Can you achieve picture perfect hair while saving the planet? Do zero waste hair products actually work? I'm here to answer it all. Having been on a decade-long journey experimenting with every natural beauty and waste-free hair hack possible, I've finally found a routine that's as effective as it is eco-friendly. It all began when at the age of sixteen I decided to embark on a plastic- and toxin-free hair-care regime, in the belief that this was the secret to growing long, luscious hair. Read on, as I detail the holy grail hits - and the occasional mishaps - I've experienced in my (lengthy) hair journey...    

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @VALENTINAZELYAEVA

HOW I GOT STARTED

At the time there wasn’t much information out there, and even fewer alternative products. So, after extensive research on a now-defunct web forum called ‘long hair journey’, I went with the old favourites: bicarb soda for washing my hair and apple cider vinegar as a conditioner. This combination works for many people, but not for me. And, despite assurances from the internet that the vinegar smell would dissipate, I found myself walking around school smelling like a pickle factory. It was too much for my teenage vanity and after a few months I gave up. The shower again filled up with plastic bottles.

Later, in my late teens and early twenties, I tried again. This time I went with the ‘no poo’ method, spurred on by radio discussions about how great your hair would look if you just stopped washing it with shampoo (or “poo”) and instead rinsed it with clean water. The idea is that our modern cleaning methods strip the hair of natural oils, causing the scalp to compensate by making a whole lot more. By going no poo you restore equilibrium and never have to wash your hair again. Sounds like the dream. But the big challenge for all no poo adherents is the transition period when you look (and smell) a bit like a greasy, wet rat before your locks return to their soft, bouncy natural state. At least that’s what is supposed to happen. I don’t doubt the no poo fans and have great respect for those who succeed. But I remained trapped in the purgatory of dank, greasy locks so abandoned ‘no poo’ too.

That led me back to all those plastic bottles that fill up the shower recess and to worrying about something else. But every minute around the world we buy one million plastic bottles. What is happening to all this plastic? Anyone with an internet connection knows plastic waste in the ocean and the environment is a tragic sight.

Was it possible to have great hair, a minimalist, easy care routine, and to reduce my plastic footprint? Fast forward to 2019 and, fortunately, the answer is yes.

What goes into hair products?

It turns out, pretty much every shampoo and conditioner have the same main ingredient – water. This is what makes it so easy to distribute through your hair. But it also means that most of these products could be delivered to you in a much more concentrated form. It’s like the difference between a bar of soap and liquid soap in a pump bottle. The active ingredients are the same, so getting your shampoo and conditioner in solid form won’t change how it works with your hair. But is can have a hugely positive effect on the environment.

What are the alternatives?

Shampoo and conditioner bars are leading the charge when it comes to plastic-free hair care. These are just a solid version of the regular shampoo and conditioner you use. Like liquid haircare products they come in many different varieties, and you may want to try a few to see what suits your hair.

So, how do they work? Rather than squirting a diluted version of the ingredients onto your hands and rubbing them into your scalp, you can skip a step and rub the bar on your scalp. I find the best way is to apply it like you are combing your hair. Once you have enough on, lather up as normal.

Businesswire, owned by the US billionaire and entrepreneur, Warren Buffet, recently singled out the waste-free global shampoo market as set for major growth. Its market analysis said cosmetic companies were moving away from plastic packaging due to ‘growing demand for organic hair care products among young generation… and small-scale manufacturers promoting the sale of organic products with sustainable packaging, which is further positively influencing the market.’

You might recognise some of the players on the global  Top 10 list: Lush, Ethique from New Zealand, Beauty and the Bees from Tassie and Biome from Queensland.

Conditioner bars can be a little more time consuming – but I promise they are worth it! In my experience, they leave your hair feeling silky soft without any of the heaviness I associate with some liquid conditioners. They work just like shampoo bars, but to make sure that your hair is properly conditioned I like to start by smoothing it on the end of my (long) hair and working my way up.

The results? My hair looked, felt and smelt pretty fantastic. There were also some unexpected perks. It made packing for an overseas holiday so much easier. The bars are compact and light, and because they are liquid-free, you can take them on as carry on. Very handy if you’re flying long haul and want to have a shower in transit. Plus, their compact size quickly does away with much of your bathroom clutter – not unlike the Marie Kondo effect, but without having to give anything up.

What if I love my shampoo?

Everyone’s hair is different – and let’s face it, it might have taken you years to find the right combination of products that work for you. If you aren’t keen to switch completely, there are a couple of other ways to reduce your plastic consumption.

First, just use less. Your hairdresser might even have urged you to wash your hair less frequently, to allow your scalp’s naturally nourishing oils to work their magic. So, how often should we be doing it? In 1908, The New York Times suggested washing our hair with soap every 4-6 weeks! Nowadays, 70% of Australians say they wash their hair every day. We really don’t need to.

Even adding one extra day between washes will make your product last longer and reduce how many plastic bottles you get through.

Second, think about buying the biggest bottle you can find and eking it out, instead of throwing out lots of smaller plastic bottles. Or opt for a product with packaging made from recycled plastics, like Love Beauty & Planet’s range (whose ingredients are also ethically sourced). Your hair and the oceans will thank you.

What else can I do?

There are more and more great solid body care products coming on the market every day. A great option is deodorant paste that comes in small metal tins that can be reused or recycled. It smells great, works really well and, like hair care bars, is portable and spill-proof. A favourite so far is ‘No Pong’. Just smooth it on your underarms and you’re ready to go.

The next entrant is moisturiser bars: a solid bar that melts onto your skin as it warms. So far, they aren’t widely available in the shops yet in Australia, but plenty can be found online. To be honest, I felt a bit like I was basting a chicken when I first tried rubbing it all over myself, but, don’t worry, it does work.

And don’t forget soap! One of the biggest trends worldwide was a 3% + growth in solid soap sales last year, after decades of decline as people moved to liquid washing products. Now we’re reversing that trend. And, the good news is there are so many wonderful soaps on the market – be they artisanal market finds or trusty supermarket favourites – it’s hard to know where to start.

Story by Clara Williams Roldan.

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