No-Poo and Co-washing: should we really ban shampoo?

No shampooBan shampoos from out bathrooms. This is the goal of the no-poo movement, that blames shampoos for the numerous chemicals they contain and proposes a complete ban as an alternative.

What is the no-poo movement

No-Poo was started in recent years in the United States and has gained some traction also in other Countries. Among its proponents there are many stars, the most famous of which would be Brad Pitt. According to No-Pooers, we should get our bathrooms rid of shampoos.
The reason behind such a radical position is that shampoos remove the natural grease produced by our scalp, also known as sebum, starting a vicious circle in doing so.
In their view, once sebum has been removed by a shampoo, our scalp would produce even more of that in order to compensate the loss, therefore our hair would become greasy and dirty sooner and quicker, pushing people to have another shampoo and so on.
Washing hair without shampoo, their argument goes, would naturally regulate sebum production.
On their website, they also bring around some historical reasons for their claims. Shampoos have become common only very recently, the very first synthetical shampoos were created in the 30es and have become regularly used only in the 70es.
There is even a scientific research called “Packing for Mars”, whose details can be found on the Wikipedia page of the movement, that support their thesis, stating that sebum production would naturally halt between 5 and 7 days after giving up shampoos.
However, there is no other scientific evidence, beside this study conducted in the Soviet Union.

Co-washing and other alternatives to shampoo

Purists would use only water, but many have come up with alternatives such as baking soda, apple vinegar and coconuts oil. The British blogger Lucy Aitken has decided to use such methods not only for herself, but also for her daughters, as she explains in her book “Happy hair – The definitive guide to giving up shampoo”. To avoid harmful shampoo components she is washing the hair of her offspring with a mix of eggs and vinegar.
Another apparently popular alternative to shampoo is baking soda.
However, not everyone is so radical. Some people resorted to the “Low Poo” method, that entails shampoo only once a month or so.
Another trend is the so-called “Co-Washing”, for Conditioner Washing. Although it can be counted among the No-Poos methods, as it also proposes a shampoo ban, it is actually very different from what we have seen so far.
The inventor of this method is the famous New York hair stylist Lorraine Massay, author of “Curly hair – The Handbook”, a book dedicated to people with curly or frizzy hair.
In her book, Massay also suggests to ban shampoos, because of their high content of surface-active substances, and puts forward her idea of washing hair using only conditioner, seen as less harmful and still enough for proper cleaning.

The reasons of No-Pooers and the concerns about chemical products

No pooers blame the chemicals inside shampoos, such as Sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant considered quite aggressive, that could damage the follicle while working to remove dirt.
This thesis is supported by a research of the Environmental Working Group, that has reviewed the components of around 42 thousand personal care products, finding that every shampoo has got at least one chemical component that may raise concerns.
It is also true though, that the same Wikipedia page quotes statements of specialists confirming that quantities used in shampoos are safe for human health.
No-Pooers also add that shampoos also come into highly polluting plastic packaging, stop using shampoos and also this problem is solved.

Doubts on this method

Many dermatologists cast some doubts on the benefit of such an approach and several articles exist on the internet about the risks of not washing hair properly and how this could lead to fungus, microbes, peeling and dandruff.
In their view, water alone is not enough to remove the excess of sebum that would therefore remain inside the follicle with negative impacts.
On the same wavelength also the Spanish association of dermatology, who states clearly that replacing shampoo with water, baking soda or vinegar is dangerous.
Particularly baking soda, because of its PH more alkaline than our scalp, could lead to itching, irritations and, ultimately, even bleaching.

My opinion about this method

This post has been triggered by a reader of LipstickPost, Ludovica, whose question I will try to answer here below.

About the statement “shampoo was not there in the past”

I don’t buy into the justification that “our ancestors did not use shampoo”. I don’t think that the personal hygiene and the health of our ancestors is a standard we want to achieve.
Sometimes we may think that life used to be better once upon a time, but this is mostly just imagination.
In this particular context, I have got confirmation by my ninety-years-old grandmother, that has come to know poverty and now greatly appreciates modern hygiene standards and habits.

About the production of sebum by our scalp

As someone with a scalp that tends to be oily, I just can’t ignore warnings of experts pointing at the risks of this method for an healthy scalp.
It is true that some people claim they have been following this method for years and never reported any issue, however, my opinion is that every one of us may be different and neglecting experts’ advice might not be wise.

Sezione del cuoio capelluto. Photo: Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sezione del cuoio capelluto. Photo: Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
About dangerous chemical components

Before even starting to talk about this topic, I want to make clear that I am not in favor of campaigning against this or that substance trying to attract some easy clicks.
For instance, everybody is familiar with the campaign against palm oil.
My opinion is that such discussion should be well elaborated, like is the case here and here, in these articles of scientific journalist Alice Pace.

All of this is to say that, even if warning about potentially harmful content is praiseworthy, No-Pooers should put together some more scientific evidence to support their criticism.
Its a fact, anyways, that is this type of campaigns that helps the awareness of consumers.
Personally, I don’t think shampoos’ producers have an interest in putting harmful products on the market.
European Union regulation impose that “Cosmetic products should be safe under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use. In particular, a risk-benefit reasoning should not justify a risk to human health” (Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on cosmetic products).
The EU market is one of the most regulated worldwide when it comes to cosmetic products; over 1300 substances are forbidden as they are considered unsafe, as everyone can find out by having a look at the EU public database (ingredients database) of the ingredients contained in our cosmetic products.
Having said that, the critical eye of consumers associations cannot be done away with, as new products can go to the market without previous authorization.
EU laws impose respect of rules and regulations to the producers, and relevant authorities are supposed to control afterwards.



Giornalista, blogger e video editor. Dopo aver vissuto in Italia e Germania, si è trasferita in Svizzera, a Ginevra. Nel 2015 fonda LipstickPost dove scrive di bellezza, viaggi, alimentazione e lifestyle.

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