10 October 2013


Honey My . . . Hair?

My cousin makes sweet and pretty accessories for her own "Honey My Heart" brand. If my blog were more aware of visual beauty, this post would be about her merchandise, but right now I'm just going to link to her Etsy store.

What this post is about is the latest alternative "no poo" regimen I've stumbled across. But before I talk about that, I really should discuss the "poo" first.

No, not Pooh. I mean, shampoo. One is a tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff. The other is the bane of my existence. And the point is that I haven't been using shampoo for over a month.

How does that strike you? If you're not horrified, you're probably also not Filipino. But this cultural bias toward shampoo is more due to savvy marketing than to folk traditions.

While it's true that in the Philippines everyone who can bathe daily, will bathe daily, we did not always have bath stuff from stores. Our ancestors soaked gugo bark in water until it was soft, then squeezed a sort of gel out of it that they used to clean their hair. And gugo was very easy to get, so there was no excuse not to have clean hair.

These days, you'd have to visit one of the local "exotic" markets to find gugo bark, and it's simply easier to buy some mass produced commercial shampoo from the nearby grocery store. Plus, every brand which intentionally targets the Philippine market is available in "single use" sachets, cheap enough for anyone who can't afford to buy them in bottles but for whom clean hair remains a non-negotiable. Gugo didn't stand a chance.

Of course, the trade off is that sudsy commercial shampoo dries out hair by stripping it of its natural oils. Wash your hair with it often enough and then you'll also need to buy conditioner to oil it up again. How is this not some sort of hustle? And is Manila's air so freaking polluted that it is better to have dried out hair that is also clean than healthy hair that is dirty? Luckily, these extremes are not our only choices--but so strong is cultural bias that when I started my "no poo" experiments, I didn't tell anyone, for fear that even slum dwellers would find me too stinky. Dealing with my own worries that I was too stinky was bad enough.

* * * * *

So how does shampoo work to unstink us?

I remember reading a science book (Yes, Bat, a real science book!) which explained that detergents work by making water wetter. That is, they make everything more slippery, so that it's easier for water to pull it off whatever it's stuck to. They're particularly effective with oily stuff, which make them a real game changer in chemistry, because oil and water, which normally don't get along, are more congenial, even cuddly with each other, when detergents are around. (No, this paragraph was not peer reviewed before it was published.)

And this is how "poo" totally strips hair of its natural oils. This became a special concern for me since my hair got extra dry--heck, outright damaged--at the start of the year. You see, I got a perm which wasn't as curly as the style I had specifically asked for . . .

See my Twelve Things about Brave!

. . . and when I went back to the salon about a week later to let them know, they first told me that it was my fault for not scrunching my hair up properly after my showers, then offered to do the perm over for free.

Hair-savvy readers are already horrified, because you are not supposed to do that. Perm treatments should be at least six months apart, because otherwise they burn up your hair. Well, I didn't know it at the time--but you'd think the hair professionals would have, aye?

Since then, I've been coaxing my hair into forgiving me by splurging on an occasional keratin treatment at my new salon. But these are expensive. I've only been able to afford two since February. So I figured that if I couldn't give my hair something that would help it, I could at least take away everything that was making things worse. Starting with the dinosaur that pooped my hair.

My first foray into the "no poo" world was a baking soda wash and white vinegar rinse. (I know that most recipes calls for apple cider vinegar, but I wasn't able to get some before I started my experiment, so I went with what was already in my kitchen.) I immediately found myself with the worst case of dandruff ever . . . but I assumed it was one of those "transition" things.

Then I read a "field report" by someone who had tried the same thing: she had given it more of a chance, with different ratios of baking soda and water, only to have her stylist tell her six months later that he couldn't believe how damaged her hair was. And I had a sudden intuition--because that's my special scientific gift--that the same thing would happen to my hair if I continued down the same path.

But I didn't want to go back to commercial shampoo. 

Luckily, I immediately came across another alternative to "poo"--one that is making it difficult not to write puns that would make A.A. Milne spin in his grave. (What? Too late?) As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I now wash my hair with honey.

* * * * *

Three weeks later, my hair was the softest and silkiest it had been since the start of the year. Probably even softer and silkier than it was before the first perm! But--and this is what every fellow Filipina has asked since I finally fessed up--was it also clean?

Well, I guess so. I mean, it wasn't greasy or stinky. And it started making me think that shampooed hair is too clean. Where did I ever get the idea that dust particles stick to a strand of hair like bubblegum to the underside of a desk and need to be chemically scraped off? Honey is definitely not a scraper. Nor is it--and this time I did look up the word--a surfactant. So I know that my hair and scalp were clean for three whole weeks without shampoo, but I didn't know how they were clean.

Then there was the issue of smells. Until I manage to stumble across the chemical term for "odor eliminator," I will never be able to explain how they work; but I'm sure that honey is not one of them, either. And I haven't had the chance to see how my honey wash stands up against an evening of hanging out with smokers. (The last time I did that, I had to shampoo twice to get the smell out.)

And while we're on the subject, scents are a big deal in the marketing of shampoos in the Philippines. Marketing researches have found that Filipinas, in particular, don't feel that hair products are effective unless they can smell them all day. In contrast, honey has a very subtle scent that fades very soon after the rinse. During those first few days of my experiment, whenever I was drying my hair and could smell the honey on some locks but not on others, I worried that my hair was only half clean.

Adding a few drops of scented oil to the honey wash helped. I didn't have the recommended essential oils, but I made do with a perfumed blend of avocado oil and grape seed oil (Can you guess the commercial brand with that information alone?) that is supposed to be good for dry and damaged hair. Yes, it was still commercial, but it didn't seem to hurt my hair, which was the important thing.

So far, so good . . . right? Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Image Sources: a) Honey My Heart logo, b) Winnie-the-Pooh, c) The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter, d) Brave poster


mrsdarwin said...

We need pix.

I'm willing to play along with the experiment for a day or so -- how much honey do you use? And do you skip the conditioner? I always condition because I never brush my hair, and the silicones in the conditioner help keep my hair from turning into a vast mass of frizz.

Entropy said...

Good for you! Honey is a little expensive so I'm wondering if it's also cheaper for you?

My husband doesn't use shampoo either. He uses apple cider vinegar as a rinse in the shower and a small amount of olive oil as "hair gel" to keep his curls under control. He has very sensitive skin.

I do use shampoo though because I don't have sensitive skin and mostly because I like the smell.

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- As much as I'd love to provide pictures, I am awful at taking selfies and there isn't always someone willing to help. (Sometimes those who are eager to help "the sad little blogger" take unflattering photos. And I'm awfully vain . . .)

My hair is pretty long, so I use a little over 1/8 cup of honey with about 3/8 cup of water. I like to start applying it when my hair is still dry, so that I can feel safe that I've washed everything.

The perfumed oil I mentioned works well as a conditioner, but there's a second chapter to this story which explains what I did after I decided to stop using it!

Entropy -- Honey is not at all cheaper for me! Unless you compare it to a salon treatment, in which case, it's a bargain! =P Although "honey poo" works really well, I'm already experimenting with other "no poo" alternatives.

I occasionally do an apple cider vinegar rinse as well. =)

Entropy said...

He only uses apple cider vinegar and nothing else.

(I second the pix request. Have a timer on your camera?)

Belfry Bat said...

You know I'm giggling, right?

I have, incidentally, no idea what it is I do to my hair. It's certainly not by plan, just keep things tidy... no-one could accuse me of nourishing it, anyways (what Paul derides, what Absalom did and how he was caught in the end).

On the subject of smells, Febreze originally (in its "natural" state) had no scent at all, and everyone who tried it found the stuff just too spooky.

Enbrethiliel said...


Entropy -- I could borrow someone's tablet to take a picture. Probably over the weekend. What I really wish I could do is to mail a lock of it to every curious reader, but then I'd just end up hairless. ;-)

Now it's time to ask the Filipino question . . . Is the apple cider vinegar all he'd need even after a long workout wrestling gators in the mud? Because if it is, then I need to try an ACV-only regimen, too!

Bat -- I wonder if St. Paul ever wrote anything about women's hair.

DMS said...

This is one of the most fascinating posts I have read! I agree that shampoo and conditioner sales are the result of excellent marketing. We live in societies that are shampoo obsessed. I don't really like my shampoo to have a scent that lasts all day- so I like the idea of honey. I feel like the honey would be sticky in my hair- but I guess I won't know unless I give it a try. :) Thanks for sharing this great alternative to poo.

Enbrethiliel said...


Honey is not sticky at all when it's mixed with water, so it's quite easy to get out of hair. =) I think what most people who use it have to get over is the runny quality. We're used to a thicker consistency because of shampoo, so using honey requires learning a new hair washing technique!

Sheila said...

I think the baking soda was probably the problem. Vinegar actually strengthens hair.

You see, I've been studying this from another angle, that is, fiber crafts. Wool and other animal fibers (like hair) love acid and are even strengthened by it, but bases damage them. Plant fibers (like cotton or linen) are the opposite -- you can boil them in washing soda and they won't care, but they will dissolve in too strong of an acid.

So, vinegar should be fine with your hair, but I'd skip the baking soda. (It doesn't matter what kind. When I've done it, I use white vinegar because ACV reportedly can stain blond hair.) Glad honey works, but I'm not going to do that myself, because I can barely afford to eat it. Some people use clay, but I guess I'm not ready to put MUD in my hair to wash it! (Works wonders on my face though, so maybe I should at least try.)

I wish I could find your magic shampoo bark! I'd plant a little tree of it and never be without it again ... if, of course, it worked on me. There are actually quite a lot of plants that make natural soaps, but so far as I know they really ARE soaps and will strip the oil out the same as shampoo.

So what do *I* use on my hair?

Rueful confession: it's the only non-crunchy, chemical, consumerist bit of my life. I use Pantene, which is so toxic it makes my eyes burn. But I only wash my hair once a week. When my hair was long, that was about right. Now that I've cut it short, it could actually use more frequent washing, and for that matter it probably doesn't need the Pantene anymore either. Hmmmm.

Enbrethiliel said...


Why I didn't just ask you for tips at the beginning, I don't know, Sheila! =D I read a tip somewhere to add some white vinegar to your rinse cycle, but it was very general and didn't say anything about animal fibers and plant fibers. Would you qualify that advice or say it's okay even with cotton?

As for my hair, I'm actually trying out other alternatives these days because honey is clearly the rich girl's no poo staple. =P

Gugo's scientific name is Entada phaseikaudes K Meer. It seems to prefer warmer climates, but--who knows--someone might have been able to cultivate a plant in North America! There's another local leaf, pandan, which I want to use in a concoction. I really do want to put a local, sustainable twist on these recipes. =)

Sheila said...

That would be awesome. I have a book that lists different soap plants, and I think the top choices for my area are pokeberry and tumbleweed. There's also a tuber the Indians used, but I can't remember it off the top of my head, and it might be harder to find seeds for.

A splash of vinegar in a cotton load wouldn't do any harm, but I wouldn't use a gallon of it! I heard it was supposed to help hard water, because I have VERY hard water, but it didn't do a thing. I do still sometimes use it when washing diapers because it counteracts the ammonia.

Incidentally, the one real cure for my hair, which easily reverts to a tacky, half greasy, half too dry nastiness, is washing it with rainwater. The hard water was my real issue -- it wasn't cleaning the grease out OR rinsing the shampoo out. Gross. Just like my horrible laundry issues. I wish I knew the cure, I've tried all the ones I've heard of and at best they help a little.

If you can get clay, that actually might be your best bet. It absorbs some of the oil without scouring all of it off, and it's known to absorb smells, too. (I recently found out it's the main ingredient in cat litter! Who knew?) Then follow with a vinegar rinse to make it smoother and stronger, and lastly a conditioner of your favorite essential oil diluted in some other oil, so your hair *smells* like you washed it.

Another option I've heard recommended is castile soap. Sure, it will cut the oils, but it doesn't have all the foaming agents and surfactants and who-knows-what-else that shampoo has. People say it's much gentler.

It's a well-known fact in no-poo circles that the more often you wash your hair, the more it will overproduce oils to compensate. So the kindest thing you can do for your hair is to slowly taper off how often you wash it. People will never know, especially if you put a drop of essential oil on it so it still smells "just washed."

That's all I've got -- I've read lots on the subject but never took the plunge! But I ran out of my expensive toxic stuff yesterday (well, Michael squeezed it all onto the floor) and I can tell that John's cheapie stuff, advertised to smell like "Mountain Waterfall" (which it doesn't) is not going to be a long-term solution. So maybe it's time to try something different.

Enbrethiliel said...


I no longer wash my hair daily, though it's still a trial for me to wrap it up while I shower. I really do love getting wet all over--and have since my mother snatched me from my "real" selkie family as a baby. =P That's why I'm currently enjoying the pandan water as a rinse. It's just plain pandan-scented water (and possibly softer from having been boiled and filtered), and it makes me feel clean and fresh when I pour a cool cup over my head.

We're expecting another typhoon. I'll see if I can collect some rainwater without anyone throwing it out.

Thanks for your tips! =)

Shaz said...

My hair is the bane of my existence. In volume, it's very thick, but individual strands are fine and straight. Plus I just can't stand the feel of product in my hair.

Switched to sulfate-free shampoo several years ago and while it hasn't solved my hair issues, it did make my strands less tempermental. While I can't afford to use honey on a regular basis, I'm going to have to try it instead of my usual coconut oil treatment.

Enbrethiliel said...


I also started using coconut products on my hair last month, so I have to ask you how you use your coconut oil. So far, I've used it in a few DIY hot oil treatments and as an anti-frizz conditioner.

mrsdarwin said...

Report from the ground: I tried the honey wash on Friday and didn't use conditioner. (Usually I use a shampoo like Head and Shoulders, especially in dry months, and a conditioner meant for curly hair -- John Frieda or Frizz-Ease.) It was strange to feel my hair not rinse smooth, but hey, natural oils. I didn't put any of my non-frizz stuff in, but I did use some gel like always to keep it from getting too crazy.

It did feel like it had a lot of volume after I'd had it wrapped in a towel. I never brush it, and I didn't try this time, with no de-frizzing agent.

It never looked right. Friday it looked messy, Saturday it looked too shiny, and by Sunday I was twitching. It felt both limp and frizzy at the same time. Sunday morning I lathered up with my normal, defrizzed as usual, and I feel so much better. I usually go two or three days between hair washes -- I just don't need to more often than that; my hair doesn't want it. I can push it out to four days if I've put some product in it to hold curl and if I'm still feeling clean.

Someone gave me some honey from her own hives this weekend, and you can bet I'll eat it instead of putting it on my head!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for the report, Mrs. Darwin! I'm sorry that the honey didn't work out for you. =( May I ask which brand and type you used? (I'm keeping a special honey file now. And now you have honey from someone's hives? I'm so envious . . .)

I guess I should have reminded everyone that I'm using honey as a treatment because my hair has already been at its worst, so it really had nowhere to go but up. It was probably also worth saying that this post is just the first in a series documenting my "no poo" adventures. I don't think anyone is going to follow where I'm going next! ;-)

mrsdarwin said...

Well, I used whatever generic brand the store carried, so I wasn't shooting very high. The home honey is from Betty Duffy's parents' hives, and it tastes too good for anything but eating!

I feel like my hair is pretty healthy right now, though, and wants a bit of specialized product to keep in behaving. Also, I've got my routine down to an art now, so I might follow your further hair adventures from the comfort of my computer chair.

Shaz said...

My coconut oil method is pretty basic. I get a spoonful, rub it between my hands until it liquidifies, and work it through a section of hair, repeating until my all of my hair has coated with oil. I give it a quick comb-through to make sure it's evenly distributed, put my hair up and entertain myself for an hour or two. Then it's into the shower for a quick shampoo - or in your case no poo.

I'd like to say I do this every week, but lately it's more like every 3-4 weeks. Yeah, I'm a slacker. :-)

Sheila said...

When I get my hair anywhere near water without a full shampoo, it does that limp/slack/fuzzy thing. I hate it, but I concluded eventually it's my hard water, since even rinsing with plain water has this effect. Exactly zero of the grease is rinsed out, and it feels like something gross is added.

Whenever I get a chance to wash my hair this week, I'm going to try clay and rinse with rain water. We had five days running of rain recently, so I have some on hand.

I so wish our house had a cistern instead of yucky fluorinated/chlorinated hard city water. :P

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- If I were being homeschooled right now, this would be my entire Chemistry project. And I could take an oral exam. I now know more about the properties of everything in the kitchen and bathroom than I ever guessed I hadn't known . . . and that's just the beginning! Maybe you could make your girls stop shampooing for a month and see what happens. ;-)

Shaz -- That's what I do, too. If I have enough time, I heat up the oil. But it turns out that coconut oil, hands down my favourite, is the hardest for "no poo" people to use. =(

Sheila -- THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME RIGHT NOW!!! Just when I thought everything was okay again, the hard water in my pipes laughed darkly and proceeded to unleash its malice on my hair. I now have a bucket hanging outside my window, to collect rainwater. I might as well get something out of this miserable monsoon. ;-)