The hair files
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
There are many things we haven’t done since lockdown started. It was with surprise that I realised one of the things I haven’t done is wash my hair.
To put this in context, I don’t wash my hair all that much anyway – perhaps once or twice a month. But to go six months without lathering up is a long time, even for me.
In a past life I would wash my hair every day; I wouldn’t feel ‘me’ unless my day had started with a thorough sluicing, coaxing life into my limp bonce with whichever volumeising shampoo had marketed its way into my life. And by bed time my hair would be disappointing enough to have to wash it again in the morning.
But as I grew more environmentally conscious, the impact of my daily shower couldn’t be ignored. I was effectively flushing chemicals and clean water into the sewers, all the while stripping my hair of its natural oils.
Like many others, I had heard the rumour that if you leave it long enough, hair will start to wash itself. I had never believed it but, curious and motivated, I started by adding a day at a time. My daily hair wash became every two days, then after a while I could go to three, then four. Soon I was only washing my hair once a week. It would always reach that greasy, itchy point eventually, but in the meantime I would have an absolutely acceptable head of pretty much clean hair. My hair had started to adapt.
Eventually I got up to two weeks, then three weeks, then once a month. Soon I was washing it whenever I remembered, or could be bothered. Of course, by this point I had realised that hair doesn’t clean itself (scientifically impossible!) but instead, requires less cleaning the less you clean it. Before, it was accustomed to my intense programme of washing, so it adapted to that. Now, the adaptation was at the other extreme.
The things that had worried me and had prevented me from trying this sooner went away. Would my head smell? No. What about my dandruff? Cured. Would it just look thin and lifeless all the time? Well yes, but that's because my hair is thin and lifeless, not because I don't wash it any more. And in addition to the water savings and the benefit of not pouring a load of chemicals down the drain, it’s just so much easier – especially if I’m going camping or cycling or away somewhere where I’m not convinced I’ll have access to a shower.
I used to always hate my hair, frustrated that it would never look how I wanted it to look. When I stopped trying to do anything with it, it stopped misbehaving. Now it just feels normal.
This article says about hair: “Hair breaks and frizzes with too much washing. Shampoo traps oils, so if you do it too frequently, you leave your hair prone to breakage. For a lot of hair textures, the cleaner it is, the more unruly it is.” I have found that absolutely to be true. (The rest of the article has some great stats like 2 in 3 Americans shower more than once a day. What??! And showers are typically the third largest water guzzler in the average home, after toilets and clothes washers. Although Miss Smug here doesn’t have a flush toilet either – I built my own composting one.)
For many of our climate battles, the bottom line is that we need to do what we do *less*. And when it comes to hair washing, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.