Friday, December 19, 2014

Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment: Homemade Shampoo

I've got a "thing" for Christmas. Lights and kids and singing....and snow and blankets and conifers and deer tracks. It's all good - all of it - and I look forward to it each year.

But I don't look forward to the dryness. Every year, without fail, I get flaky skin....especially on my head. Now hear me out, this isn't your average dry scalp. No, this is a grease-scalp that also, somehow, flakes. I know. It's gross. I completely concur. 

To combat the grease and itching, I would wash my hair every-other day with a shampoo and conditioner like this:

I switched to some lesser-known brands, then back again, then tried another brand, then another....but it seemed no matter brand, type, or conditioner, I would always end up with dry, brittle ends, flakes, and, much to my dismay, greasiness. 

Now where I live, winter is cold. It's frigid outside. What better way to stay warm than to literally let your hair down? My hair is long and covers my neck all scarf-like. It fits nicely under a hat when I wear it down and it gives me the chance to grow out that semi-permanent ponytail bump I imprint on my hair all summer. 

But between the itching and the flakes, I didn't feel much like letting my hair down.

There had to be a better way, I thought. I'd tried literally hundreds of shampoos and conditioners, but wasn't willing to blow huge amounts of money on either. I even got a boatload of free Wen shampoo from a family member and thought "EUREKA! THIS IS IT!".....until it, too, made my scalp oily and impossibly itchy. 

After a few cycles of trying and failing, flaking and feeling gunky, I decided my scalp was broken. Maybe it was time for a reset.

So I stopped - completely. I stopped shampooing. Stopped conditioning. Stopped putting product in my hair. I stopped. They call it no-poo on all the other blogs....meaning no shampoo.

So let me tell you about my no-poo experience. I used baking soda in the shower three times a week, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. Immediately, the itchy scalp stopped. I mean literally overnight, after the first wash, my scalp no longer itched like crazy. It was still greasy, but I'd read this was to be expected for the first few weeks. 

About a month into the process my scalp wasn't as greasy, but the flakes increased. I was starting to get a little irritated (see what I did there) at this point and decided I needed to find a gentler cleansing method that didn't rely on straight baking soda but also didn't depend on expensive organic shampoos and crap. 

I needed a new hair care routine.

The Procedure

There's a couple thousand homemade hair care recipes out there. Let me tell you what went into my decision-making process.

1. I have white hairs peppered among my dark brown hairs. I do not, I repeat, do not, care about these hairs. In fact, I actually really love them and secretly believe each one holds a memory like that creepy whispering tree in Avatar. I get pretty mad when friends offer to pluck them out. One day, I think, I will have a silver mane like the most badass unicorn ever born and I don't want anyone hindering my progress to that destiny. So needless to say, I do not color my hair. 

2. My number one priority was to reduce my cleansing needs while retaining comfort and manageability. 

3. I care very much about the strength of my hair and it's ability to go from pile-on-head to waves-draping-down without a ton of breakage at the crown. I needed something that would inject my hair with a little bit of moisture but also leave it de-greased and shiny.

4. I hate, and I mean hate, tangles. 

So first, the shampoo replacement.

I found this recipe by The Wellness Mama and adjusted it just slightly:
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (I use canned, regular stuff from the bottom shelf of Target)
  • 1/3 cup castile soap (I use peppermint Dr. Bronners)
  • 5 drops of peppermint essential oil (way less than what she recommends - the soap's scent is strong enough)
  • Pinch of baking soda (just cuz I really do love how it makes my scalp feel)
I did NOT add vitamin E (it's optional but I didn't have any, you know, lyin around). I also have not tried adding olive oil yet, but think that would help with some of the dryness.

I mixed up all my ingredients and tossed 'em in a blue clearance-priced hand soap bottle from - you guessed it -  Target. Baddahbing baddahboom. 

I wash my hair on Wednesdays and Sundays, using a very small amount. This shampoo goes suds-to-tha-wall like a mother trucker - very foamy stuff. Also the peppermint castile soap tingles, something I didn't expect, for some reason. Very minty-fresh and so clean-clean.

I use an apple cider vinegar rinse afterwards as a detangler and shine-enhancer. I just pour a couple tablespoons of vinegar into a squirt bottle and fill it up the rest of the way with tap water. Apple cider vinegar truly is an amazing detangler, I had no idea. And while it does smell in the shower, your hair does NOT smell like vinegar afterwards.

I started using a boar-hair brush to help distribute the natural oil in my hair. I brush before I get in the shower, but never afterward while the hair is wet. I also brush in the mornings every-other day or so, when I can remember to do it or want to style it later.....although, let's be honest, my version of styling these days is just wearing my hair down, naked and maybe only slightly curled at the ends. Fancy Jen - lookout!

The Cost
So I'm going to give it to you straight. With the amount of cheap shampoo there is out there, including the Suave Kids brand I let my kids use up until recently, there's no way you're going to spend less making your own shampoo. If you go no-poo, maybe....but if you're using one of those 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner products that cost $1.99 at WalMart, don't expect to pay less for the homemade shampoo ingredients. It won't happen. 

My old shampoo cost $6.69 for 33.8 ounces, or $0.20 per ounce.

My homemade shampoo, with all ingredients added up and divided out according to the recipe, costs $0.99 per ounce - a difference of $0.79 an ounce....which means if I were to buy it like I did the old stuff, it would cost me more than $26 for the same amount of product.


But allow me to walk you through the way I justify this expense in my head....

#1) I use less product with each wash
#2) I wash less
#3) I don't need to buy add-in products (mousse, foam, leave-ins, masks, whatever)

Plus, there's those pesky toxicity levels in commercial products (taken from

Health Factors
  • Propylparaben: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Ecotoxicology, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Miscellaneous, Use restrictions
  • Fragrance: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • Octinoxate: Enhanced skin absorption, Biochemical or cellular level changes, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Endocrine disruption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Persistence and bioaccumulation
  • EXT D&C Violet 2: Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Use restrictions
  • Diazolidinyl Urea (Formaldehyde releaser): Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (FORMALDEHYDE), Use restrictions
  • Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
  • SD Alcohol 40: Enhanced skin absorption, Cancer, Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Contamination concerns (BRUCINE, T-BUTYL ALCOHOL, BRUCINE SULFATE, QUASSIN), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
And I'm gonna stop there. The list CONTINUES, though, people. It continues and it's scary as hell to think I've exposed my kids to this crap for their entire lives. 

But moving on. Lets' talk about our homemade shampoo ingredients.

Coconut milk: 
  • High levels of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc
  • High levels of Vitamin C and E
  • High levels of essential fatty acids and antioxidants
  • Moisturizes hair, promotes growth, and can control hair loss
Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap:
  • Vegetable oil-based (no detergents)
  • Certified fair-trade and organic 
  • Ethical sourcing
  • No artificial or petroleum-based additives
  • Biodegradable
Peppermint oil:
  • Reduces hair loss
  • Moisturizes dry scalp
  • Promotes hair growth
I am now down to washing my hair twice a week - unheard of in previous winters. My hair is manageable and shiny, but I do have some residual dandruff. I am hoping to get it cleared up by adding some olive oil to the shampoo blend and mixing up my ratios a little bit.

All in all, I feel better about putting this stuff on my head, on my kids' heads, and on the head of my husband. Although my hair is far from runway-ready, it feels ten times better and I am much more comfortable than I've been in years. I will not go back to conventional shampoos, although I may continue tweaking my homemade recipe and trying new ingredients.

UPDATE! 02/06/2015
After a few weeks of continued flakes, I decided to stop using the shampoo. I've gone back to my baking soda and vinegar rinse...with a twist! I now add an egg!

1. Sprinkle baking soda into the bottom of a mug
2. Fill the mug with warm water (this is to temper the egg so it doesn't cook on your head!)
3. Stir gently
4. Crack an egg and add it to the mug
5. Gently stir with a fork to break up the egg yolk
6. Head into the shower and pour it on your head!

I kid you not, this is the softest, most manageable hair I've ever had. no flakes, no residue, and it's totally shiny. I've found a winner! My husband and kiddos still use the shampoo...but I'm an eggs and baking soda girl now! :)

Any of you try homemade shampoo or the no-poo method? How did it work out for you? Why did you stay on it? Why did you quit? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and always, thank you so very much for reading.

Tune in next week as my experiment continues with homemade deodorant! Yesssssss!

And in case you missed Part 1 of my Crunchy Life Experiment:


  1. All of the chemicals you list in commercial shampoos is freaking me out. My mom was diagnosed with cancer this year. While staying with her as she was recuperated after her surgery I couldn’t help notice her cupboards and freezer were filled with processed foods. Her closets were so well stocked with over-the-counter meds, lotions and products she wouldn’t need to visit a pharmacy for years. Each day I gave her a handful of pills. She also spent a good majority of her life cleaning for a living. She was a walking chemical. We don’t know for sure what caused her cancer, but I do know all of these chemicals did not help. I’m not quite ready to make my own shampoo, but I am making a cognizant effort to put less chemicals in and on my body.
    I saw a class being offered through our local rec club on how to make non-toxic home-made cleaners and thought of you. The cost is $19.

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your mama, Savvy. You know, it's kinda interesting how we look at our parents when we start to realize how many crazy secrets are hidden in today's consumerism. Our parents are our guiding light, ya know? It freaks me out to think I know something she didn't know back then and can now implement it to avoid damage to myself or my family. I suppose this is something that happens with each generation....but what a weird role reversal, you know? Makes me uncomfortable and afraid to sound like a know-it-all. Strangely enough, my mother in-law was also diagnosed with cancer, but she was a hippie all her life. She's been juicing since before juicing was cool. I'm pretty sure it's currently inescapable, this chemical world, but paving the way for a healthy population down the road is a pretty kick-ass byproduct of trying.

      That class sounds awesome!! I started with food, have finally moved on to the beauty products, and YES, cleaning products is next. I currently spend a fortune on the good stuff from the store. Would love to learn how to make my own!

  2. Holy crap! This is like a scientific dissertation...and I loved it! I don't think I'm quite ready for the earthy crunchy no-poo yet, and I just started DRINKING apple cider vinegar daily. But definitely pinning this for when I quit TV,move to the mountains, open my bakery and grow my garden.

    BTW...I'm a gray plucker - and we will need to have a serious convo someday about hair coloring. I'm pro -you're against...let the debate commence!

    1. HAHAHA thanks Kristen :) :) :) I loved biology class when I was younger...can you tell?? And can I please just say your dream-end-goal-world sounds amazing???

      HAHAHA DON'T PLUCK THE GRAYS! They are hard-earned memories and only accentuate the beauty you've built throughout your years! Wear them with PRIDE and the knowledge you're a brilliant resource who gets better and better with age! WHITE HAIRED ONES, UNITE!!!

  3. I have never made my own shampoo before. Maybe one day!

    1. It's easy-peasy and I think you would be surprised how much better it feels. The kiddos love it, too.

  4. My mama is super proud of her gray hairs, she says she earned every one of them. Everyone tells her she'd look so much younger if she colored her hair and she's like....I have adult children. How young am I supposed to look? and I try to convince Angel not to pull out all of his grays, too.
    This definitely intrigues me. I've known a lot of people to go the baking soda method, but I think I like this strategy better.

    1. YEA! Fellow gray-lovers unite! I am crazy about them. I picture myself with a whole head of silver strands, braiding them in a long braid down my back and walking through my backyard barefoot and wearing a long flowery dress. HAHA!

      And yes, the baking soda did alright for a while, but I think it ended up being too harsh to use on its own. I still use it sometimes pre-shampoo - as like a clarifying step if I'm feeling especially greasy. Thanks for reading Rach :)

  5. Have you concocted your own conditioner yet? I've been trying the baking soda/water mixture but I feel I need more for my hair since it needs moisture - I feel it dries it out too much so I like the idea of the coconut milk and peppermint oil. I will have to make this ish because my hair feels AWFUL! I hate buying those products in the store because I know they're either going to be a) too expensive or b) full of crap I don't want on my scalp. Lol I love all the research you do -it's pretty epic you should create a pamphlet for each of the beauty aspects like facial stuff then hair stuff then body stuff. I'd get in on that! :) Thanks for all the poking around you do since i'm usually too lazy or forget to do it! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays lovely Jennifer!! Take it easy gorgeous -Iva

    1. Lmfao I forgot to comment on the gray hairs - I got them too and they're a symbol of pride because it shows I've been through shit and EARNED THEM. People can suck it - I'm not coloring those bishes! Gray Pride lol