My zero-waste hair care routine

10 January 2019
water only zero waste hair care no shampoo

I started washing my hair with only water three years ago. To be fair, I don't use water alone. Here is what I do:

1. Using my fingers I massage the scalp followed by a thorough brush twice a week, usually after my son goes to bed. If you are new to water only, scalp massage and brushing is key. Regular scalp massage and brushing helps to release the oil from building up at the scalp. It will be over a week before my roots start to look oily. Yay to washing hair less often!

My mum bought me a boar bristle brush after my Acca Kappa brush fell apart. I have read claims from others who wash with water only that boar bristles help move oil from the roots down through the hair with greater efficiency, but I can't say there was a huge difference between the boar bristles and a wooden pin brush.

The boar bristle brush is not my favourite as it's difficult to work through all of my hair (I have alot of hair!) and I can only guess it would suit those with less hair. Plus there is the whole animal exploitation issue of using boar bristles. There are vegan agave fibre hair brushes if you are looking for something similar to the boar bristle style. I'll continue using mine until it's broken then go back to a wooden bristle brush like this Holzstifte hair brush. Similar to my old Acca Kappa the Holzstifte is made of FSC Beechwood with a natural rubber cushion, making it compostable at the end of it's life if there are no adhesives used (I'll update this once Holzstifte get back to Biome who are chasing this information up for me). Only downside is the brush comes all the way from Germany. I would love to know if there are any similar hair brushes made within Australia or NZ.

2. On the day I wash my hair (about every 10 - 12 days) I'll take sprigs of rosemary, steep them in hot water until cool or an overnight cold brew the evening before. Transferring to a spray bottle I'll work it through my hair focusing on my scalp. Rosemary helps to remove any build up, reduces scalp irritation and alleviate dandruff while promoting hair growth. Plus it smells pretty.

Then I get into the shower, using my fingers to scrub at the scalp. I don't put anything into my hair like a conditioner since the natural oils in my hair conditioned perfectly well. It all sounds very lovely, washing rosemary through my hair la la la. Truthfully my son and I shower together, making it anything but a relaxing experience.

Once a month I like to use Ethique's Conditioner Wonderbar to add extra moisture too. Their packaging is compostable paper and cardboard. Being true to zero-waste I reuse the cardboard for writing lists or craft projects with my son, before I consider composting or recycling. One solid conditioner bar is the equivalent of five liquid conditioners, meaning I don't need much at all.

3. When I want to accentuate my waves I'll work through a teaspoon of linseed gel after the shower. Marshmallow root is useful with waves and curls too. Similar to the rosemary, I steep the marshmallow root in warm water, let cool and spray through my hair. The rosemary is collected from the garden or around the neighbourhood, while linseed and marshmallow root are sold at Friends of the Earth bulk store in Collingwood. Linseeds also makes a great egg substitute in cooking. I also share a homemade hair wax with the builder. Recipes for the hair wax and linseed gel are in my book

water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
Boar bristle hairbrush, upcycled glass spray bottle that I've had for years, rosemary from the garden and a wide tooth comb for use post shower that I've owned since so long that I can't remember. 

Since giving birth my hair has lost some of its wave and volume, but that might be because I'm still breastfeeding. At least that's what a friend suggested. If you have knotty hair, marshmallow roots slippery properties help to keep hair tangle free. Simply spray on post shower. I still use a wide tooth plastic comb after a shower, especially if I'm putting linseed gel or my salt spray for a beach wave look.

The water only method was a movement I chanced upon by accident. We were tossing three avocado seeds into our compost each week and I began to wonder if there was another way to use them before sending to compost. I didn't expect to find a recipe for avocado seed shampoo. Over time I began decreasing how much shampoo I was adding until it was just the avocado seed water then simply made the switch to water only. I'm not sure if it was gradual reduction in shampoo or the avocado seed that allowed me to skip the whole greasy hair issue other water only washers experience at the beginning.

Prior to the avocado seed shampoo I refilled my shampoo and conditioner at the local bulk store. I used a shampoo bar like the brand Ethique when I travelled as they were light, before I knew zero-waste was a thing or that our obsession with plastic was an issue.

I did try the popular zero-waste no poo method of bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar. This never worked for me. The bicarb left my scalp red and sore, the apple cider vinegar didn't seem to do anything either. Rye flour was OK, but I have a lot of hair and I found it took a long time to get out.

When it comes time for a haircut I do let the hairdresser wash my hair with their shampoo. It's only a couple times a year so I treat it as a deep clean. My hair doesn't change and there is never a transition phase back. But this could be because the salon I go to uses gentle products. They are part of Sustainable Salons Australia. Sustainable Salons Australia help hair salons recover up to 95% of salon waste, diverting it from landfill through different programs. Think items like chemicals, paper, hair, plastics, razors and tools. Proceeds from selling materials such as foil goes to OzHarvest providing meals for the homeless. If your salon is not with Sustainable Salons Australia, let them know about this zero waste community initiative.

I was very nervous in the lead up to the photoshoot for my book. Part of me wanted to get my hair washed and blow dried, plus my makeup professionally done. But I decided to stick to what I do in my day to day to keep it authentic. I even went water only for my wedding day. When I have a speaking event or TV interview I'll usually style it straight or curl with my hair straightener. If I have time I'll use my blow dryer too. 

As my hair gets closer to wash day, I do need to sprinkle dry shampoo at the roots which is simply tapioca flour. It doubles as my face powder too. Usually by this time my waves have vanished.

Most of the time I wear my hair down or in a bun using a hair stick stick gifted to me by Saya Designs, braided, braids pinned up and if I have time a crown braid (my fave). The wood used to make these plastic-free hair sticks are from the large roots left behind from logging plantation sites in Indonesia. Their packaging is made of 100% recycled materials too. I love the hair stick because when when someone asks where my beautiful hair stick is from (which is often) it’s an opportunity to tell them about the issues with deforestation and mass production. Wearable activism, I like that.

The kind folk from Rubber Cuppy gifted me hair bands made from recycled bike inner tubes. They are a bit stiff at first but with some wear they begin to soften nicely. Rubber Cuppy are a Melbourne based reusable coffee cup company using old bike inner tubes as the protective covering around the glass. They are not selling the hair ties at the moment though. But they might if you ask!

I have hair ties collected off the street too, boiled to remove germs. If the thought of picking up hair ties sounds too germy then I'd recommend the Kooshoo a natural and biodegradable hair tie made of organic cotton and natural rubber, instead of the synthetic kind you'd find at most stores.

water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
My upcycled hair ties, a Christmas gift from Rubber Cuppy and the beautiful Moonflower hair stick by Saya Designs


So why the water only? Why not just stick to shampoo & conditioner if your bottles can be refilled at the bulk store? Or at least shampoo bars?

When I started thinking about how much rubbish I was making (and leaving for the next generation) I also began to question everything I've told been is necessary. Turns out shampoo ended up being a product I did not need for myself. Simple answer to what people think will be a long winded reply. Zero-waste/minimal waste/low waste (whatever you want to call it) isn't purely focused on reducing rubbish, it's also about questioning the status quo. At least it is for me. Much of the stuff we use and bring into our lives is probably not needed yet we do it simply out of habit. I like to question those habits and hope to gently nudge others to do the same.

What kind of hair do you have?

To give you context, my hair is thin but there is alot, making it look deceptively thick. As I mentioned before it is wavy which means my hair is on the drier side as wavy and curly hair tend to be. My hair is naturally red but does have some henna colouring through it after I left it in too long when I was doing a conditioning mask with it. Henna is to messy for me and I'll continue to stick with the regular hair masks that I share in my book Waste Not. If anyone in Melbourne is looking for bulk henna visit Wholefoods on Lygon Street, East Brunswick. 

Fun fact, I used to work for a leading hair care brand. My hair was smothered and sprayed by a variety of products (I had a HUGE box of free hair products). It's been dyed many fun shades when they needed hair models. I loved it :) But I love my zero-waste hair care routine more. 

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