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My search for environmentally friendly hair care products

February 3, 2023 | Natasha Ridenour

Image by Mostafa Elturkey from Pixabay

Image by Mostafa Elturkey from Pixabay

It took me about 5 years to look for an environmentally friendly hair care product that works with my hair and the type of water we have in our city on Vancouver Island. This is the story of my search.

The beginning

My search for lower impact hair care started in 2016. I should first of all state that I didn’t use that many hair care products to begin with, shampoo, conditioner, and a brush. Very rarely some hair spray, but since I had used it so infrequently, it was eventually given away to someone else. I began by reducing the frequency with which I washed my hair, from every day to every two days to twice a week. It took quite a while for my hair to adjust, so I had some pretty gross hair days. To help with this, I bought a boar hair brush, which, from what I gathered from my googling, was used before modern day shampoo was invented.  This was a positive turn for me in my search. I had found tutorials and posts online about how to use it and how to brush your hair with it, as the purpose is not really to detangle, but to redistribute the oils in your hair. I still use it several years later, and it is one of my hair care staples.

Experimenting – a long journey

At around the same time that I was reducing the number of hair washes per week, I was experimenting with shampoo bars. This experimenting took years. I started with some brand name shampoo bars, however they still included some chemicals I didn’t want to use, even if they were plastic free. I tried simple olive oil (castile) bar soap from the grocery stores, and some from local shops that had a specific olive oil bar soap for hair. After using each of the different olive oil bar soaps, I followed up with an apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice, since I really didn’t like the smell of vinegar in the morning) rinse. Unfortunately, we had hard water where we were living and the olive oil bar soap paired with hard water didn’t really work for me. So for a while, every few washes I still had to use a commercial shampoo and conditioner to reset my hair, if you will.

At this point I was getting a bit frustrated, so I decided to try an eco friendly shampoo that I could refill my own containers with at a local store. However, there were a few issues with this. It was about an hour round trip by bus from where I was studying (even longer from where I lived), it was quite expensive (especially as a student), and it didn’t work that well for me. Posts online had also recommended washing your hair with baking soda. I think I used it twice, and gave up, however some people swear by it. It just wasn’t for me.

I returned to my bar soap routine (with every 3rd-4th wash using a commercial shampoo), which I stuck to for about a year. At this point I had managed to reduce the number of times I washed my hair, and my hair had finally adjusted to this new washing regime, and 75% of the time I was using a low impact shampoo.


I soon became frustrated again – why haven’t I found one shampoo that meets all my requirements and works? So I took a break from all my experiments, and bought the largest commercial shampoo I could find. It was relatively low waste since I think I used half of the bottle in a year, and it worked.

But, that Christmas, I was gifted a gift card to a local plastic free/low waste shop. And I did a bit of splurging. They had this locally made shampoo that I had heard about years earlier, but it was quite expensive, so I had never bought it, but it met all my requirements plastic free and didn’t contain a lot of the chemicals that are harmful to aquatic critters.  I loved it! It is expensive, but it takes me about 6 months to finish the shampoo bar and about 8 months to finish the conditioner bar, so given that time frame, it’s ok for me.

Keep looking for what works for you

It would be nice of there was a one shampoo that works for everyone, but that is not the case. For me, the search was a fun and frustrating journey, and definitely a lesson in patience and perseverance. But keep trying! And to make the search easier and/or faster I suggest talking to others. They might have tried things you haven’t even thought of! I recently learned of someone using the liquid castile soap on their hair, which I’m tempted to try at some point, but for now I will enjoy the success of the shampoo bar that works for me at the moment.

Natasha Ridenour

Natasha Ridenour has a PhD in oceanography from the University of Alberta and is currently a postdoc with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. During her spare time, she’s either crafting or hanging out with her family. The views expressed on this website do not reflect those of her employer.

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