Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pretty Stinky People

I’m four months into the no-shampoo, no face wash experiment, to healthy results. The face part has been fantastic, actually: My skin has balanced out nicely, and even this extraordinarily dry winter isn’t causing any major flakiness. I’m using a serum on my face morning and night (anti-aging! this 1976 baby says it’s time!) and a tinted moisturizer instead of foundation, and so far so good. My face is perenially shiny and while the no-washing hasn’t helped, it hasn’t hurt. Nary a pimple in sight.

Hair has been a bit more problematic. There’s no question that my hair does not look squeaky-clean, and I eye those shiny-haired girls with envy—o, to have that utterly breezy feeling again! That said, it usually doesn’t look dirty either. The texture has changed for the better; it appears thicker and fuller, with more volume (and without any effort on my part). I blush to report that it has been called “luxurious.” The roots look oily, which I combat by sprinkling dry shampoo—or, more often, arrowroot starch (which, unlike baby powder, doesn’t make my hair look white)--through it.

I’ve largely kept mum about my experiment. And here’s why: I met up with a friend from high school recently, one I hadn’t seen for six years. After about 10 minutes of catching up, he said that my hair looked fantastic: “It’s a New York thing, right? You always have a perfect blowout?” (I’ve never had a blowout in my life.) I told him I hadn’t washed my hair in four months, and he wrinkled his nose. “I’m going to sit over there now, okay?” He was teasing, of course (I think?) but the fact is that was his reaction, and I know it’s a lot of other people’s reactions too.

I missed this story—about what seems to be people who have access to showers not showering--when it first came out. No great loss, as there’s no newsworthiness here whatsoever. I like Virginia’s take over at Beauty Schooled Project: It’s “newsworthy” because these people are unassailably attractive.
I started out joking about all the pretty people in the article, but it’s also no accident that the NYT managed to find such fresh-faced beauties to be the spokespeople of Team Dirty. If they’d shown a bunch of older, less conventionally attractive, or — God forbid! — fat people, they couldn’t even have done the story. Because unattractive people not smelling great is not news.

So when I tell people that I’ve given up washing my hair and face, I immediately invite them to judge not only my cleanliness but my attractiveness. It reminds me of the time a magazine I was working at was doing a staff celebrity lookalike bit, and I reported that a professor had once told me, “There’s something about you that reminds me of Jack Palance.” It was funny in its absurdity; still, a photo assistant came over to take a snapshot of me to show the editor-in-chief “because we need to show her that you’re pretty enough for us to make a joke about you looking like Jack Palance.” (What if I hadn’t been?) 


Jack Palance.

About 1/3 of people I’ve told about the no-wash plan get all, “That’s AWESOME” and want to know more specifics. Another 1/3 don’t think it’s news. But the last third gives me this look of—not quite disgust; these are friends, after all—but of wariness and distance, as though I’m then going to tell them my recipe for making my own maxipads out of old copies of Mother Jones. Yet nobody I’m close to—the people I’m hugging, kissing, sitting next to at work—has mentioned or even hinted that perhaps this experiment should come to a quiet close. I’m choosing to believe that the wary folks are simply jealous with all the time I now spend eating bonbons, the poor hair-dryer slaves.


  1. I am loving your blog Autumn! I've been going back every few days to read up on what I've missed! Loved this post. I have ALWAYS had oily hair that I had to wash every day. Couldn't even take a shower in the evening & get up & go in the AM because my hair is so fine, just sleeping on it causes it to get oily & stick up (it's also short). Then I had a hair dresser convince me to not shampoo my hair every day. That, contrary to popular marketing the constant shampooing is what was making my hair oily. Bingo! I have experimented & she has a valid point. I have since switch to not shampooing daily, but rinsing and experimenting also with homemade shampoo & even baking soda (easy & cheap). And I have tried the dry arrowroot powder in-between. Not too shabby. Thanks for taking it even an extra step & sharing the results & people's reactions.

  2. P.S. I saved that magazine issue w/ you and Jack! :)

  3. I love that your hairdresser told you to not shampoo every day--a clue that she cares about your hair and not about shilling a product to you...

    At some point I may start "shampooing" again, but with baking soda--very curious!

    Thank you for swinging by! I'm so glad you like the blog!

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