I Stopped Using Shampoo, and No One Can Tell the Difference

By Nat Eliason in Health

6 months ago, I completely stopped using shampoo and conditioner.

I’d arrived in Argentina, and when I unpacked my bag, I realized I’d forgotten to pack either shampoo or conditioner. Normally, an Airbnb would provide these, but for some reason, they hadn’t. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, and walked to a corner store to pick some up.

Just kidding. I said “eh, I’ll get to it eventually” and haven’t bought any shampoo or conditioner since.

For the first week, my hair got kind of nasty. It was oily, flat, much darker than usual, and about what you’d expect from someone not cleaning their hair.

But after that first week, it started to change. It became less oily, less thin. The color started coming back. Two weeks after stopping, it was back to exactly how it was when I was using shampoo and conditioner, and it’s stayed that way since then.

Actually, it was better. It felt thicker, looked a little lighter, and never got oily. I only needed about a quarter as much product to style it. If I were in a rush, I could get away with not showering till the afternoon without it being so obvious.

As far as I could tell, there was absolutely no cost to stopping using either shampoo or conditioner. There was one final test, though. Would my mother be able to tell?

When I went home for Thanksgiving, I waited a few days to see if she said anything. She didn’t.

So I asked her, “Do you notice anything different about my hair? Do you like it?” After a minute or two of thoroughly inspecting it, she admitted she had no idea what I was doing differently, and was shocked to hear that it had been over two months since I’d last used shampoo or conditioner.

It’s not surprising she couldn’t tell, though. Even I can’t tell the difference anymore.

And to be clear, I still wash it. I take a shower and let the water run over my hair and massage it as if I were using shampoo, just, you know, without the shampoo.

But you still might be thinking “wow, Nat, that’s kinda gross,” and I know that’s the gut reaction to this, but why? What are you doing that’s getting your hair so dirty? Are you a construction worker? Are you playing in the mud?

I bet that for 90%+ of people reading this, you spend the majority of your day inside sitting at a desk of some sort, then sitting in a social place of some sort, then lying in a bed of some sort, all devoid of anything remotely dirty. And even if your hair were getting dirty, why can’t water clean it? What, exactly, needs to be scrubbed out of it every day?

Let’s frame it another way. What’s more likely, that humans have some built in need to use fancy soaps on their hair every day? Or that getting people in the habit of using shampoo and conditioner daily is a really good technique to sell more shampoo and conditioner? My money is on the second, as another example of profit-driven artificial complexity.

And if you’re a guy who’s worried that your hair will fall out if you stop using it, I have to ask again, what’s more likely? That your hair has better longevity in its natural state? Or that blasting it with chemicals makes it stay longer? I’d put way more money on stress and poor diet leading to hair loss than not shampooing.

On that note, one interesting effect of doing this is that my hair has become a barometer of my health. If I undersleep, start eating poorly, or am otherwise not taking care of myself, my hair gets oily and nasty. This may be some ancient form of mate signaling: our hair gets nasty to show the opposite sex that we’re unhealthy and not great mating partners.

That would explain why the goal of hair products seems to be to maintain that natural state. It lets us cover up the bad days so we can still get laid while running on 4 hours of sleep and 2 big macs.

Shampoo and conditioner may also function as tools to mitigate the damage of hot showers. I’ve noticed that when I take a purely hot shower, my hair will be darker, flatter, and more oily afterward. So using more cold water in your showers (I typically make it as cold as possible for at least half of the shower, if not all) may be a requirement for making this work. Thankfully, taking cold showers feels amazing, and is really good for you.

As for how to make this transition yourself, it’s about as simple as it sounds: just stop using shampoo and conditioner. You may want to do it while you’re on a vacation or somewhere that your normal peer group can’t judge you for having a couple weeks of nasty hair, but there’s really no trick to it.

You just stop using it and wait.

Footnotes

Did You Enjoy This?

Then consider signing up for my Monday Medley newsletter. It's a collection of fascinating finds from my week, usually about psychology, technology, health, philosophy, and whatever else catches my interest. I also include new articles, book notes, and podcast episodes.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.