My Water-Only Hair Routine – Giving Up Shampoo and Embracing Simplicity

Keeping hair care simple

Last updated 18 September 2018.
*Please note that this article is regularly updated as I find better ways to simplify my hair care routine, add better content and share it with you. I prefer to add to this blog post to create a comprehensive list rather than have several scattered posts related to the same thing. Let me know if this method works for you. Constructive feedback is welcome. Thanks. ^_^”

Over the years, I have purchased and used various brands of shampoos and conditioners to clean and look after my hair. Like most people, I want my hair to be clean and smell good and for the longest time, shampoo was the only product I knew of that ticked those boxes.

If I didn’t wash my hair regularly with shampoo, I just felt greasy and unclean, especially after a sweat session or being out in smokey environments.
I’ve tried many of the various brand names that you find in the supermarket, which typically have a lot of fragrances and packaging to go along with the marketing.
I’ve experimented with hair waxes, sprays and creams to keep my hair tamed or conditioned and also tried many short and long hair styles that involved their own types of maintenance costs. I noticed the amount of products and items I had accumulated just to maintain the hair on my head seemed a little, well, a lot, and we’re not even talking body hair maintenance yet!

I realised how long and expansive the hair care aisles are in the big supermarkets and when I stood still and watched, I found I wasn’t alone. I was typical of many as I observed the very same multitude of hair care products in the trolleys of fellow consumers. I saw the same uncertain expressions as they gazed back and forth at the different colourful plastic bottles on the shelves and thought to myself, “They probably just want clean hair too”.

So, I decided to experiment and go on a simple adventure to change my hair care routine. I wanted to simplify my routine and minimise how long I spent on my hair day to day, so I researched online to see what was out there and what might suit me. I also wanted to join the low impact movement and decrease the waste I produced.
In terms of alternative hair products, I came across various brands that either had interesting or exotic-sounding ingredients, were advertised as eco-friendly, natural or vegan, or just came in pretty non-plastic packaging. The multitude of products seemed a bit overwhelming, but in the end, they seemed just like the same types of products I was already buying but dressed up in different outfits, so to speak.
When I looked into the possibility of making my own shampoo to simplify my hair routine, I discovered some interesting alternative methods to replace standard shampoo. These “natural” alternatives seemed to tick the box in terms of minimising toxins and just having more control over what I put on my body on a daily basis.

The various natural alternatives I experimented with included rinsing with apple cider vinegar, washing with baking soda, using soap nut water, sticking with regular shampoo and conditioner but just washing less often, the “no poo” method (i.e. no shampoo method), and finally, the water-only method.
In the end, I found that I just wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, so this is what I decided to do:

  1. Hair products – I eventually stopped using hair care products altogether.
    No more shampoos, conditioners or styling products. Just water only.Note: I made an effort to use up all existing products or give items to interested friends. Once products were completely used up, I recycled them via Terracycle’s Beauty Product Recycling Program.
    Pro Tip: Always use up what you already have and avoid adding to landfill by recycling responsibly.
  2. Minimal washing – I simply washed my hair less frequently.
    This really depended on my schedule but I went from washing my hair every single day, to every other day, to maybe once a week now at most.
    Less washing means less natural oils are washed away and gives your scalp and hair a chance to renew their relationship i.e. work out how much oil is the right amount to produce for you. This is the step that I found takes the most patience and perseverance.
    Note: When I do actually wash my hair, I generally use cold water to wet my hair and scalp. Once wet, I massage my scalp (see step 3 below) to lift any grease or oil and then pat dry with a towel or just air dry.
  3. Daily/Regular massage – I massaged my scalp and “scritched” on a semi-daily basis.
    Think of the quick and gentle circular movements of your finger tips going around your head whenever you used shampoo. Scritching is essentially this same motion minus shampoo or water.
    The aim of this step is to lift the natural oils from the scalp so they can be distributed through to the lengths of the hair through brushing. This prevents oil buildup in any particular spots on your head and also improves blood circulation.
  4. Daily brushing – Essentially, once I’ve scritched my hair and massaged my scalp, the natural oils need to be distributed down the lengths of my hair, which is where a good hair brush comes in. This step essentially acts as a self-conditioning step.

And the overall results? Well, if I’m honest, a bit hit and miss.

My hair initially felt a bit oily. I read that this was common as our scalps go through a “detox” period where it realises it is overcompensating by producing more oil than needed. A “transition” period is therefore required which means your scalp needs to take a little while to regain control since you’re no longer stripping your hair everyday using shampoo, thereby forcing your scalp to overproduce oil. I guess that makes sense.

Using water-only to wash my hair and scalp felt like it didn’t quite get all the greasy feeling out. I’m not going to lie, this method will take some patience and perseverance. It won’t work for you instantly overnight, so if you’re after immediate results, the water-only method isn’t for you. The water-only method takes some time, but over this time, you get long-term results and a surprising amount of convenience.

After really sticking to it for a couple of months, I found that my hair has responded really well and looks healthy and tangle-free (after brushing). Whenever I wash my hair with water-only, I always give myself an inadvertent scalp massage as I’m running my fingers along the roots to remove any excess oil. Along with regularly brushing my hair with a natural bristle brush, I believe this is the main reason why the water-only method has been so successful for me.

My hair generally doesn’t feel oily or weighed down anymore, the lengths feel soft and conditioned from my own scalp oils, and my hair is simple to maintain. Best of all, my hair feels clean and does not smell like a mix of synthetic perfumes from various products. My hair just smells like me. ^_^”

My Essential Simple Hair Care Tips:

  • Keep your hairstyle simple to minimise maintenance. This means no need for waxes, sprays, ironing, curling. etc. I have found that keeping it shorter in general means less tangles and maintenance.
  • Don’t heat-style your hair – Give up the hair dryer, curler and straightener. Heat damage makes your brittle over time and harder to maintain without using products. Try better alternatives such as braiding your hair when still damp for soft waves. Think of it as aiming to work with your body‘s natural groove instead of forcing it with heat or chemicals to hold to an artificial standard of beauty.
  • Invest in a good natural bristle brush that will help to distribute the natural oils in your hair from your scalp to the ends. This helps to condition the entire length of your hair with no need for extra conditioning products. Buy quality, sustainable and cruelty-free.
    Side note: I have read that a boar bristle brush is the best type of hair brush to use, and I did purchase a very expensive one to use for a short period having read this recommendation from several sources. However, the reason why I do not recommend this type of product is simply because I have yet to find a company that is certified cruelty-free in regards to their boar bristle products. I did ask this very well-known company that I had supported with my purchase about their boar bristle brushes, how they treated their animals and how they ensured cruelty-free practices, and to be honest, their answers were surprisingly vague and disappointing.
    I therefore decided to sell the boar bristle brush I owned and purchased a sustainable FSC-certified wooden hair brush with a natural rubber base and wooden bristles, which is vegan, cruelty-free, and overall a more ethical vote for transparency in product manufacture and animal rights. I figure that I don’t want to be supporting this non-transparent company who is profiting from the potential mistreatment of animals in the manufacture of their products, all just so I can have a product for my hair? Yeah, no thank you. I will vote with my wallet and support transparent companies who do the right thing by ethical standards and by consumers.
  • Wash your hair using water only if you can. Some people have commented that the water-only method doesn’t work for their hair, so try it to see if it works for you and the area in which you live. Everyone is different and the water available to you will also be different.
    Note: I live in a soft water area and the water-only method works very well for me.
  • The advantage of using water-only is there’s no need to purchase shampoos, conditioners or other disposable hair products. You basically just need a good brush and to wash with water when you feel like it needs it. Definitely a simple, cost-effective routine.
  • Troubleshooting – I have found that I do still have some days where my scalp feels a little bit dry and itchy. During these times, I’ve found that using dilute apple cider vinegar really helped (I would approximate one capful of apple cider vinegar to one full glass jar of water as shown in the photo below. You don’t need a lot; a little goes a long way!). The smell is a little bit strong on the nose initially but does fade in a short time so you don’t have to worry about smelling like a salad until you next wash your hair. It leaves your hair surprisingly shiny and soft and your scalp soothed.
    And yes, I know this is technically still buying a product but I think using the water-only method for your hair and the occasional apple cider vinegar to condition your hair and scalp is much better than the concoction of chemicals we use in standard hair products. Not only that, but it’s about using
    minimal products with minimal ingredients.
    Pro Tip: Stick to locally made, organic apple cider vinegar with the “Mother” where possible.

    Water-Only Hair Care-How to dilute ACV apple cider vinegar
    For my occasional apple cider vinegar rinses, I dilute one capful of ACV to a full glass jar of water.

    Important sidenote: This Bragg brand of organic apple cider vinegar (as pictured here) is not locally made (made in the USA and imported to Australia). I did recently discover an organic brand made locally here in Australia that I plan to switch to once I finish this bottle. Buying local proves to be a more sustainable option and it also happens to come package-free; I just fill my own empty glass bottle at a bulk store. Interestingly, it also turns out to be slightly cheaper which I suppose is a result of not having to import (Bragg is $1.37 per 100 ml as opposed to at the bulk store which is $1.30 per 100 ml).
    Pro Tip: Remember to vote with your wallet and support local companies who are doing the right thing by sustainability. To read more about this topic, please check out my other post: Conscious choices – Vote with your wallet

  • More troubleshooting – On some days where my scalp is a little oily but my hair still feels pretty clean and I don’t want to wash it, I sometimes use arrowroot powder as a natural dry shampoo and massage very small amounts directly onto my scalp with my fingers; although I’ve read that other people like to apply it on with a kabuki brush, so maybe see what technique works for you and your lifestyle. I’ve found this works quite well at extending the days in between washing your hair with just water only. I don’t do this often though, just when I feel like my scalp is still clean (i.e. not sweating from exercise) but is a bit too oily for my liking. Just remember to use arrowroot sparingly and massage thoroughly to avoid your hair looking white and powdery. You can also add a bit of cocoa powder if you have brunette hair to better colour match, though even with black hair I find this unnecessary.
    Update:  After over one year into the water-only method, I can report back that I stopped using arrowroot powder as a dry shampoo pretty early on. I probably only used it on the odd occasion in the first three months while I was still going through an oily transition period, but afterwards, I found I didn’t need it at all because my scalp didn’t feel oily. So, that’s one less product. Yay for simplicity ^_^”
  • I personally also love the little bit of self-care that goes hand-in-hand with washing with water-only which is a regular scalp massage. Because self-care is important.
  • Cut your own hair – or enlist the help of a good friend. It will not only save you money and time going to a hairdresser, but regularly allows you to be creative and have fun with your own personal style. I definitely found that I built a sense of self-reliance and confidence simply just from no longer being dependant on an external source for any aspect of my hair. This self-control may not seem like a big deal, but the mental shift it created was surprisingly liberating for me.
    If you cut your hair and make a mistake, hair grows back. Or alternatively, you could rock a cute headband, scarf or hat till it grows out. And yes, before you ask me, I have been there *shares meaningful look*.
    I’ve had cheap haircuts that cost me $20 to designer ones that cost me $250 for the whole wash, cut and style combo. O.o I’ve cut my own hair for a number of years now and I definitely recommend it. I even enlist the help of my partner sometimes to help me shave the back of my head when I need another pair of eyes.
    Note: In case you’re wondering, I am currently rocking an undercut hairstyle with roughly shoulder-length hair and eyebrow-length bangs ^_^”
  • Avoid dying your hair – Rock your natural colour loud and proud! Your natural hair colour will always compliment your skin tone, plus it requires zero chemicals to maintain and no wasteful packaging for both you and our environment. I do however, support the freedom of expression that changing your look can bring with a new colour so if you do dye your hair on the regular, it’s just about making conscious choices and knowing the effect of your actions, both positive and not-so-positive, on both your body and the environment. Do your research and choose a better alternative that suits you.
  • Common question: What do I do with all my unwanted hair products that I have already accumulated? Well, it is always better to give your unused/unwanted products to someone who will happily use it rather than have it clutter your space remaining unused or adding to landfill. I donated an almost full can of hairspray and a bunch of elastic rubber hair ties to my brother (who happens to rock a hip top-knot style do). I also no longer use bobby pins and have passed my huge collection of them on to a friend who rocks a more high maintenance hairstyle and will put them to good use. I slowly used up whatever other hair products I had with the assistance of my partner before beginning my adventure with the water-only method.
    Remember: Donate, Repurpose, Upcycle, or Recycle only after using up your products. Don’t just toss things in landfill because it’s the easiest option.
    Be creative. Live with intention. Make conscious choices.

Other benefits of a Water-Only hair routine:

Keeping hair care simple
The Essentials of Water-Only Hair Care – Just Water and a Hair Brush!
  1. You really only need water and a good bristle brush so that makes this hair care routine super minimalist and simple. It was such a personal revelation for me to realise that my hair is able to take care of itself naturally; no extra chemicals or products needed.
  2. Using water-only means this hair care method is cruelty-free and vegan. Stick to natural plant fibre bristles for your brush instead of synthetic (unsustainable) or animal hair (animal welfare cannot be guaranteed).
  3. Water is generally toxin-free and package-free. Minimising dependance on external products increases self-reliance and independence.
  4. Using water-only is extremely cost-effective as you only pay for your water usage. Think of the money you save on unnecessary products and tools when your hair can basically regulate its own oil production! If you add in a navy shower style to your routine you’ll save even more in both water costs and time showering.
    Note: To read more about navy showers, please read my blog post “Why I choose to have cold showers – And why you should try it too”
  5. Eco-friendly. Low impact on the environment. Sustainable. “Zero waste”. Low waste. Zero packaging.
  6. Save time. Hair maintenance will likely be a lifelong repetitive chore for most of us, so the less time we spend cleaning, primping and preening our hair in our lifetime, the more we can experience all life has to offer. ^_^”
  7. You save storage space because there’s no need to store any hair products or styling tools (except for your hair brush).
  8. Travelling is easier as you don’t need to pack anything in your luggage but your brush. No more bulky containers or liquids to pack or declare at the airport.
  9. So in summary, essentials for your hair care are water and a natural bristle brush. Optional items are apple cider vinegar and arrowroot powder (go for organic and locally made with sustainable packaging), sharp scissors and an electric shaver for DIY haircuts, and maybe an additional wooden comb to style your fringe or beard if you’re so inclined.

    Water-Only Essentials and Optional Extras
    Essentials are water and a good hair brush. Optional extras are apple cider vinegar or arrowroot powder.

I hope my simple adventure into simplifying my hair care routine has inspired you to rethink how you take care of your hair too. I really hope this method works as well for you as it does for me.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried anything in this post or have any suggestions.

Thanks for reading ^_^”

Love, accidentalbirds.

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