My unpackaged, not quite daily, hair routine

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

I have longish wavy hair and a reasonable amount of it, which I get cut 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 that contains it.

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
  • 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. It seemed like I ended up wasting water by trying to get flour out of my hair, or 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, low maintenance, and also it needs to work.

Shampoo, currently

So here we are. Full circle actually.

One of the first lifestyle changes I made in pursuing the life less wasteful was to buy shampoo in refill from The Soap Dispensary. It had never even occurred to me to look for refills until the first time I walked into the place.

When I moved to Sydney, it wasn’t as commonplace to find personal care product refills, and this was only 3 years ago! So I branched out to find out if other ways of cleaning my hair would work. It’s been fun to experiment, but luckily, so much has changed 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, just without the container. 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 occasionally with a Lush shampoo bar, which does have SLS, but is packaging free. The latter is great for traveling and threatens to last forever at the rate I’m going. 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. Anyone tempted to store shower paraphernalia in glass should consider how bloody inconvenient (literally bloody) it is to get out of a shower with glass all over the floor, which happened to me when a shower shelf fell out of, unbeknownst to me, broken wall brackets.

In the summer I get into the ocean a couple times a week at least. The salt seems to keep the grease in check, with the bonus of giving me pretty waves. The sun does dry the hair, so I focus on keeping my hair conditioned, and for that, ACV is actually pretty great. After shampooing I spray diluted ACV onto the bottom of my hair using an upcycled spray bottle, then rinse so I don’t smell of salad dressing. Coconut oil on the ends works well too when hair is towel dried.

A dash of a DIY arrowroot and cocoa mixture serves as a dry shampoo if I really try to stretch between washes, which happens in the wintertime when Aussie houses are so chilly I can’t be bothered 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 use a wooden paddle hairbrush I pinched from one sister or another eons ago. Half the bristles are missing, so it’s a good thing it has a huge paddle portion and one side still works. You’ll never catch my right wrist unadorned by a hair elastic or two – 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 went to one of those blow dry only places to get it done instead of immediately replacing the tool. I searched a bit on Gumtree, decided to wait it out, and then my sister in law very conveniently gave me an extra one she had.

So 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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