Yes, I’m Sure It Was the Baking Soda {FAQ on the No ‘Poo Disaster}

After Monday’s post on what years of baking soda “no ‘poo” did to my long, healthy hair really took off, I heard some common thoughts and questions from readers, friends, and friends of friends about my experience.

I thought it would make sense to give some more details and provide any extra information that might help clear up any confusion regarding the damage my hair experienced from washing it with baking soda. So before I share other haircare options, including what I’m using now, I want to go over some extra info and FAQ.

Yes, I'm Sure It Was the Baking Soda {FAQ on the No 'Poo Disaster}. More on the no 'poo story from Smithspirations.com

My experience is not uncommon at all from those who used the baking soda no ‘poo method for years. And, as I’ve continued to learn, it should actually be expected because of the chemical nature of baking soda.

There’s no question in my mind about what caused my hair to become so damaged.

The Not-So-Uncommon Result of Long-Term Baking Soda No ‘Poo

It’s really important to point out that I wanted baking soda no ‘poo to be my permanent hair washing solution. I didn’t want to see it fail.

Even when I started to have this nagging feeling that it might be damaging my hair, I didn’t take it seriously enough to look into it further. If it worked so well in the beginning, how could it start causing damage? But eventually I had to realize that it was not all I had hoped it to be.

Once I recognized that it was the culprit of my brittle, breaking hair, I also found out that I am not alone in my experience.

  • In Monday’s post, reader after reader after reader shared how their hair also became dry, unmanageable, damaged, and brittle from using baking soda for months or years. I’m getting comments on my Facebook page and Pinterest with the same reports.
  • Kristen, over at Taming Rapunzel, is a hair stylist and was once an enthusiastic no ‘poo-er. Guess what happened to one of her no ‘poo clients after 2.5 years of the method? Yep, severe breakage.
  • I came across this post today, adequately titled Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair, from another blogger and it makes my tummy turn a little. I see my experience in everything she describes!

So there’s lots of personal anecdotal evidence that baking soda is really a dangerous solution for hair washing. But what about real facts? Well…

The pH Problem

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We hear products for our skin and hair being advertised as pH balanced. I never once considered that pH levels should be something to be mindful of when looking for an alternative to shampoo.

Guess what? Baking soda is not pH balanced for our hair and scalp. I’m not a scientist, though I am coming to have a much greater respect for the scientific and medical community after this experience and because of my studies with Vintage Remedies. But this isn’t too complicated.

Our scalp is slightly acidic. Baking soda is highly alkaline. While the vinegar rinse helps to neutralize the alkaline baking soda, treating the hair over and over with a highly alkaline solution, then a somewhat acidic rinse becomes very hard on the hair. The result, over time, is porous, brittle hair that breaks very easily.

This post, with some helpful images, and this post both provide a more thorough explanation. They both also quote this online article from FutureDerm that I friend shared with me while I was still no ‘poo-ing but considering another alternative.

I was, and still am, quite turned off by the tone in that article. It’s condescending and rather insulting to those who prefer more natural alternatives to standard shampoo and conditioner. However, the facts make sense, and the writer also put out a video explaining it a bit more kindly. If you think my no ‘poo experience was just a fluke, please give it a watch.

 

FAQs on the No ‘Poo Disaster

These are the most common questions I field when I share my no ‘poo experience. And I don’t blame anyone for questioning it. As I mentioned on Monday, I was such a devoted no ‘poo fan that I had a hard time believing others when they shared how no ‘poo didn’t work for them.

I’ll add to the list as I field more questions.

If using baking soda to wash your hair seemed to work so well at first, why do you think it suddenly led to damage?

As I mentioned above, constantly treating my hair with a very alkaline solution, and then an acidic one, was a very stressing process. I’m not exactly sure if my hair felt great at first because it was stripped of all of the shampoo residue or for another reason.

I do know that, over time, the process made my hair porous and brittle, much like it would if I color treated it multiple times a month. In fact, the video that I shared above compared the no ‘poo process to coloring your hair. Imagine doing that once or twice a week. For years. Yep. Not good.

If you used baking soda to wash your girls’ hair, did theirs become brittle and damaged, too?

This is a great question. I did use baking soda occasionally on my girls’ hair, but it was very infrequent, and I think that spared them of the same damage that I have.

I’ve tried to do mostly water washing with their hair. My oldest is nine, and I want to avoid stripping her hair of it’s natural oils as much as possible. But, because I did use the baking soda on it about once a month or so, I’m now thinking that it might be a good idea to do some extra oil treatments on it more regularly, just as a precaution.

Couldn’t your hair breakage have been due to postpartum hormones?

It’s very true that a woman’s hair and scalp can do all sorts of crazy things after having a baby. I’ve had my own battle with severe postpartum hair loss after having our fifth baby due to some hormonal swings.

However, the hair breakage began when our fourth child was 8 months old and has continued consistently since. It never coincided with the postpartum period.

Hair breaks for all sorts of reasons. How do you know for sure that it was from the baking soda?

I think that baking soda becomes the clear culprit after considering the stories and pH information I shared above. No other explanation makes sense.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone who has breakage similar to mine couldn’t have it happen for other reasons. That’s entirely possible. But for me, it was clearly the baking soda washes.

How do you know that the breakage wasn’t from a nutrient deficiency or something else like that?

If you follow my blog, you know that I’m a huge proponent of whole foods and healthy living. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a slight deficiency in one nutrient or another, of course. I don’t eat 100% perfect 100% of the time by any means.

But, I am rather confident that my diet would be considered excellent by most. I also don’t have other symptoms like brittle hair or dry skin that would lead me to believe that my hair damage was from a deficiency or other internal health issue.

Do you have hard water that might have led to dry, brittle hair or made no ‘poo not effective for you?

No. We have a (very expensive) whole house water system that we’ve had for years. Our water was filtered through it when I used typical shampoo, when I used baking soda no ‘poo, and now that I’m not using baking soda. The water has stayed the same, but the damage came after years of no ‘poo.

Do you think that baking soda could be a good choice for some people?

I hesitate to say that it might work long-term. I know we all like to say things like “everyone’s body is different” and “do what works for you.” There’s clearly a lot of truth to that.

But some principles are pretty consistent. There are certain substances that we just shouldn’t put on our skin, in our eyes, into our mouths, and yes, on our hair. Bleach comes to mind. Regardless of your body chemistry, bleach is a no go.

Personally, I will never recommend baking soda for hair care again. But I know that some people do like it and will want to keep using it.

If you are using baking soda no ‘poo and like it, I am certainly not here to tell you to stop. I won’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience that I and so many others have had. But I do just want to encourage you to do a little bit of reading on the potential problems with no ‘poo and be careful. I don’t want to see you end up like I did.

Be sure to read the follow-up post to this, Beyond Baking Soda: Other Natural Haircare Options and What I’m Doing Now.

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Did you check out some of the links I shared? What did you think?


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Comments

  1. I haven’t done the baking soda, but I started to use apple cider vinegar once a week … do you think that might lead to the same issue? It is acidic versus alkaline so maybe not same issue but other one? Do you or anyone use vinegar and had problem?

    • Kristen says:

      Great question, Sally!

      The FutureDerm site I mentioned seems to really caution against frequent use of vinegar as a rinse, but she’s also pretty anti-natural, homemade haircare. So I truthfully don’t know what to recommend!

      I am still using a diluted vinegar rinse after washing with a shampoo bar. I don’t think that vinegar is harmful to the hair like the baking soda considering the pH levels. Since it closes the hair follicle, I don’t see how it could be as problematic. But again, I’m really in the learning process with all of this and just trying to share what I’m confident in right now. I have not heard of anyone damaging their hair using diluted vinegar as a rinse.

      Based on what you’re saying, with not using baking soda and doing a vinegar rinse once a week, I don’t think you’d have the same issues. My hair texture greatly improved after ditching the baking soda but still using diluted ACV.

  2. I experienced the dry, damaged hair within a week of using baking soda! Then I tried castille, quinoa water, etc. All were a disaster. I started buying fair trade African black soap (liquid) and it helped my hair dramatically! I’ve since switched to fair trade saponified coconut soap and my hair is even better than when I was using the African black soap. It’s good to know I was not the only one that experienced a horrible baking soda experience!

  3. The liquid gel that results from boiled okra makes a good shampoo, leave in conditioner/styling gel. It also makes a soothing skin moisturizer, as it is a balm like aloe vera.

    • That’s fascinating, Robyn! I’ve only eaten okra once, fried, but I’ve always heard how it can get slimy. That must be why! I’m really interested to learn more about that, especially since okra can be grown in my garden. Neat tip! Glad you shared.

  4. Goodness, you’ve put in a lot of research and personal experience. As much as I love how much healthier my hair feels after no-pooing for 16 months…I’m definitely looking into an alternative routine. I certainly don’t want to experience any breakage at this point…. I’m interested in hearing what shampoo bar you’re satisfied with as well as your routine i.e how often you wash/rinse etc.

    • Kristen says:

      I know what you’re saying, Jeni. My hair felt fantastic during the first two years or so. I’ll be sharing specifics on what I’m doing tomorrow, but I am using the coconut oil shampoo bar right now. I’m looking into other products that might be more restorative, though. As I’ve learned more, I really think my hair might need some more intense intervention. Hopefully in a few months I’ll have more information!

  5. I tried the no poo method for almost a month and I started getting g bald spots. My hair is super fine and I still have breakage from it and it has been over a year ago. I started using an expensive organic shampoo with Argon oil in it to heal my scalp and hair and that has helped a lot.
    Thanks for spreading the word.

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