Dreading It

If we’re talking about hair, we might as well cover it all. But before I continue, I want to assure you that I don’t think dreads are the only eco-friendly hair style! If you have been considering it, however, read on.

I don’t want to write about how to dread your hair here, as I have never had dreads. Describing the process should be left to the people with experience. However, I do want to discuss the spiritual and green aspects of dreads. (Yes, I said spiritual.)

Anne Lamott (photo: Jo Anne Hertz / ITVS)

Let’s start with Anne Lamott. First, if you haven’t yet read her books, go pick them up. They’re amazing. All of them. (And no, I’m not receiving compensation to say that!) Anyway, in her early work, she details her frustrating relationship with her hair – curly, frizzy, and a daily zap of her self-esteem. Her solution? Dreadlocks. Super tiny, adorable dreads. She chronicles her journey into dreadlocked hair here – a hilarious and insightful read if you have the time. One of my favorite passages:

A few weeks later I saw “The Shawshank Redemption,” where, at the end, Tim Robbins escapes from prison via the sewers, after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. He emerges from the pipes into a rushing rain-swollen river, and he staggers through the current with his face turned towards the sky, his arms held up to heaven as the rains pour down.

I sat in the movie theater crying until it occurred to me that if I were the prisoner being baptized by torrential rain, half of my mind would be on how short my bangs were going to be after they dried.

I went home and I called Marlene. “Okay, baby,” I said. “I’m ready.” The next day she and her dreadlocked teenage daughter came over to my house with a little jar of beeswax…

The transition was apparently scary, anxious, and soul-shaking, as I’ve heard it can be for many people. It challenges our perceptions of ourselves. It rebels against our culture’s definition of beauty. It can even stir up judgments and stereotypes – especially from others. Lamott made it through this process and came out on the other side feeling like she had embraced her true self.

They’re so cool: each dreadlock is different, has its own configuration, its own breadth and feel. It’s like having very safe multiple personalities. It’s been two years and they are growing past my shoulders. Sometimes I wear them up, sometimes down. I wake up most mornings looking fabulous. I used to look at people with normal white people’s hair, and their bangs always stayed long and they got to hide behind the satin curtain, and I was so jealous. But now my bangs are always long, too. I peer out at the world from behind my dreadlocks, as through a beautiful hand-made fence, in every kind of weather and every kind of car. I remember Nora Ephron saying a long time ago that she was one of those women who was gaining her looks, and it turns out that I am one, too. It was a long time coming, and I have to say, it is incredibly sweet.

Years after reading Lamott’s journey into dreads, I found myself a regular visitor at The Organic Sister – another dreadlocked mama. I remember reading her one-year “dreadiversary” post and being fascinated with the insights she had had during the past year of her dread journey. I highly suggest reading her posts on this subject, especially if you want to dreadlock your hair. She gives very detailed tips on what to do, and would be a wonderful resource. Even if you don’t want to dread your hair, these posts are very interesting, and I think anyone going through any transition in their appearance can relate. (And read her thoughts on no-poo here. Yay for no-poo!)

Tara, aka "The Organic Sister" (Permission to use photos graciously granted by The Organic Sis, herself.)

I even noticed that one of my favorite food bloggers, Sara Janssen, has dreads. I’ve been reading her blog, Happy Foody, for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when I saw a picture of Sara on The Organic Sister’s blog documenting a visit between the two families! It turns out that Sara has two other very enjoyable blogs that I highly recommend (Happy Janssens and Walk Slowly, Live Wildly), and her posts on dreads are yet another fascinating peek into this process.

So dreads: eco-friendly? Sure. You won’t need to wash your hair as much, won’t need more “stuff” in the form of combs, brushes, and styling products… All of that is wonderful.

But I think the best thing about dreads (if you are considering them) is the journey of realization that each woman takes. Realizing one’s freedom to look the way they want to look. Surrendering to the natural inclinations of one’s hair. Seeing true inner and outer beauty shine back in the reflection of the mirror.

No Poo

Image from Arm & Hammer

Sounds gross, I know. But for those of you who have never heard of this movement, it basically means ditching your shampoo and only washing your hair with baking soda and water. If you think it can’t be done, think again.

Previously, I talked about the harsh chemicals in shampoos, the environmental impact of shampooing, and the fact that we have been groomed (pun intended) by the beauty industry to overwash our hair. If you are interested in breaking this cycle, I’ll be offering tips, recipes, and resources this week to help you do so. To begin, I thought I’d start with perhaps the most extreme method (for some), which is also, incidentally, the easiest.

The no-poo method typically requires 1 tablespoon of baking soda mixed with water. Some people prefer to make a paste out of these ingredients, while others use a cup of warm water and let the baking soda dissolve. Either way, both mixtures can be worked into the hair during your shower. Let it sit while you soap up your body, then rinse. Viola. Clean hair.

It can be an adjustment for many, as there is no lather. Lather doesn’t equal cleanliness, but we have been conditioned to associate the two. However, try this method just once, and you will see how deeply cleansing it really is.

Many people worry about getting really oily hair after transitioning to no-poo. I won’t sugar coat it for you – this may happen. Typically, it only lasts for a few days up to two weeks. Take the opportunity to wear hats and scarves. Your hair WILL balance out again. That I can assure you. You just have to hang on long enough.

This method isn’t for everyone. Some people develop scalp irritation from the strong alkaline properties of baking soda. This can mostly be avoided by using a vinegar rinse on the hair after you rinse out the baking soda. (I will post on that tomorrow.) If you do try this method, and find your scalp irritated despite the vinegar rinse, I’ll also be posting on homemade shampoo in a couple days. If nothing else, this is a fabulous method for a “clarifying” shampoo once a week or once a month. It gets rid of all the buildup from shampoos, dirt, oil, etc.

As for me, I am not a “no-pooer.” (Yeah, I know – could that name get any sillier?) I call the method I use “so-so-no-poo.” I primarily use a homemade shampoo. Every fourth or fifth shampoo, I use baking soda. This has worked extremely well for me.

You can read more about no-poo by Googling it – there is a huge “underground” movement of no-pooers who will be able to offer you tons of resources. If you are really interested in going no-poo, remember that you can change it to make it work for you. Change the ratio of baking soda to water, change how often you wash your hair. Going off commercial shampoo is always an experimental process, and I promise, a rewarding one.

Give it a try this week, just once, as a clarifying treatment. It’s a good way to open your eyes to the world of alternative, eco-friendly hair care.

Stay tuned for the vinegar rinse. And if you aren’t ready to ditch shampoo entirely, don’t worry – you’ll love the upcoming DIY shampoo.

Happy hair washing!

For more resources, check out Fake Plastic Fish, the No Impact Project, and One Green Generation. You’ll be inspired.

My Shampoo Story

This picture was taken six months after I gave up shampoo. Not bad, huh?

What if I told you I haven’t used store-bought shampoo in my hair since August 2008? Or that I haven’t shampooed my hair every day since then, either? If you assume my hair looks like greasy rodent fur, here’s a picture to prove it looks just as good as the average shampoo user.

Despite the fact that my mother never shampooed every day, I grew up feeling that it would be absolutely disgusting not to shampoo at least once a day. (I’ve been guilty of shampooing twice a day on more than one occasion, as well.) All the commercials and ads in magazines seemed to imply that beautiful, healthy women always shampoo at least once a day.

When I was about 28, and getting my hair cut at a fancy salon, I overheard two of the young, fashionable stylists talking behind me. One said to the other, “Can you wash my hair this afternoon, after my last client leaves? I haven’t washed it in two days and it’s starting to get a little grimy.”

I looked up at my stylist in shock and said, “Why did she go so long between shampoos?” My stylist replied, “No one should wash their hair every day. It is so bad for your hair.”

I decided her advice would only work on young, gorgeous women who didn’t have oily hair like mine, and went on with my daily routine.

In the spring of 2008, however, I started reading more about the dangers of chemicals in bath and body products. These are not only harmful to the user, but to the marine life that ends up swimming in the chemicals that leach into the water systems. According to EcoFriendOnline, our water systems are being polluted with a number of chemicals, including “parabens and other suspected endocrine disruptors often found in laundry soap and shampoo — chemicals that seem to be turning male frogs and fish into females.”

I was also hearing more and more that it simply isn’t good for your hair to wash it every day. I even heard that over-washing leads to oily hair.

[The] trend toward everyday cleansing might have triggered a vicious cycle, some experts say — shampoo cleanses by stripping the hair of its natural, necessary oils, causing the scalp to produce more oil in response, making it impossible for some to skip shampoo for even one day without sprouting a gigantic greaseball.Melissa Dahl, MSNBC

Not to sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but “I couldn’t help but wonder” if dialing back on the shampoo would help counter the oily hair problem.

I started to cut back to showering/shampooing every other day, rather than every day (even in the summer). I researched different eco-friendly shampoos, and ended up making my own, as well as experimenting with no-poo. I don’t dye my hair, I don’t use any styling products on it, and I try not to use a hair dryer whenever possible.

Yes, I have my bad hair days (maybe more than most, without having hairspray and a straightening iron), but I am generally very happy with my hair. My current stylist always comments on how healthy it is.

If you have been considering giving your hair the chance to re-balance itself, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more information as the week goes on – a shampoo recipe, the no-poo movement, and more.

Imagine not fighting your hair anymore and still looking good…it is possible.