I’ve stopped washing my hair. And my face, for that matter. The inspiration was an episode of Mad Men in which an unseen character is reputed to not wash her face, but she’s French so it’s obviously good advice. (Thus proving that the national girl-crush on French women went back at least to the ’60s.) It reminded me of something I'd heard once -- that if you entirely stopped washing your hair, after a few greasy weeks a small miracle would occur atop your head; oils from your scalp would work their way down your strands to protect them and lend a glossy sheen, and your hair would then have reverted to its original, intended condition. Or something.
One of my more feline preferences is that I detest showering -- I do it, but it always feels like a chore, and its pain-in-assiness factor is exponentially increased every time I have to wash and dry my hair. Plus, I’m mostly working from home these days, so if my unwashed-face-and-hair plan were to wind up making me resemble a calzone, embarrassment would be minimal. So a month ago, I swore off shampoo and face washes. I use a boar-bristle brush frequently, as it’s supposed to help with the miracle part of this whole no-washing thing, and I’ve also rinsed it twice in water; I splash my face twice a day with lukewarm water.
Surprisingly -- or unsurprisingly, depending on whom you’re asking -- I look fine. My skin looks better, if anything, but really just looks the same; my scalp looks greasy sometimes but it’s nothing a quick brush, hair powder, or updo can’t fix, depending on its severity. The hair itself looks better than ever; it magically places itself exactly as it was cut, with no styling necessary.
The real surprise, though, is how smug I’ve found myself about it. It’s not simply feeling pleased that I’ve freed myself of some beauty labor; it’s that I feel self-satisfied to a degree that surpasses how one should ever feel about one’s hair. I’m enthralled with the idea that by doing absolutely nothing, I manage to bypass all these beauty systems and look exactly the same. Behold the ne’er-washed scalp – quiver at my sebum! I alone see the forest through the trees of toners, moisturizers, cleaners, foams, and conditioners – I alone see the folly of the industry!
Except I’m not alone. When I Googled “not washing hair” and “cleaning hair without water,” I was stunned by the number and intensity of people who’ve dabbled in the realm of the unwashed. There’s a woman who, years after writing an article about the “no-’poo” method, returns to answer questions from commenters. There’s the 213-page discussion on the Long Hair Community forum, which features a litter of vaguely creepy userpics of long-haired women photographed from behind. Their inspiration seems to be Penny Weynberg, who hasn’t washed her hair for 11 years and claims it’s now as “soft as dog fur.” That's not counting the HuffPo blogger, the folks in the Times article, and various British columnists. They take a sort of defiant, proud stance, posing theories about the body’s natural equilibrium and animal fur. They have to say it loudly: They’re not dirty even if they’re unwashed; they’re, in fact, possibly cleaner than you, with your overproduction of scalp oils and chemical conditioners. They have to say it loudly because if they don’t, then they’re just dirty, and nobody will want to sit next to them at lunch, grody grody grosspants.
I’m tempted to become one of the no-’poo evangelists (and indeed simply by writing here, I suppose I am), but it seems a little to me like those slim actresses who jabber on about how it’s totally genetic and they, like, love cheeseburgers and never work out. But I look at the incessant interest these people have in their own lack of shampooing, and I wonder what sort of need it’s fulfilling. For the women on the forums in particular, the amount of discussion surrounding the no-wash method seems to surpass that of conventional hair care. It’s like there’s a certain amount of time and energy that must be devoted to our tresses, and once the actual hair-washing is skipped, the discussion of the absence of hair-washing takes its place. Participants talk of “preening” their strands, break down various scalp-massage methods step-by-step, and test water temperatures for optimizing rinses. They use acronyms particular to the method: SO for sebum-only, WO for water-only, ACV for something I can’t imagine. They assure one another that they’re not “cheating” if they use an herbal rinse on occasion.
There seems to be a sort of disciplinary aspect to these communities, a proud self-flagellation in the face of having found a way around the time normally spent washing and drying one’s hair. Do we really want to be released from the bonds of beauty? I’ve found that while overall I’ve saved time by not shampooing, I’m also peacocking in front of the mirror more. I’ve started carrying my boar-bristle brush in my purse and find myself calculating activities based on its affect on my hair (“I’m working out tonight so it’s a good night for a rinse”), something that I didn’t do before. It actually reminds me of the paleolithic movement. A friend of mine has “gone paleo,” eating raw meat, volunteering to help people move because that’s how cavement stayed in shape or something, going on barefoot runs through Central Park, etc. It’s helped her lose weight, has cleared up her skin, and has rid her of depression—this after years of veganism, so it’s not as if she was walking around in a McDonald’s daze before going paleo. As she spoke, I did indeed see a glow come over her, but I suspect it was less due to raw meat and more because she had discovered a sort of shortcut to the tangible benefits of good health promised by every blaring magazine cover. It’s basically the Atkins diet from what I can tell, but whereas Atkins sounds old-fashioned and dangerous, the caveman diet sounds old-fashioned and totally fucking awesome. There’s something appealing about the idea that by going out on a primordial limb, you can magically wind up ahead of the game and can loll about at the finish line while the vegans, South Beachers, 5-A-Dayers, and master cleanse folks gasp their way to you.
Or, in my case, I can sit atop my shampoo-free perch and watch as other denizens of the beauty game fret about conditioners and gels, knowing all the while that my hair magically creates its own mousse.