I remember reading “The Little House on the Prairie” series when I was a little girl and thinking that it was gross that the family only bathed once a week. “They must STINK!” I thought. Images of greasy scalps and visible stink waves emanating from society at large were what I associated with turn-of-the-century farm workers. Of course, if I had had to haul buckets of water from a well, heat it up on a stove, pour it into a large metal tub and bathe in my sister’s dirty bathwater in the middle of the kitchen in front of my parents, I probably wouldn’t have bathed more than once a month.
I have always showered regularly and washed my hair every time I stepped into the tub. I needed to wash it at least every other day or else it would be greasy, stringy and limp. For those of you that don’t know me personally, I naturally have stick-straight fine hair, which (when it’s long) has no natural volume. Think 1968-hippy.
I have tried every styling product and aid on the market to increase the volume and bounce in my hair, including subjecting myself to multiple body perms (which destroyed my hair every time without fail), layered cuts, hot rollers, velcro rollers, gels, sprays and mousses. I could not get my hair to hold a curl to save my life. I would spend hours with my freshly washed hair in rollers, only to have it be stick-straight and flat by 10 p.m. Besides my hair, I have also needed copious amounts of moisturizers for my skin and have been plagued by dry, itchy, flaky skin on my arms, legs and scalp.
I figure I have wasted over 22,000 hours on my hair since I hit puberty. And, to be honest, I have probably also spent at least half as much in styling products over the years. The industry is clever – they know you want “natural-looking” volume, shine and bounce and they will sell you the idea of it in a $20 bottle. It rarely works for people who have the type of hair that I do.
But don’t despair: I have discovered the secret to getting the hair you’ve always wanted – and guess what? It’s free. AND it takes less time to achieve. In the last year, I have had numerous people ask me how I do my hair. “What’s your secret? You have to teach me!” I have curl that lasts for days, my hair is shiny and at least twice as thick as it used to be. My curls bounce when I walk. That’s right. They bounce.
Bear with me. I’m going to tell you how I do it, but you need some background info first, or you’ll think I’m nuts.
When I turned to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, I found an unexpected benefit. I stopped smelling. Even after a workout. At first I thought my sense of smell was gone, but I could still smell everything else (in fact, I think my sense of smell actually became better, especially when I’m doing a fast.). So, I stopped showering as much. With one-year-old twins, I didn’t really have time to
shower anyway. Then, I noticed a benefit of not showering as often: my skin became softer, stopped itching and I didn’t need moisturizer. The oil glands on my scalp didn’t seem to produce as much. When I did shower, my skin became dried out and took a couple days to recover. To combat this, I only showered twice a week and drastically dropped the water temperature. Sometimes I only rinsed off and didn’t even use soap.
I did some research and found out that no longer stinking is common in the Paleo/Primal world. There are a few theories as per the B.O or lack thereof. The one that seems most likely to me is that while your carb load is still high, your sweat seems to have enough sugar-type compounds in it to make certain bacteria thrive. When you cut your carbs, the bacteria don’t have as much food and thus, don’t breed. That might explain the lack of smell. A lot of Paleo people even stop using soap, shampoo and deodorant.
What I didn’t know was why my hair wasn’t greasy anymore after two or more days of not washing it. A random comment by my cousin explained it quite simply and all of a sudden it made sense to me. She said you need to train your hair. The longer you go with the natural oils in your hair, the less your scalp will produce. Then, you can go longer without washing it. This may mean a few days of wearing a cute hat while your scalp adjusts, but trust me, it’s worth it. I started out by washing every 3 days, then 4, then 5 and so on.
When you brush your hair, the natural oil is transferred to the ends, creating shine. And, believe it or not, I have found that what creates body and volume in your hair is, in fact, the oil that we keep washing away. So, the first part of the solution is to stop washing your hair so often. Currently, I wash my hair once a week. I am now on Day 7, sitting in a Starbucks, and just had a man come up to me and tell me I was beautiful. I am pretty sure that if my hair looked greasy, dull and dirty, he would not have told me that.
Now on to the second part of the equation. You can’t just not wash your hair or you’ll hate the results. You need to “set” it somehow. I am enamored with the pin-up girl look and started looking into how to recreate that style. All the way up to the late 60s, women generally only washed their hair once a week. (Remember the expression, “Sorry I’m washing my hair that day?” That’s where that came from.) The elaborate styles – victory rolls, even the bouffant beehives of the 60s – required “dirty” hair. The texture really does change and allows you to do things you never thought possible. After months of serious trial and error, this is what works best for my hair:
Day 1: Wash hair and condition if necessary. Let it air dry. Use no products except for a drop of Moroccan Oil on the ends. That night, I tie my hair up into a bun to keep it from getting dirty. You can do a wet set today if needed (see below) but I have found that it doesn’t work terrifically well on clean hair.
Day 2: Do a wet set. For those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s when you wet your hair and put it in some sort of “set.” This could be finger waves, pin curls, rag curls, foam rollers – whatever you can sleep in. I use old-fashioned setting lotion mixed with water to wet my hair. Then, leave it in until it’s dry. For some people, this will be overnight but at least 8 hours. For me, ideally, it’s 18 hours. Tie a bandana around your head, like ‘I Love Lucy,’ to protect your hair and keep the rollers in. Note: If you want less curl, use more hair in bigger rollers and then gently brush the curls out when it’s dry. There are tons of tutorials online for how to do pin curls etc.
Day 3, 4, 5, 6: In the morning, take out the pins/rollers and style. You’ll get it. You’ve been doing your hair for years, you know what to do now. That evening, roll your hair up again after brushing it (I brush it 100 strokes before bed to get the oil to the ends. Remember that old adage?!?!). I use maybe 4 or 5 rollers total the second time around, just enough to keep the curl in. No need to use any extra setting lotion. Don’t forget the bandana. I will use some more Moroccan Oil every now and then if my hair needs it. You can also use shine spray or coconut oil. But you may find you don’t need anything at all. You may want to wear a hat on day 5/6 – the hair close to your scalp may be oily, but the ends will still look divine.
Day 7: start all over again. You may find that you need to wash your hair earlier than this, or may even be able to go longer. You’ll know – it will start to feel dirty and tangly. Some Paleo folks don’t use shampoo or conditioner – they use eggs, vinegar to rinse, coconut oil or just plain water – I’m not there. Using shampoo once a week is a modern luxury I would like to retain.
It seems like a lot of work, and while you’re getting the hang of getting the rollers in, it will be. But think of it this way: the time and money you save not showering, washing your hair, blow drying it, applying products, curling it, styling it for HOURS in the morning is worth the 10 minutes you spend at night putting it up in rollers. Once the rollers come out in the morning, it’s literally a 3 minute job before I’m ready to walk out the door.
I know this is nothing new. It’s what our Grandmothers used to do. Tons of women still do it today, but the knowledge seems to have been lost in the general North American public at large. The beauty industry wants us to buy their products and this style is about using hardly any products at all. Did Grokette have access to foam rollers? No, but I bet she used some sort of tree branch or teasel to comb the tangles out of her hair and I guarantee you she didn’t use BedHead Superstar Conditioner for Thick Massive Hair. If the Paleo world can boast any sort of beauty secret, I feel comfortable saying that this is it.