Washing your hair with just water does nothing more than move dirt from one side to another. Water alone does not have the properties to lather and remove oils, dirt, and other environmental particles that have accumulated over time.
Hair washing practices have evolved over time
In 1927 Hans Schwarzkopf introduced the first liquid shampoo. During the centuries before that, people used natural ingredients to bathe and cleanse themselves. Although there has always been an emphasis on physical cleanliness, hair-washing routines have evolved a lot over time.
I’m assuming that in the days of Adam and Eve, water was the best alternative to shampoo- probably because Amazon didn’t offer prime shipping yet and neither Adam nor Eve had the patience to wait for more than 2 days for a bottle of soap. 😉 Just kidding!
In all seriousness, though, washing hair daily was not a common practice until after the 1930s when shampoos started to become commercialized and heavily advertised.
In the 1930s, there were probably a handful of shampoos to choose from. Fast forward to today and you will find thousands of options all claiming to do the same thing: to bring your hair back to life!
Many people are switching to the “water only” or “no-poo” method for several reasons. For one, many people are trying to return to the roots of the original way of life (think of the Paleo Diet, organic foods, and other current fads). If shampoos are a new invention, then scrubbing with water was technically the way people washed their hair for almost the entire existence of the world. Right?
Another reason is that most of the products available today are loaded with chemicals that don’t belong near your scalp nor your hair. Do you wonder why so many products claim to reverse the appearance of dull, brittle, damaged, and dry-looking hair?
I was one of those people who used the water-only method for both of those reasons. The results were questionable, to say the least.
Why can’t I wash my dreads with just water?
Technically you can “wash” your locs with just water, but it’s not recommended because it doesn’t remove dirt or buildup. Water alone will only get your hair wet. Getting your hair wet helps to moisturize your dreads, but it doesn’t do anything to clean them. See the difference?
Water was a pure substance until humans started toying around with chemicals.
I think we can agree that we live in different environments than the people that inhabited the Earth centuries ago. Unfortunately, ours is a lot more polluted.
The advancements society made during the Industrial Revolution greatly impacted the environment. Factories became popular and required the use of fuel and other chemicals. As the production rate of new materials increased, so did the demand, the quality of life as we know it, and the size in population. Trains, cars, and roads were built for faster transportation, synthetic pesticides were used to control pests and increase farm yields, and power sources (such as electricity and nuclear energy) were invented to make everything work together. All of these things caused a depletion of natural resources and over a short time has resulted in water and air pollution. Technology has greatly contributed to our current environmental crisis.
Due to the accumulated dirt and pollution in our air and water supply, we have no choice but to wash with products that have deep-cleaning properties. Note that I said “products” and not “chemicals”. I’m super against the use of synthetic chemicals. But there are plenty of natural ingredients that remove dirt and oils effortlessly- baking soda and apple cider vinegar are two of the most popular.
Isn’t using water the natural way to wash your hair?
I can’t tell you from experience what the “natural way” is because I didn’t get to live in a previous time period. I can say, however, that hair washing methods have transitioned dramatically since the creation of the world, and water was possibly the preferred substance for bathing (hair included) at some point or another.
Each culture developed different hygiene practices and products that revolutionized the way we maintain our hygiene today. During Medieval times, it was common to use vinegar, rosemary water, and herbs to wash hair. During the Renaissance period, lye soap was used for washing hair and bacon fat was used as a conditioner. During the Victorian Era, raw eggs and Castile Soap became popular.
I’d like to think that there was a moment when people realized that water alone wasn’t really getting the job done if you know what I mean. Then, creative minds pieced their ideas together to create products that not only remove dirt and grime effectively but also maintain hair health.
Adding synthetic chemicals didn’t happen until much later.
With that said, do you think that using just water in 2019 is as effective as it was in 4000 BC?
My experience tells me no.
“I know someone who washes with water and their hair is clean!”
In doing research for this blog I read about several people who claim that their friend only washes their hair with water and yet their hair is healthy and lustrous.
I’m not going to deny that it works for some people, but I would be lying if I said that it will work for everybody.
Dissimilarities in results are normal because we’re all so different. For example, we all have different hair textures, each of our bodies produce different amounts of sebum and natural oils, our environments are diverse (some live in the heart of smog-filled cities and others live in remote areas where the air is a bit cleaner), and our type of water varies from hard to soft too.
I think we can agree that experiencing different outcomes is not only normal but also expected.
My “no-poo” experience
A couple of years before I decided to dread my hair, I went through an all-natural phase. My shampoo was the first thing I threw out.
My hair at this point was brittle, dry, and not shiny at all.
For months I entertained the idea that my hair would naturally stop producing so much oil if I stopped stripping it away with shampoo. Since I showered daily, I would scrub my head with water and nothing else.
During the first week, my hair showed no signs of improvement. In fact, it looked so greasy that you could probably fry an egg on it…super gross, I know!
Month one rolled around and still no positive changes. I wore beanies every day (in the summertime!) to cover it up and save me from the embarrassment.
After the sixth week, I was fed up and impatient. I started trying natural shampoos, beginning with baking soda.
Many people claim baking soda is amazing, others claim the opposite. Unfortunately, it didn’t work at all for me. My hair was not nearly as greasy after the first application but it was extremely dull and it didn’t feel clean. The second experiment I tried was apple cider vinegar. ACV improved my hair shine but it didn’t take away the oiliness. So I moved on to experiment number three: raw egg yolk and honey. This was my saving grace!!!
It worked so well that I ended up using it as my primary shampoo. The problem was that my hair still produced an excessive amount of oil, so I couldn’t go more than two days between washes.
Making my own homemade egg shampoo for six months became a hassle and as much as I wanted it to, my hair never adapted to the water-only method. Having had that experience with loose hair assures me that I would have the same experience with dreaded hair.
The moral of the story: There are more effective ways to wash your hair than only with water.
Rinsing with water (on occasion) is a nice way to freshen up your scalp and dreads, especially during the summer, but it should never replace cleaning agents altogether.
How to wash dreads without shampoo
If you’re against using store-bought shampoos, there are several other options you can try. You might have to do some trial and error because these alternatives work differently for everyone.
BAKING SODA – This doesn’t give me the best results but others have had great success. You can give it a try if you want. Mix 2 teaspoons of baking soda with 1 cup warm water- use less baking soda if you have a sensitive scalp. Pour it over your head and scrub for a few minutes. Rinse it out completely and follow up with diluted apple cider vinegar (you need this in order to balance out your scalp’s pH).
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – ACV must be diluted! If you use it straight, it might irritate your scalp. Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of ACV with 1 cup of water. Soak your hair and let it sit for up to five minutes. Rinse it out completely. The vinegar scent will linger until your hair dries all the way through.
LEMON JUICE – Much like ACV, the citrus in lemon juice helps to strip your hair from excess oils and may help relieve dandruff. Mix about 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (strained!) with 1 cup warm water. Pour it over your scalp and gently scrub for a few minutes. Rinse it out completely.
BREWED TEA – Tea has nourishing properties that improve the quality and cleanliness of hair. If this is your method of choice, make sure to make extra-strong infusions (in 1 cup of boiling water, add 2 large tablespoons of loose-leaf tea or 2 tea bags). Also, in order to retain the maximum amount of properties, boil the water on its own and allow the tea to steep- do not boil them at the same time. Finally, it’s best to make the infusion on the day you’re planning to use it. If you make it ahead of time, keep it fresh in the fridge for no more than four days.
- CHAMOMILE TEA – Chamomile tea is known for stimulating hair growth, relieving dandruff and an itchy/ irritated scalp. Chamomile may lighten the hair.
- ROSEMARY TEA – Rosemary tea is used as a tonic for hair, giving it shine, helping reduce dandruff, and stimulating hair growth. Rosemary enhances the dark pigment in the hair so it might make your hair look darker.
- BLACK TEA – Black tea has antioxidants that reduce hair loss and promote hair growth. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, don’t use black tea.
- PEPPERMINT TEA – Peppermint tea is refreshing for the scalp, providing healing properties that reduce itchiness, inflammation, and irritation. It’s also known for stimulating the scalp and promoting hair growth.
- ROSE TEA – Rose tea is known for its moisturizing properties, as well as for improving the quality of the hair in general.
- GREEN TEA – Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce dandruff as well as promoting the regeneration of hair and preventing hair loss.
ESSENTIAL OILS – Essential oils have healing properties for the scalp, so I highly recommend incorporating them in your hair-care routine. One of the easiest ways to do this is by adding it to your shampoo, or shampoo alternative. Essential oils should always be diluted, so just sprinkle a few drops on any of the above alternatives you prefer.
For a whole list of the best essential oils for dreads, look here. A few options I highly recommend are tea tree oil, peppermint, some type of citrus oil (lemon, grapefruit, sweet orange), rosemary, and lavender.
Keeping your hair clean is vital for your dreadlocks to form properly.
In the spirit of true neglect, many people choose to wash their locs by only using H2O. I don’t think it’s an effective method of cleaning your hair but I won’t argue that it works for a handful of people.
This is the way I see it- scrubbing your head with just water is the same as moving dirt particles and oils from one part of your head to the other. It’s like taking a shower without soap …it doesn’t work. You will stink before and after, guaranteed.
If you’ve washed your hair with store-bought shampoo your entire life and are wanting to transition over to a natural and healthy washing routine, I highly suggest trying the suggestions discussed above.
I hope you find an alternative that works well for your hair type and the environment!