Beautiful hair care, chem-free

The Story

Sometime last fall we finished our bottle of conditioner and I was determined to figure out a natural, homemade alternative to care for our family's hair. It's taken me 6 months of trial and error to figure out what works. I hope it might be of some help to others who 1) are frugal and want a cheap, homemade solution that works and/or 2) don't want to be putting chemicals on their scalps or their children's skin.

Then I thought to read the ingredients. They've actually gotten worse since I ditched using the product. I'm not sure how "behentrimonium methosulfate, cetearyl alcohol, ceteareth 20 (vegetable derived emulsifier), caprylic acid (coconut derived emollient), panthenol, potassium sorbate" qualify as organic? Chemicals grown in an organic petri dish? It's entirely possible that I'm just really ignorant and these are plant derived goodies that you could serve up for supper with your greens. But I know for a fact potassium sorbate is a preservative and since I'm trying to eliminate eating preservatives I don't want them on my skin either, especially on my children's skin.

And that's what lead me to investigate making my own conditioner.

hair oil: an honest, if not effective, first attempt at making conditioner

Let's just say my foray into making conditioner, as in a cream or oil you apply to hair, failed.

Poor Celine and all I've put her through - greasy hair, knotted/tangled hair, painful hair brushing... Celine you're a trooper! Thanks for putting up with me on this discovery. I hope you know you'll be healthier in the long run because of it. (I love you and that is why I torture you so).

The Routine

But now we've settled on a routine that works and Celine's hair is healthy and lovely (most days). Just a note, this is what works for long, fine, straight hair. If you have curly hair, frizzy hair, afro hair you'll probably need to discovery your own natural routine. 

1. Wash

  • I wash Celine's hair with our homemade bar soap (whatever I have on hand) once every 5 days or so (since hitting pre-puberty this has changed to once every 3 days). I make all my own soaps and we use the same bar for everything - body, face & hair. I wash my scalp each time I shower, most every day. My soaps have natural skin friendly oils and essential plant oils that help moisturize while cleaning. Real simple, real clean.
  • Because Celine's hair is long, past her shoulder blades down her back, I need to be careful not to twirl her hair around too much when washing, if this makes sense. Otherwise it gets knotted up pretty quick. Instead I massage the soap into her scalp with my finger tips and works the suds down the length of her hair.

Brienne's short hair is much easier to care for!

2. Rinse

  • After I thoroughly wash the soap out of Celine's hair I squirt it all over with a rinse of 1 part apple cider vinegar mixed with 4 parts water. Then I rinse her hair again with water. I store this mix in the shower in a re-purposed conditioner bottle - oh the sweet irony.
  • One time we tried an conditioning egg wash instead of the usual soap followed by vinegar rinse. The results were not any better than soap and vinegar and Celine's hair smelled like egg for a week even though we added lavender essential oil. This experiment was fun (minus the bits of egg white that "cooked" in the shower and got stuck in her hair) but seems like a lot of extra work for no real benefit.

3. Brush

  • Brush, brush and brush some more. Does anyone remember reading in the "Little House on the Prairie" series how Laura would brush 100 strokes in her hair before bed? (Or I am remembering a different book I've read). Turns out there's a reason for all that brushing and it's not just to get rid of the tangles. Thorough brushing, with a boar bristle hairbrush, distributes the body's own oils down the length of the hair - which is the purpose of conditioner in the first place.
  • Tangles seem to be an inevitable fact of long straight hair, which I'm just learning since I've had curly hair from the get-go. Celine especially gets tangles next to her neck. Every morning and night (on a good day) we brush and brush. And when we're done her hair is luxurious and I'm a teensy bit envious.

Want to know what I love best about this natural hair care routine? It's not all the money I'm saving or the satisfaction I get "making my own" and being free from the hair industry. It's the time I'm now "forced" to spend brushing Celine's hair. Technically she can do it herself but I enjoy that bedtime hair brushing as much as she does. The rhythm of the brush in her hair, her sleepy conversation with me sitting on the couch or maybe her bed. Time with just her, treasured.

Update: Since originally posting this last year Celine has taken over most of the brushing herself, but I still enjoy the times I sit and brush her silky strands.

At age 13 (three years after I originally wrote this post), Celine has now switched to a store-bought natural shampoo. It's a locally made product, I can't recommend a brand. As her hair got longer she found a bar soap difficult to lather in her hair. Also, her scalp is very sensitive and to get the lather she needs requires quite vigorous scrubbing that is uncomfortable for her head.

Celine was not thrilled with all the patient brushing required by natural conditioner (especially since vigorous lathering with a soap bar resulted in lots of tangles) and I wasn't able to do it for her so we switched to less-than-100% natural Avalon conditioner.

I'm still wondering if I might figure out the perfect natural solution for her hair, but thinking that now she's a young adult my window of opportunity is closed. 

The rest of our family continues to use a soap bar to wash our hair.


Thanks for visiting FIMBY and reading one of my most popular posts. You might also like these related posts:

15 June 09


Funny, we've been vinegar

Funny, we've been vinegar converts for months now too. Great for combating tangles and it doesn't mold when you keep it in the shower like lemon juice. Even my own head (short hair washed with soap - like yours) feels softer with a few good sprays of vinegar and a rinse. I keep it in an old baby shampoo bottle with a spray top.

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I am going to try this - my

I am going to try this - my hair gets a build-up from all the iron in our water but the vinegar solution should be helpful for that. Thanks for the pictures - I love looking at my beautiful grand-daughters.

That's so ironic...that is

That's so ironic...that is exactly what I have done with my hair for years...wash only once every 3rd day, rinse with Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar (which I store in the shower in a squirt bottle!) and brush it. That's it. It's to my butt, so it's very long and straight and it's always been healthy. I do not put anything on it...just brush and go.

i'm currently in the process

i'm currently in the process of no-pooing :O) i'm doing baking soda and white vinegar every few days as my hair transitions. it's hard to go cold turkey when i have to look acceptable at work! i'm really enjoying not having to take the time to wash it, though i do miss the smell of the yummy mango stuff i last used. of course, it's still in the shower, so i can sniff it whenever i want! i have plans to try a coconut oil conditioning this week, we'll see how that goes!

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I can totally relate to you

I can totally relate to you enjoying the *process* of brushing C's hair each night. It's like me and the lotion-routine with my kids. This post was full of so much information; I'm going to have to let it digest. Quite honestly, I'm the only one in my household who uses conditioner. My hair is long and fine, but I have lots and lots of it.

Had to laugh that your husband finds your buzzcut hot -- my husband would seriously love for me to get dreadlocks. I'm not kidding. (I like your buzz cut, too. It suits you!) ; )

LOL My instinct is to say,

LOL My instinct is to say, "Maybe in the next lifetime, I'll get the dreads and that tattoo on my wrist that I've been coveting."

Then, I argue with myself, "Why NOT this lifetime?"...

I don't know. It's an ongoing-struggle within; part of finding myself, I guess.

If I get either of them, I'll be sure to let you know. ; )

Funny to read this post. We

Funny to read this post. We have too much in common. I'm not sure if I'll end up with dreads, but I think about that and the tattoo almost daily. :)

fabulous, much appreciated

fabulous, much appreciated post, thank you!
we are into chem-free scalps here, too. i was thinking about you and yours soaps, wondering if you will start selling them???? :)
but for now, i use a skin friendly bottle on our kids' heads. and i use a de-tangler comb, instead of conditioner.

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Wow, cider vinegar for

Wow, cider vinegar for conditioner!? I use my cider vinegar for a lot of things, but did know I could try it for conditioner. Phoebe has been growing her hair out for a couple years, also very straight as you know! and tangles have been a serious issue for us. I'm going to give this a try, since I always have it on hand! Oh, and where did you get your brush?

I loved reading your routine.

I loved reading your routine. My hair is curly and frizzy, and everything your daughter's isn't, so a lot of these things wouldn't work for me. For example, brushing every day? That's not so hot for curls (although you make it sound beautiful). I'm still working on the no shampoo thing. We'll see how it goes!

Also, I love that you said you use the same bar of soap for everything. Mr. Savvy and I just started doing that -- how long does your bar last? I'm always looking for tips.

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I've been using baking soda &

I've been using baking soda & water instead of shampoo and vinegar for conditioner for over a year and a half. I have long crazy wavy super thick hair and it works better than any of the conditioners I've ever used and believe me, I've tried a lot! I love to read about all the alternatives people are discovering. Have you tried making your own deodorant? I've been using mine for months and will never go back!

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hey there! just found this

hey there!
just found this and i'm just about sold on the idea! how does your hair and scalp smell? does the vinegar smell hold on to your daughter's tresses? have you ever had a problem with not getting all of the baking soda out and having the vinegar react to it? is this in a bath or the shower? sorry for all the questions!


I have super-red dyed hair,

I have super-red dyed hair, (my hair awhile ago, but still the same color: and I'm wondering if this will sap dye, or leech it, or oxidize it, or do anything to the color. I've been looking into this for awhile, but it honestly has me a little scared to try. (I'm using sulfate-free shampoos at the moment, but I'm not that happy with them at all. My mom commented on how my hair felt dry and a tad fried recently, and I have to agree.) It's one-step, no bleach, just the dye mixed with 30-volume developer.

Tried it, and the baking soda

Tried it, and the baking soda leeches a bit more of my color than I would like... Like, a lot ;(

I recently switched to a different sulfate-free system, and it works better, so I'll use the baking soda again when I stop dying my hair :)

I use baking soda and vinegar

I use baking soda and vinegar on my long fine hair for the last 2 years, and my hair has much more body than before. I use an organic leave in conditioner on the ends or it gets kind of dry. For the vinegar I have a pump bottle that has straight vinegar with a few drops of rosemary and lavender. I pump some vinegar into a cup and add warm water from the shower. I have been mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into a paste and massaging it into my scalp, but after reading some of these posts I think I will try the bottle of baking soda and water. maybe if I backed off on the vinegar on the ends of my hair I wouldn't need the conditioner.

Wow Renee! I think it's great

Wow Renee! I think it's great that you can make your own soap/shampoo/etc! I have long blonde hair like your daughter's, and I've been working on using baking soda/vinegar...but my hair just doesn't seem as healthy as it did with sauve and dove. I just recently started using south of france bar soap and attempted to use that as a shampoo (fail). I was a little concerned with the oils... palm oil and/or coconut oil and/or olive oil... what oil combinations do you use? I'm really trying hard to switch to healthy soaps and poos.

:) Congrats on your perseverance!!

Hi there! I have to laugh

Hi there!

I have to laugh because I always think about that episode on tv when they talk about brushing their hair 100 times and it's SO about spreading the oils!!! I remember correctly, she was saying it would help make the hair healthy and shiny (and I saw this over 30 years ago).

I actually started using Burt's Bees shampoo (the Green tea and Fennel Seed) and chose not to get the conditioner instinctively. I'll probably transition to some homemade stuff eventually.

It's been one week, and I am going through a major transition period - after one full week, my natural auburn hair has sebum spread just past my shoulders, unfortunately the ends, which go just below my shoulder blades, are looking fried, and almost yellow. It only takes until about 9:00 the same night for the sebum to start spurting out (I've been washing every two days). For the time being, I'm putting some olive oil on the ends and have done and ACV rinse once, but I think it was too strong, and am not sure if I should pour it over my entire head or just the ends, and maybe do a more diluted version every time I wash it. Any idea about this? Maybe it's the olive oil that's drying the ends or is this going to improve over time?

The crazy thing is despite the oily look, my hair doesn't actually feel oily, and my roots look clean and healthy. All I need is a good trim and hopefully just a week or two more and my hair should look amazing; already my curl is coming back. What I really like, though, is it naturally stays off my face and so when I'm not out, I wear it down.

Thank for this article, it's given me hope!

Hi! Your daughter's hair

Hi! Your daughter's hair looks amazing. I applaud you for your efforts.

I just want to mention that the chemicals you mention in that conditioner really aren't very scary. They are safe, naturally derived ingredients. Panthenol for example is Vitamin B5, behentrimonium methosulfate (BMS) is a detangling ingredient derived from canola oil.

I just wanted to take the chance to say to anyone reading, it's important to learn what these things are that we are so afraid of. I guess I struggle to understand where the line is drawn when deeming things natural/synthetic (or more oddly - natural/chemical, when all natural things are made up of chemicals). Why is soap considered natural when it does not exist in nature and is synthesised by reacting some chemicals (plant oils and lye) together?

Some of these other ingredients with hard-to-pronounce names are no more natural or unnatural than soap and sometimes actually healthier for the skin and hair, yet one is often accepted and the other rejected as safe and natural. Don't get me wrong, I do believe in the importance of eco-friendly, safe, low irritant, biodegradable ingredients, but the only way to determine which ingredients really are is by studying what the individual properties of the ingredients are, and how they are made. I just find it unsound practice to draw the line based on belief or on the idea something conjures up. There is unfortunately a glut of info out there today which does just that, wrongly making us fear things we needn't. (Let me make it clear, I don't blame individuals who are just trying to do the best for their health and their family. I'm not thinking of any blog like this as being responsible, I am more thinking of certain lobby groups that have very actively put a lot of misinformation out there and made it more and more mainstream, as well as the lack of careful fact-checking by the media.)

I say this as someone who once readily believed much of the misinformation, too. 10-15 years ago I had read pamphlets from the health store and books that espoused this same inconsistent, arbitrary idea of what is toxic and synthetic, and what is safe and natural - and enthusiastically believed it. When I first started using the internet, I sought out similar information. But cracks started to show and certain logical inconsistencies jumped out at me, and thankfully I found far better sources of information. I found it particularly enlightening to discover how arbitrarily the labels of 'natural/unnatural' or 'toxic/healthy' are applied to things - two equivalent things are often given opposite labels, simply based on the impression they carry.

I am just so grateful there is so much excellent, intelligent information available today - and I include blogs like this trying things for themselves. I really do believe in what works for you is best, and for some people that is soap, or baking soda. But I also am wary of demonising things that truly aren't harmful (though I commend you for saying you don't really know what the ingredients are), especially if they work for us. I think it can be quite stressful if we end up discarding things that work well for us, believing they are bad for us, and I think it's something we need to caution against doing simply because some alarmist sources out there tell us we should.

hey, i was wondering if you

hey, i was wondering if you sell some of the soap you make? I have a baby ad a puppy at home, so i have 0 time to make soap, even though I wish I could so badly!! I tried the baking soda/ACV rinse method and loved it... but im interested in your method now..

hi, my sister likes to make

my sister likes to make our own detergent, face and body oils (we use them instead of lotions). we have switched to shampoo for babies which is not so agresive on our scalps (i tried baking soda, but it just didn't work for me). so, my sister wasn't pleased to see that i use conditioner, which is a necessity for me, and she talked me into coconut oil. so now after i wash my hair, i rub very very small amount of it between my palms and then put it on my hair, trying to avoid the part next to the scalp in order not to look greasy. and it works for me! i will try vinegar, too! we put it in our laundry instead of fabric softener, with few drops of ess.oils - and it smells great!

My grandmother used to use

My grandmother used to use vinegar on my hair over 30 years ago. My hair is oily and vinegar helps to keep it in check. Also, if vinegar isn't available, lemon juice is a great substitute, as vinegar and lemon juice are both mild acids. The only thing I don't like about using vinegar now is smelling like a salad.

I have been reading several

I have been reading several comments on the baking soda/ACV as shampoo and conditioner alternatives. Seems like everyone has had problems with oily hair... I have extremely dry hair, I have long hair and I use moisturizer ontop of moisturizers for my hair... not sure if this would be right for me. Did anyone start off with dry hair?

Hi! Jumping into the

Hi! Jumping into the conversation a bit late, but I recently started an all-natural beauty care business of my own. Paying attention to the products that my family uses in the bathroom & eliminating all the items/products are aren't really necessary, reducing the clutter not only in our bathroom but in our daily life. If you are interested, check us out on Etsy - BeeSilk Naturals. Anyway, I adapted a recipe that I found from Minimalist Beauty for a hair detangler that works wonderfully for all hair types, especially children's long/curly locks. I thought I would post the link for you to check out:
After making her recipe, I changed a few things (added a few other ingredients, like Honeyquat for additional conditioning) & now call it my own & sell it in my Etsy shop. I've been using the detangler for over 3mos & have to admit that it's wonderful! No more tangles, no rat's nest, hair silky & smooth. The best part for me, I stopped buying hair products at my salon. Yes, yes the stuff at the salon used all-natural ingredients, but I was never really happy with how my hair behaved after using them, nor did my wallet appreciate each purchase.

Thought, I would post my experiences with trying to become more all-natural & re-discovering all new ingredients plentiful provided by Mother Nature.

Love your posts & blog. Cheers, Jen

5 days ago I switched to a

5 days ago I switched to a ALL natural homemade shampoo bar... I have NOT had good results so after using it twice and getting worse I thought I would use the 1 TBSP baking soda to 1 c. water on my hair for washing and the 1 TBSP apple cider vinegar... still not good even worse my hair looks and feels like STRAW!!! Ugg I am frusterated I want to switch but I don't know if I can handle this! The homemade shampoo bar left my hair felling for lack of a better way to describe it soap scum build up only used it 2 times followed by a normal conditioner I could tell it needed something I just didn't know what its so gross I want to run in and wash it for the 3rd time today w/ normal shampoo and conditioner so bad I even tries warming in my had coconut oil and adding as my hair like I said looks like straw!! Any suggestions??!!

This article was really

This article was really informative. Thanks. I've got long hair (below my shoulder blades) which is highlighted (quite heavily by now, since I've been getting highlights for years) and my hair is in a terrible state, dry breaking and brittle. I'm definitely going to try the natural approach you suggest with gentle/home-made bar soap and an apple cider vinegar rinse.

I've been trying a similar

I've been trying a similar method to yours, but I took my bar soap and turned it into liquid soap with a recipe I found online. I'm only in the second week of it, so I don't know how it will work out for me, but it's good to know I'm on the right track with the soap/vinegar combo.

I have used a weekly or

I have used a weekly or biweekly mix of honey and olive oil on my fine straight hair. Leaves your hair super soft and shiny. You might want to try it out. Let me know what you think.

Hi! I found your post after a

Hi! I found your post after a random search on the internet, and I wanted to share my love of olive oil. If you have uncolored hair, rub a very SMALL amount of it on the ENDS of your dry hair, then shampoo as usual. I found that my hair stayed conditioned, not greasy, and didn't get too tangly. After I colored my hair, olive oil didn't condition it enough, but after it grows out I'll return. I also use olive oil all over after I shower in the evenings, I have been amazed at how quickly scars fade, and how much stronger my nails grow.


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