Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Jun

Pooh-Poohing the ‘Poo

Modern life presents endless deviations from our primal beginnings. Some clearly have no place in the success of our species (e.g. Ding Dongs). Others may present unprecedented, welcome benefits (e.g. year round access to a veritable cornucopia of Primal goodies like macadamia nuts – my personal favorite). Finally, there are those “additions,” current customs really, that feel idiosyncratic but relatively innocuous. The contemporary obsession with hair might qualify for this eccentric but harmless category – or maybe not. What about the goop we slather on our noggins? Is it another case of sanitizing ourselves into an unhealthy existence? Will I become an eternal greaseball without my daily indulgence in froth and foam? There’s a movement afoot – “poo-less,” as it’s often called – that has something to say about it. Kicking the suds habit, poo-less advocates suggest, not only allows for less toxic, less expensive living but opens the door to a better head of hair itself.

Even the most committed product junkie has to admit that our culture’s fixation on perfect tresses has long since morphed into a marketing frenzy. Products and services galore seek to manipulate every hair into strict submission. Somehow it’s never enough though. There’s always another product to fix something else – likely the problem the first one caused. Increasingly, we’re realizing that we pay a bigger price than the receipts would indicate (although they’re nothing to shake a stick at either!). Conventional shampoos are universally riddled with noxious but unregulated chemicals that have been linked to everything from endocrine system disruption to neurological and immune system damage. Among the biggest offenders, according to the Environmental Working Group, include the ubiquitous phthalates (for fragrance), parabens (for preservatives), coal tar (for dyes and dandruff) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (for lather and de-greasing power). Other risky chemicals include 1,4-Dioxane and methylisothiazolinone.

Our bodies take quite a beating for the sake of our hair. (Hey, but that woman in the jungle shower on the commercial looked like she was having fun. I’ll have what she’s having – poisons be damned!

But put aside the toxins for a minute. What about natural, toxin-free shampoos? What’s wrong with them? (First off, some aren’t as natural as they claim.) According to poo-less advocates, though, even the “best” shampoos strip and damage our hair. We feel like greaseballs after a couple days without a wash because our scalps are constantly on overdrive trying to compensate for the persistent dryness caused by – the shampoo! The need for a cascade of other hair products (e.g. the conditioners, the gel, the hair spray, the detanglers, etc.) is the consequence of the shampoo’s initial damage. Talk about digging a hole to use a ladder to wash the basement window!

When you read the stories of the poo-less, I have to say that the anecdotal evidence is pretty convincing. After the initial transition of 2-6 weeks (hint: scarves, bandanas, ponytails), people say they have unprecedented softness, volume, natural shape and style. No more frizzies or fly aways or whatever else plagued them before. Several folks on the forum have shared their experiences, and I’d definitely recommend checking out Richard’s experiment at Free the Animal. The poo-less movement has caught enough media attention that even more conventionally-minded publications have called upon their own staff people to give it a whirl and then share their stories. Although a few folks eventually throw up their hands, the vast majority give it a thumbs up. Many even say it’s the best thing that ever happened to their hair.

So, what does a poo-less routine look like exactly? Although every fan has his/her own take, there seem to be a few common routines. Some people gradually wean themselves off by increasing the number of days between shampoos. Others rinse the roots with warm water and use a little conditioner on the ends. Still others use a hot towel method by stroking their hair repeatedly with a hot, soaked towel to distribute their scalp’s natural oils throughout the hair. A large portion of the poo-less group seems to use some combination of baking soda-water mix as a daily/occasional poo-less wash. Many in this camp then do a vinegar rinse (apple cider being the most commonly mentioned version) to “condition” hair. Another basic kitchen combo used is cornstarch and lemon juice. Simple, cheap and healthy, they say. For those who want something a little more than baking soda, there are specially formulated (and marketed) poo-less products like the well-known Deva line. I know a lot of folks use Dr. Bronner’s as well.

For those of us who don’t want to go poo-less, what Primal perspective is there to be gleaned from these folks’ efforts? Their satisfaction, I think, is a reminder that modern living suggests “needs” that really don’t exist. Our bodies, left to their own devices, really can take care of themselves. There’s something to that natural beauty concept. The truth is, Grok probably wasn’t the stinky, disheveled, unsightly figure many imagine him to have been.

Asking whether we really need shampoo begs the question of whether we really need any of the personal products that line our medicine cabinets. If we ditched the creams, conditioners, gels, cosmetics, deodorants, sprays, and powders for a week, would our lives fall apart? Would anyone else even notice? (Probably not.) Would we eventually get used to the simplified routine? Would we end up enjoying it like the poo-less proponents? One thing’s for sure: we’d probably have a little more money in our pockets and little more time on our hands. As for our bodies, after their transition period is over and the dust finally settles, they’d likely be grateful to get back to doing what they’re built to do.

Have your own poo-less stories or tips you’d like to add? Questions or commentary on going au naturale? Thanks for reading, everybody. Have a great day!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. A big shout-out thank you to Kat for her egg yolk suggestion.

    I had been working on going shampoo-less for about a month and still couldn’t seem to get a certain level of greasiness out of my hair except by excessive brushing. Tried the egg yolk thing and – voila! – I think my hair is now perfect!

    I haven’t yet tried any baking soda/apple cider vinegar or sea salt/white vinegar washes yet. I may do that in the future, but right now, and for the foreseeable future, my hair care is coming out of the dairy section!

    Janel wrote on February 20th, 2011
  2. I just stumbled upon your site and have been hopping from one post to another through links inside them. I know this is an older post, but I couldn’t help but share that I use Dr. Bronner’s for my hair. I really only wash my hair every couple of days (every other in the summer, third day in winter), but I use Dr. Bronner to wash and then, two or three times a month, a citrus rinse. As for deodorant, I use a salt crystal that prevents body odor bacteria, but allows me to sweat as I was intended.

    Chrystie wrote on April 28th, 2011
  3. not using shampoo seems pretty stupid. The air quality today is much different than pre-industrial revolution. I dont think that just water would be enough to get all the daily build up of gunk from pollutants out of the hair. I’ve known plenty of people with great thick heads of hair that shampoo daily.

    Steve wrote on May 22nd, 2011
    • Rubbing a bunch of chemicals into your hair and onto your scalp “seems” more stupid.

      Brian Kozmo wrote on May 23rd, 2011
  4. how can you wash all the modern day pollutants and grime (car exhaust etc.) out of the hair with just water?

    Steve wrote on May 26th, 2011
    • Can you tell me which pollutants get stuck in hair in the first place (in its natural form, without hairspray or gel)? Can these pollutants not be washed out with water? If not, then what chemicals in shampoo are actually needed to rid of the pollutants? If you can answer that, then maybe I’ll believe shampoo to be benificial.

      Brian Kozmo wrote on May 27th, 2011
      • shampoo isn’t going to kill you. I’m more afraid of a tsunami or earthquake than my bottle of shampoo.

        Steve wrote on July 25th, 2011
  5. I stopped using shampoo and soap, except for my hands when handling food or after using the bathroom but haven’t told anyone, especially my mate. I think he would be horrified, but in fact my hair is fine, and I don’t smell! (Except yesterday when I climbed the hill back from the nude beach.) When I shower, I use a scrubby (or what ever you call those plastic things) on both my head and my skin – I think it helps get the loose skin that we normally shed off my body. And I feel clean and my skin looks good. Also had my haircut yesterday and felt that the barber had no idea he was cutting unwashed hair. I like this.

    Nigel Pottle wrote on July 5th, 2011
  6. I have also quit using shave cream for my face. I just shave dry, believe it or not and think I do a better job of getting smooth. It can tend to burn though, so i sometimes use water – they always say to wet your face with water to soften your beard hair first. I don’t put any lotions on either. I have used lotions very rarely when my skin was dry. I think that without the soap, my skin is starting to be less scaly (I mean on my legs, not my face. lol.)

    Nigel wrote on July 5th, 2011
  7. Regarding the comment about body odour; I’ve only recently gone Primal, and struggling with carbs (damned things are in EVERYTHING!!! Lol ;)) – I’ve noticed on my good days where carb intake is right down, I tend to have either no noticeable body odour, or if I do smell, it’s of something I’ve eaten a lot of (the other day for example, I noticed the pits were pleasantly smelling of strawberries, because I’d had strawberries on two occasions during that day). On bad days, when I just can’t resist the carbs I shouldn’t be eating, a very acidic smelling BO returns with a vengance. I have been using a natural deodorant for years now, as conventional products kept causing cysts under my arms, just rock salt in a spray bottle with water – shake, spray and go! I sometimes add a drop or two of lavender oil, usually if I’m going out, just for girly-perfume’s sake 😉 as I don’t use any perfumes whatsoever. But this nukes the bacteria feeding on my dead skin cells and sweat, and so thus nukes any smells :)

    Been trying to wean myself off of soap, shampoo and all the other gunk we’re supposed to use in the name of hygiene for a while. I’m now down to: no toothpaste just brushing with water and occasionally chewing on a stick in the oral hygiene department (results so far: sweet breath on good carb days, cleaner tongue and at least as clean if not cleaner teeth – have to wait for the dentist’s verdict on that one); an all-natural, all-organic, lavender soap for hand-washing and if I feel the need in the shower; aloe vera for moisturising (mainly the stubborn dry areas on my face, and for my hands after work) – result: skin is still adjusting but already feels amazing, the dry areas on my face and my cracked elbows are healing nicely. I never have showered more than twice a week, so no problem with over-washing, it’s just what I was washing with.

    Shampoo is going to be the biggie. Again, made the change from conventional to a good quality natural product a while back, but still had grease issues, dandruff issues and my curls were still basically rebellious frizz. I only wash my hair once a week, so again, it’s not over-washing, but what I’m washing it with that’s causing the problem. It’s now 4 weeks since I last washed my hair, and OK it looks a bit greasy, but the curls are actual curls and the dandruff, although still there is reduced. After reading through all the tips and advice here, I’m going to give some things a try, and hopefully I’ll be going shampoo-less too 😀

    Jo wrote on July 6th, 2011
  8. does your hair grow faster without using shampoo?

    Steve wrote on July 7th, 2011
  9. this is the first time i have ever heard of this and i think i’ll be giving it a try. but i style my hair A LOT with hairspray (it’s my best friend). any ideas as to what to use instead?

    Amber wrote on July 18th, 2011
  10. I used Apple cider vinegar diluted in water to clean my hair and it worked really well. You have to be very thorough with the scalp massage and you have to let it sit for a few minutes. I did it twice in one shower. I used a spray bottle instead of dumping it in my head. The spray bottle works much better. i used 1 tablespoon mixed with 8oz of distilled water.

    Steve wrote on July 30th, 2011
  11. Very cool subject. I’ve been unemployed for over a year, so I ditched the morning shower thing as a habit. I’ve got a pool and a hot tub and I love em both and I’m in em alot. It’s pretty obvious that just getting wet on a regular basis keeps you darn clean. What else did Grok have? And that would be cold water only on most of the planet. As far as the “smell” goes, what you exude is determined by what you take in. When you clean up your diet and get hydrated, the body does not have to slough off tons of crap through your skin. I think it’s like a lot of Primal stuff – you just can’t imagine it’s RIGHT. Then you try it, and whaddaya know…..

    captain mike wrote on September 8th, 2011
  12. I’ve been water-only for about six months now. Before then, I was baking soda-only for a few months. At the beginning of W/O I just didn’t get my hair wet at all. I was going for dry brush-only, but I gave up before I gave it a chance to get through the transition period. It was oily for weeks, and I kept it in french braids and such. I got impatient and rinsed with water and everything was good. I’ve been W/O since then. I may try no-water in the future, but W/O is working for now.

    I’ve stretched it to one rinse a week (W/O on my body too, except sometimes I decide to use soap in some *ahem* areas) and I use a deodorant crystal/rock on my pits every morning.

    I’m sure I smell more like a human than modern people are used to, but even my most honest of friends haven’t mentioned an offensive smell.

    I rinse my face daily with warm water, and I find that dries it out.
    I use soap on my hands.

    As for my hair, it’s not as manageable as I’d like (better since I cut it shorter), and I think that’s mostly due to my neglecting to brush it with boar bristle brush (vegan alternative) on a daily basis coupled with the hard water. I’ve heard that lemon juice-rinse-ACV-rinse takes care of hard water residue and restores the natural pH, but I haven’t tried.

    Maria wrote on September 30th, 2011
  13. I haven’t shampooed my hair for 2 months. I’ve used baking soda and vinegar ad directed. I have thick wavy hair and I use to use a lot of product (mousse and gel). Needless to say if I leave it alone I will look like carrot top or someone with really poofy hair. I scrolled down this article and learned about the fascinating replacement for “gel”, aloe vera! What I love about aloe Vera is for one it’s not sticking and as gooey as “gel”. You can use it on dry hair ( the next day after washing it ) bc it almost works like water to rewet your hair. All at the same time you will get marvelous curls and it will have you saying sayanara to those chemically processed products. Your hair won’t get as crispy or shiny as it will with “gel” so that’s a goody too!

    Adriana wrote on November 3rd, 2011
  14. What exactly does the baking soda and vinegar do?

    Jane wrote on December 22nd, 2011
  15. I am struggling with the third week of being poo-free. I have read the numerous posts about the transition being difficult, but the results being worth it.

    I am willing to stick it out, but my biggest issue right now is static. I have long, naturally wavy hair, and I’m going crazy trying to tame it. Can anyone offer recommendations to reduce static electricity? Has anyone else experienced this during the poo phase-out period?

    Karen wrote on March 26th, 2012
    • I’ve been poo-less (water only) for a couple of years now, thrilled with the results, my long hair does not tangle.

      However, I notice awful static when away from home, if I have to wash my hair in hard water.

      Ann Duncan wrote on April 23rd, 2012
  16. I feel weird saying this, but I’ve never liked showering… I never felt “better” like people said I would, and I did get made fun of it at camp where I would put up a fight to take a shower because I didn’t feel dirty one day (I had been sick and hadn’t been doing what everyone else had been doing)… My hair usually goes 1-2 weeks without being washed (yes with shampoo, but I’ve recently decided to switch to No-Poo baking soda/ACV) as does my body.

    I shave my pits every time I shower year round. I only shave my legs between late April/Early November (at the latest) because I cover my legs completely during the cold months.

    I only wear makeup for special occasions and I only use deodorant when I know I’m going to be doing something more active than usual.

    My body is used to this. It doesn’t start to stink as fast as others do because it’s not “cleaned” as often. At the first sign that I’m starting to stink (I can tell and my family starts telling me) I shower. This can take 1-2 weeks depending on what I do.

    Life is really very simple when you don’t do much to yourself. You have more money, the products that you do buy last a lot longer and you have a lot more time.

    Neke wrote on June 6th, 2012
  17. i have just recently graduated from cosmetology school last December(beauty school it sounds more fancy though when you say cosmetology)any way i am licensed now and when i started school i never knew or understood the risks of the products we use in our industry. it was not until i became aware of the high amounts of formaldehyde and other toxic preservatives in products. that is when i started questioning the intentions of the big cosmetics company. it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look up products names and their ingredients. however in the consumers defense not many of them know how bad it is getting out there.

    first let me say our industry is not regulated by the F.D.A we can use and abuse words like “organic” or “natural” but the whole concoction can be a mess of detergents, preservatives, and only god knows what else. second anything that is “formaldehyde free” is an illusion. shocker right i mean why would the big companies lie about what they put in there products?? the point is have knowledge about what you are putting in and on your body and also your childrens bodies as well. ever hear of a “baby friendly” company called Johnson & Johnson? guess what they are the worst! just read the lable as your reading the baby shampoo and body wash read down until you see the words
    quaternium 15,
    imidazolidinyl urea,
    diazolidinyl urea
    Methyl aldehyde
    Methylene oxide
    Morbicid acid

    my point is people please read your labels!! and always research!

    sarah wrote on August 16th, 2012
  18. i tried the poo-less shampoo last night – a little over a tablespoon of baking soda in about 300 odd mills of water. wonderful. didnt need a conditioner – and my hair feels like silk. i only usually wash it once a week anyway (with a low toxin shampoo – but i always need conditioner after that) and have been trying to do it less and less often. btw, female, 45, shoulder blade length, fine, vaguely wavy hair, last 4 inches of which are colour treated

    Albe wrote on September 4th, 2012
  19. I have had success eliminating commercial hair products and been “poo-less” for 4 years. In the shower, use 1 T baking soda in 8 oz water to wash, then 1 T apple cider vinegar in 8 oz water to rinse, followed by quick plain water rinse from the showerhead. Do this 1-2x per week; just rinse with water when not “washing” it. My shoulder-length thick hair with slight waves is soft and luxurious, never dry, never oily (no vinegar smell, either). Bronners never worked for me, but my husband likes it for his much shorter hair.

    dee dee wrote on November 7th, 2012
  20. Does that combination of baking soda in water really work? Any side effects? sounds scary……

    Mish wrote on November 7th, 2012
  21. Sometime this summer I stopped showering every day. I told myself I would shower after doing something to get sweaty, and would then fail to do that something, and not shower. Got in the habit of showering every 4 or 5 days with no smell comments.
    Saw a link to this post at some point, but continued using shampoo every shower (so like 3 times every 2 weeks). Since college started in August I have showered without shampoo more often than with.
    Water and finger-scrubbing works just as well as shampoo as far as I can tell. Never have used soap in the shower. Last shower: November 4. Smell: Fine.

    Bill C wrote on November 8th, 2012
  22. Hi, if trialling ‘poo-less’, what’s the deal with conditioner – I’m guessing you stop using that too, do you?


    Chad wrote on August 1st, 2013
  23. I sure agree for many reasons that poo-less and soapless are the ways to go, however, my personal experience is that all four of our adult children have greasy, stinky hair that I prefer not to be anywhere near. Maybe they haven’t tried ACV and baking soda and such, so I’ll make some gentle suggestions. Then maybe its my turn…..

    Lee wrote on August 11th, 2013

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