Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stealth Shampoo!

If you've been following this blog, you know that I haven't shampooed my hair since September 2010. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that I've happily extended into months of research. I've heard from people who wash their hair with olive oil, goat's milk soap, herbal rinses, and baking soda. I've read of spending every night manually coating your hair strands with your own sebum (I'll say it: Ew! Sebum is great but a gross word!), making your own dry shampoo with kaolin clay, and "hair perfumes." Some of you have joined me, Hair Warriors that you are! Some of you have served as beacons, guiding we newcomers through the dark desert of the unknown. Some of you have been warily admiring. Some of you have been just wary.

Whatever you think of the project, please, let us pause and give my sebum (sorry!) coated strands a warrior's rest. For deep in the annals of Queens, a stealth shampoo has been committed.

As far as luxuries go, the only thing I love more than public baths (um, the Ottoman kind, not a sponge bath at Port Authority) is a sauna. And the only thing I love more than a sauna is beer. And the only thing I love more than beer is a massage.

So basically, I had no choice but to celebrate turning 35 by a visit to Spa Castle, which is, indeed, a castle, one full of public baths, and saunas, and beer, and massages. Immersive water-jet foot baths, gold-plated saunas (and six more sauna huts, including salt, mud, jade, and color therapy lights), Korean-style body scrubs, jet-ball water neck massages, and a wade-up bar: For $45 (with additional fees for the treatments and vittles), you have unlimited daylong access to all of this.

I'd be embarrassed at how awesome this felt on my neck if I hadn't looked at the sixtysomething gentleman
next to me mid-spray and seen the sheer ecstasy—nay, rapture!—crossing his face.

Make no mistake: Spa Castle is not for those whose thrills derive from exclusivity. Families and hordes of naked people (in the locker rooms) surround you. It's more akin to Six Flags than Canyon Ranch. I promise you will emerge relaxed, but that's a testament to the sheer awesomeness of a water-jet massage that you can control and have target your problem areas as long as you wish, not  tranquility. As luxurious as it is to be at a spa in the first place, the utilitarian feel of the place is a reminder that originally, spas were places to restore health, not beauty.

In the case of Spa Castle, which is owned and operated by Korean-Americans, that extends to the basic body scrub. I've never had a body scrub before; this was a birthday treat from my gentleman friend (who spent the duration of my scrub in the men's lounge, un-naked, reading Aldous Huxley, but who wound up loving the water treatments even more than I did). For the uninitiated: A Korean body scrub, or at least this Korean body scrub, consists of lying down on a plastic-covered table while buckets of warm water are dumped on you. A spa worker then scrubs every inch of you—yes, every inch—with exfoliation mitts, puts some cucumbers on your face, lathers you up, and then slathers you with baby oil. And as anyone who is new to scrubs has probably reported: Damn, they take off a lot of skin.

So I'm lying there with cucumbers on my face, trying to ignore that every time I inhale I can feel a small shred of cucumber snake its way my nostril, highly aware of the fact that I am one of six naked, wet women in this room where six other women wearing only bras and underwear—it was too wet for anything else to be practical—are dumping buckets of warm water on us. And I'm lying there mentally composing a post about beauty labor, and ways service workers might subvert the usual power dynamic, and trying to suss out whether there's any links between North Korean politics and the constant reminders that we must all be wearing our uniforms at all times outside of the locker rooms—

—and then, the stealth shampoo.

The smell of synthetic freesia! The bubbles! The feel of hands running over every inch of my scalp! The sudden multihued highlights of my hair that were revealed upon drying! The sensation of the breeze rustling through my scalp!

I lay on the table and let her rub, wash, shampoo it all away. What was I to do? This was a coup de main performed with care, a covert shampoo operation that, once I realized was occurring, I couldn't do anything about. As with all acts of stealth, my best move was to respond with a bit of my own creep intelligence: I'd let the clandestine agent perform her duty, then debrief myself upon its completion.

I've secretly suspected Sting of being a Hair Warrior (to wit: "Would she prefer it if I washed myself more often than I do?", from "She's Too Good for Me"), so it's appropriate that I turn to him now. O Sebum, my patiently corralled secretion of lipids and wax (sorry, I'll stop soon, really): You have served me well. But as the Englishman sang, If you love somebody, set them free.

And so, Dear Reader, I have set my sebum (last time!) free. No, I'm not going back to washing my hair daily, or even weekly. Something I'd forgotten in my eagerness to engage in acts of Extreme Hair Care was that the point was to balance the scalp's oil production to get out of the wash-condition-dry cycle, not necessarily to never shampoo again. (I still hate washing my hair, but refraining entirely does indeed have its drawbacks.) It's been several days since the stealth shampoo, and my hair doesn't feel dirty at all. I imagine it will get greasy over time, and frankly, right now I don't have it in me to go through another transition period. So throughout the summer, I plan on shampooing as needed—actually, I plan on trying alternate washing methods, starting with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and experimenting with other hair washes too. And when my would-be hair-anniversary comes in September, perhaps I'll give it another whirl. We'll see.


  1. I have been dying to go to Spa Castle. Sounds crazy! I don't know if I could do the, "families and hordes of naked people" though.

    Once you had completely stopped washing your hair, did it look at all greasy? And, post-wash, was there a noticeable difference in it's appearance?

  2. argh, blogger chucked me out and i lost an epic length comment! I have been washing less for about 9 months. I thought my hair would eventually get less greasy, but I can't say it has. Really it was more about accepting that greasy hair does not equal the end of the world.

  3. Cameo, Spa Castle is AWESOME and you have to go! Try going during the week; fewer families then, I reckon. And outside of the locker rooms, I assure you nobody's naked (but the locker rooms are weirdly awesome too...) And yes, my hair did look a tad greasy, but not insanely so--I just used a dry shampoo to compensate, and that was fine. As for post-wash, yesterday it did look greasy (four days after its wash) so I did the dry shampoo again--we'll see how long I go!

    Franca, SO annoying, and I need to switch to Wordpress! But that's a good point: Certainly my hair under no-shampoo didn't look clean, you know? It just didn't look as dirty as one might think. It does become to a degree about rocking the bedhead...

  4. This is sooo intriguing in so many ways! I often try to go 2 or 3 days without washing my hair, but it becomes sickeningly obvious. I have blonde hair, and I become a ponytailed brunette on those days! Haha. My hair gets greasy the day after I wash, so I can't even imagine going a week, let alone MONTHS! You're amazing, Autumn. Amazing. Are you able to wear it down long or are you stuck with ponytails and buns like me when I'm all greased up? This is especially intriguing because we take these types of expectations for granted. Like a woman would die - or at least become repulsive to other humans - if she didn't wash her hair regularly. And yet you are provign otherwise quite beautifully!

    Also, I got a beautiful postcard in the mail that I forgot to thank you for - so THANK YOU! You're so sweet.

    Beauty Redefined

  5. Hey Lindsay! Oh, the hair saga has been a journey...the first few weeks I had to wear it up because it looked terrible, but then my scalp slowed down its oil production and I could wear it down (albeit with dry shampoo). It was actually thicker and glossier, though not in the same way that super-clean hair is was different.

    And yay for the postcard! I got it years ago and I think it was just waiting to be sent to the right person!

  6. Gloria is now on my fridge. Right next to my awful roommate's "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" magnet. I'm so glad I got to be the right person! You're wonderful.

  7. Oh, Spa Castle sounds fab and the steatlth shampoo just makes me laugh (I can only imagine how my mind would have swirled in that moment-- what do I do- appreciate the gift or tell her of my no-shampoo stance; perhaps it would have swirled to much to enjoy the sensation itself). I've heard great stuff about both baking soda and apple cider vinegar: I look forward to hearing about your experiences!

  8. Lindsay, the juxtaposition of Glo next to "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" is just perfect! (Do "reminders" like that actually make anyone feel better? Criminy.)

    Rosie, if you're in NYC with time to spare, Spa Castle is totally worth your time! Children are welcome, fyi. And so far so good with baking soda!