My unpackaged, not quite daily, hair routine

In case you were wondering, this is my approach to zero waste hair care. 

My hair is longish, wavy and there’s a reasonable amount of it. I cut it every 4-6 months at the Sustainable Salon in Surry Hills. I wash my hair once or twice a week, throwing it in a topnot while I shower. I blow dry about six times a year and don’t own hairspray except for the sugar and vodka mix I made myself, and yet barely use. I’ve carted around a bottle of Aveda texturizing spray for roughly eight years since that one time I bought product at a salon. I am determined to use it up, if only to repurpose the spray bottle.

I’m not a ‘hair’ person because I’ve never had to be. A good cut and very occasionally getting some highlights to frame my face means I can basically wake up and go.

I’m privileged that society accepts my hair as it is naturally, with the exception of that period in the 2000s when straightened hair was de rigueur, Britney was dancing with pythons, and pashminas were a thing. I obviously owned a straightener, which probably still exists somewhere in a drawer in my parent’s upstairs bathroom in Canada, a victim of disuse.

You’d think I’d be easy to please. Sort of? Curious, definitely.

I’ve tried all the things

I’ve tried all the most common zero waste hair washing methods that the internet has offered me:

  • bi carb & ACV (AKA ‘no poo’)
  • shampoo bars
  • more shampoo bars
  • other tempting shampoo bars
  • diluted castile soap (omg, no)
  • avocado pit ‘shampoo’
  • rye flour

And of course, inevitably, water only.

None of which worked out for me. My hair turned into a greasy on the bottom, dry on top, lion’s mane of Nope. It never normalized. I never ‘got through the bad period’. If you did, congrats.

I also struggled with whether some of these solutions were an improvement over shampooing. I ended up wasting water rinsing flour out of my hair, cleaning my hairbrush and pillows more often from the extra oil buildup, or using too much of an alternative to achieve a worse result (like the avo pit shampoo that was basically just diluted water with some gelatinousness). It felt like the highest maintenance low maintenance pursuit ever.

We’re all different. A good solution for me must be reduced waste and low maintenance. It also needs to work.

Shampoo, currently

So here we are. Full circle actually.

One of my first lifestyle changes in pursuing the life less wasteful was to refill shampoo from The Soap Dispensary. It never occurred to me to refill until the first time I walked into the place.

On moving to Sydney three- ish years ago, refilling wasn’t commonplace, which partly explains my foray into these alternative methods of hair washing. The rest can be explained by social media. Experimenting has been fun, but luckily, the retail landscape has evolved and it’s now pretty easy to refill shampoo. I can go back to doing what just seems to work best for me – actual shampoo without the new container every time. Maybe it’s not perfect, maybe there’s no such thing as perfect anyway, and maybe perfectionism is a trap*.

These days I refill shampoo from The Source and mix it up with a Lush shampoo bar, the latter of which does have SLS, but is packaging free as long as you gently refuse to let the staff wrap it up at the till. The bar format is great for traveling and threatens to last forever. Some people like to throw shade at Lush, for myriad reasons, but who else is doing unpackaged body care at that scale? I store my shampoo in plastic because I’m not ridiculous. Broken glass in the shower is no fun.

In the summer, I swim in the ocean a couple times a week. The salt seems to keep the grease in check and leaves me with pretty waves. The Aussie sun dries the hair, so I focus on keeping my hair conditioned, and for that, apple cider vinegar is actually pretty great. After shampooing, I spray diluted ACV onto the bottom of my hair using an up-cycled spray bottle, then rinse so I don’t smell of salad dressing. Coconut oil can help smooth the tips once hair is towel dried, but don’t go overboard.

A dash of a DIY arrowroot and cocoa mixture works as a dry shampoo if I stretch between washes, mostly in wintertime, when Aussie houses are so chilly I can’t be convinced to wet my hair. My best weapon year round is a floppy hat that both hides my unwashed hair, and protects my face from the sun.

As far as tools go, I brush with a wooden paddle hairbrush pinched from a sister eons ago. Half the bristles are missing, but one side still works. You’ll never catch my right wrist unadorned by a hair elastic – a few years ago I bought a package that I hope will last me the rest of my long life, supplemented by those I pick up from the ground. Same for bobby pins. My secondhand blow dryer broke just before a recent wedding so I made an appointment at one of those blow dry only places instead of immediately replacing the tool. I searched on Gumtree, decided to wait it out, and then like magic my sister-in-law very conveniently gave me an extra one she was getting rid of.

For now, this is my simple, unpackaged hair care routine. My teenaged self would hardly believe that it’s not necessary to shampoo daily, or care if others think my hair looks slightly greasy. My mom would approve and tell me that it’s more or less what she did growing up. Refilling and buying unpackaged is part of the story, but the core of it is doing less altogether. The whole reduce part applies to activities as well as things. Less washing and less styling, which translates to less product used, fewer containers and less water waste.

*It is a trap.

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