Monday, December 06, 2010

No-Poo? Alternatives to Shampoo and Deodorant

By Jessica Stone

It's been a while since I've seen any discussions of the No-Poo topic and I am curious about people's results, i.e., how long, successes, failures, other solutions (instead of the defined No-Poo method of baking soda and vinegar)...Below I describe my experiences and experiments with all natural products to replace shampoo, laundry soap and deoderant.

I stopped using shampoo about a year ago. At first I tried variations of baking soda and vinegar rinses, baking soda and lime or lemon juice, etc. and hated all of them, especially the vinegar and baking soda because it dried my hair out too much, and every time I would sweat or get caught in the rain my head stunk of vinegar. The lime juice rinse was better, but required straining (I learned the hard way - had bits of lime in my hair for days the first time I tried it), but it all seemed like a huge bother and I still had a flaky scalp. Just using water all the time was great for a while as well, but then I noticed that I had a really gunky, oily, dead skin build-up and my hair didn't smell or look too nice.

It took about 4 or 5 months of trial and error before I found something that really worked - Soap Nuts. I highly recommend them! They are actually the dried, de-seeded fruit of a tree, are naturally full of saponin, and they've been used for thousands of years in India. (For more information on what a soap nut is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapindus.)

I started using soap nuts for laundry back in June as an alternative to the regular heavily chemical soaps. They are very cheap - a 1lb bag of soap nuts cost me $20 on Amazon.com and 5 soap nuts in a small cotton bag (included with purchase) will do about 5-6 loads of laundry. I still have half of my original bag left, and I do about 3-5 loads of laundry per week. Soap nuts have a faint antiseptic smell when wet and are not super sudsy, but they leave no odor on your clothes and their natural oils eliminate the need for fabric softener (although static is still a problem). The only thing they don't do is remove heavy stains like grease or blood, so I pre-treat those with other things, but for everyday, simple laundering they are gentle and effective. I know moms who swear by them for their cloth diapers!

I decided that since these little guys work so well for laundry, why not give them a try for my hair? At a farmer's international market I found a commercial product imported from India which is just powdered soap nut. It's called aritha powder, or reetha, and my husband and I have been using it for about 6 months. It's stronger smelling than the laundry soap nuts and I don't know if that's because it's aged or comes from a different variety of shrub or tree, but we mix it into a paste or thick liquid in a squeeze bottle and work it into the scalp, then leave it on for a minute or two and rinse. The paste is fairly gritty and feels good rubbed into the scalp, and it seems to help get rid of dead skin. We both use it once a week, and it leaves our hair shiny, silky, soft and clean without stripping the oils away. I add cinnamon to my mix so my hair smells very pleasant!

Recently, I decided to shift away from the commercial aritha powder because it's hard to know about impurities such as pesticides in a product coming from India. I've discovered that most henna is contaminated with dyes, pesticides and chemicals, so why not aritha? (Henna, btw, is another WONDERFUL thing for hair...I use it to color and condition my hair, and it always leaves my hair thicker, silkier and more vibrant. Even the color-neutral variety does this.) I've been experimenting with my laundry soap nuts, and will have to report back in a bit as I try more things. Currently, I soak 2-3 nuts in boiling water and then mix in some powdered aritha (and cinnamon) and it works really well. The next step is to replace the aritha with my own ground soap nuts and see if that changes the results.

Now, on to the deoderant...Huge success here! I make a mixture of coconut oil, baking soda, corn starch, a few drops of red palm oil (for vitamins like e), and a few tiny drops of essential oils (lavender and tea tree). I started with equal portions of the coconut oil, baking soda and corn starch, but it was way too thick and powdery when applied, so I added a lot more coconut oil. I think an ideal ratio would be 1/4 cup of coconut oil to 1/8th cup of baking soda and 1/16 cup corn starch, but I recommend adding a bit of oil at a time to get a consistency you are happy with. You can always leave the corn starch out, too. I keep it in a small jar in the bathroom. A tiny bit works all day, the coconut oil is very soothing, especially after shaving, and one jar lasts a really long time!

So how about it? What have all you other no-poo'ers been doing with your hair?

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