The Problem with the No Poo Method
If you google “no poo method” you’ll get testimonials about the miraculous results of this hair care method. The before and after pictures were enough to convince me to try the baking soda and ACV. Although I only used the No Poo method for about two months, it did take a toll on my hair. My scalp was getting flaky and irritated and my hair felt slightly brittle.
When I posted that I was trying the no ‘poo method on Facebook, many of you wrote that baking soda had actually ruined your hair. Curious–and scared–I began researching. Evidently, baking soda is very alkaline and, although it may make hair soft in the beginning, it will overtime damage hair. This is the reason the No Poo method fails for many people: it is not pH balanced for the scalp or hair.
One dermatologist wrote 3 Reasons Why Baking Soda and ACV Destroy Your Hair:
With a pH of 9 – one hundred times more basic than water – baking soda is a known alkaline irritant (Journal of Cutaneous Pathology, 1989). According to renowned dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D., “The first principle of shampooing: make sure your shampoo says it is pH-balanced and avoid those that are alkaline. Alkaline shampoos strip the hair’s natural oils and disrupt the acid mantle, causing dehydration and leading to porous, fragile hair.” (The DermaDoctor SkinStruction Manual, 2005) SOURCE
While I don’t agree with the product plug at the end of her article, she does bring up good points. Namely: don’t use harsh ingredients on your hair, even if they are from your kitchen cabinet.
Recently, Robin at Thank Your Body shared the importance of using a pH balanced shampoo. Like me, she was using a natural but very alkaline replacement for regular shampoo: castile soap. A reader commented and explained why these alkaline substances at first soften hair but then make it dry and brittle:
Using highly alkaline solutions on your hair (baking soda, bronners soaps, etc.) though it feels soft and manageable that is really the disulfide bonds in your internal hair structure being weakened by the alkaline solution… To then bring your hair down to it’s proper pH a acidic solution (apple cider vinegar) when using a alkalinic cleanser is used, this is called clarifying. This dual process is not healthy for your hair or your scalp. — Amanda, a TYB reader.
Can baking soda or vinegar be used on the hair?
Due to the strong alkalinity of baking soda, I believe it has no place in hair care. The basic pH of baking soda can damage hair even when it is followed by the acidic vinegar. Many would disagree with me, because they have fantastic results with the No Poo Method. My goal is not to demonize No Poo here, because if it works for some people, then more power to them. But if you aren’t having success with No Poo, it’s not your fault because the baking soda is harsh! So if you want an alternative to the No Poo method, I would encourage you to explore the holistic hair care options I discuss below.
But what about raw apple cider vinegar? Since a healthy scalp is slightly acidic, between 4.5 – 5.5, a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse can be safely used. Dilute 1 – 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 1/2 cup of water to create this rinse. The gentle acidity of this rinse helps promote a balanced scalp and can prevent the common fungal overgrowth which leads to dandruff.
My raw haircare routine
My natural hair care journey has been a long and adventurous one, as I tried the No Poo Method, then various other DIY hair care recipes, then ACV rinsing. I went more than a year without purchasing shampoo. I was ready for a change and, quite frankly, was ready for the convenience of a pre-prepared shampoo.
Finally, I found 100% raw hair care products that met my holistic philosophy – including balancing the pH of the scalp. I was delighted by my results, and I shared my experience with this haircare line here.
Do you use homemade hair care? Have you used the no ‘poo method?
The ratio’s for the ACV rinse you list are still way too concentrated, thus too acid! (Vinegar’s pH is between 2-3). I’ve tested it with pH strips and the maximum amount of vinegar in one cup of water (150 ml) was one teaspoon (5 ml). This brings it to a pH of 4.
Using too concentrated ACV vinegar destroyed my hair so badly I had to cut it short. So watch out!
I do no poo but by no-poo I mean this: I usually just rinse my hair well in warm water and it will be nice and clean. Even after getting really sweaty. In the winter if it is a little dry, I rub some coconut oil between my palms and smooth it on the dry part . Just a tiny bit bcs. my hair is fine and colored from dark brown to blonde so it is a bit delicate and could become greasy easily if I use too much coconut oil. If my hair has hair products like hairspray in it, it might need some help getting them out. In those cases I use WEN. Wen is wonderful and although the distributor was sued, anyone can be sued and in the end, nothing was demonstrated to say it was harmful, and they basically paid off some greedy people to make them go away. At first, I had to use a lot of the Wen, because my hair was absorbing it (I know, hard to imagine, but stick with me here), but after a couple of times using it, and marveling at how healthy my hair had become, I used only a little bit at a time. My hair went from feeling like brittle cotton candy on the last 3 inches to feeling heavier and even cool to the touch, unlike cotton candy, because it was moist all the way to the ends. I don’t mean wet I just mean not like parched hay. It has also saved me a ton of money because I don’t need to buy other products for in the shower. Try it, you will love it. I have been using it for 10 years and it gives me so many more options with my hair. Without it, my hair would never endure the chemical treatments I subject it to.
It was such an amazing article. But form my point of view the product I am using conditioner for dry hairis really effective. It will improve your hairs for sure so try it once people SheaMoisture’s Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo is a gentle cleanser enriched with certified organic raw shea butter which provides deep conditioning to dry, damaged hair.
Where do we find this shampoo?
walmart, target, kroger any grocery store really. its in the curly hair section.
Thanks so much for this post, i was wondering if anyone can give me any insight on this !!
Hey I happened to have to used to much baking soda on my hair. About two years ago I washed my hair with about 3 table spoons and half a cup of water, I completely misread someones instructions and it completely destroyed my hair. The weird thing is my hair has been destroyed for about 2 years still, had hair cuts in between and my hair is still insanely dry, brittle, thin,fine and stringy. Could this much baking soda have cause permanent hair damage to the scalp or hair follicles. Would my scalps pH have balanced out by now, or if not would this possibly be fixed by washing with ACV. I have had my blood checked multiple times and dermatologists don’t think I have MPB. I definitely think my on going hair problems still comes back to the baking soda! My bloods fine btw.
In a similar situation I turned to coconut oil and drops of rosemary oil. over time my hair softened and got stronger.
Oh you poor thing 🙁 Have you tried consuming hair-helping foods like grass-fed beef gelatin/collagen powders, bone broth (containing collagen) to help strengthen your hair again?
I use horse chestnut water mixed with flax seed gel and herbs as shampoo, coconut oil as pre-wash conditioner and rhassoul clay as a deep cleanse once every 2nd month. I love these homemade products and finely I find my hair soft and manageable. Regular shampoos and conditioners have always got my hair to feel like sandpaper.
What can I use to replace baking soda since it’s so alkaline? Something slightly acidic of course, right? I haven’t started this yet but I would like to use something from the kitchen to replace baking soda.
Jean E Lane
I have been using No-Poo for about 6 months. I’m relatively happy with it except for the time involved. I keep my hair very short so I’m sure this has something to do with it. I had very oily hair for over 50 years. I started shampooing daily as a teen. I never stopped until I started with the no-poo method. For that I am grateful. But I am looking forward to going back to a “normal” shampoo. I may give your recommendation a try. But I do prefer the convenience of shopping at a store instead of online!
That one method is NOT the only no-poo method. Many people use the baking soda and vinegar method to transition to no-poo, but it is ultimately damaging. There are many different categories of no-poo, including OH poo. Check out the low-poo and no-poo hair care group on Facebook! It taught me a lot.
What if its build up pretty bad that its thick on your head
Great article. I tried bicarb soda a couple of times a few years ago when I was transitioning to natural living, and it made my hair feel instantly brittle and dry. Yuck! So I ditched it, thankgod, and found alternatives. I’ve been using an ACV and rosemary ‘tea’ as shampoo/conditioner and it seems ok. But I always have a very dry scalp and I’m not convinced it’s caused by what I put on my skin but more so my gut health. I’ve tried periods of using 100% natural Alaffia brand shampoo and conditioners with no change so I’m back on the ACV rosemary rinse but only use it once a week or so. I only use olive oil on my hair now but not at the roots as it becomes too oily. So I think the ACV diluted is good and bicarb is definitely nasty! Think of how it cleans a sink!!