I used to have nasty hair. It used to take a total of only 12 hours for my freshly washed hair to disintegrate back into a mat of rain-soaked rat fur. I used to blame genetics, the overproduction of sebum I seemed to have inherited from my dad and its marriage to the thin, fine strands I seemed to have inherited from my mom. I used to hate washing my hair with shampoo because the harsh soap always dredged up a windstorm of dandruff, and made my scalp red, irritated, and spotted with damaged patches of skin. I used to hate washing my hair, because I knew that the weightless confidence I had with my newly washed hair would always disappear in a few short hours. I used to have anxiety about my oily hair.
But that was six weeks ago.
WO has definitely been an experiment, and that meant that there had been many a changing of variables in order to achieve the perfect formula for the specifics of my hair. There certainly had been many mistakes. For example, I bumbled up my rinse by using the cult favorite apple cider vinegar (ACV). It turned out that while ACV conditioned most other hair types to smoothness and shine, it just made my hair really, really greasy. In week 5, I cut out rinses altogether5. There were times when I wanted to quit because the end of transitioning seemed to be so far off in the horizon that it appeared to be entirely impossible to reach. Fortunately, like most other difficult and unpredictable experiments, it was between these most significant lows that the water-only process managed to surprise me in some very unexpected ways.
One, I discovered some essential points of new information that dramatically transformed the way my hair responded to the water only treatment.
And two, I got some compliments. On my hair that is.
I want to talk about the compliments first, because they are of much less importance compared to the other more helpful information that I could give you. I also wanted to share this with you for the sheer fact that I was just so incredibly surprised that my hair got compliments at all. Especially my hair on the water- only method. To be honest, the best that I had expected from anyone during this experiment was a civil politeness to not comment on the overbearing “shininess” of my hair which of course would have been just a nice translation of their discomfort with my apparently disgusting hygiene. So when I did get positive comments, it became obvious to me that I was probably doing something right, and that was a very comforting thought for one who had to base most of her experimental procedures and results on blind trial and error tests.
So there you go. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, so please don’t lose your marbles just yet. Water Only can be a frustrating, borderline horrible experience. It certainly is not for the weak-hearted. This is a message for those of you out there who are still struggling. I encourage you to keep at it and to experiment widely. One day, it will work out.
So… yes. Over the course of the most recent two weeks, I discovered exactly two essential pieces of information. After employing them, I found that my hair drastically changed how it responded to WO washing . This process and change was performed within the last two weeks (starting July 17th).
The first thing I realized was mentioned previously. I stopped using ACV to rinse my hair. In fact, I stopped rinsing altogether with acid completely. Prior to the week of July 17th, I followed most WO guidelines and that would be to follow up with an ACV rinse after every/every other/three WO washes. After combing through multiple forums and FB groups, I found that it was a very common thing for people to experience over-conditioning through ACV rinses. For my specific hair type, which is oily, fine, thin with very low porosity, ACV as an acid rinse was too moisturizing. The alternatives suggested to me were lemon juice (too expensive), distilled white vinegar (too similar to ACV considering my very low hair porosity), and tea rinses (too incompatible with the hard water I have in my area). Seeing as how all the tried and true options were not going to work for me, I decided to stop acid rinsing itself. And to my surprise, it actually worked. My hair balanced itself into an acceptable level of sebum production without the extra moisture of the acid rinse. It is worthy to mention that because it is essential to PH balance hair after a basic wash (which would be with any kind of soap or shampoo, including baking soda), I will keep a bottle of ACV rinse for when I do have to clarify my hair with shampoo or soap bars.
The second piece information was that of a technique called washcloth washing. It is exactly as it is named on the package, a washcloth is used instead of hands to smooth across the hair shaft when washing the hair. I use a small microfiber cloth made for makeup removal. The extra grip and absorbency of the fibers distribute and wipes off the wax and oil build up very well. Compared to using just my fingers, the washcloth method means that more grime is washed off. This made my hair less greasy, less waxy, and more voluminous. I would advise those with brittle or very dry hair to not pursue this method as the washcloth will pick up too much oil and dry out your hair. One the other hand, for those who suffer from very oily hair, the washcloth method may just be right for you.
For all my successes, I still don’t have perfect hair. Especially with a method as hands-off as WO, it is very difficult to manhandle your hair into the exact condition you desired. I did notice however that the less I did with my hair, the better it was. This journey had been about reducing chemical poisoning in the environment and healing my scalp in the most natural, unintrusive way possible, and a few bad hair days is a small inconvenience to pay. My hair still gets greasy and waxy. The wax especially is prominent during streaks of WO days without clarifying. Yet,despite the grease (or should I say because of the grease), my hair and scalp has been the healthiest they have ever been since childhood. I certainly will continue. I will definitely change and fine-tune my routine until it is perfect, but it is with great conviction that I can finally say that I am happy with the direction my hair is heading.
My current routine
// Scritch/preen/BBB every other day. Sometimes zero times to prevent over stimulation of oil.
// Wash hair with water only every day or every other day. Usually by an as-needed basis. Washcloth method used every time, or as needed based on oil levels.
// Wash boar bristle brush after every other use.
// Clarify wax buildup with sulfate free shampoo every seven days. Acid rinse using ACV on the occasion if I feel as if my hair needs extra conditioning. Usually, I don’t need it.
1.Rainwater experiment. Use rainwater to wash hair. Compare results with hard water results.
2. Find a natural, silicone free heat protectant product. Currently looking into oils with very high smoking points ie. refined olive oil, refined avocado oil, and 100% shea butter.
3. Extending clarifying days to every two weeks instead of one.