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Water-only Hair Washing: The Dirty Truth

by The Hairstory Team|30 March, 2020|Blog / Expert advice / 

Can hair survive on water alone? 

This would mean quitting shampoo, the stuff we’ve used to wash hair with for decades, and living without conditioner. Well, you wouldn’t be called hairbrained; many people practice this alternative method to hair cleansing what is known as water-only hair washing, or the WO method.

WHAT IS THE WATER-ONLY METHOD?

The water-only (WO) hair washing method simply uses only warm water to cleanse your scalp and hair, while allowing your natural oils to protect and nourish hair. This practice is usually the final stop on a long journey away from shampooing toward co-washing or a home-brewed cleanser that trains the scalp to avoid pumping out oils after being continually stripped by clarifying shampoo.

There are other alternatives to washing your hair that you should consider such as co-washing or hair cleansing. You may be wondering, “What is co-washing,” and, “How do you co-wash your hair?” Co-washing is a conditioner only washing that originated as a method to keep curly hair moisturized and frizz free. Though this type of washing doesn’t actually clean your hair, co washing curly hair is a great alternative for those looking to transition into water only hair washing.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

Not washing hair with shampoo or conditioner has many positive effects. Benefits of skipping hair products include: no exposure to any chemicals – harsh or otherwise – even baking soda & apple cider vinegar can be damaging over time; nothing spent on cleansers or conditioners; 24/7 availability from your tap, and knowing what your truly natural hair looks and feels like.

Getting to the state of hair nirvana, where your hair feels “just right” – not too clean and not too oily – takes persistence, patience, and boils down to two things:

  1. Ceasing the stripping of natural oils with over-cleansing detergent (shampoo and other hair products).
  2. Washing hair infrequently enough to train your scalp to produce just enough natural oils to nourish your scalp and hair, but not so much that your hair appears greasy.


HOW DO I PHASE OUT SHAMPOO?

First, stop washing your hair every day and gradually add days between washes. If you need to rinse your hair daily, use cool water to preserve oils. At some point, your scalp will get used to this routine and you will achieve less greasy hair. Then, scrub well with warm water every 7-10 days. Use a cool water rinse to get rid of sweat between your weekly rinses.

Each person’s body is different and produces oils differently depending on your washing habits and the type of cleanser you use to wash your hair. Going cold-turkey from shampoo to WO may be a particularly oily transition, so try alternating with another detergent-less method until your scalp calms down.

First, stop washing your hair every day and gradually add days between washes. If you need to rinse your hair daily, use cool water to preserve oils.

The WO method is more than tossing your regular shampoo and taking a shower; there is a technique to it and several steps to take before you get wet.

1. Get Dirty.

Allow your hair to get even just a bit greasy before washing it. The longer you wait between washes, the calmer your scalp will be and the more nourished your hair will be.

2. Scritch.

To help distribute your natural oils and make WO cleansing easier, rub your fingertips (not nails) in quick, gentle motions all over your scalp with your hair dry, and detangled. This creates some friction to loosen oils and dead skin cells and increases blood flow to your hair follicles.

3. Preen.

Then pinch wide, small sections of hair between two fingers and gently slide your fingers down the hair strands to the ends. This “pulls” the oils from the roots and down the strands.

4. Brush.

A boar-bristle brush is essential to water only hair washing. After scritching and preening, use a clean brush to reduce tangles and further distribute oils to the very tips. Reach all areas of your roots and ends while brushing.

5. Wash.

Water temperature is very important. Too hot can damage hair or scalp and too cool won’t break up excess oils. A comfortable temperature between hot and lukewarm is ideal. As your scalp’s oil production slows down, you may cool down the temperature.

Water temperature is very important. Too hot can damage hair or scalp and too cool won’t break up excess oils.

Wet your hair, then use your fingertips (not nails) to gently scritch your scalp as before. Focus the water stream directly on the area you’re scritching. If you notice your roots are getting clean but the next inches aren’t, try also preening as in Step 3, or try using slightly warmer water. Take your time and make sure you attend to all areas of your scalp.

6. Rinse.

A cold water rinse helps close your hair cuticles after warm water opens them up, which helps hair look shinier and retain moisture. As you dial down the temperature, fling all of your hair over your head, and stick only it under the stream. If you weren’t awake before, you will be now!

7. Dry & Detangle.

After the shower, pat your hair dry with an old t-shirt or a microfiber towel to reduce frizz and flyaways. Comb through damp hair with a wide-toothed comb, starting at the ends and working your way up. Be gentle as hair is fragile while wet.

8. Moisturize.

Moisturizing after a water wash is important to keep your hair healthy. If you have dry or damaged ends, sparingly apply coconut, jojoba, or argan oil (unrefined, cold-pressed) to the ends only, especially if you are new to WO washing and your natural oils haven’t yet conditioned that far down your strands of hair.

9. Air-dry or Style.

Some WO enthusiasts report needing next to no styling products since switching. Regardless of your experience, you may want to stay away from hair care products that are less water-soluble such as waxes and anything containing silicone that may not wash out as easily as you’d like, especially without regular shampoo – and that’s the whole point, right?

We wish you and your hair bon voyage on your shampoo-free journey. And if you need some help along the way, take a look into New Wash for the best of both worlds: neither shampoo or conditioner, it cleanses while it moisturizes.

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