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Conventional wisdom says those with dry or brittle hair should use a smoothing shampoo and conditioner to combat frizz. But what if traditional shampoos and conditioners are the problem?

Increasing research shows that some of the harsher ingredients in hair-washing products may make your hair look great at first, but contribute to dryness over time.

For the last several years, the “no poo” movement has been growing and growing. If you’re curious about ditching shampoo, read on to find out how to achieve great hair without the damaging effects of regular shampoos and conditioners.

Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.

That’s why we rely on a diverse group of writers, educators, and other experts to share their tips on everything from the way product application varies to the best sheet mask for your individual needs.

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Healthline

When people want to wash their hair without using shampoo, it doesn’t mean they want to avoid cleaning their hair.

This usually means people want to try a different substance to rid their hair of dirt and grime and to avoid stripping it of good and natural oils. It may also mean they want to avoid using fewer unnatural chemicals.

Over the last several years, many have started using products like co-washes, which are conditioners designed to both soften and clean the hair.

Traditional shampoo may work for some hair types, but for those with frizzy or naturally dry hair, the cleansing ingredients in shampoo may make hair woes worse.

Many shampoos contain sulfates and silicones. These ingredients make a shampoo foam and leave your hair feeling clean and glossy, but over time, they may also dry it out.

Recently, many have switched to co-washes, washing with just conditioner, or using household items like apple cider vinegar and baking soda. These products sufficiently clean hair, but will keep more of its natural moisture intact.

Some people also turn to a no-shampoo lifestyle due to concerns over parabens in cosmetic products. That said, there’s no scientific evidence that proves parabens, in the amounts used in hair care products, are harmful to your health.

There are several non-shampoo products you can buy in the beauty aisles, plus a few DIY methods you can cook up in your own kitchen.

Co-wash

A co-wash is a conditioner that is formulated to also clean the hair. Co-washes are also called cleansing conditioners. They hold the conditioning properties of regular conditioners.

Co-washes used to be limited to beauty supply stores and specialty suppliers, but more and more drugstore brands are beginning to make them.

Some brands even make a “low poo” hair cleanser, which is a shampoo with a reduced amount of suds-producing ingredients.

Co-washes are a popular option among beauty bloggers. These products may be effective for those with natural, textured, or relaxed hair, or for those trying to repair any heat damage to their hair.

Conditioner

Some also say that simply using your favorite conditioner can help combat shampoo-imparted dryness. However, this can also lead to product buildup over time.

Apple cider vinegar

Beauty bloggers and influencers have sworn by this method, going back several years. While it’s a multistep (and often multimonth) process, plenty of people say that washing your hair with a combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar can miraculously transform tough, tired tresses.

Apple cider vinegar can certainly clean things: Multiple studies have shown its antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

Another pro to this method is that it’s extremely easy to use. Here are some simple instructions for using an apple cider vinegar rinse:

  1. Simply mix 2 or 3 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar with water.
  2. Pour the mixture over your head in the shower.
  3. Let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Rinse out, and you’re done!

Simply start scaling back on the number of times you shampoo per week. For example, if you currently wash your hair every day, try shampooing only two or three times per week for a few weeks and see how your hair reacts before making the switch completely.

The biggest downside to stopping shampoo usage is that it can take a while to work its magic, and it takes much more scrubbing to get the grease out of your hair. Most brands recommend working the product into your scalp, section by section, before moving on to the rest of your hair. Make sure to rinse very thoroughly.

The product buildup that some shampoos deposit can also take a while to work all the way out, so you may need to stick with it through several washes to see a difference.

However, there’s no rule against using shampoo occasionally for a deeper clean or conditioning treatment for extra oomph. You also may want to keep a scalp scrub handy to tackle really greasy roots.

tl;dr

As you decrease your shampoo usage, your hair may actually feel greasier than usual for 2 to 3 weeks, but don’t be alarmed — that’s normal!

Healthline

Here are a few popular no poo products you may want to try at home:

  • Hairstory New Wash Original is a hair cleansing potion made from plant oils like jojoba seed and peppermint. It comes in different formulations for different hair types. It’s pricey, but many beauty mags say it’s worth it.
  • Unwash Bio-Cleansing Conditioner shows up on a lot of “best of” lists for co-washes, likely for its effectiveness and in-between price point. Unwash makes a range of co-washes for different hair types and needs.
  • DevaCurl Low-Poo Original is a happy medium between co-wash and shampoo. It gives a little lather but is still silicone- and sulfate-free.
  • Cantu Complete Conditioning Co-Wash is a gentle wash that removes scalp buildup and softens the hair with butters and oils that keep hair happy. Cantu is a popular and easy-to-find brand of tried-and-true products for curly or coarse hair.
  • dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse adds proteins to keep hair strong, plus vitamin E and fatty acids to give your hair suppleness.

A shampoo and conditioner hair care routine works for many people. But for those with naturally dry hair, traditional hair cleaning products — shampoo especially — can dry hair over time.

Switching to a shampoo-free lifestyle and turning to products like co-washes or a conditioner-only regimen may be the secret to softer, more manageable hair.


Jody Amable is a freelance writer and editor from the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in music and subcultures. Her work has been seen in KQED Arts, Atlas Obscura, and local weeklies.