My cheap and non-toxic alternative to shampoo
Having been freaked out enough by the prevalence of damaging chemicals in most commercial shampoos (I’m looking at you, sodium laureth sulphate or SLS), I made the decision some time ago to stop using them. To be honest, I’ve always known that shampoos contain a plethora of chemicals, but it never really bothered me because I had always thought that anything I put on my skin (and hair and scalp) would just wash off harmlessly. After all, our skin is waterproof.
Wrong! Well, yes our skin and scalps are waterproof, but the chemicals we put on it still get absorbed through our skin. Once absorbed, these chemicals don’t just stay in the skin. They travel through our inner membranes and blood, and end up lodged in faraway organs. For example, SLS has been found in the heart, liver, lungs, brain and eyes from just skin contact **.
In other words — you don’t need to get shampoo in your eyes for it to end up in your eyeballs.
It was really the last one that really got me. Eyes. Let’s just say I freaked out. (Part of me is still freaking out over that. I mean, seriously. ) After that, the decision was made—I needed to stop putting chemicals on my body (since they inevitably end up in my body). There was no going back.
So the first thing I did was to go to my friendly neighbourhood pharmacy. They had walls of shampoo and conditioner. With so much choice, I thought there must be a few that didn’t contain SLS. There wasn’t even ONE. They all had SLS! Okay, so I thought maybe its just this store. All I needed to do was check out a different store, right? I did just that. This time, I had better luck.
I managed to find a shampoo that didn’t contain SLS tucked away in the baby care section. It was a special baby shampoo for little ones with sensitive skin. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ideal. The bottle was tiny and it cost 3 times more than regular shampoos. It also listed a ton of other chemicals besides SLS. I gave it up for a bad job and slunk back defeated, incredulous and very, very disturbed. Was there no hope?
Luckily the Internet saved me. After searching online for a while, I found there were many other people as freaked out about the chemical toxins in shampoos as I was. And I found alternatives I never even knew existed such as natural shampoo bars or liquid castile soap.
But in the end, I opted for the simplest and most sustainable method I found. It’s cheap, non-toxic, cleans my hair and scalp really well and best of all, I can find it in any supermarket or grocery store anywhere in the world.
What I use: Baking soda & Apple cider vinegar
Remember to use baking soda and not baking powder. Baking powder contains other ingredients on top of baking soda which isn’t ideal to put on your head.
The apple cider vinegar is optional, but I like to use it because vinegar works well to draw out excess oil. It also removes build-up and leaves a healthy shine when used as a rinse at the end. (You can also use white vinegar as a substitute to apple cider vinegar. )
How I do it
First, I dilute a little bit of apple cider vinegar in a small bowl I keep in my bathroom. 1 part vinegar to about 10 parts of water (you can experiment to get the right ratio for your own hair; it’s better to find what works for you as too much vinegar will lead to temporary hair dryness).
This makes about a cupful of very diluted vinegar. If you have short hair, you can make do with even less.
After first running my hair and scalp under water, I soak my scalp and roots with the diluted vinegar. It’s better to do this on wet hair, otherwise the vinegar solution will just run off the top of your head and won’t penetrate down through your hair and scalp. When dousing the vinegar water on your scalp, remember that diluted vinegar is still vinegar and it will sting, so mind your eyes. I just close my eyes and wash my face after when doing this.
I leave this in for a while, about 1- 2 minutes. The wait is just to give the vinegar time to work through my scalp and pull out the oil and dirt—which the next step will take care of.
Using the same bowl (now empty) I pour a generous handful of baking soda in. I add in a little water, and mix it enough with my fingers so that it has the consistency of a thick paste. You can also use more water to make a watery mixture. This will work just as well and can be easier to work with. Just shake the mixture before you use as the baking soda will settle to the bottom.
With this paste on my fingers, I work it through my scalp. The idea is to use the mixture as a scrub to remove dead skin, oil and dirt on the scalp. This is easier to do if you have done the apple cider soak first as apple cider vinegar is very good at pulling that stuff up. However, you can also do this without it.
Working the paste through the scalp takes a bit of practice, and the first few times, I was a little awkward. It also felt strange because I was so used to foam and bubbles. But I kept with it and I now have a very good technique of working through the baking soda paste thoroughly and all over my scalp. I do section by section (which is how hairdressers shampoo hair at the salon if you think about it).
When I’m done, I wash it all off.
Then I’ll do another rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar again (very quickly this time and not leaving it in to soak) and then wash my hair in cold water. I do this as it makes my hair smooth and shiny. A commenter Lydia also mentioned that this would normalise the pH of our scalps, and I like the sound of that.
Trust me, you don’t need foam or bubbles to get something clean. That’s just something we’ve been programmed to believe. And who benefits from that belief? Commercial shampoo makers and corporations. What do we get in return? Sodium laureth sulfate in our eyeballs. (Good grief.)
My totally awesome results
With just baking soda and some apple cider vinegar, I now have cleaner, healthier hair that looks better and is more manageable. I also notice that without all the gunk and chemicals from shampoo, my hair doesn’t get dirty as quickly as it used to. It looks and feels so much better.
Dandruff is also practically non-existent for me now, whereas before I’d always have to be on the lookout for it. I thought it was normal for people to have dandruff based on all the anti-dandruff commercials I saw! And now I think the companies peddling the dandruff solution were selling the cause of it as well… Sigh.
And while my previous hair cleaning regime had always included conditioner just to make my hair feel smooth, I’ve discovered that I just don’t need any now. It’s remarkable how soft and silky my hair feels and I know that it’s actually the natural, healthy state.
What’s also great about this natural hair-cleaning method is that when I travel, I don’t need to pack shampoo into those tiny little bottles anymore. Yay!
** Our bodies are amazing. It will do its best to clean SLS from our systems, but it takes about 5 days. And since most people shampoo a couple of times a week, that means SLS is always in their systems and organs.