Sconehead: Vegan shampoo

What happened when I switched to the baking soda and vinegar shampoo method for a week...


At the same time as I decided Guac needed a re-boot, I realised my own take on veganism could also do with a shake-up. I’d grown pretty comfortable with what to eat and where to get it, but there was still a whole other side to it I knew I wasn’t dealing with properly- and that’s clothing, beauty and cleaning products.

Vegans aren’t superheroes and most of them also don’t have squillions to spend on brand new winterware or make-up bags. I made the decision this summer to stop buying any leather, suede, wool or other animal bi-product items to wear. But it also meant I needed to totally overhaul the beauty and cleaning products I've been using. 

Just as turning to a vegan diet usually takes a few trial and error stages to work out what fits, I've spent the last few weeks researching and sampling all the different ways I can go totally vegan with beauty and cleaning products. As I mention above, I don't have an endless stream of cash to do this with, so instead I chose to replace what I ran out of over time. If you want to do something gradually like this, I'd recommend it as the easiest way to make a total, and really importantly, sustainable change to your lifestyle. It stops it from becoming overwhelming and means you can properly research each product when you run out. 

The first thing I did was to work out exactly what criteria I wanted my new products for beauty and cleaning to have. Having asked around with a lot of friends this is likely to be a really personal decision so totally up to you as to where you want to draw the line with the chemicals and products you have in your daily life. I decided my two main priorities needed to be that the products are vegan and cruelty free. I also really wanted everything to be free of parabens and sulphates because of the research I'd done in to chemicals used in shampoo and soap. The other final criteria was that I needed to be able to afford it month to month, and for it to be easy to make, use and keep. I didn't mind if I had to trek to a whole foods shop or make a huge batch of homemade concoctions and freeze it in ice-cube trays, I just want something that I know I can use and afford in the long-term, that is a sustainable change.

I then took an hour over a lunchbreak and wrote down every beauty or cleaning product I use to see if there were any that could stay. This ended up taking a lot longer than an hour because so many companies will happily tell you upfront they are vegan OR cruelty free OR paraben free etc, but will also go to every length to hide the fact they do test on animals etc etc. From the research I did, I would say if the company doesn't confirm something in their website's FAQ section, it's probably trying to avoid that specific frequently asked question.

No prizes for guessing that absolutely none of my beauty or cleaning products fitted my vegan and cruelty free criteria. You can use the PETA search to find out if any of yours do, as I found many brands will have UK and US websites making things even more complicated. So all in all, there was going to have to be a total overhaul in all the products I used.

Which brings me to my first experiment: trying to go shampoo-free. After a few field trips to Whole Foods and Planet Organic, my head whirring with ingredients lists and chemicals to avoid, I began looking into making shampoo myself. Or not making it, as the case is, with the bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda in the US) and vinegar method, known fondly as the 'No Poo' system for washing hair. 

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So, one morning at 5.50am I got up ten minutes earlier and mixed two cups of solution to wash my hair with. The first was 2 tablespoons of baking powder with 6 tablespoons of water, or a 1:3 ratio. The second was 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 4 tablespoons of water, or a 1:4 ratio. I also mixed in about five drops of the rose oil above (vegan and cruelty free) that I bought from a Whole Foods store to the vinegar conditioner, to try and mask the vinegar smell. If you are going to try this out make sure you use something it's okay to drop in the shower- maybe a left over water bottle or plastic/tin cups like I did. 

The shampoo doesn't froth so instead you sort of massage it in to your hair, focusing on the scalp before getting to the ends of your hair. Then leave it for 3 minutes or so, before washing out and then pouring over the conditioner in a similar way, focusing on the roots. Make sure you don't get any in your eyes as this will hurt a lot.

To cut a long story short- this method was not for me. I know you're supposed to leave the hair to go into a detox phase and then eventually, after what could be months, your hair will grow accustomed to the baking soda and vinegar and look amazing, but to be quite honest the whole thing just made me totally miserable. I tried this for seven days, through three washes. I know it doesn't sound like a lot but my hair honestly looked and felt disgusting. I like to think I have strong will power- I went vegan in the space of a day. But I also know when something isn't working for me, and this really, really wasn't.  

While a lot of online blogs warn about dry hair or extra oily hair, my hair did both. At the roots it went super oily, so I didn't even want to touch it, and at the the ends, so dry it couldn't be brushed. So much so I actually broke two hair brushes trying to blow-dry my hair one morning. The vinegar smell wasn't masked by the rose oil and bicarbonate of soda is quite expensive when you get through it at the rate I was. When my friend teased me for being a 'sconehead' on the phone after telling her I was doing a shampoo-detox with cooking ingredients, I realised there was no way I was going to last another week, let alone the months it could take to see results.

I'm sure for loads of people this is great method, and a brilliant revelation, but it just was not for me. When I looked online for negative side-effects of the no-poo method, of course (as with everything on the internet) I found 1,001 bad things about doing a hair detox, not least that the rapid change in pH from alkaline bicarbonate of soda to acidic vinegar could be really damaging on your hair. 

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Which is where my new shampoo and conditioner come in.  Me and my sconehead went off to Holland & Barret and found the North American Hemp Co. products- which are vegan, cruelty free, paraben and sulphate free, and also not too expensive. After two washes with this shampoo my hair isn't quite back to normal, but I hope it will be within a week. At least it feels softer, can be brushed, and feels super nice being washed as opposed to the weird fizzy sensation from the bicarb. 

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I also stocked up on Dr Organic Aloe Vera soap, which is vegan, cruelty free, paraben and sulphate free, and smells AMAZING. You could also use olive oil soap which is really cheap to get hold of, but I prefer something that smells clean and refreshing. 

Yes, these products aren't homemade and all of them have ingredients I can't pronounce, but by buying them I know I'm supporting companies that support my ethos, and that this is probably the most practical way for me to start changing my habits to be totally vegan without being a sconehead. I even bought an extra soap for travelling! 

I'd love to hear from anyone that's found any products in the UK that work really well for them that are vegan and cruelty free- and especially homemade shampoos, conditioners or hair masque recipes.