1. Only water cleansing: Only water
The purest variant is to wet your hair with spring water. Advocates say that, although your hair gets greasy in the first few weeks, its appearance subsequently improves greatly because sebum production eventually regulates itself.
I have nothing to say about this except that water is not a cleansing agent and even if you never use hair products, you are exposed to pollutants, your natural oils or sebum and sweat which water does not have the ability to cleanse.
2. Baking soda/ apple cider vinegar (ACV)
Natural is not always better. Just because it is in your pantry it does not mean it should go on your hair and skin.
Baking soda has a pH=8, ACV has a pH=3 one is too alcaline and the one too acid.
The alkaline pH causes hair shaft swelling. This swelling loosens the protective cuticle predisposing the hair shaft to damage. It can also cause irritation of the scalp, hair loss and bleaching. Don’t do it. Even if it “looks good” a few times it will eventually have a rebound effect and even increase the production of sebum, defeating the purpose of being a cleasing agent. ACV is not as harmful as baking soda but still is not a good idea if you want healthy hair.
3. Cleansing conditioners or cowash products and regular conditioners:
They contain cationic (positively charged) surfactants such as stearalkonium, cetrimonium, and behentimonium chlorides, behentrimonium methosulfate, and stearamidopropyl dimethylamine which soften the hair and stick to it (because hair has a slight negative charge), which in theory could lead to more buildup. But at the same time, they do possess some capacity to gently lift dirt and oil.
My opinion as a medical doctor:
The no poo trend is probably not what is hyped out to be and can be harmful, but using conditioner or cowash products to cleanse the scalp can be an aid to refresh hair in between shampoos, that can be as separated as 4 weeks depending on lifestyle and baseline dryness of hair. In fact there is an old “guideline” from the american asociation of dermatology for afro hair care that recommends washing it every 1-2 weeks, with the option to cowash you can still enjoy the benefits of cleansing your scalp and hair without drying it out more.
Natural is NOT always better: please don’t put baking soda and apple cider vinegar on your scalp and hair, it may look good at first but you will in general have problems down the road and it will take a while to solve it. They may be in the pantry but they are not good for the hair or scalp.
Water never hurt anyone but all it can do is moisturize, it really does not clean properly.
In principle it is not harmful to only use conditioner (regular or the more expensive cowash products) and they can mildly cleanse the scalp and hair if left on and massaged in the scalp and then rinsed out as any other shampoo would be, yet eventually you should shampoo (succinates are a great alternative to sulfates, if you dont like sulfates look for this) for clarifying. If you want to “no poo” prefer cowashing with products (I cowash sometimes because I work out regularly), either with high end cowash products, if you have big pockets or an ecofriendly condish (like the one From bodyshop) or a good ole cheap condish like Aussie and shampoo at some point.
Is it necessary to buy a special cowash product?
Probably not, I compared a few cowash ingredients on various products and the cleansing agents are the same the difference are the specialty ingredients and the formulation (cream, foam etc) same as in any cosmetic product a part of the effective marketing. You dont need to buy a conditioning cleanser, but if you can afford it and want to do so you totally can.
Conditioners that work well as cowash ingredient wise and that I have tried: Aussie Moist, Tresseme Naturals, rainforest coconut oil by the bodyshop. The absolute on a budget condish with great smell the white rain coconut, I cant get it in Germany but is so good.
Cleansing conditioner I have tried: Macadamia cleansing cream. I liked the fact that it is a foam and smells so fresh but the price of about 20 euro for a 100ml flask is not worth it in comparison to less than 10 euro for 400ml of aussie or 200ml of coconut rainforest for same results.
What do the experts say about shampoo?
The Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (AEDV)
“… shampoo removes the oil produced by the sebaceous glands that traps dead scalp cells, dirt and other substances we apply, such as sprays, gels, etc. This oil or sebum must be removed periodically for reasons other than the merely aesthetic, as it is an important source of microorganisms that could induce infections.”
The Dermatolology times Dr. Zoe Diana Draelos (she has written really good scientific review papers about hair care products)
“The frequency of hair washing depends on the sebum and sweat production of the individual and the geometry of the hair. Hair that is straight will rapidly wick the sebum and sweat from the scalp while tightly kinked hair wicks very poorly. For this reason, individuals with very straight hair usually prefer to shampoo daily while individuals with kinky hair shampoo once every one to two weeks. It is likely that most Americans shampoo their hair too much, accounting for the huge sale of hair conditioners designed to replace sebum with a more cosmetically acceptable synthetic ingredient.”
Dr. Robert Dorin, a board-certified hair transplantation surgeon in New York City.
“the scalp beneath the hair needs to be regularly cleaned of oil, dried sweat, dirt and dead skin cells, Those using “no-poo” products “aren’t really cleaning their scalp,”. “They’re not taking off the environmental impurities.”People who don’t use detergent shampoo to clean the scalp run the risk of developing fungal and bacterial infections”
Eliminating shampoo from the hair care routine is probably a bad idea, but reducing its frequency of usage (instead of eliminating) might be beneficial and all you need to do.
Choose the right shampoo for you (even if it has sulfates a pH balanced for dry hair shampoo can be good, the mix of ingredients is more important, dont like sulfates then use a different surfactant)
Shampoo correctly with small amonts of product also only your scalp needs cleansing massage, the hair just gets cleansed with the foam.
No poo in its purest form( all natural no product)is unhealthy, since it can lead to sebum, dirt, oil and environmental pollutants build up which then can lead to scalp diseases such as fungal and bacterial infections or can cause damage to the hair shaft by exposure to caustic agents such as baking soda ultimately causing breakage.