Saturday, July 10, 2010

Homemade Hair Care Products

I am totally uncomfortable with this post, mostly because it feels dangerously akin to my dispensing beauty advice.

If you know me well at all, you recognize how comical that would be.  Especially since this post is about hair care, and for the most part, I walk around either with pigtails or looking like I styled my hair with a fork.

That said though, I have alluded more than once here recently to removing myself from the shampoo/conditioner/styling product machine, and I'm deriving such gratification from this tiny bit of consumer anarchy that I decided to suck it up, take a couple of photographs of my hair, and learn how to put this into my own words.

Disclaimer: this is not beauty advice.  This is just a little more discord sown into your shopping list by the self-styled shopping list whittler.

The upshot is that commercially-produced shampoo and conditioner are unnecessary, and there is more than ample evidence that sulfates and silicone-derivatives are harmful.  One Green Generation is, I believe, where I first read (in recent, less-hippie years, that is) about the baking soda and vinegar hair care revolution, and from there I followed links all over the internet, more than a little surprised at how mainstream the concept had become.

I was skeptical about trying it myself.  Vanity is a construct of letters fairly well ingrained in my vocabulary, and besides, I have long hair.  Years ago, when my hair was short and platinum blonde, I went a year without using shampoo, and no one even noticed.  With long hair though, and a lifestyle that is a little more socially-acceptable than it once was, along with family members who wrinkled their nose at me when I first suggested my interest in going no-poo, I went back and forth on this subject for months before trying it.

And I continued to buy crazy-cheap, relatively safe shampoos and conditioners from big box stores.  If, after all, I had so little money invested in this anyway, and it wasn't that difficult to find sulfate-free shampoo even in mainstream stores, well, there just wasn't much impetus to change my ways.

But here's the rub for me: after way too many years in journalism- and business-school, where I concentrated heavily in classes in economics, marketing, advertising, public relations, management case studies, and the like, I recognize all too well that much of what we do in this current climate is a direct result of what we are told to do by Those In Charge.  Essentially, advertising dictates what we buy, and our shopping lists are abysmally cumbersome.

To wit: we buy educations for three-, four-, and five-year-olds, because it has been ingrained that others will do a better job than we will at raising and teaching our own children.  We buy clothes dryers because subdivision covenants disallow clotheslines, we buy cake/brownie/pancake mixes because we think it's too much trouble to measure and mix ingredients, we buy paper napkins/towels/tissues in order to avoid having to wash something, and the list goes on.  And on.  And on.  From the simplest item, see baking powder, to much more culturally complex decisions, like how many vehicles a small family really needs to own, we have ceded personal decision-making to large businesses whose sole purpose is to make money.

Let me be clear that I have nothing against profit-generation, and I do not subscribe to the belief that Big Corporations are inherently evil.  In the same vein though, I also do not subscribe to the theory that these Companies In Charge have my best interests at heart.

Johnson & Johnson is not selling shampoo and conditioner as a matter of public health.  Bisquick was not invented to provide superior nutrition.  Ford does not manufacture vehicles the size of small living rooms because safety is their first priority.

I am unplugging myself from the matrix.

I am Keanu Reeves.


What I am really doing is continuing to shorten my shopping list.  And, well, let's be honest, it just so happened that I have never been happier with my hair since I gave up shampoo and conditioner, and that's really what this is all about.  If I had hated the baking soda and vinegar routine, I would have kept on keeping on (read: buying shampoo and conditioner from the store).

A short time back, Jessi wrote about going no-poo, and that was what it finally took for me to take the leap.  Jessi is someone I like a lot, someone I actually know, and someone who is (oh, she's gonna LOVE this) fairly normal.  "See," I said to my mother who had looked at me rather askance the first time I mentioned wanting to give up commercial shampoo, "Even Jessi has given up shampoo."

So I did, too, and though it took a week or so to adapt to the new routine, I found almost immediately that my hair texture improved, my ends ceased looking so frazzly, my hair was shinier overall, and my hair was just as clean and went just as long between cleanings as when I used commercial products.  And in a completely unexpected twist, styling products became unnecessary.

Crazy, right?

Here's the routine: Every couple of weeks, I mix up a solution (see below) of baking soda and water, and another solution (again, see below) of vinegar and water and a few drops of essential oil, and keep them in the shower in plastic bottles.  Some people make only as much as they need for a single use, but I find that insensible.  These solutions keep just fine, so I like to keep enough in the shower to last a few weeks at a time.  Easy peasy.

Following the advice I got 10 years or so ago from a hairstylist friend, I cleanse only my scalp (not the ends), and condition only from the nape of the neck down through the ends (not the scalp).  I wash no more often than every other day, and when I get out of the shower, I use the tiniest amount of coconut oil, smaller than a pea-sized amount, as a styling product.

Have you looked at the ingredient list on bottles of commercial shampoo and conditioner?  Mind-boggling, it is.  The shampoo strips your hair of natural oils, the conditioner adds synthetic products back in, which then build up and make the hair dirty, which requires the use of shampoo to remove.  'Tis a silly cycle.

Two months in, and I have now eliminated the following products from our household shopping list: shampoo, conditioner, shine spray, and styling cream.  And though I have added coconut oil to the list, I have found that it, in turn, also replaces eye cream, lip balm, The Carnivore's pomade, and first aid ointment, thus removing those four items from the shopping list as well.

'Consumer anarchy' sounds so much more palatable than 'Going the way of the hippie,' yes?



  • 1 part baking soda
  • 3 parts water
  1. Shake well before each use.
  2. Massage mixture onto dry scalp, concentrating on hairline and part.
  3. Leave in for one minute.
  4. Rinse.
  • 1 part white or apple cider vinegar
  • 4 parts water
  • 5 to 10 drops essential oil (vanilla, peppermint, lavender, whatever) per cup of solution
  1. Shake well before each use.
  2. Massage into hair from nape of neck down to ends.
  3. Leave in for a minute or so.
  4. Rinse.


Jennifer Jo said...

I'm inspired.

And great pigtails (you hippie, you).

Butch Ammons said...

I heard that her mother was a hippie...

Beth said...

Thing one: your hotness counteracts your insistence that this is not beauty advice, i.e. men love you, women want to be like you.
Thing two: what sort of plastic bottles do you use for the baking soda mixture? I've got my vinegar in a spray bottle and it works great. Please tell me this is not one of your inappropriate re-use-of-a-bottle-originally-intended-for-other-purposes-extreme-recycling scenarios. Just wondering.
Thanks, your royal cuteness.

Sarah Beam said...

My dearest Beth,

Thing one: {snort, snarfle}

Thing two: I am the opposite of extreme recycler in this case. I went to Small-Heart and bought two clear plastic ketchup/mustard-looking bottles with pointed squeezy tops for $0.99/each. And I love them.

Lee said...

OK I am intrigued by this. But despite being in my middle years (I am 51) my hair is both thin (always has been) but very oily. I shampoo as a result. I would love to try this and am just not sure I am brave enough. I worry that i will smell like a salad (LOL) and look like I have about 6 greasy strands of hair. Sigh. Oddly enough, my kids are all AA and no poo is the perfect way to handle their hair and I have not used shampoo on them in ages. I do use all natural conditioners as their hair is very dry.

Sarah Beam said...

Lee, my hair is fairly thin, and has always been rather oily around my hairline. I have found that this treatment actually makes my hair seem thicker, and amazingly, it also helps it to hold a style better. The baking soda does a fantastic job of cleansing. I use the baking soda every other day due to my oily hair, whereas I have friends who only use it once a week.

As for the vinegar smell, it goes away as soon as your hair is dry. Strange, but true. I use vanilla essential oil in mine, and it imparts a very light, very non-perfumey vanilla scent. The vinegar smell doesn't exist at all.

I encourage you to try it, if you are intrigued at all. You could even do the baking soda & vinegar on a daily basis if you feel wedded to the idea of daily cleansing. However, you might try rubbing a tiny bit of cornstarch on your hands and then running your hands through your scalp on day two, and see if you can go another day without washing. I have used the cornstarch trick for years - it works like a dry shampoo to soak up excess oil.

BeeBelle said...

I have a question that's been bubbling around in my head since I read another blogger who is doing this ... if you only wash every other day or once a week, what do you do on the "off" days? I am particularly concerned because I work out and eschew air conditioning, so I get pretty sweaty. Do you keep your hair dry, wet it but no product, ???

Sarah Beam said...

BeeBelle, on the off days, I generally just go about my business. My hair can generally hold a style for two days, so I just don't sweat it. If I'm particularly dirty on day two, or if I have somewhere important to go, then I'll wash again (a baking soda solution as wet as mine isn't very harsh and can be used every day if need be). If I feel gunky, but my hair is not, then I'll wrap my hair in a bun, take a shower or bath and attempt to keep my head dry, then take out the bun and enjoy wavy hair from the steam. If my hair is oily on the off day, but I do not need to bathe, I might rub a tiny bit of cornstarch through the hairline just to freshen up. And finally, if my hair just looks super crappy on day two, I might spritz it with water and re-style it without cleansing at all.

It all depends on the hair and the circumstance. For me, washing every other day is perfect. And what I have found is that using baking soda & vinegar is no different than using commercial products as to how often I need to cleanse.

Heshani said...

I think this is a good idea to be think of...

Jennifer Jo said...

Seriously considering.

Bought lavender essential oil.

Question: for the hair detangler, how large are those parts? Are you talking tablespoons, cups, or gallons? 'Cause 5 drops of essential oil in 5 tablespoons of water is very different from 5 drops in 5 gallons.

Sarah Beam said...

JJ, I use 5 - 10 drops of oil in a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar to 1 cup water. Glad you caught that. I will fix it in the post.

The Hubbards said...

all mrs Beam... you have managed to inspire me yet again - as I bought the ingredients to make yet another batch of baking powder today while at the grocery store - not to mention the damn cashew clusters... my chocolate addiction thanks you, my fat rolls, not so much. (Thank goodness I dance a lot). Anyhoo, we (being me and my always willing to go along for the ride hubby) are going to give this a go when we use up the shampoo and conditioner I just bought (we can't let them go to waste). I would, however, look into jojoba oil for your hair over the coconut oil it is lighter and less greasy and great for keeping skin young (I swear). Look into it - even if not for you hair! I think you should send me a list of books... I have a large book appetite these days or maybe I should just come borrow some! THANK YOU as always for continuing to inspire us. Maybe one day, I'll get to return the favor!

kristen said...

I've been exploring reducing my products, though I've never used much. For now, I've switched to a lovely shampoo bar that eliminates the need for conditioner and works beautifully. For those wanting another option, this bar only uses natural oil, water, and essential oils. My hair is VERY happy. (No, I am not connected to this company in any way. :) )

The bar I've been using is J.R. Liggett's Old-Fashioned Shampoo Bar.

Jennifer Jo said...

Sarah, After two hair washes, more questions.

1. How much of the baking soda solution do you use per wash? I find that it takes a lot to get my scalp wet all over, so I probably use at least half a cup.

2. The baking soda settles to the bottom of the bottle about 1 second after shaking it. Would it work to dissolve the soda in boiling water before bottling?

3. My hair is shorter than yours, so I'm only getting a little of the vinegar solution in the hair---from the nape down. This leaves an awful lot of top hair untouched. Is this how it is for you?

Sarah Beam said...


1 - I wouldn't worry about getting your scalp wet all over. Matter of fact, if you use too much baking soda, your hair might start to feel too coarse. I use only a couple tablespoons. I squirt the solution around my hairline and my part and then just work it around with my fingers.

2 - Yes, the baking soda settles quickly back to the bottom. Don't worry about that either. Enough is getting on your scalp that it is working fine.

3 - As for the vinegar, you may find that you want to use it all over your hair, or that you only want to use it on the ends, or on the entire back of your head (from the crown down). It depends on how oily your hair is, really. I find it makes my hairline get oily too quickly (by the second day) if I use it around my face. I would suggest trying it on the whole back of your head, and see how that treats you. The thing is though, it really makes your hair look nice & shiny, so about once a week I use it all over my head, avoiding the hairline.

The sad fact about the baking soda & vinegar treatment is that almost everyone does it ever so slightly differently, and you will probably need to tweak it a little to get what works best for you. I'm tickled that you are trying it though. Liberating, isn't it?

Jennifer Jo said...

This helps. Thanks. you think it would HURT anything to mix the soda with boiling water?

Sarah Beam said...

JJ, it certainly would not hurt anything.

Jan said...

Sarah, I tried your recipes for the hair products and think they're great. Thanks for sharing!
Do you have any home-made/natural ideas for washing the body, i.e. instead of soap, shower gel, etc.?
I began following your blog a while ago via your mom's. Always enjoy your posts.
Jan B.

Sarah Beam said...

Hi Jan - I am SO GLAD to hear you like the homemade hair product recipes. It is such an empowering feeling to find a way around buying beauty products.

I have read some information recently about cleansing the body using oils (strange, I know), but haven't done any tinkering with it myself yet. My husband and I are both self-employed and thus we love to trade out work where possible. As such, we have been blessed with a whole plethora of homemade natural soaps from a local soap-maker, and I haven't had the need to find an alternative yet. That said, I do highly recommend using natural soaps, and I have loved every handmade soap that I have come across. Essentially, if I recognize the ingredients listed on the packaging, I feel comfortable using the soap.

Right now, I am in the process of finding alternatives for facial skincare products. So far, not so good though...

Jan said...

Thanks for your response, Sarah. Natural soaps do sound like the way to go. I mean, they basically are home-made, from simple ingredients, right?

Yes, natural alternatives to facial skincare products would be great. Keep your readers posted on anything you find out!

Steph said...


I live in Alaska and it is 54 and rainy today. Again. Because of the weather here I think I've figured out why folks mix their solution one washing's-worth at a time: it's cold!Squirting cold stuff on your scalp when you're already cold is not so pleasant.

Otherwise its going OK but I'm hoping that my scalp will get on with adjusting to this new procedure. It seems like my hair is oily and nasty again awfully quickly.

Thanks for posting about it!


Sarah Beam said...

Steph, my kids complain about the cold as well. I hold my squeeze bottle under the shower stream for a second or two to warm it up before using, and that seems to help.

Also, if your hair seems oily quicker than when you used commercial shampoos, you may want to use less of the vinegar rinse, or be sure not to use it around your hairline. I only use the vinegar on my scalp about once a week, and the rest of the time I use it only from the ears down. That said, it took my head about two weeks before my hair and I reached a balance with the process.

Jennifer Jo said...


I posted about my picklehead adventures. We're not the only pickleheads out there, it appears. And there's other interesting methods. I'm having fun with this!

Someone mentioned that they use a lower ratio of soda to water (1 tablespoon soda to 1 cup of water) and apply it to wet hair. What's the reason for putting it on a dry scalp and having the mix be so concentrated?

Sarah Beam said...

JJ - It is a matter of preference on the baking soda to water ratio. I know plenty of people who use a mixture that is more of a paste and apply it to wet hair, and others who use liquid on wet or dry hair. I rarely measure at all now. I dump a little baking soda into the bottle, add water, shake it up, and go. I like enough baking soda that I can feel it on my scalp when I massage, but not so much that it feels abrasive, and I do it on dry hair because it seems much easier to disseminate the mixture that way (and because it is easier to control where it goes).

Like I said though, all a matter of preference. My hair is chemically lightened, so I don't need to worry about stripping any color out (as opposed to those who chemically darken their hair). And my hair is uber-long, fairly fine, with a little bit of a wave to it, so I don't worry much about frizz, but rather am more concerned with volume, taking good care of my ends, and keeping oil away from my scalp. Everyone I know that does this process has their own quirks about it.

Meredith said...

ok, the baking soda and vinegar solutions are working great! BB&B has the clear plastic squirt bottles that are used in kitchens for oils and sauces(fyi!)

a question though - how do you use the coconut oil. maybe it's just my hair texture, but the ends get strange looking when I work a little in. thoughts?

Sarah Beam said...

Meredith, I actually go back and forth on the coconut oil. Sometimes I love it, and other times I get nasty looking ends from it, and then I get grumpy. So here are some thoughts:

When my hair is feeling particularly damaged, or if I am planning to leave my hair in braids all day, I rub the tiniest amount of coconut oil into the ends and love the deep conditioning effect I get.

Sometimes, I rub coconut oil into the entire length of my hair at night, braid the whole thing, and then wash it out (with baking soda & vinegar mixtures) in the morning. Very much like how our grandparents used to condition their hair (except without the messy egg mixtures).

Lately, with the humidity being high and my patience with the heat kind of wearing thin, I have not used coconut oil at all as a styling product. Instead, I use a little aloe vera gel on my roots around the crown of my hair for lift (like a styling gel), and then blow dry my hair and go. If the ends look frazzly, I rub a drop of essential oil into them just to smooth them.

As I have continued to use the baking soda & vinegar, I have noticed my ends being less frazzly anyway though, which I attribute mostly to the essential oil in the vinegar mixture.

Hair Fall said...

Thank you so much for sharing such valuable information with us. Your blog is very interesting and informative.

Sara Lee said...

Love it! definitely going to try! about the facial care stuff...I checked out a great book at the library...Grow Your Own Drugs by James Wong and found fabulous recipes for facial care. love the idea of knowing (and being able to pronounce)what I am putting on my mug!

Holly said...

I just spoke about this with a friend of mine who is a cosmetologist. the one thing she added that a way to keep your hair looking nice between washings is to use talc to remove excess oil!

thought you might be interested!

Hannah {Culture Connoisseur} said...

I am so trying this! Thanks for the information. Love saving money and love being more self-reliant and sustainable. Great read.

Anonymous said...

Would you be willing to put in a plug for your hair stylist. You and I have similar hair, and I have trouble finding someone to trim it, that does not try to push me into doing what I do not want to do.

Also, what is the coconut oil you use. I have been doing the no poo, but am using up a salon product I already had been given as a gift in place of the oil. Thanks!

Sarah Beam said...

Angie at Fat Cat Salon in Watkinsville does my hair, and I love her. In the interest of full disclosure though, we have known each other since we were about 10 years old, so she kind of just reads my mind and then I leave happy each time. She is also very supportive of my baking soda and vinegar silliness.

I have not been using coconut oil lately. After a while, it just seemed too heavy for my hair, so I tweaked the system a little. I changed the proportions of my vinegar rinse to about 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, and I find that it does a better job of detangling and conditioning than my previous less vinegar, more water approach.

As a general rule, I rub about 1/2 tsp of jojoba or sesame oil into my hair and brush it through *before* getting in the shower these days. The oil penetrates and keeps my hair soft, but it mostly washes out in the shower, leaving my hair less prone to greasiness.

Post-shower, I have recently been using a conditioning styling gel from Body Time ( It is a silicone-free product that doesn't require sulfate shampoo to remove, and I have been mostly happy with it so far. I would prefer to go without styling products altogether, but apparently I'm just too vain to go all-out with this.

That could all change at a moment's notice though...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great detailed response. It helps a great deal!

Organic Hair Products said...

Thanks for sharing this great information.

littlegreencares said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

Hair Detangler for Kids