If you (or family members) have long hair, or are in the habit of washing your hair frequently, you may find yourself buying bottles of shampoo and other hair-care products often enough to put a significant hole in your budget. And all the chemicals that you wash down the drain may have a similar effect on the local ecosystem. Don’t worry—you don’t have to sacrifice looking good to save some money and protect local waterways.
Stretch That Bottle
First of all, here’s some advice you can follow the very next time your locks need a wash. Want to cut your shampoo bill in half? Just cut it with water. Most shampoo is so thick we tend to use more than we really need. So when you buy a bottle of shampoo, pour half in to a clean bottle to use later. Depending on the brand you use, you may be able to dilute it even more without sacrificing cleaning power. Add warm water to the original bottle, and slosh gently to blend. Putting diluted shampoo into a pump bottle or even a wall-mounted foam dispenser will reduce the amount everyone in your family uses by dispensing measured amounts. You’ll spend less, you won’t be throwing empty bottles into the recycling bin nearly as often, and you’ll reduce the impact of your hair-care routine on the planet. I’ve been doing this since my kids were little, and it works great!
Want to cut the shampoo bill in half again? Rethink the “lather, rinse, repeat” mantra thought up by some incredibly savvy shampoo marketer a few decades ago: Isn’t “lather, rinse” plenty most of the time? And sometimes just “rinse” (no shampoo at all) is enough. Going a day longer between shampoos can also save money without causing bad-hair days for many people, though it may take your scalp a week or two to scale back on the protective oils it produces to combat the drying effects of shampooing.
With all that money you’re saving it might be a good idea to consider switching to an all-natural or organic shampoo if you aren’t already using one. They will set you back a bit more than the bargain brands, but after you dilute them and use them wisely, they are more affordable and far better for you and for your family, not to mention all the critters who live downstream from you. The scalp is rather good at absorbing traces of chemicals you’d rather not have inside you, and most commercial shampoos are full of just such chemicals. Read the fine print and you’ll find such debatable characters as sodium laurel sulfate, propylene glycol, cetearyl, methylparaben, propylparaben, synthetic preservatives, distearate, isopropyl alcohol, and the ubiquitous and mysterious “fragrance.” Having “natural” or “herbal” on the label in no way means the product inside is free of noxious chemicals, so check the ingredients list regardless.
Make Your Own. It is easy to whip up very effective, safe, all-natural shampoos and other hair-care products at home and save even more money. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Combine ingredients, mix well, and put in bottle or dispenser. This is thinner than commercial shampoo and it won’t suds much—but it will clean just as well. Using too much won’t get your hair any cleaner, and it will be harder to get out of your hair. Use a palmfull or less to lather once, and rinse with warm water.
Substitute ½ cup strong herbal tea (chamomile, lavender, and rosemary are good choices) for water in the Basic Shampoo recipe.
The Nickel Pincher’s Unshampoo
I’m too frugal and lazy to bother with shampoo at all anymore. I put a few tablespoons of borax or baking soda in the bottom of a repurposed squeeze bottle, top it off with hot water, and shake it well. After it settles for a few minutes I apply perhaps ¼ cup of the clear liquid to my wet hair, work it through with my fingers, and rinse it out. (If you don’t wait for it to settle you’ll get some grit on your scalp—this does no harm, it just takes a few more seconds to rinse completely out.) There are no suds at all, but the mixture leaves my hair clean and shiny, and it is superfast (no sneaky suds to rinse out). I keep adding warm water to the bottle every few washes until the powder is used up, and then I add a few more spoonfuls. It costs next to nothing per wash. Note that borax can irritate your eyes if you get too much in them (rinse with clear water as needed), and consuming large amounts of it isn’t safe. So you may wish to go the baking soda route, especially if you have little ones.
Either borax or baking soda is also good for cleaning dirty combs and brushes. Mix ¼ cup into a basin of water and let the items soak overnight (wooden handles probably shouldn’t be left in the mixture for that long) and rinse in the morning.
I rarely use conditioner, but the same advice goes for it as for shampoo: Dilute and use less. Condition just the ends of your hair, rather than the roots, and your hair will stay clean longer. Choose as natural a product as you can find to reduce your exposure to nasty chemicals. There are also lots of easy and economical conditioners you can make at home.
Mix, pour ½ cup of the rinse through wet hair, and rinse with cool water.
Right before you wash your hair, beat the egg yolk until it’s frothy, add oil and beat again, then add water slowly while beating. Pour the mix through wet hair, working it in with your fingers. Allow it to set for a few minutes then rinse it out with warm water.
For dry or damaged hair, a weekly conditioning pack can make a huge difference. You can use any of the following in combination or alone: olive oil, coconut oil, beaten egg, yogurt, mayonnaise, mashed banana, or avocado (I’d rather eat mine, thanks). Mayonnaise is a superfast and very effective choice. Massage it into wet hair, wrap it all up turban-style in an old towel for 20 minutes, and rinse well (perhaps followed with a light shampoo or a Basic Rinse (above).
Herbal Color-Modifying Rinses
While none of these will turn blond hair black or black hair strawberry blond, using them on a regular basis can add highlights and even tone down some graying strands.
A number of natural materials can be used to change hair color more dramatically: Henna is the best known, but indigo, walnut hulls, and other natural materials are also used individually or in blends. Instructions are outside of the scope of today’s column, but if you decide to experiment, test on a lock of hair before committing your entire mane (green or orange hair is fine for tweens flexing their self-image muscles—mine sported those interesting shades and more at various times before they got it out of their systems—but your boss or employees may not be keen on it). Wear gloves, as these dyes can work on skin as well (my mom once had walnut-brown hands for weeks after she decided to hull some black walnuts without gloves).
Here are a few free bonus ideas for safe and inexpensive hair-care products:
Antistatic Treatment for Dry Hair
Put a small dab of natural hand lotion in one palm, rub hands together to coat both evenly, and run your fingers through your hair.
Natural Hair Gel
Dissolve gelatin in water, store in refrigerator between uses. Work into hair with finger tips, and style as desired.
Natural Hair Spray
Chop fruit finely, simmer the pieces in water until they are soft and the liquid is half gone. Strain liquid into a small spray bottle, and store in refrigerator between uses. Spray finished hair lightly; dilute with water if sprayed hair is stiffer than you desire.