"Portrait of Jane" featuring TaraFly

"Portrait of Jane" featuring TaraFly

I am a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe; many former boyfriends, bosses, and landlords would agree with me. If a relationship doesn’t seem to be working, I quickly jump ship rather the risk disappointment or enslavement. So it came as a shock to me (and my family) how determined I was to make this au-natural hair treatment work, against all odds.

It has taken me years to perfect my hair-care routine. Not to say that I am high-maintainance in my prepping, because quite the contrary, I prefer a wash-and-go style with no fuss: no blow-drying, hot rollers, curling, or messy creams. Getting the right balance, however, was a chore… which shampoo gives the best volume, shine,
and damage control? Which conditioner is right for me, and how often should I wash my hair? Should I comb while wet, braid it, or let it air-dry first?
In the last couple years, I’ve been very satisfied with my hair. It was fairly long – soft and shiny, and usually had adequate body, although damaged ends were always a problem. Although, that can be blamed on my stinginess with regards to regular trimming. I refuse to pay for a cut, so I force my current love interest to trim the ends for me. In fact, it was an actual test I used on new boyfriends… can you cut a straight line across the back? Good, you’re hired.

Since joining Etsy and jumping on the handmade soap bandwagon, however, I’ve become enlightened to the “truth” of commercial shampoo and skin products. Apparently, they are made with harsh detergents
(like Sodium-Lauryl-Sulfate) and these are BAD, essentially stripping your hair and skin, causing irritation, and leaving your hair shafts weak and prone to breakage. Commercial conditioners are sold to counter-act and “repair” this damage.
Although real soap is made with lye, another harsh chemical (lol!), the soap-making process called sapronification causes the lye and the fatty oils to combine – the chemical composition changes, burning up all the lye until it disappears. The ingredients in handmade soap are very soft and gentle on hair and skin, and most people swear that conditioners aren’t needed anymore.

Okay, sounds great! Sign me up. I purchased some nice-smelling shampoo bars from an Etsy soap seller. She shall remain nameless for now, in case the account of my experiment frightens anyone. 😛

I read the info in her shop policies, and a few forum threads as well, so I assumed that I was prepared for the “transition” period… your hair needs to adjust to the change from harsh shampoos to a milder soap, so it might feel icky for a few days. Mine felt very clumpy and waxy, and I could barely run a comb through it, even though I had continued using my conditioner.

I re-read the forum threads, and the majority of shampoo bar users agreed that a vinegar rinse would remove the wax build-up. My family thought I was nuts, pouring vinegar over my head, but I pointed out an article in October’s “Woman’s Day” magazine that suggested vinegar rinses were a wonderful way to clarify hair inexpensively.
So, vinegar is popular, not crazy at all. 😉

I was excited to try again… I mixed 1 part vinegar with 9 parts water, and dumped it over my head after the shampoo/rinse cycle. The vinegar loosened the waxy film, and made my hair easy to comb. Unfortunately, it was still greasy. Very greasy and stringy. I looked like a dirty hippy. Thinking perhaps the excess oil was due to my conditioner,
I stopped using it… and had limited success. It didn’t appear greasy at first, but as time went on, the grease came back. My hair felt perpetually wet; literally, two days after showering, it was still damp.

Two months went by, while I rocked the greaseball, slimy, stringy look… trying different experiments: Shampoo-rinse, vinegar-rinse, shampoo again… or shampoo-rinse, shampoo-rinse, let vinegar sit for 10 minutes…
I also experimented with different acid rinses: they suggest apple-cider vinegar, but I also used regular white vinegar (Which supposedly dries out hair) as well as lemon and lime juice mixtures (suggested by someone’s blog).
The lime juice mixed with water actually fizzes and smells like Sprite, which is pretty cool for folks who aren’t keen on using vinegar! LOL

However, nothing helped combat the grease. Nobody on the forums could help. Some people suggested that shampoo bars “don’t work for everyone”. A few folks returned to using commercial shampoo because their hair was “too finicky”.

I refused to give in. As disgusting as my hair looked, I knew my hair was NOT finicky. The bars worked wonderfully on the children, by the way, and I didn’t even use vinegar on their heads. I simply wasn’t doing something right. I kept scouring the Internet looking for more information…

Then I stumbled across the Chagrin Valley Soap & Craft site; they sell shampoo bars, but I was interested in one particular review. She explained how commercial shampoos actually work – the chemicals are so harsh, that softly massaging the scalp is all that’s required. The suds will clean the rest of your hair simply by rinsing through.
Handmade soap, on the other hand, is not that strong; therefore elbow grease (pardon the pun) is required. The greasy feeling is caused by not washing the hair thoroughly enough. It’s still dirty. It’s like using hot water and a dishrag to clean baked-on grease from the frying pan, as opposed to Ajax. It will eventually work, but it’s more laborious. Commercial shampoos were invented for convenience.

Stubborn person that I am, I have a tendency to do things “the hard way”. After almost three months of disgusting hair, I was anxious to try anything, and her points seemed valid.

On my next adventure in the shower, I lathered up the shampoo bar and started scrubbing. And I scrubbed…scrubbed…scrubbed. When I’d decided that was enough scrubbing, I scrubbed some more.
Days passed. I turned into a prune, and still I scrubbed. One day my toddler knocked on the bathroom door and announced that her Harvard application was accepted, and Dad was taking the family out to dinner to celebrate.
I hollered, “Just give me 10 more minutes, and I’ll be right out.”
And I kept scrubbing.

You think I’m joking?

Well, actually I was. But seriously, you need to scrub!

So I finally rinsed out all the shampoo lather, and did my lime juice rinse, and exited the shower to await the results. …And it worked! Sorta. My hair was no longer greasy. Hallelujah! It felt dry and clean. Unfortunately, it still lacked volume. It was very limp and lifeless. Not to be discouraged, I simply enjoyed the feeling of clean hair for a while. It was such a vast improvement. LOL

I was almost resigned to compromise full, fluffy hair for the knowledge that my hair was healthier without resorting to nasty chemicals… but not quite. I had worked for years to achieve pretty, touchable hair, and I missed having it.
I was running out of ideas, however, until a passing glance at one forum hinted at a new direction.

It was one of those shampoo bar bashing forums, where the no-fuss poster said she preferred to use plain old baking soda and water to wash her hair. Aha! I never considered baking soda, although I use it all the time to clean surfaces. Most recently, I had been adding it to my cats’ litter boxes, because even with daily cleanings, five cats can cause quite a stink. LOL
The back of the box actually suggested using it for fuller hair, by adding a tablespoon to regular shampoo. I used half a cup! I mixed it with water and dumped it over my hair; it felt gritty like sand. I lathered it up a bit and then added my shampoo bar.

Oh. My. God. The lather!! It was unbelievable!
I can’t describe it, except that it felt like an entire bottle of shaving cream exploded onto my head.
I scrubbed it in, and had to rinse a couple times, because the lather was intense.

But, ladies and gentlemen, it works! I found the secret – it’s baking soda!
After my hair dried, it was bouncy and soft again, and I couldn’t stop touching it. 😛

Does this mean the experimentations are over? Hardly. Now that I have positive results and I’m happy with my hair, it means I can make small adjustments and judge the effects. Less baking soda or vinegar, less frequently? A different bar?
Perhaps a regular (non-shampoo) bar of soap would work equally well with baking soda?

During this ordeal, I also realized that these shampoo bars work excellently as shaving lotion… I lathered it on my legs with warm water, and it remained smooth and moist the entire time I shaved. Typically, with those commercial creams, I had to reapply the foam or re-wet my legs, because the lather started to harden and flake.
A couple seconds of rubbing between my hands, and I had enough soap to last an entire leg… so it’s cost effective and makes my skin soft and smell great!

All this hard work proves something else, something significant about me personally… it proves that I CAN commit to something I believe passionately in, if I aim high and refuse to compromise, knowing that I will utterly love the results!

When I give Joe an Anniversary card that proclaims, “Love is like a shampoo bar”, he’ll laugh at me… but he’ll understand. It’s not always pretty, but the ugly greasy parts mean you need to scrub harder!
And don’t forget the baking soda!