When it comes to washing things, anyone in Western culture thinks bubbles. Lather. Soap. Washing dishes- hot water, a sponge, soap. Washing clothes- we don’t feel right unless we see our clothes, swirling like mad, suffocated by the bubbles. We feel gross unless the germs on our New York subway ride hands are removed by antibacterial soap, lathered and lathered and washed down the drain. Don’t think I’m a bubble hater, because no ma’am, no sir, and no everyone in between- I love a bubble. And I think a bubble has real purpose. But like the human spirit, a bubble used without a purpose is a bubble lost.
Why did we even start washing things anyway? Well, to get them clean. What does clean mean? I would argue that clean means free of bacteria and pathogens, free of things that grow on our hair, skin, clothes, food, that could hurt us. Clean doesn’t mean free of oil. We need to establish right away that dirt is different than oil.
Lack of moisture and lack of hydration are two very different things. Lack of moisture is the absence of oil on the surface of skin- hair has no oil glands because like I always say, it’s deader than a doornail and decaying. It is important to know, however, that the sebum our skin produces is meant to moisturize the hair shaft too, and the hair shaft does need it to stay flexible. Oil (sebum is the oil our bodies produce) sits on the outside and protects the cells, also giving them elasticity for movement. Hydration refers to water content, which is mostly (about 70%) inside the cell structure, but can also be between. Hydration can only come from the inside, but efforts can be made to make each cell hold more water or trap the water so it doesn’t evaporate. Both oil/moisture and water/hydration are important.
“Dirt” is actual particles in the air, on the ground, etc- and most of the particles (or aerosols) in the air are not visible to the human eye. As our body produces oil to protect our skin and get it flexible, the particles in the air stick to it. Because it’s sticky. It’s science 🙂
When we say our hair is ‘dirty,’ most people mean their hair looks greasy; too much oil has accumulated and traveled from the scalp where is is made by the skin, and down the hair shaft creating a separated and heavy look and slick feel. But most likely, if there’s that much oil accumulation on the actual hair, there is also more ‘dirt.’ More surface area that is sticky= more dirt on said hair. Like the dependent, incredible sensitively, precisely balanced creatures we are, we need the oil for our organs (like the skin) to stay strong and protected, but we don’t want all the extra particles of ick (I, personally, wouldn’t mind some nice ‘mountain spice’ dirt ick, but God only knows what New York City dirt ick is made of), and we need ALL the hydration we can get- so we can’t cleanse dirt too much or we’ll freak out both our moisture and hydration levels . . .
Enough of the technicalities, back to the societal need for bubbles:
We weren’t always like this, you know- obsessed with the salvation of lather, needing all of life’s surfaces, including our faces and the hands of our friends to be cleansed of the dirty sin that stains us. Because I’m a true history nerd, I’ll reference a short documentary from PBS, called 1900’s House. It aired in 1999 and while I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will tell you it’s about a modern family that lives a historically accurate life- from the clothes they wear, food they eat, house they live in, and what they use to clean all surfaces, including themselves. And there was no lather in their lives.
Victorians were really the first society that was obsessed with germs and cleanliness. Outbreaks of plague, polio, seeing the grime of industry for the first time; they had a new kind of understanding about what germs and bacteria were, and how to rid their homes and bodies of these things. Still, not really any bubbles. These old-timey germaphobes brushed their hair to clean it, because dirt and oil are different. Dirt, dust, or other foreign particles (in much more prolific amounts starting at the time of the industrial revolution) don’t belong in the hair, and must be removed. All Victorians had a boar’s bristle brush and would do the whole 100 strokes a night thing to remove particles that are gross, and to distribute oils from top to bottom. That last part is old news this day and age, but I’ll just remind you- it really does need to be a boar bristle brush to distribute oil, and you really shouldn’t brush overly processed hair at all, but you do need to exfoliate and stimulate the scalp. Victorians didn’t need to worry about processed hair, so the brushing to clean thing what mostly what they did- and I’ll reinforce that is was mostly to reduce the particles in their hair, and the oil distribution thing was just a lovely added benefit. Once a week, or much less, a solution was used on the hair to clean it further- still no lather though, ugh. Watered down ammonia, lye, or castille soap were painted onto sections on the scalp with a brush, or if you were lucky, you got to wash your hair with egg yolk or salt and baking soda paste.
I’m getting to the point, I promise. I just can’t give you instructions without giving you the how come. I love me some chemistry, but I’m going to condense *awholefreakinglotofit* right here, just for the sake of time- know that there’s much science that goes into shampoo and conditioner, and the ‘feel’ it gives your hair is based on science. If you don’t like the way your hair feels, do some research and change the kind of science that’s in your life until you get the result you want.
The PH of hair should be between 4.5-5.5, slightly acidic. Pure water (but who has that?) is a 7. Don’t think for a second that pure water comes out of your faucet. If you’re having some extreme buildup problems, get some litmus paper, uncork a bottle of wine, fix a nice meal and run some tests. Know that acids soften and open the cuticle of the hair, and alkalis harden and contract the cuticle. Shampoo is somewhere in the range of 7: because it is more alkaline than hair, it expands the hair shaft allowing the surfactants (fancy word for bubble) to do it’s thang. Conditioner, a ph of around 3.5, then contracts the lil’ doors on the hair shaft, smoothing the surface and returning the hair to it’s natural balance of 4.5-5.5. Voila, magic. NO– SCIENCE!
Victorians did play around with ph when they were busy using food and/or chemicals to clean- baking soda= 8.3, Lye= 13, ammonia=11. Wait- what’s that you say? You’re wondering about what came after the shampoo for these old-timers? So, if they didn’t have conditioner or some substance more alkaline to bring the cuticle back to a neutral point, the shingles on that shaft of hair were left blasted wide open like windows on a spring day. Valid concern. However, because the hair oxidizes just by being in air (the air is, indeed the catalyst for the chemical change), over time those shingles would partially lie back down. In a lucky case animal and plants lipids were available and applied as conditioner to help close the doors on each strand of hair. Hair and scalp were drier; both lacking in moisture and hydration for sure, especially since regular haircuts were not really on the to do list, and a brush can only shmear that scalp sebum so far down the hair shaft. Good thing it was classy to wear braids and updos because even to a non-hairstylist those split ends would be appalling.
Still no bubbles, but lots of doors opening/closing, windows, and a handful of chemistry. Are you starting to miss lather yet? You can miss it right up to the 1930’s when the first shampoo specifically formulated to clean hair was invented. Hans Schwarzkopf invented some sort of soapy head stuff in 1927, but to my understanding, it was just a bottled form of what women had been using at home for centuries. The real change began in 1930 when Proctor and Gamble released Drene shampoo. Talk about a sexy name! Drene was the first cleanser that was a non-soap- it was made with synthetic surfactants and that just makes all the difference . . .
Getting molecules to stick together is more difficult than getting to people to stick together on an Okcupid date- they just repel each other. It takes either voodoo magic or chemical bonding to make it happen. This Drene, now, she was special, she had bubbles but wasn’t really a soap- she was made especially for us and made us feel goooooood. She was non-soap. Non-soap surfactants are compounds with two ends– each end is attracted to different things. The head of the molecule is hydrophyllic and is super attracted to water. Like a magnet, it just pulls a water molecule right on over to it. The tail end is lipophyllic, meaning it wants all the grease- takes all kinds, eh? This would make for a very strange internet date- a bubble monster whose head wants all the water in your drinking glass and whose tail is too busy checking out your sebum to care about conversation. This was HUGE. Women could have bouncy, light, oil free hair, and for the first time, we could wear it down, it could hold a curled shape, it didn’t smell, it wasn’t as dry . . . Drene changed the world of hair as we know it, and has shaped the perception of what hair should be (at least in Western culture). Why we don’t have national shampoo day, I’ll never know.
Our relationship started out as a cautious one- we shampooed with our Drene about once a week- the same frequency or slightly more (hey, we were excited for shampoo day!) than we were using our unfun lye/ammonia hair poison- I mean– ‘shampoo.’ Our carefully salon-coiffed ‘do lasted about a week anyway. Since the style of the times dictated our relationship status with Drene as ‘dating,’ it wasn’t until the freaking 70’s when things started to get weird. Hair was worn down down down, straight and as flat to the head as possible. This made it so much easier for the sebum produced at the scalp to make it to the surface of the hair and the result was ‘dirty’ looking hair much faster. We threw our keys in that punchbowl and started shampooing in overdrive- we started to believe that for health and sanitary reasons we needed to wash every day. Because oil is unsanitary and unhealthy, you know? Idiots.
We need to start courting oil, treating her like the Goddess divine that she is. I don’t want to assume you’re simple, and I know you’ve read in triplicate or more that oil is your body’s way of keeping your skin moist- providing elasticity to our cells so they can bend, so our hair, skin, and nails don’t crackle off and reveal our precious and vulnerable innards. We need the hair to stay on our heads to help keep our brains warm, evolutionarily speaking, and to add a modicum of protection. Oil is the lube of life- don’t piss her off or your brain will be cold.
If you over cleanse, yes, your body will produce more oil to accommodate what it thinks is some crazy dry spell. It doesn’t know that you just want voluminous Texas hair for three days without washing. If you keep removing all of it all the time, your body goes into overdrive and spurts oil from every pore like a mini geyser. Coming back down from that high of over washing is tough, too- it can take months to show your body that you aren’t trying to strip what She’s giving you, and the process ain’t pretty. Now, some people naturally have more oil production than others- woo hoo, like me, you have to find ways to cope. I’ll start a support group for other people that were called ‘greasy-haired girl’ in junior high school, someday, I promise. But stripping is not the answer. Ain’t that the truth in life, eh? Tell your daughters.
How are we supposed to clean our hair then, if we can’t get all 70’s swinger party or 90’s grunge Cobain on it? Alright, I’m going to share the magical answer that’s been kept secret since the dawn of time . . . ready? Drumroll . . . .
You just have to pay attention, and know how to shampoo your hair properly. That’s all.
Use the pads of your fingers to feel your roots- are they very oily? How is the skin on your face- oily? Dry? What about in comparison to your scalp? Does your hair become more oily in the summer as opposed to the winter? Do your ends feel like straw? Is your scalp itchy? Tight? Greasy and chunky? I’m not asking you to stare into the mirror for analysis and write me a 24 page report, but spend 10 seconds paying attention to it. I’m not even saying you should spend a full 10 seconds meditating about it- while you’re carrying your groceries home, put it on the list of things to donate 10 seconds of thought to; put it right after ‘what am I doing with my life,’ and before ‘I wonder where Snookie is today . . ?’ So few people do. Instead of using their brains and knowing their bodies, they just want to follow what the prescription says. Guess what? If you get used to listening, YOU know your body better than any doctor, and that’s coming from a proponent of both Eastern and Western medicine.
Flash forward, it’s 2014, we’re in a committed and stable relationship with Drene and she’s given birth to about a bajillion offspring, some were luckier than others in the shampoo dna department- some of the fruit of her loins were suds duds and made all our hair fall flat and were just failing at the life we want our hair to have. Or shall I say, they maybe just hadn’t found their talents or their true calling yet (fingers crossed/looks to the heavens like a worried parent). When you’ve decided it’s wash day, there’s more to know that just rinse, lather, repeat: some hair needs to be cleansed twice, some hair needs the ends washed, some scalps need special treatment. Mopsy will be glad to throw some opinions out there 🙂
You’re about to get down and dirty with some Drene, but where do you start? Take off your clothes. No, seriously- the day of my State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology exam I was so nervous I got in the shower in my bra. I had boobs that were soaking through my scrubs for the entire exam. Very embarrassing and a total seventh-grade mistake. If you’re gonna go all the way- take off your bra. I’ll try to keep the raunch down from this point on- please try to note my efforts. You have to HAVE TO get the hair soaking wet from root to tip, this end to that end, all the way through the thickest hair- it needs to be wet, wet, wet (are you noting my efforts????) because- remember Drene is both hydrophillic and lipophyllic- meaning it needs water to grab on to so we can wash away excess oil and dirt.
Once the hair is soaking, use around a quarter (ish) sized dollop of shampoo, and emulsify in hands (as a side note, almost every hair product on earth is meant to be emulsified- there are more reasons why than just one, but it has alot to do with how the product is distributed throughout the hair. You won’t get great results without rubbing it in your hands. (Again- efforts.) Reach fingers up through the ends to the scalp to distribute product, since that’s where the oil comes from and that’s where it is most accumulated and the most dirty; use the pads of your fingers in small circling motions to break up skin cells, oil, dirt. Please do not use your fingernails. Even in the shower, even if you scrub under your nails like an OCD handwasher- you still have natural bacteria and weird, microscopic cockroach creatures that I swear look like they came right out of the deepest abyssal oceans just to set up camp in your nails. When you use your nails on your scalp, you run the risk of microscopically cutting the surface of the skin, introducing bacteria and nail creatures (alright fine, the creatures do sort of exists but I may have slightly embellished them out of my own fear).
Work your way around the scalp noting how much lather is created- if you feel like you’ve just put soap near the jet of your neighbor’s jacuzzi (what? who would do that?!? never.) and are about to drown in suds, your hair probably didn’t have a ton of oil accumulation and was mostly ‘clean.’ You may want to reassess the next time you think you need to wash it- maybe you could wash less. If it’s only sudsing a little, those lipophyllic buddies are going to town on all that oil, busting it up like a meth lab raid at dawn. Excuse my analogies, but shampooing is pretty serious to me.
Avoid the ends. especially if you didn’t lather a ton because that probably means you’re going to need to lather again, hence the ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ instructions on the label. They aren’t always just meant to sell you more product. They are science-related. Your ends never really get the oil production that your scalp gets, hence, less of the heavy, greasy feeling, and definitely less unsanitary dirt to stick to the sebum- so given the knowledge we have about ph and such- why put your ends through it? I agree with you (because I see in reading this that you’re starting to panic already) sometimes ends do need to be washed- product builds up and can also be sticky, thus attracting ‘dirt,’ it also makes ends heavy, effecting our styling, color oxidizes weird; yes, I get it. Just do me a favor and wash them when they need it- differing for every hair type/season, head of hair, etc. Subscribe to the 10 second hair assessment rule before you jump right in to massive ends lathering, also known as cuticle blasting.
Yes, second scalp cleanses are often necessary- I have high oil production and cleanse every three days in the winter and I always have a need to cleanse my scalp twice, especially if I’m getting sort of chonkle-y at the scalp. That’s a technical term, btw. Apply the second cleanse the same way you applied the first, and if you’ve decided your ends are flatter than Kansas, at this point you can lightly, delicately and gently work some Drene through the ends, minding not to ruffle up the cuticle too much and bearing in mind that as you rinse the product passes over your ends anyway, carrying whatever dirt and oil was there.
If the use of a medicated shampoo is necessary, I find that cleansing the scalp once with a regular shampoo is helpful, followed by an application of the medicated one, otherwise it doesn’t spread through the surface area of the scalp as easily and is therefore less effective- why? Science. The lipophyllic parts are activated and trying to grab all the oil and there isn’t enough lather to really kick things into gear. If you INSIST on being a once cleanser ,medicated shampoo or not- I’d recommend halfway through your first (and only) cleanse to add a bit more water to your Drene, it’ll give something for the hydrophillic parts of the molecule, making the lipophyllic ends work better.
No matter the amount you’re cleansing or not cleansing, the next step is the key to the city: rinse rinse rinse rinse rinse rinse. And rinse. You’ve just captured all the particles, skin chunks, scalp flakes, dirt, and excess oil in your magical hydro/lipophyllic bondage- now get it outta there! Make it abandon ship- why would you just want to half-ass a rinse just to have it carry partially down the hair shaft causing further buildup? The point is to clean the hair effectively, remember?
For the selection of shampoo- we’re in a committed relationship with Drene, but it’s still an open one- so many choices! Do some basic research about popular shampoo ingredients, ask me, feel your hair and do the 10-second assessment after trying a few. Warning: I’m about to tangent: the baking soda cleanse method- ok, I get it, I do. And I’ll make a separate post about it later- but keep in mind, the reason Drene was so revolutionary is the surfactants- the lipo/hydro stuff. Baking soda is a sanitary ‘cleanser,’ but it has no lipophyllic quality, and is has no moisturizing properties the way other shampoos- even those for deep cleansing and volumizing- do. Just know that. You should know why you’re using something if you’re going to slather it all over your body, possibly twice. There’s a lot of criticism about sulfates in shampoo and various other ingredients that are ‘bad’ for you. Some of this is propaganda, some is probably true- but so little testing and correlation has been shown thus-far that we really can’t make a definitive statement either way. I will throw out there that most ingredients sound alike- but even one letter difference is still completely different- so if you’re not buying something that could potentially be awesome for you because you think that one ingredient was solely responsible for the untimely demise of that one person you heard about in the news (the onion) that one time, just don’t be an idiot lemming and make sure you know your chemicals and surfactants. I’m a total Berkeley hippie, but I’m with Marvin Harris on this one- there is a material explanation.
Many hippie shampoos leave out the ‘harsh, carcinogenic’ surfactants, and what are you left with? No bubbles, a product that doesn’t spread, so it can’t really treat or sanitize, and it’s really just a repackaged version of what our Victorian ancestors used, but for mucho more dough. SO in your efforts to be green and on top of your knowledge, you’re left with gross hair and not the information that can help you. Don’t be a lemming. If you believe in natural haircare- I’m here to tell you it exists, but you have to do your homework to find it, know what will hurt you and the planet, and what sounds like it does but actually won’t.
Thanks to Devacurl and Curly girls and guys and goats and poodles everywhere, the conditioner cleanse method became pretty popular in the 2000’s. Like the hot new girl in High School, everyone wanted to know her story- how did you get here? why? are you really as awesome as the rumors paint? I support this method for some- but you have to know if your in that some or not. The backstory complete in a major run-on sentence is as follows: curly hair needs more moisture (oil- and remember that the result of oil is elasticity) in order to bend, and bend many times around, therefore making a curl; since traditional shampoo has a ph that would open the hair shaft, this not only makes curls lack more moisture, but adds frizz (opening the cuticle of the hair shaft increases diameter, and reflects light less effectively), and since the ph of conditioner closes the hair cuticle and only adds moisture; someone decided to think outside the box and be like, ‘whoa, let’s do this- nix the Drene and run straight for the conditioner.’ (side note: look at that crazy sentence structure- the grammar fairy would be appalled, but what can I say? I’m a rebel with a cause)
In theory, like compounds remove like compounds, aka oil removes oil (also nail polish removes nail polish, if you were ever in a bind) but the trouble is that it does leave quite a bit behind. Not an issue if you really need a little left behind, but here are my issues with it- it makes it a hell of a lot harder to exfoliate a scalp, which means the balance of the scalp- not the oil production, necessarily- I’m talking cell turn over rate and yeast control (that post coming soon- ugh! there’s so much to talk about!) is really tough to keep in check. That lil’ sitch becomes a health and sanitary issue pretty quickly, my friends. My other issue is that since there are lipids being left behind, you are inevitably mixing, shmearing ick oil and ick dirt around with good clean oil- and only some of it is rinsing away . . . the vivid imagery of that one is the stuff hairmares (hair nightmares) are made off.
If you want to be a part of the conditioner cleanse or ‘No Poo’ club, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have one foot in and one foot out- no one says you have to drink the whole cup of Kool Ade- maybe a tongue taste every now and then won’t hurt you so bad. Maybe it will. Rotate with traditional Drene cleansing. Note the difference in the way your hair behaves and feels, and more importantly, how your scalp behaves and feels- since that’s the birthing room of hair anyway.
Wow, I bet Victorians are kinda jealous of our hair freedom. I understand- while the relationship I have with my self, my looks, my hair, is a complex one, I’m thankful that I have options to make it look and feel how I think is best; and that I can change my opinion tomorrow if I wish. The bubble is a beautiful thing, and like a lot of things perfect in this world, while it might be enjoyable or tempting, it’s not always necessary and can sometimes do harm where we think there’s good. Respect the bubble, but also respect the counterpart of the bubble, and learn what’s right for you.