It's no surprise that I don't like to wash my hair often; maybe building an entire company that makes dry shampoo was the tipoff? As a curly haired person who dyes, bleaches, and styles my hair with abandon, the more natural oils I allow to nourish my hair, the better.
But of course, I do still need to wash it, especially post crazy workout. When I do the whole washing thing once or twice a week, I'm a huge fan of using apple cider vinegar in place of shampoo. Let me explain why I like using it so much, and I'm gonna go ahead and use science to help back its awesomeness up.
How Traditional Shampoo Works
We all need to clean our hair every now and again. Sebum, our hair's natural oil, does build up over time, and it also attracts dust, dirt, and pollen from the air that needs to be rinsed out. Sebum is water repellant, which means we need something else to help break it down and rinse dirt out of our hair.
Traditional shampoo contains a detergent, which acts as a surfactant to allow water molecules to bind with oil. Then this oil gets rinsed out along with any attached dirt particles to "clean" our hair.
The downside to using detergent in our hair is that it's incredibly damaging. It strips our hair of all its protective coating, which is why most shampoos also have a ton of added conditioning agents and silicone to artificially replace it.
How Apple Cider Vinegar Cleans Hair
ACV naturally contains alpha-hydroxy acid. This acid gently exfoliates our scalp, which allows dead skin cells, dirt, and any oil and product build-up to rinse out of our hair without removing all of our natural oils along with it. ACV is also an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, which is always helpful in a cleanser.
Ph Levels And Hair
And it gets even better. Not only does ACV act as a gentle hair cleanser. It also makes your hair look healthier and shiny, thanks again to science.
Remember PH levels from high school chemistry class? I didn't. The PH level measures how basic or acidic something is. The range goes from 0 to 14. 7 is neutral and anything lower than 7 is acidic, anything higher than 7 is basic.
Turns out, sebum is slightly on the acidic side, with a PH balance between 4.5 and 5.5. This acidity is what prevents bacteria and fungi from producing merrily on our scalps. This acidity is also what closes our hair cuticles, which means we get the shiniest, best looking hair at its most natural acidic state.
However, many of the commercial shampoos and conditioners on the market mess with sebum's PH levels. If a shampoo is too alkaline, our hair cuticles open up, and if it's too acidic, our cuticles will contract. Either end of the spectrum leads to bummer looking hair.
Apple Cider Vinegar For Shiny Looking Hair
Apple Cider Vinegar has a PH level of 3. When diluted with water, which is neutral at a PH of 7, it can move to a 4 or 4.5.
As a curly haired girl, my hair's cuticle is naturally partially open. We curly haired folks want to get our hair back to acidic, because that open cuticle leads to frizzy hair. That being the case, when I wash my hair with ACV and water, I see far smoother hair results.
Straight haired folks may experience less problems on the frizzy end, as their hair cuticle is closed. Lucky bastards.
Itchy Scalp Remedy
If you're dealing with an itchy, dry, flaky scalp, or eczema, then your scalp and hair are too alkali. This is quite common from using any "heavy duty" shampoos on the market, because they're usually extremely high on the PH scale and, as we've covered, strip your acidic scalp of much needed sebum. If this is the case, you'll be amazed at how good your scalp feels after two or three ACV washes.
Trust me, I've fallen into this itchy-scalp camp a time or two, especially before I was an ACV convert. Whenever I'm out of town and have to use some non-natural hotel shampoo, I remember just how bad an itchy scalp feels.
Color Treated, Relaxed, Permed, And/or Damaged Hair
Poor us. How our hair suffers for style. In most standard hair treatments, our hair is first treated with a highly alkali solution to expose and open our hair cuticle to the treatment, and then a highly acidic one to flatten the cuticle back down and "neutralize" our hair. This is hard on our hair and leads to slightly open, damaged cuticles, and hair breakage.
A slightly acidic ACV solution is going to be a great remedy to get your hair back to its normal state. Even better? Unlike most traditional shampoos, ACV has no SLS, no added synthetic fragrances, and none of the other countless chemicals that are so damaging for your hair.
Totally Science Free, Anecdotal Evidence
My hair looks and feels great, and I do so many terrible things to it. When I first started washing my hair with ACV about four years ago, I was hesitant but desperate. Summers in New York can be painful for curly haired folks, and if the humidity wasn't going to get me, the fact that my hair was color treated and damaged was.
Once I started washing my hair with ACV and no shampoo, I saw immediate results. My hair felt healthier, and frizziness dropped noticeably. My hair had always fallen into this weird in-between-curly- and-straight place, but it was a frizzy waviness that I could not figure out how to wear naturally. ACV changed all that. I can air-dry my hair and end up with big frizz-free curls that look fantastic.
You Can Do It Too
As explained above, depending on your hair type, your PH level will be slightly different, so play around to see what leads to the best results. I usually dilute 1/3 cup organic (always stick to organic when dealing with apples, which get slathered in pesticides otherwise) ACV to 2/3 cup of water and after rinsing my hair with water, pour this mixture over my hair and rub it into my scalp. I let it sit on my head as I wash the rest of my body and then I rinse it out.
For some people this is enough, as the ACV acts as a detangler, but with my thick hair, I do like to use a conditioner (quite fond of this one from Acure Organics) afterwards so that I can comb through my lion's mane without crying from pain.
If you decide to give ACV in your hair a shot, we would love to hear how it goes. Let us all know in the comments.