“No Poo” The Clay Way

Have you considered going “no poo” but had reservations about doing so? “No Poo” refers to the practice of washing your hair without the aid of commercial shampoos and conditioners. Many recommendations rely on the classic “baking soda and vinegar” method. I had a hard time working with this dynamic duo. Baking soda is a mild alkaline but harsh enough to over-strip oils, including the natural oils our body makes to protect us. Then comes comes in the rather acidic vinegar and a cool rinse to neutralize the baking soda, attempt to restore the scalp’s pH and help close the hair shaft. Strong acids etch stone, which don’t agree with the marble in my bathroom. The soda-vinegar story romanced me to an extent but I was not completely lured in.

What natural products may support scalp and hair health by gently cleansing while maintaining our natural oils & pH? One solution comes directly from the Earth. Clay. The other comes from distilling botanical materials from the Earth. Hydrosols.

Clay To Cleanse Your Hair

Last Fall I was speaking with a colleague about non-commercial hair washing alternatives and she mentioned using clay for scalp & hair health. I was instantly intrigued as I’ve used clay masks and clay-based soaps but it never occurred to me to use my stashes of clay for “head care.” Yet washing and healing with clay is something people have done for thousands of years. Its just that these methods weren’t passed down to me. On that note, there are SEVERAL articles and posts in the ether about this topic. My take on this topic offers the incorporation of botanical ingredients (e.g., hydrosols) without incorporating fixed oils (e.g., jojoba or argan).

Rhassoul Clay in an Enamel Bowl
Rhassoul Clay in an Enamel Bowl

An Over-Washing Hair Confession

I don’t know about you but I never thought I could have long hair that looked good. My hair would look oily and gross after 2 days. For this reason I often kept it at chin length or even shorter. Over time I realized the main reason my hair wasn’t “happy” was that I washed daily with shampoo. OY!!!! I was stripping my scalp of it’s natural, healthy oils on a daily basis. In-turn, my body was over-compensating by producing more oil! Once turning to clay this past Fall I could go days before feeling the need to cleanse my hair. Also, because my hair is of a “fine” texture I never thought it could have BODY! Clay has given me that!

Before getting into clay I’d like to debunk a total myth: shampoo, toothpaste or soap of any kind needs to foam in order to cleanse. Foam doesn’t equate clean. It is marketing malarkey.

Spotlight On Clay: Mineral, Reactivity & “Sorption”

Iron Deposits on the Coastal Bluffs of Long Island Sound.
  • “Clay minerals”, as they’re called, are mainly composed of Silica (More on Silica Below!) supported by Aluminum, Magnesium and Iron along with trace amounts of Potassium, Sodium, Calcium Manganese, Zinc and others. Think of them like multi-vitamins from the earth.
  • Structurally, Clay Minerals are โ€œsheetsโ€ of molecules stacked on top of each other. Depending on its structure & composition some Clay Minerals are more willing to hold water than others.
  • Clay is overall negatively charged which makes it “soothing” and willing to attract positively charged particles like “dirt.”
    • This reactivity, thanks to ions in the chemical elements and addition of water or hydrosol, makes it necessary to use inert utensils such as enamelware, glass, ceramic and wood when working with clay.
  • Clay Minerals have the property of “Sorption“:
    • Adsorption. The ability to accumulate, to make a substance stick to its surface. Think of this as a chemical/surface reaction of something such as bacteria sticking to the Clay Mineral. Or water sticking to a window after a rainfall.
    • Absorption. The ability to assimilate a foreign substance into something. Think pulling into and becoming part of, such as salt (NaCl) dissolved in water.
  • Take Note: clay needs the catalyst of water to really get the “sorption” party going. Once those charged H+ & OH- ions are activated you don’t want something like a metallic bowl interfering with your health care treatment.
Clay TypeClay Sub-typeDetailsExcellent for….
Montmorillonite-smectiteBentonite, Rhassoul-Result of volcanic ash deposited in sea water
-Readily absorbs water (e.g., “swelling” types of clay)
Hydrating , Most hair types, especially Rhassoul clay (my preferred clay)
Kaolinite Kaolin (White, pink, yellow)-Low shrinkโ€“swell capacity
-Low cation-exchange capacity
Dry skin, Sensitive skin, High porosity hair
IlliteRed, yellow, green-Considered a “shale” clay/from sedimentary rock
-Non expanding clay mineral
Oily skin,
Low porosity hair, Exfoliation, Body powders
Note: Bentonite is a generic name of sorts but is at heart a montmorillonite clay. Its pH is slightly higher than Rhassoul making it a “stronger” alkaline/cleaner.
There are 3 Main Clay Categories: Different Types of Clay for Different Needs

Aromatherapy “No Poo” Hair Cleansing Routine

Time to get muddy! Following are guidelines to make 1 clay rinse using 3 simple ingredients: clay, hydrosol and essential oils. You may opt for making a strong herbal infusion in place of obtaining hydrosols and you may choose to omit the essential oils altogether. A clay wash at its simplest my be clay with distilled water. (Note: Hydrosols deserve and entirely different post and will not be covered here. Just know their pH runs on the acidic side, generally 4 to 6 which is much less acidic (and therefore more gentle) than vinegar or lemon juice.)

  • What You Need:
    • Non-reactive (non-metal) bowl
      • I prefer enamelware as it will not break in the shower as glass or ceramic may!
    • Non-reactive mixing stick (e.g., spatula, wooden spoon)
    • Base ingredients (table below)
      • Be sure to work in “parts,” e.g., 1:4 ratio = 1 part clay to 4 parts liquid
      • Distilled water is preferable over tap as it is closer to pure water than tap water, giving it greater ability to “adsorb” and clean. (Instead of buying distilled water in plastic bottles consider buying a counter-top distiller such as the one I have.)
IngredientAmountFor Lighter HairFor Darker Hair
Clay 1 part
(1 Tbsp)
Rhassoul (or the type suitable for you)Rhassoul (or the type suitable for you)
Hydrosol or Distilled Water4 parts
(4 Tbsp)
German chamomile or Calendula hydrosolRosemary, Sage or Peppermint
Essential Oils5 drops totalYlang ylang, Palmarosa, Lemon and/or German chamomile Ylang ylang, Palmarosa, Rosemary and/or Thyme linalool
  • Notes For Consideration:
    • If you have thicker hair you may need to double the recipe
    • For a thinner rinse: use another “part” of the liquid
    • For more of a paste-like consistency: use 1 to 2 fewer “parts” of the liquid
    • Essential oils are potent: a few drops go a long way. They are excellent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents that also benefit our affect through our perceptions and nervous system.
The clay, now with Lemon Verbena Hydrosol in a enamel bowl.
  • How to use:
    • Measure out the clay and add it to the bowl
    • Dispense the essential oils into the clay and thoroughly stir to incorporate
    • Slowly mix in the hydrosol allowing the clay to absorb the wetting agent
    • Now, once you’re in the shower or bath….
    • Wet your hair
    • Gently massage the clay mixture onto your scalp then work your way down your hair in sections using “prayer hands” to apply the clay
    • Have excess clay left? Put it on your skin!
    • Let the clay sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
    • Rinse out the clay mixture
    • Follow-up with a classic herbal hair rinse (I make a strong infusion of German Chamomile in distilled water and freeze single-use (2 cup batches)) OR a hydrosol rinse.
  • How often to use:
    • That is up to you depending on your hair type and preferences! Once you find your rhythm you’ll know it and love it!
    • On average, I wash my hair with clay 1x week and never more than 1x/week; there are times I will still use commercial shampoo instead but then I find my hair will need to be washed after 3 or so days.
A batch of freshly made chamomile “tea” for a hair rinse.

What About Additional Ingredients?

If your hair is similar to mine, low porosity, fine in texture and color-wise on the lighter side , you may find that adding Aloe to the mix (which is in many recipes) is NOT beneficial as it just sits on your hair making it sticky. You may also find that Rhassoul is great but Bentonite not so much. Once you get to know your hair type you can decide which Clay Minerals to add to your self-care routine as well as other products like Aloe, Honey and Fixed oils such as Jojoba.

Silica: Horsetail, Oat Straw and Nettles For Hair Health

Beauty, meaning health, starts from the inside and radiates outwards. For a healthy head it is best to do what we know we should do: eat well, sleep well and live a life of moderation. So here’s a mineral for you: Silica. It’s a bulk of what clay is made of but also found in organic matter such as Horsetail, Oat (straw) and Nettles. Silica is necessary for healthy connective tissue and structural formation which includes our integumentary system (i.e., skin, hair, nails). So beyond adding one of these lovely silica-rich plants to a herbal hair rinse consider drinking teas made of one or more of those herbs to support your integumentary covering from the inside-out. As indicated above, Horsetail, Oat Straw and Nettles may be incorporated into your life to assist in fortifying your literal structure. Our body uses minerals to build and rebuild ourselves to the cellular level over and over. Things don’t have to be complicated.

Hair Care May Indeed Be Simple!

Clay minerals, distilled water (or hydrosols) and a few lovely botanically based ingredients. Kinda makes you want to go play in the dirt with the plants, doesn’t it? Thank your for spending time with me and a slight obsession over caring for the integumentary system.


4 thoughts on ““No Poo” The Clay Way

    1. ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜ I washed my hair about an hour ago after swimming: rhassoul with yarrow hydrosol and neroli and Ylang ylang essential oils followed by a rinse with the yarrow. divine ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

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