Is Shampoo Necessary? Curly Hair Guide to Shampoos and Clean Hair.

Shampoo! It’s a controversial word in the world of curly hair. There is even a whole language that revolves around different ways to shampoo: pre-poo, no-poo, co-washing, etc.

People with curly hair tend to fall in one of these two groups:

1: Team No Poo. It sounds gross but it literally means no shampoo is used at all. Often a conditioner is used to clean the hair i.e. co-wash.

2: Team Yes Poo. Not really a catch-phrase, but it’s a nice contrast to no-poo. In this group, shampoos are used on an occasional or regular basis to clean the hair.

Before we get into whether shampoo is useful or necessary, let’s take a moment to discuss their purpose and how they work.

Purpose of Shampoo

“It’s goal is to remove build-up from hair without stripping it of sebum” (source: Wikipedia). Sebum is a natural substance that is released from the hair follicle. It lubricates the hair providing it with a protective layer. In curly hair, the sebum tends to get stuck at the roots and has difficulty traveling down the strands, due to the shape of curly hair.

How Shampoo Works

There are articles and books dedicated to this. To keep it short and sweet, most shampoos function via surfactants that are negatively charged. When added to your hair, shampoos lift the cuticle and the molecules of the surfactant capture oil and dirt. As the shampoo is rinsed off, dirt is pulled away from your hair. Once rinsed from the strands the hair will have a slight negative charge. And because opposites attract, the negative charge of shampoos allow the positively charged conditioners to cling to the hair, lubricate it and protect it.

That explanation is a very brief overview of a very complicated process. However, the question remains, are shampoos necessary for curly hair or are they all evil sebum and curl destroyers?

Do We Really Need Shampoo?

I’d say yes and no, to whether we need shampoos. Yes, because we need something to clean our hair of residue and build-up. No, because there are alternatives to shampoo that can provide gentle cleansing.

To start, not all shampoos were created equal. Some surfactants, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, are very harsh and strip the hair of all its natural oils and goodness. For curly hair, which tends to be dryer, this is not a desired ingredient in shampoo. That doesn’t mean one has to exclude shampoos from their shower routine. There are milder surfactants that gently cleanse the hair without drying it out, such as decyl glucoside, cocamidopropyl betaine, etc.

Alternatives to Shampoo

In addition, there are also natural alternatives to shampoo that cleanse effectively. If you visit Blossom’s shop, you will notice there are no shampoos listed on the product page. This does not mean Blossom is anti-shampoo. In fact, I am in the process of developing a gentle cleansing, herbal shampoo.

I don’t advocate over-use of shampoos, rather a use of alternative cleansers, and “traditional” shampoos when necessary. Blossom offers a clay wash as an alternative to traditional shampoos. Clays, like shampoos, have a negative charge and cling to any positive charge on the hair. They also absorb toxins and heavy metals. For this reason, clay washes are effective for curly hair. In fact, people have been using them for centuries to clean their hair. The problem happens when the hair is coated with layers of gel and styling products. Hair that is heavily coated with silicones and other styling aids, benefit from alternating between shampoos and clay washes.

alternatives to shampoo, clay hair wash


Put Oats in My Hair?!

Here are a few alternatives to shampoo that studies show cleanse effectively:

  • soap
  • soap nuts
  • oat water (water removed from boiling oats for about 5-10 minutes)

All three of these ingredients are naturally high in saponins and produce a lather when mixed with water.

Soap can work as a shampoo, with certain precautions, as it is naturally alkaline and has a high PH. It would be absolutely necessary to follow-up with an acidic product like conditioner, a vinegar rinse or aloe vera. In addition, in regions with hard water it can be difficult to get a good lather and the hard water combined with soap can result in deposits left on the hair. Again, a vinegar rinse would help with this issue.

Besides natural alternatives, many people who don’t use shampoo “no-poo” say conditioners effectively cleanse their hair. However, conditioner molecules are generally too big to be absorbed by the hair as they are formulated to coat the hair and lubricate it.

To Poo or Not to Poo?

I think that skipping shampoo sometimes is okay. Especially for those who are not using a ton of styling products. However, I do believe the hair should be cleansed, whether with a shampoo or clay wash, regularly.

For most people, deciding whether to shampoo or condition or both, relates to how the hair feels. If your hair feels limp, weighed down and sticky, chances are it could use a good cleanse to give it a fresh start.

How do you cleanse your hair? Do you use shampoo or alternative methods? Do you consider yourself team “no-poo” or “yes-poo” or somewhere in between?

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