Washing our hair is arguably the aspect of personal care that we are least likely to go totally homemade and environmentally friendly on. Perhaps this is vanity, or perhaps there just hasn’t ever really been a good enough alternative available.
This is a shame, as shampoos are one of the worst culprits when it comes to releasing toxins into the environment, both the immediate environment of our head and the wider one of our water supply. If you want to know more, there are many articles about these issues online, like this , and this . And we use a lot of shampoos.
For years I recommended the traditional No-Poo approach, based on a weak baking soda (bicarb) solution followed by an apple cider vinegar and water rinse. I used it on my own hair, also for years, and was at first thrilled and for a long time pretty satisfied with the result. But although there is no denying that it cleans hair brilliantly, inevitably the same problem arises for everyone – over time, the baking soda dries out the hair and leaves it more fragile and brittle.
Don’t get me wrong – No-Poo is better than “ordinary” shampoo. “Ordinary” shampoos are basically liquid soaps that use synthetic detergents like SLS to clean hair and foaming agents to… add foam! (That’s because we think foam = clean and for no other reason, by the way.) They leave hair dried out and brittle too, which is why we use conditioners to replace some of the shine and softness that results from having our hair stripped of sebum. A plethora of thickeners, opacifiers etc. are added to make it feel thick and look opaque. These, like the foaming agents, have no benefit at all to hair and are added purely to improve our perception of how “good” the shampoo is. The No-Poo method does away with all these unnecessary additives and replaces the detergent with the mild alkalinity of baking soda to achieve basically the same result: hair that is clean of dirt and denuded of oil, with the cuticle open, exposing the cortex to damage. Following up with conditioner or a vinegar rinse both go a long way to undo the negative effects of washing. They both help to close up the cuticle and restore smoothness and gloss. If you are interested in knowing more about how shampoos are formulated, this  is an excellent, balanced article.
Over time, however, sebum production on the scalp tends to get pretty messed up, as all the sebum that is produced keeps getting stripped off and replaced with conditioners. Should the scalp produce more sebum to compensate for getting stripped, or less because of all the conditioners we are smearing on? No wonder so many of us complain of dry hair, or oily hair, or both! Again, No-Poo does a better job here and sebum production is often normalised so that hair needs to be washed less, rather than more often. But again, over time hair dries out, becomes more brittle and starts looking a bit dull and lifeless.
Well, there is a better way! You may have read about it already in the Washing Hair page  or elsewhere, but I decided to write about it again here, because… It. Is. Such. A. Winner! So, here is the answer:
That’s it. Oh, and water.
I know, it sounds really weird to put dough, essentially, on your hair, but I promise that it works. Beautifully. Rye flour has the same pH as hair and sebum, around 5.5. And its combination of natural saponins, vitamins and who knows what else, make it an excellent but oh-so-gentle cleanser. I still highly recommend following washing with a weak vinegar solution or Rooibos tea as a final rinse, to seal the hair shaft. Washing hair with rye flour and water leaves hair perfectly clean, and also soft and manageable. It seems to get healthier over time, instead of the reverse. Sebum production calms right down so you don’t have to wash your hair often, but if you want to, you can.
How to do it:
It’s dead easy.
- Just pop some rye flour into a cup or small bowl,
- Add warm water,
- And stir.
- Depending on how long / thick / dirty your hair is you’ll need between one and four tablespoons of flour (start with two and see how it goes), and enough warm water to make a creamy liquid that you like the thickness of.
- It really isn’t necessary to get rid of every lump as you’ll be massaging it all in and rinsing thoroughly afterwards. It even looks and feels a bit like “proper” shampoo, and gets a bit frothy because of the saponins. You can mix it in an empty shampoo bottle if you like so it’s easy to shake up and squirt on. Whatever works for you.
- Pour / squirt the rye flour and water mixture over your hair and massage in thoroughly. You know – wash your hair.
- Rinse well. Really, really well if you had lots of lumps in your mixture. (The runoff water will be great for your garden if you do this over a basin.)
- Follow up with a weak solution of apple cider vinegar or a herb infused vinegar (I like lavender or rosemary), or some Rooibos tea . Any of these add smoothness and shine and protect hair between washes by closing up the hair shaft that can be disturbed by any hair washing, no matter how gentle. If you use vinegar, make sure it is well diluted with at least 3 parts water to one part vinegar. You can leave it in or rinse it out.
Washing babies’ or small children’s hair is a doddle with rye flour, particularly if you choose the Rooibos tea rinse, as nothing stings eyes, irritates delicate skin or is unpleasant if it gets into mouths. And any excess makes a great gentle body wash too.
You can add stuff to this mixture if you like. For example, mix your rye flour with Rooibos tea (for dark hair) or Chamomile tea (for fair hair) instead of plain warm water. This only complicates preparation very slightly. Or add some cinnamon or cocoa powder for extra nourishment.
Oat flour works well too if you don’t have rye and apparently chickpea and rice flour too (I haven’t tried these two). Wheat is too doughy and hard to rinse out and coconut flour might work well for very dry hair but is way too oily for mine.
(Next time I’ll tell you about my top two favourite deliciously edible conditioners for deeply nourishing hair.)