In Which I Admit to Being Totally Shallow

Confession: I have always been a little vain about my hair. Not that I spend a lot of time on it, or think about it a lot. I don’t. But it’s naturally blonde and straight and for as long as I can remember people have told me I was very lucky to have hair like this.

My hair is also on the greasy side. To keep it under control I’ve been a daily hair washer since junior high. Even when I had newborns and I sometimes struggled to eat regular meals or sleep more than 10 minutes a day, I made showering a priority. Washing my hair was the thing that saved my sanity and made me feel like a human being. This isn’t a big deal most of the time, because I live in a developed country with access to reliable plumbing. But it’s one thing I really dislike about camping – dirty hair.

Now I reveal just how shallow I am. The biggest issue I struggled with when I considered going to Burning Man was my hair. There’s no running water at Burning Man. I bought a shower bag and my camp has a shower stall but showering will be much less frequent and reliable when I’m camping in the desert than it is in my shower at home. Porta potties? No problem. Dirty clothes? No problem. Cooking on a camp stove? No problem. A whole week of greasy, dust-covered hair? Major problem.

I tried googling how to take care of your hair at Burning Man. Here’s a summary of the available advice:

  1. Shave your head and/or get dreadlocks. If you care about something as stupid as hair you don’t belong at Burning Man.
  2. Just put it in a ponytail/wear a hat/ignore it. Everyone else has gross hair, too, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
  3. Condition, condition, condition. The playa dust is alkaline and drying and your hair will need nourishment. In fact, don’t even think about shampooing, just rinse it if you can and add more conditioner. Then condition it some more.

The first piece of advice may be true, but at this point I’m going even if I am way too superficial, so it isn’t helpful.

The second piece of advice also may be true, but if I were able to just put it out of my mind and not think about it I already would have, so it also isn’t helpful.

The third piece of advice, on the other hand? Actually super helpful. If the playa dust really is that drying, then maybe my hair will be dusty but not particularly greasy. In my book this is okay. In fact, this piece of information was actually the thing that finally convinced me I could do this. Because apparently I’m only open to life changing experiences if my hair is manageable (insert eye roll here).

Fast forward to last month. I found myself randomly chatting with an acquaintance at my nephew’s birthday party. I mentioned Burning Man, and my hair fears. We got to talking about hair and she confessed that she rarely washes hers. She does regularly rinse it out in the shower, and she uses powder in her hair as a dry shampoo. She told me that the dry shampoo made a huge difference to her. I realized that it might be time for an experiment.

I have experimented with alternatives to traditional shampoo in the past. I did the shampoo free (“no poo”) thing for a couple of years. It was fine. Using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to wash my hair didn’t really differ at all from shampoo in my experience. It still got my hair clean, and my hair still felt gross if I didn’t wash it again the next day. Which is why, ultimately, I went back to shampoo. It was just easier. What it does demonstrate, though, is that I’m not averse to experimenting.

If my research is accurate, playa dust is essentially dry shampoo. So to see how my own hair would manage I recently made some DIY dry shampoo by adding essential oil to corn starch. The essential oils are mostly just to make my hair smell good. I still shower every day, and rinse out my hair regularly, but I’ve gone a couple of days without washing it. My observations are that after using the corn starch mix my hair looks fine and smells good. It definitely feels different than it does after shampooing. There’s stuff on my head. However, it’s soft and actually has body, probably because of that stuff.

Here’s the photographic evidence. From left to right the photos show my just-washed hair, my hair after one day of the dry shampoo regimen, and my hair after day two of the dry shampoo regimen.

burning man hair dry shampoo

burning man hair dry shampoo

The punch line? Dry shampoo isn’t as great as actual shampoo, but I can handle it. So, if the playa dust really does dry out your hair, I should be fine because it will keep the grease under control. And my hair won’t be as damaged by the dryness because my scalp will be working overtime to produce natural oils to balance things out. If I’m right I have a solution that will work well enough that I won’t be crying about my hair on my camping trip.

I’ll report back afterwards and let you know how it actually works out. Fingers crossed for hair success.

Shampoo-Free: An Update

Approximately 18 months ago I decided to try going shampoo-free, or “no poo”. What this means is that I stopped using shampoo and conditioner to wash my hair, and switched to to baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead. This naturally leads into the question of how I wash my hair without shampoo.

I have a food container filled with baking soda in my shower, and I scoop out one or two teaspoons into my hand, add a bit of water to make a paste, and put it on my hair. I concentrate on the roots mostly, making sure that I work it through well, and then I rinse. To condition my hair I use a solution of roughly eight parts water to one part organic apple cider vinegar, which I put in an old water bottle in my shower. I pour a little bit on my head (I would guess a few tablespoons), trying to cover my hair evenly, and rinse it. That’s it.

Why No Shampoo?
No poo is easy, but that’s not really a compelling reason to do it in and of itself. At least I don’t think so. Dusting is also easy, but I don’t do that. So what compelled me to channel my inner hippie and wash my hair this way? There are a few reasons. The first is that I wanted to use less plastic, and I can find baking soda in cardboard boxes and apple cider vinegar in glass. The second is that this is much cheaper than using shampoo – especially nice shampoo. And finally, I could eat baking soda and apple cider vinegar. They don’t contain hormone disrupters or suspected carcinogens like some conventional shampoos.

How Shampoo-Free is Working
When I first blogged about going shampoo-free, I was only a few weeks in. I wasn’t raving about how awesome it was, like some people do. But I also wasn’t throwing in the towel in disgust, like other people do. I found that my hair was much the same as ever. I couldn’t skip a day washing it or I became a grease-monster, but since I shower daily anyway, it was a non-issue. And so I stuck with it for the past year and a half.

I did cheat once, on a spa visit. The next day I returned to baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and all was well. Some people report an adjustment period during which their hair is awful and then gets way better, but I haven’t personally experienced that. I seem to be able to switch back and forth without any issues, at least within reason. And so while I’m still not raving about how awesome no poo is, I’m sticking with it.

Water Hardness and No Poo
I have discovered a wrench in the shampoo-free works, and that’s hard water. I live in Vancouver, where the water is extremely soft. In fact, they make a brand of laundry soap called “Vancouver Only”, which works only in our very soft water. I have always heard complaints about washing hair in hard water, and I have found that when I travel, my standard hair-washing regimen doesn’t work as well. Even in Washington State or San Diego, which aren’t places I personally associate with super-hard water, there was a noticeable difference in my hair after a few days. It was greasier and I had to use more baking soda and vinegar to get a decent result.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has found that going shampoo-free works better in soft water. I found some instructions online about how to use no poo with hard water, and the next time I travel I may switch up my regimen to avoid the grease monster look and itchy scalp.

Think of the Children!
I have a confession to make. While I have been shampoo-free for 18 months, my kids have not. I buy them a store brand that I am comfortable with for two main reasons. The first is that shampoo is just a whole lot easier when you have a kid who objects to hair-washing of any kind (cough Jacob cough). The second is that baking soda or apple cider vinegar in the eyes sting, and I appreciate that kids’ shampoos are formulated to be more pH neutral. It’s also why I didn’t use soap on my babies’ hair, even though I used it on the rest of them. I feel slightly hypocritical to be going all natural on myself and not on my kids, but I’m doing the best I can, and I am very selective about the shampoo I buy for Hannah and Jacob.

What about you? Have you ever tried no poo? How did it work for you? Or would you be interested in trying it? And if so, what’s holding you back? I’d love to hear!

Haircuts I Have Known

In my earliest memory of having my hair cut, I’m in my kitchen, sitting on a chair that’s positioned on top of something to raise it higher. I’m wearing an improvised cape which consists of a garbage bag with holes ripped out for my head and arms to poke through. My mother is the hairdresser, and the experience is excruciating. She’s just giving me a quick trim, but it takes forever. Once it’s all over my bangs are super-short, because my just mom kept on trimming, trying to make it all even. And then for a week after she chases me around the house with scissors, snipping stray hairs.

When I was about four years old, I took the job into my own hands. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking it would be easy to cut my bangs. I also remember how not easy it turned out to be, and how it earned me an immediate ticket to the garbage bag cape. I was sufficiently traumatized that I never attempted it again. My daughter Hannah, on the other hand, still occasionally cuts off little pieces of her own hair even after her own self-haircut-fiasco. I didn’t make her wear the garbage bag, maybe that’s why.

When I was about 10, my parents started seeing a hairdresser named Esther. She was short and had short red hair, and for years we followed her from salon to salon to salon. Even after my parent’s divorce, the whole clan still saw Esther, just separately now. She was a real stylist who took her craft seriously. She would wash your hair in the sink and then cut it and style it. She used product and gave me tips and had the world’s biggest curling iron, and I enjoyed the experience.

New hairdo, second pass
Hannah after my attempt to fix her self-inflicted cut

But in my teen years Esther moved to a bigger, fancier salon downtown, and my mother didn’t want to pay so much for haircuts anymore. So for a while I got my hair cut by a family friend in her kitchen. She’d been to hairdressing school but she wasn’t working in a salon, so she knew her stuff but she was much cheaper. There was no hair-washing or blow-drying, but it was fine.

When I moved away to university, I got my hair cut at the “no appointment necessary” place in the mall. They did a reasonably good job and the price was right. But then in second year my roommate decided to try a fancy salon downtown, and I went with her in the name of bonding. For a few years I went there, feeling very indulgent as I made the long trip on transit. But after a while I got tired of schlepping all that way without a car.

Mother-and-daughter haircuts
Mother-and-daughter haircuts

When another roommate started going to a salon in our neighbourhood, I decided to try them out. That’s where I met Lesa, and I sort of clicked with her. She was a few years older than me and just getting married. I ended up seeing her for years – through my wedding, two pregnancies of hers, and two of mine. I moved, and then she moved and opened up her own salon. But eventually, with two little kids it became difficult to find the two plus hours it took me to make the drive and get my hair cut, especially when Jacob was too small to be away from me for long.

I tried a couple of other salons in my neighbourhood, with no luck. At the first one “my” stylist kind of annoyed me, plus she hurt my head repeatedly when she brushed my hair. At the second I realized I was the youngest woman there by a good couple of decades. I ended up going 11 months between hair cuts until my friend invited me to a salon in her neighbourhood, and that was good, but Jacob cried for me while she held him and I didn’t want to subject her to that repeatedly.

My hair after going 11 months between cuts

This is how I found myself going with my daughter Hannah to the local Great Clips. It takes us about 45 minutes from the time we walk out our front door until the time we walk back in. Hannah loves the bonding experience, and I like that we don’t need an appointment. I can seize a moment that works, it’s cheap, and they do a fine job. After all, I am not in a stage in my life where I’m styling my hair to perfection every morning. I need something that can dry while I grocery shop and still look OK. Anything fussy is pointless.

Sometimes I worry that I’m doing that mom thing and not taking care of myself. It’s certainly true that as an adult woman at the fast and cheap salon I’m in the minority. But you know what? Hannah and I have created a ritual now. And because it’s easy I make it in for a cut a few times a year, which is far more often than I ever have since I had kids. It’s working for me.

I got my hair cut!
My hair after my most recent cut

From my start in the raised chair in my kitchen I have run the haircut gamut. I’m not sure what that means, really. Does it matter who cuts my hair, or where they do it? Could someone off the street pick out the people who spend a lot of money on a haircut from those who don’t? Do I deserve the indulgence of a high-end salon? I don’t know. But I do know that when my Hannah takes my hand, practically jumping with excitement as we head off to get our haircut, I don’t really care.

What’s your haircut history? How does the experience of having your hair cut change the way you feel about yourself and your hair? I’d love to hear!

PS – I’m still looking for your feedback. So please, take a moment to share the love and complete my reader survey. I’d really appreciate it!

My Shampoo-Free Experiment

Have you heard about no poo? In spite of the slightly unfortunate-sounding name, it has nothing to do with your bathroom habits. It’s short for ‘no SHAMpoo’, and it’s about ditching traditional hair cleaning products in favour of more natural choices. No poo’s following is growing, and people choose it for a variety of reasons.

Some people don’t like the idea of using chemical-laden personal care products. Modern shampoos typically contain artificial colours and fragrances, and a variety of ingredients that haven’t been specifically tested for long-term toxicity or carcinogenic effects. Shampoo and conditioner usually come in plastic bottles, and there are problems with recycling plastic. And some people find that their hair is healthier and more manageable when they go no poo.

Amber and Jacob smiling pretty
Prior to going shampoo-free

I decided to try going shampoo-free myself. I attempted it once before, but I didn’t really commit and I didn’t really follow the recommended procedure. After a few days I gave up. This time I committed to two weeks of no poo, and I tracked down the suggested apple cider vinegar in a glass bottle. I like the idea of reducing my plastic consumption, as well as my exposure to chemicals. I was also hoping that ditching shampoo would somehow net me miraculous hair results.

Day 2 shampoo free
Day 2 shampoo-free

Day 2 shampoo free
Another shot of day 2 shampoo-free

I am washing my hair using baking soda, and rinsing it in an apple cider vinegar solution. What I do is wet my hair, and then mix 1-2 tsp baking soda with a little water to make a paste. I spread it through my hair, starting at my scalp, and then rinse. I have re-purposed an old 8-ounce shampoo bottle for the apple cider vinegar. I put in about 2-3 tablespoons of the vinegar, filled the rest of the bottle with water, and added a few drops of essential oils to make it smell not so vinegar-y. I squirt a few tablespoons of this solution on my hair and then rinse it out.

Day 4 shampoo free
Day 4 shampoo-free

It’s been two weeks now, what’s the verdict? I would say my feelings are mixed. My hair feels very much like it did when I was a kid – it’s softer than it was, but also very thin and fine. And I have not achieved the results that some people report, where they can go days without washing their hair. I have tried skipping a day, and I end up having to keep my hair in a ponytail when I do that, because it gets greasy. I have oily hair in the first place, and going no poo hasn’t eliminated that.

Day 10 shampoo free
Day 10 shampoo-free

Day 10 shampoo free
Day 10 shampoo-free from the front

Having said that, the results aren’t awful. I asked my husband if my hair looked different and he appeared befuddled and confused. No one else has said anything, either. My feeling is that for the most part, any differences I’m seeing are undetectable to others. I think that I will keep up the shampoo-free experiment for now, and since I am showering every day anyway, if I have to wash my hair it’s not exactly a huge inconvenience.

What about you? Have you tried no poo? Any tips, tricks or disaster stories? Please share!

Jacob’s Hair

You would be forgiven for thinking I talk about hair a lot. Because, well, I do. I like to claim that I don’t really care about hair that much, but the post count doesn’t lie. First I talked about my daughter Hannah’s hair. Then my hair. Then Hannah’s hair again. Then my hair again. And now I’m going to talk about baby Jacob’s lovely locks. I promise I will find something new to talk about after today. 🙂

Jacob was born with a respectable amount of hair. I kept waiting for it to fall out, but it never did. It just kept growing, and growing, and growing. By the time he was 5 months old it was getting pretty crazy. It was also becoming apparent that I would not be able to hold off his first haircut forever.

Look at the hair!
Jacob’s hair at 5 months

I loved Jacob’s crazy baby curls. After baths they would form little ringlets or stick straight up in the air. Little blond locks going every which way. And I think he loved his hair, too. When he was going to sleep he would often run his fingers through it as he nursed. It was very sweet.

Crazy curly baby hair
Crazy curly baby hair at 7 months

The problem, though, is that when his hair wasn’t sticking straight up it was sticking straight down. It was obscuring his vision. It constantly had gunk of one kind or another stuck in it, since it was just everywhere. And unlike Hannah I didn’t feel comfortable just sticking a barrette or hair tie in it. I’m just not evolved enough to use accessories in my son’s hair.

Jacob crawling up my leg
Crawling up my leg at 8 months

But still, I held off the first haircut. I told everyone I would wait until his first birthday. Before then I didn’t think I could handle how much older he would look. While he was still in his first year of life I was determined to keep the baby curls, no matter how inconvenient they were.

Jacob and his diaper pail
Completely obstructing his vision at 9 months

Finally, I had to give in. Once again I was trying to pick some baby goo out of his hair, and once again Jacob was objecting. I hadn’t seen his eyes in days. I steeled myself and dug out my scissors while Jacob was still in his sleeper one morning, so that errant hairs wouldn’t get on his clothes. And I did my best not to completely mutilate my baby’s head.

My 9-month-old dreamboat
The first haircut at 9 months

In spite of the constant wiggling, I think I did all right. He definitely does look older, but he’s still very cute. He’s still my baby, just slightly more boy-ish. And I can see his beautiful eyes again, which makes me happy indeed.

A Hairy Tale

I went a very long time without a haircut after my son Jacob was born. I went in for a trim in June 2008, when I was 7 months pregnant. It was lovely. I realized at the time it would probably be more than a few months before I made it in again. After all, I would be juggling two children, one of whom would be dependent on me for sustenance. I was aiming for Christmas, or thereabouts, for a return visit.

And then Jacob was born in August and life happened. I made the occasional noise about getting a haircut. But between the every day crazy-busyness of life and my husband Jon’s chaotic work schedule, it was very difficult to find a good time. Plus, it was never really at the top of the list. And so the months wore on, and on, and on.

When Jacob was first born, this is what my hair looked like:

And after 9 months of neglect from me and downright abuse from my baby, this is what my hair looked like yesterday:


It was reaching catastrophic proportions. Not even because it looked so bad. Although the ends weren’t in great condition it was hardly horrible. It was more of a problem because of me. I was sick of it. Looking at it every day I felt acutely aware of just how long it had been since I had done something for myself. Something that had no obvious benefit beyond my own happiness. Every time it got caught under a baby carrier strap or I worked to brush its length I felt a little sad.

So I took my friend up on her offer to come to the hairdresser with me. She called the woman who cuts her hair and got back-to-back appointments. I didn’t get a wash or a style, just a cut. And Jacob was fairly distraught throughout most of it, since he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t hold him and let him bounce on my knee. But he wasn’t damaged, and neither was I. Then I was able to return the favour and wrangle my friend’s 2-year-old while she also got a new cut.

Here is the result:


It just feels cleaner to me, and lighter. As if I have actually made an effort to care for it beyond washing it and then letting it air-dry. I looked at the pile of hair as the hairdresser swept up and felt…liberated.

Although I do have to admit that looking at that photo, I am reminded that I have never gotten over my love of Jennie Garth’s hair in the early ’90s.

Photo credit

I hear high-waisted jeans are in again, so maybe my hair is actually very ‘now’. Or maybe it just betrays my age. I don’t really care, I’m happy either way. Because I got a haircut, and now my life is all sunshine and roses. 🙂

Hannah’s Hair, Part II

Back in November I engaged in some serious soul-searching about my relationship with Hannah’s hair. At the time she asked me to cut her hair short, I balked, and she changed her mind. I was surprised by my resistance. It turns out I liked her long hair, and I was possibly more attached to it than she was. Which I didn’t feel entirely OK with – I mean, really, why should I object to my daughter’s own self-expression? It’s just hair, it grows back, and it was never mine to begin with.

A recent shot of Hannah’s long hair

That was almost 4 months ago, and I hadn’t heard another word about haircuts from Hannah. I recently suggested that I give her a trim to even out the ends, and she said that I should never cut any of her hair off. So while I remained at odds with myself about her hair, I was secretly pretty happy. But then on Sunday, out of the clear blue sky she took her safety scissors to her own head and then presented the evidence to me. When asked why she did it, she told me, “I always wanted a haircut.”

The leavings of the haircut

So, I did my best to repair her work. Which wasn’t easy, because I was also holding a fussy baby at the time. Plus I am not really good at cutting hair, and my heart really wasn’t in it. I was very sad when I cut a good 3 inches off in one swoop. Yes, it will grow back, but it will take a while. It took 4 years for it to get that long, so I imagine it will be a year or two at least until it’s long again.

New hairdo, first pass
My first attempt at repairing the damage

There was some crying from both Hannah and I. She was initially sad to lose the long hair. She was also sad that I wouldn’t let her keep the clippings and play with them. But she also thinks the new ‘do is novel and exciting. Kids don’t dwell on the past, not like adults, so she moved on really quickly. But I’m still taken aback whenever I see her. I’m the one who can’t accept that what’s done is done.

Another barrette shot
The new ‘do with some barrettes

Our whole ordeal yesterday involved three haircuts. One in the afternoon that Hannah gave herself, and then my first attempt immediately after. It was OK, but rather uneven, so I gave it one last try in the evening. It’s still far from perfect, and I think we may want to visit a professional at some point to clean it up. But I’m trying not to be a perfectionist about it, after some rather traumatic haircuts in my own childhood. She’s 4, it will be OK if it’s not perfectly even. Right?

New hairdo, second pass
The final product

At this point I’m trying to be upbeat. I think the self-inflicted haircut is a near-inevitable rite of passage, and we’ve emerged relatively unscathed. Hannah’s hair will grow back, and in the meantime I’m sure that it will be much easier to take care of. Hannah actually loves having bangs, since her hair isn’t in her eyes as much. And the new haircut is sort of cute. Right? (Please say yes, I tried really hard to salvage things, and I’m feeling a little fragile right now).

Oh, the joys of parenting. You never know what adventure a random Sunday will bring. 😉

PS – If you’re not keeping up with our Flickr photostream, check it out. I add new photos pretty regularly.

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