Having been in clinical practice for over 20 years I have seen many thousands of people with hair and scalp problems, and in the vast majority of cases the disorders, particularly those of the scalp, have greatly improved as soon as the scalp is either washed more regularly, or better, more appropriate, products are used on it.
Not washing the hair with shampoo has become something of a trend over the past few years but this really is a very bad idea.
Advocates of No Poo claim it’s beneficial because:
- There is no need for shampoo because the hair cleans itself.
- You can clean hair with warm water or conditioner.
- Shampoo strips the hair of all its natural oil and makes it dry.
- Shampooing makes more hair fall out.
- Shampoos contain harmful chemicals.
- It’s good for the environment because you are using less plastic.
Before addressing each of these claims, one important thing that No Poo devotees tend to forget is that underneath all that hair is the scalp and not washing your hair is, clearly, also not washing your scalp. The scalp on a typical head has a surface area of approximately 600 sq cm, or about 7% of the total skin surface. This particular area of the skin differs from others in that it contains very large sebaceous glands (the oil producing glands in the sides of the hair follicles) which secrete large quantities of oil (sebum) onto the surface of the scalp.
The scalp on a typical head has a surface area of approximately 600 sq cm, or about 7% of the total skin surface. This particular area of the skin differs from others in that it contains very large sebaceous glands (the oil producing glands in the sides of the hair follicles) which secrete large quantities of oil (sebum) onto the surface of the scalp.
Sebum is composed of fatty acids which are the food source of a fungus called Malassezia Globosa. This fungus is always present on the scalp, but when the level of sebum increases the fungus proliferates resulting in scalp itching, tenderness, flaking, inflammation, spots, dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and other problems. Washing the hair and scalp with shampoo controls the level of sebum on the scalp and reduces the chances of scalp disorders developing. All these problems are commonly seen when hair is not washed frequently.
Another factor is that as the Malassezia Globosa fungus breaks down the oil it gives off an unpleasant odour, which may not be noticed by the person themselves but almost certainly by other people.
No Poo claims and the reality:
Claim: There is no need for shampoo because the hair cleans itself.
Reality: Hair cannot clean itself. Sebum, the natural oil of the skin, travels along the hair shaft to have moisture retaining and protective effects on the hair. But this oil also allows debris such as dust and dead skin cells to adhere to the hair, making it dull and adding considerable weight, and in the case of fine hair, causing it to become limp. The only way to remove this debris properly is by using a shampoo.
Claim: You can clean hair with warm water or conditioner.
Reality: If you ‘wash’ your hair with warm water or conditioner the bulk of the larger dirt particles are generally removed from the surface of the hair but sebum is not. This is because oil and water don’t, of course, mix so the oil continues to adhere to the surface of the hair and in a very short time more debris will stick to it. Nor can conditioner clean the hair as it does not have the ability to interact with oil and dirt as shampoo does, allowing them to be removed from the hair and scalp
Claim: Shampoo strips the hair of all its natural oil and makes it dry.
Reality:The one accurate thing about any No Poo claim is that sebum has an excellent effect on the condition of the hair. It is made for each of us individually and its ability to lock moisture into the hair is second to none. Having said that, it is just not worth the negative price you have to pay by having sebum permanently covering your hair. Hair conditioners these days are so sophisticated and effective it is far better to wash your hair frequently and use a conditioner afterwards.
Another important point is that some shampoos are very harsh, but these are the poorer quality ones. Good quality shampoos are designed to only remove excess oil from the hair and scalp leaving the intercellular oil within the scalp tissues and in the spaces between the hair cuticles.
Claim: Shampooing makes more hair fall out.
Reality: This could not be more wrong. When you wash your hair of course you notice more hair falling out, but these are only hairs which are ready to come out anyway. Not washing your hair will not prevent this; indeed, leaving your hair unwashed is likely to result in a greater hair loss in time.
Claim: Shampoos contain harmful chemicals.
Reality: The EU Cosmetic Directive regulations covering this are very strict, and no harmful chemicals are allowed to be used in any shampoo formulations.
Claim: It’s good for the environment because you are using less plastic.
Reality: Well, yes, but this applies to shower gels, moisturisers and any other cosmetic product, but are we going to stop taking showers and moisturising the skin for that reason?
From a health standpoint it is important for the scalp, just as with any other part of the body, to be washed regularly, otherwise scalp problems are likely to arise, and in some cases hair loss can follow.
From a cosmetic point of view the use of shampoo to remove dirt and excess oil is very important as shampoos affect the hair in a number of ways. They give hair a more appealing feel and texture, improve its condition and usually leave it with a pleasant smell. In addition, by removing debris from the hair’s surface they allow light to be reflected more easily, so improving shine on the hair. Clean hair also shows in hair-on-hair interaction, the way hairs move and flow alongside neighbouring hairs – which is a major factor in the appearance and appeal of hair.
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