Brian Edwards Media

How Sweeney Todd stopped me wasting my money on shampoos and conditioners.

I’m not really sure why I’m telling you this. It’s kinda personal really, but I’m a generous fellow and  like to pass on wisdom that has been passed on to me.

Michael, a friend of ours who is a well-known actor, was appearing in a stage production of  Sweeney Todd. The part required him to have lank, unkempt, greasy-looking hair. So he stopped shampooing or moisturising his golden locks and limited his toilette to simply letting the shower water run over his head.

The initial effect was that his hair did indeed fit the part – lank, unkempt and thoroughly unattractive. After a few weeks, however, the original sheen returned and, to his astonishment, his hair looked even better than it had before. It was soft, silky and luminescent. (I may be slightly exaggerating to make the point.)

When the production was over, he continued to wash his hair only in water, eschewing shampoo and conditioner. And he’s never looked back. 

I was sceptical when I first heard this story:

‘You can’t get your body clean just with water, you have to have soap. And you can’t get your hair clean just with water either, you need shampoo to get the dirt out and moisturiser to put back the natural oils the shampoo has taken out. Why do you think they sell all those shampoos and moisturisers in the supermarket, if people could do without them?’

Judy gave me her ‘Irish idiot’ look:

‘To empty the pockets of people like you perhaps.’

I decided to give it a go. For the first couple of weeks my hair looked lifeless. (I think ‘lifeless’ is what they say in the ads.) By the third week, it started to look OK.  By the end of the month it was looking really good, not ‘luminescent’ perhaps, but definitely shiny, soft… and clean.

‘There you see!’ said Judy, employing the traditional female coup de grace. ‘The natural oils in your hair have come back. It looks great.’

It did. It does. And I can’t be absolutely sure that it doesn’t  also look rather less grey and rather more auburn than it did before.

‘Maybe those shampoos and conditioners strip the colour out of your hair as well as the natural oils,’ I volunteered.

‘Maaayyybeee,’ said Judy. ‘Or it could just be a trick of the light.’

Well, there you have it. I’ve been washing my hair under the shower without the assistance of shampoo or conditioner for about three months now. It’s quicker, cheaper and, as Sweeney and I can verify, you’ll never be lovelier.

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  1. Most the stuff you buy at the Chemist could be easily dispensed with with similar results. The obvious ones are vitamin pills and supplements but there are many more. I solved my hair wash problem several years ago when my boss was having chemo therapy. The whole office shaved their heads in sympathy, but I have been a baldy ever since, and I thoroughly recommend it. I could probably take a cruise on the money I have saved since then.

  2. A young hairdresser who worked for us never washed her boy’s hair…you could be onto something. Don’t tell Unilever or people like that, they spend a fortune on research etc. They even used to employ people like me. Mind you I don’t think they gained much from me! But there ya go

  3. Brian has been short-selling Panteen stocks again ;)

  4. Haven’t used shampoo since a hairdresser advised not to years ago – only conditioner, perhaps I’ll try knocking that off too. At 47 not too many pals have much left, but I’m reaping the rewards and benefits of being a Ginga I guess – heh heh heh .
    Ps: Dreadlocks = 50,000 x more bacteria!!! Just to say… Not a good look.

  5. I must give that try!

  6. Will it bring my hair back, I ask hopefully. Or is that one old wife’s tale too many?

    BE: Hair loss is a by-product of testosterone. Be grateful.

  7. Hah, now from the TMI file in re follicular challenges: the males in a certain big family business (BIGGGGG) business in New Zealand were advised by their doctor to use a certain body byproduct to reverse their receding hairlines…needless to say it didn’t work, so I am assuming these magnates were eventually “pissed off”?

  8. My hair has been breaking for the last year, resulting in my losing at least 1/3 of a once very full ponytail. Maybe I’ll give this a shot and see if it improves- although, I will likely need to condition it just to get the tangles out.

  9. And no itching ? I have inadvertently gone sans shampoo but the itching drove me crazy.

  10. A documentary last year explored that shampoo free idea with promising results. It wasn’t totally scientific with only 5 or six subjects but the evidence supported your point Brian.

    Of interest from my blue-water sailing books was the curious side effect from having very little water on board for washing. It was found that once the sweat on the skin stabilised the “unpleasant body odour” disappeared and also non-hair washing behaved as you describe it.(The smell from sweat is initially the bacteria starting to break down the body chemicals but once stabilised and bacteria gets in harmony, so the smell disappears.)

  11. I think, it would be like washing dishes without a detergent, you do need some shampoo to clean the hair of dust and the sweat from the head. Remember, a cheap supermarket shampoo is quite harsh on your hair. The idea is to always use a quality shampoo (‘Crew’ for men) and use it sparingly, so as not to strip the hair of its natural oils, causing the scalp to become dry and itchy.

  12. Perhaps you’ve discovered Peter Dunne’s best kept secret?
    On second thoughts, a good quiff usually needs some styling product to hold it in place and I can confirm, hair styling product is not easily washed out by water alone.
    Brian, I see from your photo at the top of this screen that you have quite a nice quiff happening too. Do you use hair styling products and if so, how does that work with your new hair-care regime?

  13. The deleterious effects of soap and water are well understood by teenage boys until they meet their first girlfriend. However those camping in Aotea Square are still aware of this fact.

  14. 14

    I use baking soda made into a paste, rub on the scalp, wait one minute and rinse, it’s really great and your hair stays clean for so much longer, and for the rinse, 3 tablespoons of vinegar in 3 cups of water. I put this into a sports drink bottle, squirt some onto my hair, wait one minute and rinse out. I can comb my long hair so easily. Great for people with skin sensitivities and allergies and mega-cheap!! The vinegar rinse is great for dogs with long coats too – reducing the matting and knots!!

  15. Must give this a try!
    On another connected note – since having to wear glasses for reading for the last 20 years or so, one of my ‘pet’ niggles is that the average shampoo and conditioner bottles have lots of LARGE writing on them, such as “PANTEEN” and “NATURAL” etc. but they write ‘Shampoo’ and ‘Conditioner’ in tiny writing which I need glasses to read! And, guess what – I don’t have my glasses on in the shower!
    Another good reason to give up using the stuff!

  16. I ran out of shampoo recently. So I used the ordinary soap like we used to do before shampoo was marketed on us. And the soap was just fine.

    (My aged mother was using laundrine soap to wash the dishes. A little wire cage with the soap inside and give it a shake in the water. Horrified that Mum was using this antiquated system. But much to my surprise it was just as good as detergent, and far cheaper. Watch out when the oil shock really hits!)

  17. By the way. Does JC confirm the new-found quality of BE’s hair?

    JC: Smooth and shiny. They’ll cast him in shampoo commercials next.

  18. I had read some years ago that shampoo and conditioner were the cause of most dandruff and that this was well known in the hair product industry. When I did the big OE shortly afterward I decided to rationalise the space in my backpack by skipping the shampoo and conditioner. That was 13 years ago now. I’ve not used anything but water since. There was an initial oily period as (I guess) my body overcompensated for the oil I washed away every day, but after a week or two this disappeared. I actually get compliments from the hairdresser as to the ‘health’ of my hair now, though I haven’t plucked up the courage to tell them I only use water. My reply to the “What do you use?” question is usually, “Not sure, whatever’s in the bathroom”. I’ve since started a family, and none of the children have ever had to endure shampoo.

  19. BTW for those interested, the book I read that had the shampoo/conditioner/dandruff information was the excellent “The Doubter’s Companion : A Dictionary of Agressive Common Sense” by John Ralston Saul.

  20. Oil and water don’t mix so how does it come out when you put your head under the tap?

  21. All of my life I have been a low soap user mainly bathing in warm water, a response to childhood eczema, taught to me by my mother.
    I have regularly used shampoo on my hair as an adult Reason?
    advertising and vanity overshadows logic.
    I will be interested to try your routine and instill some consistency.

  22. Somewhere in Te Papa there is a painting called I think “Lemon Juice Ritual” showing Young male Australian? surfers Squeezing lemon juice over there heads (I presumed it was an atempt at bleaching hair?) If you read the shampoo/conditioner labels Urea seems to be included in the formulas?

  23. Neil: “Oil and water don’t mix so how does it come out when you put your head under the tap?”

    I think a small amount would be washed away in warm water (just as it does if you put an oily pan under a hot tap) The key I believe is that your body just stops producing as much of the natural oils. It finds a balance. It makes sense if you think about it – healthy animals usually have clean shiny coats.

  24. A very good substitute for shampoo is beaten egg-white. I’m not kidding – chefs also use it to clarify stock, because it attracts fat or grease. Save those egg-whites (after making mayonnaise with the yolks), beat them to a soft-peak stage, and use immediately as you would shampoo. It does feel slightly strange, but works really well, leaving hair clean and soft, and without that frazzled feel that you get from some shampoos. Incidentally, a vinegar or lemon juice and water rinse is used to restore the acid mantle to our skin after using soap, which is alkaline. I’m not sure if this is necessary when you use egg-white.

  25. Here is a joke doing the rounds that you may enjoy on the subject of Shampoo:

    Shampoo warning! Plz share with friends..

    I dont know why i didnt figure this out sooner!

    I use shampoo in the shower! when i wash my hair it runs down my whole body, and printed very clearly on the shampoo label is this warning, FOR EXTRA VOLUME AND BODY.

    No wonder i have been gaining weight!!

    Well i hav got rid of the shampoo and I’m gonna start using dishwashing liquid instead, its label reads DISSOLVES FAT THAT IS OTHERWISE DIFFICULT TO REMOVE… problem solved! If i dont answer the phone… i will be in the shower :)

  26. My husband is going to try this. He suffers from a scaly scalp and has tried just about every shampoo on the market with disappointing results. So fingers crossed.

  27. Day 7 of shampoo-free hair. Wonder who else is trying this?

  28. An excellent discussion on this topic is here:

  29. @ Ianmac: Me

  30. So what you’re saying is “it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen”?

  31. Hair is dead. It makes sense that once the new dead particles reach their climax, unaffected by chemicals, that a different texture emerges. Fascinating stuff.

    Is there a relationship between all of these cleansing chemicals and cancer? Or do we continue to reduce it to smoking?

  32. Another tip for hair is NEVER use hot water on your head. In fact there is nothing more BRACING than a cold shower in the morning to get you wide awake and raring to face the day!

    We used to spend a small fortune on conditioners, anything to get the softness and shine back into our hair; no longer. She shelves are nearly empty.

    Not so sure about not cleansing the hair and scalp. What about the smell of the hair?

  33. Hi Brian
    I told my hairdresser that I am now only using water and she agreed that shampoos and conditioners damage hair however she said it is good to gently wash once a week with sunlight soap to remove products like gel, fudge and mousse. I think she may be right. Thanx for the tip though. I like the idea of gong back to basics.

  34. @ Ianmac – how goes it now? I was reminded of this thread after an article on Stuff today.