“Wow, you have really pretty hair! What’s your secret?”
I don’t use any shampoo.
“Oh, so you only use conditioners?
No. Only water.
Yes, it’s true. I only use water on my hair. I went from the shampoo-condition norm, to breaking free and using kitchen supplies to clean my hair, and then to just ditching the whole thing and sticking with the main resource – water.
I do not have any close up images of my hair, but this’ll give you an idea what it looks like everyday.
Pros and Cons of Water Only Hair Washing
- Simple! Your bathroom won’t be filled with products (the water supply will thank you), and most of what you WILL buy is mostly permanent, and don’t run out!
- Frugal. Since there’s no need for bottles of different cleansers, that means more money in your pocket! And since you don’t have all those products, that means less time in the shower, which means more money in your wallet!
- Natural. I hate to over use that word, but it is true. While some cleansers can be natural, most of them aren’t even if they contain the words ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘environmentally friendly’, etc. With WO, you use water and sebum.
- Self-Sufficient. All the above adds up to this. Just add water!
- You gotta get the hang of it. During this process, you will learn to get to know your hair better. You’ll have to get the hang of properly taking care of your hair without product, and learn what your hair likes and doesn’t like, without them. You’ll need to develop a routine, which..
- Takes time. Like switching to No ‘Poo, there are transitional phases. There’s one at the beginning of it, then one that follows about two or three months after starting. (Typically.) Once you get the hang of it, and give it time, there won’t be many “cons”.
The Idea Behind Water Washing
Our hair naturally produces an oil called sebum. Sebum lubricates and protects the hair, preventing damage. It is a more waxy oil. With most people, when their hair gets oily it collects on their scalp and roots of their hair so they use detergents (like shampoo) to strip the oils, to “clean” the hair, and then use moisturizers (like conditioner) on the hair, to replace to natural moisturizer (sebum) that was lost by the initial washing. And after all this, the scalp will end up producing more oil to replace what was lost, causing oily hair, and the supposed need to wash it again.
The idea with Water Only washing is working WITH the oil, and not against it.
The idea is to distribute the oils down your hair, not just letting it collect at the top, and use water to wash out excess oil, and to clean the hair of dirt and debris. The act of using water is not just to get rid of the oil, but to also help distribute it down the hair.
Once you begin WO, there will be a transitional period. Your body will be trying to regulate and balance out the oil production. Your scalp may appear more dandruffy and dull at first. (However, most have reported that their hair feels extremely soft when they start. Something similar happened to me.) To quote someone else who explains it a little better,
“Normally, when you wash your hair with shampoo, it’s a detergent and it will strip the oils off your hair. Hair is supposed to be a bit oily so your hair follicles produce additional oil to make up for the oil that’s been washed away and you end up getting greasy hair. If you don’t wash it away, there seems to be some kind of feedback mechanism that means that the follicles will produce the right amount of oil, and you won’t end up with greasy hair.”
Why fight against what God gave ya, is my thought.
The Tools of Water Only Washing
(Or, tools for hair care in general.)
Boar Bristle Brush (BBB): a brush made out of boar bristles. It is excellent in distributing hair oil down the hair, picking up dust and lint in the hair, and smoothing the hair shaft. Some say that it gives them a good hair massage, which stimulates hair growth. This is almost a MUST HAVE for water only washers. I use a soft boar bristle brush, and also own a medium brush. I use the medium bristle brush on my scalp, and the soft on the body of my hair. Hard bristles, I feel, would be too much, and would damage my hair. I advise purchasing medium bristles and work your way from there. I have curly hair, so I only do this if I will not be wearing my hair with its natural curls, and will be wearing different hairstyles, such as braids, buns, etc. If you have straight hair, you may want to try this out!
Wooden Brushes: These brushes are excellent for massaging your scalp and stimulating hair growth. I love the way it feels on my scalp! It can also do a good job of distributing oil down the shaft, and cleaning your hair, although not NEARLY to the extent of a BBB brush. I feel like this is a nice accessory to have, regardless of what hair washing method you use. For the curlies out there, you could use this instead of the BBB brush, because it is much gentler on curls
Satin Hair Caps/Pillow Cases: This is necessary for ANYONE who has hair and wants to protect it. If you use pillowcases made from cotton, or polyester, for example, this can cause friction on your hair, resulting in damage, tangles, and dryness. With satin, it’s smooth enough to not cause friction on your hair. The material (from my understanding) does not absorb oils, like other materials do, so it doesn’t dry your hair out. Because of this, however, you may need to clean your pillowcase, since the oil rests on the pillowcase. Because of this, it is excellent for WO.
Sharp Hair Scissors: Do NOT just use any old pair of scissors to cut your hair! This can cause even MORE damage to your hair! You don’t want to waste all your work in cutting away damage to just create more. Spend a few bucks and buy some hair scissors. I find a smaller size works well for me, and makes it easier to trim my hair. You can trim your hair using these methods, or use the Search and Destroy Method (S&D), which I am partial to. (I’m cheap and spent $12 dollars on a pair of scissors at Sally’s Hair Salon. It said “super sharp”, so I’ll take it. If you want, take even more precaution and buy from a reliable brand.)
Oils: There is a controversy within the WO community on whether or not to supplement your hair with oils. My argument FOR them stems from the time period I did not moisturize my ends with oil, and it resulted in damage and split ends. I have curly hair, which tends to be more dry in the first place (it’s harder for curlies to distribute sebum down the hair shaft because of the curl on the hair), so that was not going to work. I am going to slowly work toward using less oils, and becoming independent from them. I would like to grow my hair out, so this will also prevent my hair from getting split ends. (Although the idea is to use sebum to do this.) So, choose what works for you. Coconut, jojoba, almond, apricot, etc. are some oils you can use. I use coconut and apricot. I hope to try jojoba, since this is very similar to sebum.
Cotton T-Shirt: For less damage and frizz, use a cotton t-shirt to dry your hair. It doesn’t bother the hair cuticles on the shaft, which allows your hair to become more shiny and manageable. Unlike terry cloth, it’s much more gentle on your hair. An alternative for this is microfiber cloth. But, I’m cheap, so I stick with t-shirts.
Cocoa Powder/Cornstarch: Dry shampoo. Because sometimes you just can’t work the oily look, or the washing didn’t work this time.
Steps Prior to Water Only Washing
Before you plunge into Water Only hair washing, you may want to take a few steps first. To help ease your transition, take these precautions.
The first step you may want to take is to clarify your hair, and level out your acidity level. You can do this with an ACV rinse. You may want to transition going No ‘Poo for a short while, using Baking Soda and ACV to cleanse your hair. But, if you’re like me and prefer to avoid the “slow kill”, you can just plunge into water only.
Now, I haven’t tried this, but the next step can be to detox your hair, specifically using bentonite clay. Bentonite clay is known to absorb toxins when taken internally, and this can be imitated on the hair. Basically, you create a somewhat watery paste using water with the bentonite clay, apply it to your hair (wet or dry), let it sit for 30 minutes, then rinse out, following an ACV rinse. (About 1 cup ACV, straight or diluted in water.) This will naturally cleanse your hair, get rid of toxins, and build up. It does NOT strip your natural hair oils, so I believe this would be the perfect thing to attempt! You could continue to do this after going WO.
Repair your hair. Deep condition with oils, cleanse it with baking soda. Trim your hair.
Basically, start your journey fresh. Work out the problems before you dive in. You’ll have enough when you start. (Haha, kidding.)
How to Wash Your Hair with Only Water
- Go a few days, and let your hair get “dirty”. Start off with something. Once you get into WO, you can practice this by stretching your washes.
- Massage your scalp. This will help break up anything on your scalp, the oils, stimulate your hair follicles, and actually (possibly) produce some more oil. Enjoy it. Relax, and pamper yourself. During this time you can “scritch“. Scratch at your scalp (gently) to break up dead skin cells and dirt.
- Detangle. Use your hands to brush the length of your hair. When you feel a tangle, work it out with your hands. If the tangle us bad, use a tad bit of oil, or ACV. If it’s really, really bad, consider cutting it out. (LAST RESORT.) Do not yank at the tangle. This will only cause breakage, which causes damage/split ends. It’s best to do this before using a brush (unless you have a Tangle Teezer) to prevent damage. Once you’ve got most of the tangles out, then you can move on to the next step.
- Distribute the oil down your hair. A method to do this is called “preening“, using your hands to move the oil. You can also use a BBB, or brush of choice, to do the job. You may want to section out your hair to get the best results. (PLEASE take note that before using your BBB, DETANGLE your hair. The BBB is NOT meant to detangle your hair. The BBB will cause damage if you do not ensure your hair is tangle free.)
- Shower. Warm to hot water does the best job at moving the oil, getting rid of the excess, and cleaning your hair. When you get in, wet your hair, and then move on to something else. This is my preference to allow the hair to absorb the water. I then wet my hair once more, and then “scrub” my scalp. Use a massage motion with the pads of your fingers to clean your hair. Do not pile your hair on top of your scalp. Do this all over, with water running down. I then run my hands down the body of my hair to clean the body. I normally do not have to do much with it, the water itself does enough. I then will part my hair, and with my head tilted to the water, detangle my hair and preen a little, to help move the oils. Repeat on other side. (This is good for curlies, because your hair will break into clumps. Doing this you can let your hair dry loose with it resulting in good curls, or plop your hair.) For both times, do not linger under the water long. You do not want to totally clear your head of oils, or take off too much. It may take time to find the right timing, but like most other hair cleansing methods, it’s all part of the process. If you are a curly, shorten your washing times, so you can do a final rinse with your hair upside down. Scrunch your hair to form clumps.
- Dry your hair. Grab your t-shirt/microfiber cloth, tilt your head, and gently squeeze the cloth around your hair. You want to pat it out, not scrub your hair dry. It’s best not to brush your hair wet, but if you do use a wide-tooth (preferably wooden) comb, tangle teezer, or your fingers. For curlies, don’t brush your hair at all once you get out of the shower, lest your break up your clumps. If you plop, do not dry your hair beforehand. You can then apply an oily, lightly, on your ends or body of your hair. I use coconut oil.
Alright, so you got the pre-WO, the actual WO, and now what about those in between times?
It’s best not to touch your hair too much. The oil from your hands can get on your hair, and it can also disturb the oils on your hair, giving your hair a fresh, greasy look. I do touch my hair, fluff it, put it in hairstyles, and I’ve never met with this problem. Just a precaution so you are aware, in case you run into this issue.
Nightly, preen and brush your hair. (Either or, whichever is needed.) Move the oils down. Doing this every night will help avoid the whole oily look on the scalp in the first place, and will continually nourish your hair before your next wash. This will also help your hair balance out its oils, and stretch your washes. Keep in mind to clean your brush. You may need to do this before every use, or just when it gets dirty enough. Sleep on a satin pillowcase, satin hair cap, and/or put your hair in a protective do, such as a top bun or braid. (This will result in braid waves or bun waves.) If you wish, oil your ends very lightly.
As a curly, I give myself two days of curly hair. That means I do not brush or preen. (I may BBB my scalp.) I put my hair in a sleep cap, or a pineapple. I may scrunch some oil on my ends.
In the morning, let your hair down. You may want to wet the body of your hair just a tad bit, oil your ends, etc. Treat it normal! As a curly, follow curly precautions.
Monthly (or so) Maintenance
Trim your hair. I avoid salons like the plague, and trim my own. I listed some methods above. The basis of WO is using sebum to help protect your hair, so hopefully this won’t be as much of an issue.
Clean your supplies. Wash your brushes, satin caps, pillowcases, and t-shirt/microfiber cloth.
*OPTIONAL* Deep condition your hair in some way. You can use coconut oil on your body, let it soak for a few days, hiding with with braids or different hairstyles. Then wash. (In my experience, it does come out, if I don’t over oil.) Be VERY careful doing this. Use honey, avacado, etc. to moisturize the body of your hair. I try to deep condition once in a while, but you do NOT have to follow this. This is completely optional. The idea behind WO is letting sebum do it all. Use at your own discretion.
Check your progress. Reflect on what you’ve been doing and where your hair is at. This can be used to encourage you on your journey, and/or fix some issues. Hair’s excessively oily? You may still be in a transition phase, and need to preen and brush your hair. Check the amount of time you are washing. Hair dry? You may be washing too much, and might want to do some hair massages, and condition the body of your hair in some way until you can distribute the sebum better. On and on it goes.
I do not excessively supplement, and try to get most of my nutrients through whole foods.
I do take biotin, but not regularly. You want to be careful taking this, because it’s a micronutrient. I make sure to drink a hearty amount of water when I take it. I don’t supplement with folic acid, because I believe the proper form is folate. I get these two nutrients by eating two eggs a day, which also supplies protein into my diet, which is good for hair health.
I try to consume gelatin daily. I would like to work up to 6 tbsp. a day. Right now, I’m lucky to get 1 or 2 tbsp. Wellness Mama has an article that lists good tips for healthy hair, including gelatin. Natural Mama just put out a video on gelatin and talks about the benefits it has to health; creating new hair growth, faster hair growth, and generally better hair health. I try to consume gelatin through homemade bone broths, jello, gummy treats, and adding it whatever foods I can manage. I have definitely noticed a difference in my hair, and overall health, since using gelatin, and definitely recommend it. (Below I have listed a topical use for gelatin on your hair.)
I am careful when hydrating. This seems to be a “secret” for healthy hair, but I do not try to consume a certain amount a day. I drink when I am thirsty. Sally Fallon states in her book “Nourishing Traditions”, on page 53 that, “Water is a by-product of carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Thus, a diet that is high in protein but low in fat and carbohydrates can lead to excessive thirst.” Get plenty of good fats (lard, tallow, coconut oil, palm oil, butter, etc.) and carbs (traditional grains, legumes, natural sweeteners, etc.) in your diet; realize that all liquids in your diet hydrate you, and you have to count those, too, not just the cups of water you consume. Use your head.
I supplement with Vitamin C. I try to use a buffered form, ascorbate powder, whole food based (such as Amla-C), or whole foods such as broccoli sprouts or rose hips. You can take as much as your body can handle. I typically take at least 2,000mg a day. 10,000mg if I am ill. I love Vitamin C.
I have already stated that oiling your hair is somewhat controversial, and totally optional. It’s my choice to use some oils because I love the benefits of oil, and with curly hair I find that I need something extra. I hope, as I’ve already said, to become more independent from oils.
I do a protein treatment to my hair about twice a week. (edit: Now only once a month. 8/26) The treatment I use I found on Wellness Mama’s post on gelatin, point number 2. It’s not necessarily a protein treatment, but that’s the closest I get to one. I find it does strengthen my hair, lessens the appearance of any damage on my hair, and conditions my hair. I use it on my scalp, but it may strip some oils, so use discretion.
Gelatin Protein Treatment
1/2 cup of cool water
1 tbsp. of gelatin
1 tsp. ACV
1 tsp. honey
Apply to hair, dry or wet, and leave at least five minutes, rinse with cool water.
I am constantly wearing my hair down, because I have curly hair, and since I’m putting all this work into it, I want to reap my harvest! lol But the best method is, for the most part, to put your hair in protective hairstyles, such as braids and buns. This prevents friction, tangles, and damage from sun and wind. I tend to oil my length with coconut oil when I do, because my hair ends up absorbing it all before I get to my next wash, preventing the need to use any other sort of cleanser to get rid of excess oils. If you do practice the use of protective hairstyles, make sure you mix it up, alleviating the pressure around the scalp the hairstyle creates, preventing hair breakage. If you leave it down, just be gentle with it.
I believe I have created a monster. A massive, bloated monster. But since I created it, I’ll be it’s master, and deal with it.
Water Only does take some work. It is healthier for your hair, and it is simple, but it does take time.
Basically, it has it’s pro’s and con’s.
Trust me, I do NOT like methods that take excessive work. That’s why I gave up on the Curly Girl method. It works, it’s gives great results, but I felt restricted and it was too time consuming. With WO, I have more freedom.
So while this is an excessive post, please do not be intimidated. I see a lot of questions, skepticism, and fear against WO-washing, so I felt the need to cover the bases and to give as much information as I could.
You have the ability to experiment. You have the freedom to pick and choose, and work what’s best with you.
Here’s the information, use it as you please.
And for all of those who were just curious, or feel that this isn’t the best method for them, do take some of the tips, because it’s not just only for those who practice Water-Only washing. Whatever style you use, some of the information here could possibly benefit you.
For now, I’m going to use the WO method. I may change in the future. I am forever experimenting. But I am content with where I am and what I’m doing.
I try not to be vain, but I try to take care of what God gave me. (Proverbs 31:30; 1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Peter 3:3) God created beauty, appreciates it, and we as humans have an appreciation for things that are beautiful. (Col. 1:16; Ecc. 3:11) That’s why I take the effort I do, research the way I do, and inform the way I do.
I hope this post has benefited some, and been informative for the curious minded.
May you have happy hair days, regardless of how you take care if it!