Sham-Who? How to Wash Your Hair Without Shampoo

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Everybody likes clean hair. That’s why shampoo is a $29 billion+ global industry. But you can legit wash your hair without shampoo and still emerge with strong, healthy, shiny locks.

The no-poo movement has grown rapidly in the last few years. If you’re no longer head over heels for Head and Shoulders, here’s what you need to know to go no- poo.

How to wash your hair without shampoo

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No.501 - Frizzy Hair

Here’s all the info you need to put down the shampoo.

Getting started

Before you get started, regardless of method, you’ll need a bath, shower, or some other water-dispensing device.

Rinse your hair to make sure any excess or loose dirt is gone. Then the no-poo magic can begin.


To wash your hair using a co-wash (or cleansing conditioner), you’ll first need a bottle of the stuff. Until recently, it was tricky to find co-wash solutions outside of specialist stores and salon suppliers. Nowadays, more stores stock them than ever before.

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A co-wash is a conditioner that manufacturers have formulated to clean your hair at the same time. Some may be labeled as “no-poo” or “low-poo” products, making them super-duper easy to spot on a shelf.

Many drugstores and store brands have started selling their own co-wash solutions. You use it in the same way as a regular shampoo:

  1. Get your hair wet.
  2. Massage the co-wash into your scalp and hair.
  3. Rinse it out.


They’re especially good for textured or relaxed hair, and when you’re trying to repair heat damage.

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A popular no-poo cleaning method is to just skip the shampoo and go straight to the conditioner. Shampoos contain a lot of harsh detergents that conditioners don’t. This is why shampoo fills your bathwater with lather bubbles, but conditioner doesn’t.

This makes it easier on the hair and scalp. Plus, the method is super simple: Wash your hair as you would with shampoo, but don’t use the shampoo. Use conditioner instead.

The conditioner doesn’t strip hair of its natural oil and moisture like shampoo. But do take care with the conditioner-only method — if you’re doing it long-term or you haven’t rinsed properly after applying, product buildup can leave you with a dry, flaky scalp.

Apple cider vinegar

Those who want to go full-on wholesome rustic shampoo alternative can pick the trusty ol’ apple cider vinegar method.

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No.202 - Prevent Elasticity Damage

Unlike using a co-wash or conditioner, there are a few easy steps to follow before washing with apple cider vinegar:

  1. Mix 2–3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with water. It’s important to dilute ACV properly, or it could irritate your scalp. Tweak the ACV/water ratio if your head feels a little raw after washing.
  2. Rinse any dirt out of your hair in the shower.
  3. Apply the ACV/water solution to your head.
  4. Massage it in and let it sit for 2–3 minutes to take effect.
  5. Rinse out.

Hey, presto! You have clean hair!

Some folks like to include baking soda as part of the solution. However, none of this is an exact science (and what science there is suggests baking soda may actually not be great for healthy hair because of its high pH). So we can’t in good conscience recommend using baking soda.

We can recommend apple cider vinegar though. Unlike baking soda, there’s some science to back up the claims it’s good for cleaning hair. ACV has proven antifungal and antimicrobial properties. The people in the lab coats have proven that there is some merit to what the no-poo beauty bloggers have been raving about.

Activates the microcirculation of scalp and strengthens the hair follicles to stimulate hair growth

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So yeah, you can use apple cider vinegar to clean your hair. Crazy world, right?

How to get oil out of your hair without shampoo?

One of the biggest worries when going no-poo is greasy-looking hair. But don’t worry — you don’t need to remove the oils that are building up. Shampoo strips natural oils from your scalp and hair. Your body is overcompensating for this, and it takes a little while for it to realize it can scale back on the grease.

After 2 to 3 weeks, your hair will start looking less oily. If you’re particularly self-conscious about it, anecdotal evidence suggests that massaging your scalp with certain soaps (like goats’ milk soaps) can de-grease un- shampooed hair pretty well.

What are the results of washing your hair without shampoo?

Yes, your hair will be clean after giving it a no-poo wash.

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No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

However, the results won’t be immediate. Your hair will most probably feel a bit greasy in the first 2 to 3 weeks — don’t worry, that’s natural. It’s not a sign your hair is dirty. Your hair has a lot of natural mechanisms for cleaning itself which shampoo suppresses.

Shampooing has been a staple of shower time since we’ve had showers. That’s not an exaggeration either — the first modern shower wasn’t invented until 1767, a full 250+ years after the first evidence of shampoo use.

But many shampoos strip your hair of natural oils. These oils take a few weeks to reach their ideal levels again once you cut the poo from your do.

If shampoo works, why does the no-poo method exist?

The no-poo method is all about having clean and healthy hair, and peeps who swear by it believe that forgoing shampoo is the best way forward for hair hygiene.

Free your hair follicles

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Many shampoos contain chemicals like sulfates and silicones that strip the natural oils from your hair. This causes your scalp to overcompensate and pump out excess oil. It’s for this reason that the no-poo theory suggests that shampoo isn’t healthy for your hair.

Every no-pooer has different reasons for going no-poo. Some forgo shampoo for health reasons like allergies. Others just want to do things a bit differently and see whether they get better results. Many no-pooers found the movement because frizzy, thick, or naturally dry hair can be hella difficult to maintain with shampoo.

Considerations for going no-poo

Washing your hair without shampoo isn’t without its risks.

Your hair and scalp are fickle. A slight upset to the pH balance could lead to thinning hair, as can sudden changes to your hair-care routine. There’s always a chance your hair could react badly to any no-poo method.

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No.312 - Prevent Acne

You also have to remember the important elephant in the no-poo room: shampoo *does* still clean hair. It’s actually really heckin’ good at it, too. Washing your hair with shampoo can prevent a buildup of dust, debris, and allergens on your scalp.

Do you know what happens when those build up? Dermatitis.

Do you know who likes dermatitis? Nobody.

It’s more than likely your hair will look a bit greasier for those first few weeks. Regularly inspect your hair throughout. If you’re starting to notice damage beyond a little bit of extra oiliness, consider switching up your no- poo method or going back to shampoo for a bit until you speak to a local hair expert.

No-poo products for you!

When the scales of the hair fiber are opened, the hair becomes tangled and matted - Repair the damage

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Here are some products to get you started on your shampoo-free life:

  • Cantu Shea Butter Complete Conditioning Cowash. Sold in 10-ounce tubes, reviews suggest that Cantu Beauty’s co-wash is great for curly/wavy hair. It’s a climate-pledge-friendly product, too, so you’re not gaining your no-poo hair benefits at the expense of some cute jungle critters.
  • RENPURE Creme Cowash. According to the manufacturers, this coconut-oil-infused option works for all hair types. It’s free of dyes, harsh salts, gluten, and sodium chloride, meaning it’s great for restoring the strength and shine without chemical harshness.
  • EDEN BodyWorks Coconut Shea Cleansing Cowash. According to customer reviews, folks with dry hair are in safe hands with EDEN BodyWorks’ coconut oil and shea butter combo. It also contains avocado oil and aloe, which further help your hair hang on to moisture.
  • As I Am Coconut Cowash. This coconut co-wash comes recommended by folks who have colored, treated, or damaged hair (whether by heat or chemicals). However, reviews from people with all hair types attest to its effectiveness as a shampoo replacement.
  • Africa’s Best Honey & Castor Cowash. Africa’s Best specialize in products for Black hair. Their honey and castor based co-wash is incredibly popular among folk with this hair type. The co- wash is made from a 100 percent natural formula of honey and castor oil, and it contains traditional African herbs and oils. Legend’s Creek Farm Unscented Goat Milk Soap. Many peeps suggest that giving your scalp a scrub with some goat milk soap helps roll back the greasiness that can develop after going shampoo- free. This is up there with the higher rated options on Amazon.
  • dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse. It’s pricier than other options, but dpHUE have released an ACV which is designed for hair washing. No more raiding your Mee-Maw’s pantry before shower time! It’s infused with vitamin-E-rich proteins and oils, as well as a whole bunch of hair hoorays.


Traditional hair-washing with shampoo works for a lot of peeps, but not everyone. For some, shampoos leave their hair dry, damaged, or tangled. For them, the no-poo movement has been a blessing.

You can pull off shampoo-free hair care in a couple of ways. Co-washes and cleansing conditioners are hitting more shelves every year. For the more old- school, apple cider vinegar washes are a tried-and-tested nugget of homely wisdom.

Most evidence for its effectiveness is anecdotal though. Hair doctors still bump shampoo, because it’s still good at cleaning hair despite the trendy backlash against it. The no-poo method has gained popularity because of influencers and beauty bloggers, and there’s no hard science that exposes shampoo as a… well… sham.

If you want to go shampoo-free, there’s a range of products available. Just make sure you speak with a doctor if the ones you try start damaging your hair (although experiencing a little extra grease for the first few weeks is natural).

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