I still use product to style my hair, but I only need a quarter or less of the amount I used before. I can manipulate it into the same shape more easily, and it’ll keep that shape for longer than it would back when I was shampooing it.
It seems that most people who quit shampoo also see their hair get more voluminous. I think this is because conditioner in particular can make your hair soft and flat, and by cutting out the product your hair naturally gets thicker again.
This is also part of why my hair became easier to style. It was less flat, which made it easier to work with.
Here’s a big one: once you stop shampooing and conditioning your hair, it will reveal your health. If you eat poorly, undersleep, stop exercising, get stressed out, your hair will show it. It’ll get darker, more oily, your scalp will get dryer, it’ll get unhealthier with you.
It makes sense. Our hair is a big signaling tool for showing potential mates how healthy and unhealthy we are, which is part of why we use shampoo to manipulate it into projecting health and youth. When you stop shampooing, you have to actually keep your health somewhat in line if you want to keep your hair looking nice.
This doesn’t mean that the moment you eat bad food or sleep six hours you’ll look like a mess, my hair still looks fine when I do that, but if I do it consistently for a week or longer I’ll start to notice my hair changing to reflect the poor life choices.
One effect that’s not good or bad is that your hair smells like, well, hair. It doesn’t smell nice and fruity anymore, but it also doesn’t smell bad so long as you rinse it. You could use a small amount of essential oil to scent it if that matters to you, though.
Since so many people have tried quitting shampoo, successfully or not, since my first article came out, I’ve realized a few of what I think are the finer details of quitting.
A few people who tried quitting shampoo were in college, partying, staying up all night, not showering that often, and otherwise not living super healthy lives. Their hair got really oily, then never really stopped being oily, and they ended up looking like a greasy mess for a month.
I think it’s harder for your hair to repair itself from the damage shampoo has done over the years if you’re not living a somewhat healthy life in tandem with this change. If you’re eating poorly and not sleeping, it’s going to be much harder for your hair to rejuvenate itself, so you should make sure you have those parts locked down before you make the switch.
Another common thread I’ve seen in people able to adapt and those unable is their willingness to use cold showers. There’s decent anecdotal evidence that hot water damages your hair and scalp, so until you’re fully adapted to not using shampoo, showing with exclusively hot water can slow down the process.
Now, the good news: I use hot water for most of my non-post-exercise showers now and it has no effect on my hair. The cold water seems to be necessary primarily during the adaptation phase, to make sure you’re not further challenging your hair while it adapts.
You don’t have to take completely cold showers, but you should at least rinse your hair in cold water at the end of the shower for a minute to help it recover.
Most men I’ve talked to have no problem making the transition. Their hair tends to rebound in 2-3 weeks, and then they’re good to go and haven’t used shampoo since.
Women seem to have more challenges with the switch. I’ve heard many more “tried it, didn’t work” stories from women readers, most of whom say their hair gets disgustingly greasy compelling them to give up after a week or two.
This is most likely caused by women simply having more hair. The more hair you have, the more hair that will need to adapt, the more oil that could be produced, the more greasy you can look. I suspect that if you have hair past your shoulders it could take over a month, if not months, to fully adapt.
So how can women implement this? One option would be to cut your hair shorter, adapt at the shorter length, and then let the adapted, healthier hair grow out. Another is to stick it out and wait for it to adjust (with lots of putting your hair in a bun in the meantime). A third option that I’ve heard can work is to use dry shampoo, moroccan oil, or some mixture of both to help supplement your hair’s health while you wait out the transition.
The last thing worth noting is that if, once you quit, your hair doesn’t look as nice as you’d like, lightly massaging your hair and scalp with moroccan oil, or olive oil, and then rinsing it out, can keep your scalp more moist and your hair looking shinier.
I don’t do this personally, but I know at least one friend who does (and who has very different hair from me) so it might help depending on your hair type.
From my experience quitting shampoo, there are a number of other hygiene products I think we can quit using, significantly decrease the use of, or use a much less intense version of. I’ve been working on removing or adjusting them in some form, which I’ll probably cover in a future article.
Ones that I’ve thought about so far:
If you’ve figured out how to reduce, replace, or quit any of the ones mentioned above while still getting the supposed benefits of using them, definitely let me know on Twitter. It’s something I’m particularly interested in and have thought about a lot.
Then consider joining the 19,000 other people getting the Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.