Here is a glimpse into my hair routine as of a month and a half ago: In shower, a little shampoo, and a lot of conditioner. Out of shower, I smoothed in Frizz Ease hair serum for heat protection. Sometimes I would buy other random frizz-calming products to try. After air drying, I would straighten with a straight iron on high heat, followed by a large curling iron to add some wave. During the summer (and occasionally throughout the rest of the year), I would buy gel and mousse to scrunch in and wear my hair curly. Over the years, I can't even begin to calculate how much plastic has made its way into landfills and sometimes to the recycling because of me, because plastic cannot be repeatedly recycled (meaning, even if you are a perfect recycler, your plastic products will eventually end up in the landfill. Metal and glass, on the other hand, can be recycled repeatedly and still turn into a quality, usable products).
Hair has been a major source of effort and thought for most of my life. Around 8th grade, my hair took a major curly turn, and, unfortunately, it wasn't until about 10th grade that I came to grips with that and learned how to manage it. I found a gel I loved (L'Oreal Springing Curls) and would regularly worry that it would someday be discontinued and my hair would be a wreck. Flash forward to some time in my early 20's...it WAS discontinued. If you don't have curly hair, you may not understand what a travesty this was. I spent tons of money and wasted so much plastic buying and trying products that didn't do quite what I wanted. Around the time I had kids, straighteners had finally gotten their acts together, so I pretty much abandoned my curls in favor of straighter tresses that I could wash less frequently.
My shower was an empty shampoo bottle graveyard. At any given time, the edges of the tub in my kids' bathroom held at least 4 bottles (2 shampoos, one empty one half full, because I'm an optimist; 2 conditioners in the same state). In the adult bathroom, a similar hair care set up, plus random other products we may be trying out - body wash, in shower moisturizer, tiny products from hotels, etc. I find clutter to be stressful, but I didn't do anything about it. UNTIL THIS YEAR..
Upon starting up my blog a couple of months ago, I recognized that my family's hair was one of the main sources of plastic waste in our home. As is usually the case when trying to break a habit, it seemed impossible to move from what I had done for so long. My hair is a weird, course, wavy, frizzy mess, and I needed those silicones to settle it down and protect it from the heat that was certainly necessary to tame my head. This was going to be Medusa-level terrible.
Inspired by Paris-to-Go, who washes with water only, I gave it a good, long think. Was I ready for water only? And a 3 month adjustment period? Um, no. I work in education, so 3 month adjustment periods would need to be a summer only endeavor. The other folks in my are home were also not going to be on board with water only. So, I set my goal: Bottle Free February. For a month, I would not use any product in a plastic bottle on my hair. I already had a couple of shampoo bars from failed experiments (where I just wasn't ready to give up my serum, and the bar just wasn't able to strip the serum from my hair, resulting in oddly sticky hair). I invested in a kind of pricey by nice smelling conditioner bar from The Solid Bar Company. Their website is currently down as they are relocating from the Virgin Islands to the UK. The bar gave me the same smooth comb through that I expect from a conditioner.
So, here I went, jumping in with both feet. I even posted it on Instagram, so there was no going back. Here's the run down of how things went:
Week 1 - Greasy, greasy, greasy. I want so badly to tell you my hair was magically beautiful. The truth is, my hair was magically more oily than it has ever been. I have been washing about 2x per week for years, so, despite warnings from other less-wasters, I thought I was immune to the super greasy transition (because I'm a fool). I wasn't. I have never had such greasy hair, especially on the back of my head. I dry shampooed on work days (I've been making my own with cornstarch and cocoa powder for years), and I rocked double french braids on the weekend.
Week 2 - The grease disappeared. It sounds like nonsense, but I SWEAR my hair stopped being greasy around week 1.5. I attribute this to two things. A. My scalp adjusted to the shock of not being shampooed with detergent. B. I bought a boar bristle brush to distribute oils down the shaft of my hair. Plastic brushes don't do that. Who knew? Well, lots of other people knew, evidently. Just google it.
Week 3 - My hair and I were in a good routine. I got a hair cut to get rid of the gross ends, and my hair had new life. My hair was officially freed from the french braids and was allowed to hang free. I made major efforts to avoid heat styling to avoid damage and to get a feel for what my hair really wanted to do with its life. My hair actually looked decent with zero effort. ZERO. This hasn't happened since I was ten. I have literally not had a good hair day without major effort since I was a child. It was during week three that I realized that the products I thought I needed might actually have been making things worse. Week three is when I realized the hair product aisle is a sham. I would have been angry if I hadn't been so relieved. All the money and plastic - it was all because some companies are telling me I need this stuff. How upsetting and freeing is it that I'm better off without it?
Week 4 - I got a little lazy. I had been wrapping my hair in a t-shirt after showering, but I love simplicity and that was too complicated for me. I also got a little bolder and used some heat a few times, running the fat curling iron through to smooth and blow drying my long bangs in order to go without a bobby pin. By week four, Bottle Free February wasn't a project anymore. I had adopted a new routine.
Here I sit, a week after my challenge is over. My current hair routine involves washing 2 or 3 times per week. I use my JR Liggett's Shampoo bar, because it is available at a local grocery store. I have ordered a fancier shampoo bar that hasn't arrived yet, but I will keep you posted on my Instagram account (@zerowastesometimes). I scrub my scalp with the suds on my hands from the shampoo bar, then rinse well. Throughout February, I then ran the conditioner bar down the length of my hair a couple of times, allowed to sit while I took care of other shower business, like shaving and washing, then rinsed. I sometimes rubbed a little extra conditioner on my hands and ran through the bottom part of my hair for a leave in treatment. Old habits die hard. Now that Bottle Free February is over, I've filled an old spray bottle with water and added a shot of apple cider vinegar. This is now my conditioner. The vinegar comes in a bottle and is sprayed from a bottle, so it wasn't February friendly. The vinegar smell is almost all the way gone after a good rinse and is totally gone once my hair is dry. I find the vinegar rinse leaves my hair even more manageable than conditioner does. Shampoo (even shampoo bars) are not usually perfectly Ph balanced for hair, as hair is more acidic than shampoo is. The vinegar rinse brings the hair back to the acidic place it wants to be. I let my hair air dry - sometimes twisted into a bun and wrapped in a t-shirt; sometimes just hanging loose. Hanging loose results in curls (though not quite as good as I had with the magic gel in high school). Twisted in the bun smooths things out and leaves my hair wavy.
It's not a perfectly green, plastic free set up, because I am sometimes running the curling iron through my hair to look a little more polished. I haven't used my straightener since January, though, because I don't feel like I need the additional smoothing. My bangs still need a blow dry if I'm not going to pin them back. I don't sweat it , as my hair seems to be weathering the minimal heat just fine. This summer I will experiment with using less heat and figure out exactly what works to make my curls do what I want.
I cannot overstate how transformative it has been for my hair and my hair routine to be done with bottled shampoo, conditioner, and products. My hair is course, frizzy, and somewhere between curly and wavy. My hair needed behavior management before I dropped products. After dropping products, my hair dried naturally to something that wasn't embarrassing in public. No, it doesn't dry with a finished look that I generally want when I go to work or an event. But it is so freeing that I can choose to do nothing and still feel ok. Please understand that I have NEVER been a natural hair kind of girl, although I sound that way when I talk about my new hair care routine. The first time I tried the vinegar rinse, I thought it was nonsense until, as I was rinsing it from my hair, I felt how smooth and non-tangly it felt. It is truly amazing that hair can be cared for with so few ingredients.
What about my kids and husband, you ask? How nice of you to think of them. The kids transitioned easily. Me: "Hey guys, I'm putting this shampoo bar and conditioner bar in your shower. This one is shampoo - rub it in your hands then use it like normal shampoo. This one is conditioner - rub it gently on your hair, then rinse out like normal." Kids: "Ok." Also kids: [Break little tiny pieces off the kind of expensive conditioner bar and leave them to annoyingly stick to the bottom of the tub, in lieu of playing with a bath toy or taking care of other necessary shower time chores like washing or brushing teeth]. Me: [Spending my time scrubbing tiny bits of conditioner and soap off the bottom of the tub] Overall, they took to it just fine and stopped picking at the conditioner, which they also do to soap bars sometimes (why, kids, why?!), when I lost it one morning about a variety of weird messes I found around the house.
The husband loves his Head and Shoulders and isn't ready for a change. One bottle lasts him months, and I imagine he will give the bars a try at some point when his H&S runs out. It isn't officially part of my evil plan, but it's how things like this usually pan out.
One more note: Not having straight, manageable hair, I can't speak for how this routine works on finer hair, but I have seen lots of posts online from others with hair different from mine who manage this way, as well. Feel free to comment with your less waste/zero waste hair care routine if you have a different hair type that has benefited from fewer products as well.
In the meantime, I'm not looking back. I feel free, my shower feels streamlined without all of my bottles. Going away for the weekend, packing was so simple - the shampoo and conditioner went into a little tin and that was it. No plastic ziplock bag to hold hair products and keep them from spilling. No emergency run to Target when I realized I forgot my serum. I hope to eventually get to a water only wash, but I'm planning to wait until summer. As always, stay tuned. It's a work in progress, and there is always more to come as we grow and learn.
P.S. Please do not wash with baking soda. It's ph is way off and severely damaged my hair with one use a couple of years ago, although my scalp felt crazy clean for a day when I tried it. I researched after the fact and found out my experience was not unique, unfortunately.
P.P.S If you are not ready to overhaul your haircare routine but you still want to reduce plastic, there are ways to green up what you do, now. Some stores have bulk shampoo and conditioner, so you can refill your own bottles. Here in Richmond, Ellwood Thompson's offers this. It turned out not to be a good option for me, because it was a little expensive, and I still needed so many additional products when I used traditional shampoo. Decreasing the frequency of shampooing also helps! To extend time between shampoos, make your own dry shampoo using bulk ingredients from the grocery store (if available). My favorite is a half and half mix of cornstarch and cocoa powder for my brown hair. Sprinkle in a small amount where you are greasy (temples, crown of head, usually). I prefer to apply at night and sleep on it, but you can also just massage in or brush through your hair. Check out Pinterest for a ton of other homemade suggestions.
Enjoy the many looks of a woman adjusting to no-product hair. Some days were better than others. Picture number two was the first day I went to work with my hair au naturale. In case you were thinking to your yourself, "WTF - Why The Face?"