Shampoo- Why?

A trend called the “no poo” has been circulating for a while now, and I’ve been thinking of how to approach the subject for quite a bit. On one hand, you have a slew of benefits from it, on the other, you have people complaining it made their hair worse, and the detrimental effects it can have on certain types of hair. There’s no simple answer (is there ever?) but the least I can do is break it down for everyone to understand what’s going on with their heads and the stuff that grows out of it.

Shampoo- first off, what is it? Shampoo cleans and exfoliates the scalp removing oils and other product build up. This is incredibly important for a couple of reasons, the exfoliation helps keep a healthy scalp as well as prevent dandruff and dry scalp, while shampoo* itself tends to have a pH of around 4.5-5.5, which is the hair’s natural pH.

Sulfates is a short hand term for sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, ingredients (in conjunction with a co-surfactant) that are generally responsible for the lathering effect in shampoo. In 1998 there was a study that supposedly linked sulfates to cancer, however that study has since been debunked. On that note- sulfates are not free of scrutiny. Sulfates are major pore cloggers as well as a common cause for dry scalp. 

However that isn’t to say that using a shampoo containing these ingredients will ruin your hair, if anything the worst that happens to most clients is that their hair will dry out a bit. Most people will have little to no problems from using products containing sulfates.

So what are the benefits of not shampooing? Your body does produce natural oils that are meant to be on your hair and on your skin. When you stop shampooing and only rinse the hair every so often with water, your body is able to regulate it’s oil production for what your hair needs. The oils that your body produce help keep the hair look healthy and shiny, often times though the initial first couple of weeks can be rough for people. It can take several weeks for the body to change it’s oil production, and getting accustomed to the feeling and habit of not shampoo-ing the hair are the hurdles that if you would have to jump.

That being said, after making it through that initial transition period, hair will begin to look shinier, over time you’ll find that you’ll have less split ends, and you’ll have successfully taken out step in your beauty routine.

In India, the first methods of shampooing were created by boiling several herbs together (such as Sapindus and dried Indian goosberry) and using the strained extract. Colonial traders in India indulged in a daily strip wash that included cleansing the hair and body massage- chāmpo (that’s where the name came from!) Upon returning to Europe they brought back these new ideas and called it shampoo.

Other early versions of shampoos derived from Indonesia, where the husks and straw of rice were burned to create an ash, which was then mixed with water to form a lather. Afterwards, the alkaline mixture would leave hair very dry, and so coconut oil was added to the hair to make it soft and give it shine.

Native American tribes in North America used extracts from plants as shampoo. Juniper berries were made into teas for skin problems as well as shiny hair, and it was even used on horses to give them a beautiful coat. The extract is actually still used in hair care products today. In Montana the  Cheyenne were known to use the wild mint plant as a hair oil, another group in British Columbia used the whole plant to create a hair dressing. Yucca was another plant used, but to prevent baldness and encourage hair growth. The roots would be soaked in warm water creating a wash.

The toddler stages of shampoo were actually quite similar to soap, stylists would boil shaving cream in water, add some herbs for shine and smell, and call it a day. The product we know today as shampoo was introduced by Proctor & Gamble in the mid 1930’s with Drene. The company even sponsored a variety show called Drene Times and claimed the new formula would silken hair.

So why the history lesson on shampoo? It’s important to know where shampoo originated; the cultures it came from are largely responsible for many of it’s European counterparts “discoveries”. Since the no-poo movement is brought up as being a way to go all natural, I feel it’s important to realize that we’ve been washing our long before there were synthetic formulas for it, and to note that we haven’t actually had shampoo for that long.

Shampooing varies person to person, I don’t feel that in todays world with the types of products that are put into hair, smog in the air, etc. that the no poo movement is an option for everyone. However aspects of it may be taken with a grain of salt- we as a society in general tend to over shampoo and over clean. We’ve become so hyper aware of our cleanliness that we have forgotten that our bodies produce sebum and other ‘nasties’ for a reason. 

To shampoo or not to shampoo? It’s up to you. But let’s stop calling it poo’ please.

*if the wording was not clear, many but certainly not all shampoos are a pH between 4.5-5.5


“Agar RAMBUT Selalu Sehat”. Kompas Cyber Media. 2004-04-11. Retrieved 2007-03-26.

Rahman, History of Indian Science, Technology and Culture at Google Books, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195646528, page 145

Khushwant Singh, Hymns of Guru Nanak, Orient Longman,ISBN 978-8125011613

Virginia Smith (2007), Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199297795

Victoria Sherrow, Encyclopedia of hair: a cultural history, 2006 s.v. “Advertising” p. 7.

“From Pert: Do You Wash and Go?”. Company Science Behind the Brands. Procter and Gamble. Archived from the original on 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2007-03-26.

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