Since the age of 12, I washed with chemical shampoos and conditioners, blow dried my hair, then curled the entire thing. It took me an hour or so to complete the process, and in between washing every 2 days, I’d curl it all over again every day. Even when camping. Even when tired. Even when I was sick. I’d been conditioned to believe, like so many women with frizzy or wavy or curly hair, that my hair wasn’t good enough as it was, naturally. I remember one time when I was 19 and woke up late for work and didn’t have time to do my hair. I was forced to leave it naturally kinky and wavy. My male boss pulled me aside and told me that I looked unprofessional and that I needed to “do something” about my hair. Face flushed red with shame, I could hardly focus the rest of my shift. From talking to other women, this is pretty normal, and what I experienced is tame compared to others. If your hair is naturally not silky smooth and straight or symmetrically and softly wavy, it’s not “professional”. You won’t be taken seriously. People think you need to brush your hair, or that you’re unkempt and don’t take care of yourself. I know that hair bias is a serious and disgustingly racist problem in our society, especially for black women.
frizzy, thick, fine, wavy and wild
My mom has naturally super, super curly hair that she’s been wrangling into submission twice a week for decades- she wakes up early to get this done, to complete the transformation from her tightly coiled curls to big, loose, curling iron barrel curls. Watching this as a girl, I’d internalized this kind of silent rejection of my true appearance too. Let’s not even touch on the fact that I hated the dark brown shade of it, too- always wanting a lighter and blonder color. The wave and the brown color + my freckles and bushy eyebrows made me feel out of place and less feminine, alongside blonde haired, blue eyed peers.
I avoided jumping in swimming pools and lakes and rivers and oceans for years in fear that my true waves would show, frantically covered up my hair with scarves in rain and mist, wore tight hoods at the beach prevent the fog from teasing out frizz.
2016: blow dried, straightened and then curled beyond belief hair, also fake eyelashes haha (I used to wear them EVERY single day for years)
Some months ago, I somehow started seeing clearly my attachment to this routine. My fear of discontinuing it. It probably sounds silly if you’re reading this, but seriously it was scary to think about abandoning this routine and this look I had stuck to for all my adult life. It was like uncovering a bit of my barest self and laying it out for the world to see. It felt vulnerable and sensitive. Like scrubbing off a scab, and then going out in the sun with that fresh pink skin underneath.
It feels good to get all that time back, to not have to rely on tools and products to project a false self image of myself. To spontaneously be free to go out in the morning without spending time heating and pulling my hair. It has been humbling to my ego, too. The funny thing is that when I stopped fighting with my hair, it actually got more manageable and I became at peace with what it looks like. It simply is – wavy, dark and wild. Honestly, we put so much emphasis on our physical appearance when it’s really the most unstable and changing thing. I’ve learned the freedom to just accept and simply be what I am and be grateful for this vessel.
no curling iron, no makeup, no problem. free
This really didn’t have much to do with zero waste hair care, but adopting a more minimalist routine really cut out the need for a lot of my plastic use in this area. And, I’ve found this voluntary simplicity to be an unexpected benefit of zero waste: needing less, and feeling confident and joyous in the simplicity.
So here’s my really basic routine that I use on my dry but kind of oily, thick but fine, wavy hair.
First: I wash my hair about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the weather and what I’ve been up to that week. A few years back when I read Arianna’s account about water only washing her hair, I was inspired to stretch out the length between my every other day washes. Eventually I got to the point where I don’t have to wash as much. If you’re interested in water only washing click HERE.
Second: I wash with really gentle shampoo. I buy Griffin Remedy Daily shampoo/conditioner at my local refill store, Refill Madness in old Kombucha bottles with upcycled pumps. If you don’t have access to a bulk store, you can alternatively purchase a gallon size jug of shampoo (if you have the financial ability to purchase this much at once). It’s what the refill stores sell out of anyways. I tried at least 5 different shampoo bars, and various other package free alternative, like vinegar rinses, rye flour, clay, baking soda, rice water, but they all left my sensitive hair and scalp irritated, dry and flaky but also greasy. Ugh. The baking soda especially literally RUINED my hair- it bleached it a weird red color over time and broke off my hair. The griffin remedy shampoo has lots of plant extracts, soothing aloe vera and calendula and it makes my scalp super happy. Plaine Products also sells hair care in returnable/refillable metal bottles.
Third: If I go in pools or salt water, I try to put coconut oil in the lower parts first. It blocks the chlorine from drying out the cuticle as much. I also do this sometimes as a mask. I just can’t get it anywhere near my scalp otherwise it gets way too greasy. You can use olive or other oils too. Experiment with what’s available to you in bulk if possible.
Fourth: I never brush my hair, it breaks my hair off and disrupts my natural wave. When I get out of the shower, I gently squeeze with a towel and let it dry without touching it. That way my natural wave pattern looks best. If I brush, the wave brushes out and it’s simultaneously frizzy, straight, and wavy. If you do like to brush, there’s lots of wooden pin hair brushes out there like this one.
Fifth: If I put my hair up, I do so loosely or with a chopstick/clip etc or use a hair tie for a loose bun or braid. Tight styles break my hair off and also mold my hair into that pattern- meaning, I have to wash/wet again to get out the weird kinks. Some people probably are grossed out by this, but I sometimes pick up old hair ties off the ground and boil to sterilize, then hand wash with a few drops shampoo. Reuse and reduce.
What natural or zero waste hair care routine have you found success with? Have you ever experienced natural hair bias in the workplace? I’d so love to hear.