I’m about 18 months shampoo-free (as of September 2016) and for a long time I was using rhassoul clay mixed with water or apple cider vinegar.
It was great for getting through the gunky, waxy detox stage and stripping the grease out, but after time the acidity in the ACV was making my hair static and the rhassoul was drying out the ends, so I needed to find a replacement.
After a bit of reading through the No ‘Poo Facebook information group (join it, they know way more about this stuff than I do), I decided to try out shikakai powder (and later amla powder…and later neem powder) mixed with reetha (soapnut) powder.
You what now?
I know, right.
Shikakai is a shrub-like tree that grows in central India. It translates to “fruit for hair” and can be used as an all-over cleanser.
The powder mildly foams up in water and has very low pH levels so it doesn’t strip your hair of its natural oils.
Besides being a shampoo and detangler, it’s supposedly a dandruff buster, makes your hair grow faster and stronger, protects it from fungal infections and helps delay the appearance of grey hair.
WARNING: Shikakai can “discolour” blonde hair. Personally I think it makes my hair lighter and I wouldn’t say it’s overly noticeable, but if you’re blonde and worried about it, it might be best to skip the herbs for now until you’ve done your own research and testing.
Amla is also known as the Indian gooseberry, a fruit that grows on the myrobalan-tree, native to India and Burma. It’s well known for hair nourishment and I recently used the powder instead of shikakai after reading about the discolouring effects of shikakai, which is how I realised shikakai was making my hair lighter because amla makes it noticeably darker.
Despite making my hair darker, amla makes my hair so soft, so I always include it in my mix of powders.
Amla also brings out natural waves, curls and volume – let’s be honest, I already have pretty big hair so it’s hard to say if it’s any more volumising than shikakai or reetha, but I do have natural kinks around my temples and HELLO! They’ve been out in full force since including it in my routine.
On paper, Neem doesn’t sound like it’s meant for me in particular – it improves blood circulation, is a natural remedy for head lice and it’s mainly used for hair loss – but I’ve actually more or less replaced the shikakai in my shampoo mix with neem as I absolutely love it.
Neem leaves my hair with a wonderfully fresh scent and it’s less drying and gritty while I’m massaging it into my scalp, plus it gives me the same amount of days between washes, around 4 or 5.
*Really* liking washing my hair with neem, amla and reetha lately – the main difference I've noticed since switching shikakai for neem is that this mixture goes less dry and sandy once applied to my scalp, and my hair dries tamer. Interesting stuff! Plus, neem has a wonderful fresh scent to it that makes me feel all clean and sparkly like, I'll definitely be buying more 💚🌿
By itself, shikakai, amla and neem aren’t quite strong enough for me to strip dirt and grease, so I mix mine with soapnut powder which is more “detergent”-like and sudsy, with the same detangling and strengthening benefits of shikakai.
You can mix these powders with plain water, which I often do, or sometimes I’ll use a cheeky bit of rose water, which helps soothe the scalp and is close to your hair’s pH balance, and apparently it can help repair your hair’s porosity and reduce dandruff.
With prolonged use, shikakai, amla, neem and reetha are meant to improve hair qualities like shine, texture, hair strength and softness, while reducing hair fall, split ends and frizz.
I would have to agree with all of the above. My scalp is less itchy since switching over, I notice much less fall out in the shower, it’s become easier to comb through when wet, and I even find it easier to wash my “blonde henna” out (recipe here) than when using the rhassoul clay.
It used to feel like a wiry bird’s nest when it was wet, so I feel like my hair’s come along leaps and bounds from using these powders.
I actually feel like my hair’s porosity is a lot better from using rose water than when I was using the rhassoul clay and apple cider vinegar, so I might experiment with the hairdryer one day (before, using heat on my wet hair would equal a limp, tacky mess).
For now though I still just let my hair air dry and I find that it dries looking a lot less poofy.
Here’s some pics of how it’s been lately – much tamer I would say:
I’ll definitely be sticking with these little concoctions for the forseeable future, the longer I use them the better my hair seems to get 🙂 well worth a try for you no ‘pooers 😉
I like to use a 1:1 ratio of shikakai/amla/neem to reetha, or 1:1:1 of shikakai/neem:amla:reetha. Personally, I find that too much shikakai/amla/neem sometimes makes it an ineffective cleanser, while too much reetha irritates my scalp, but every cleanse and every head of hair is different so play around a bit until you find your perfect balance.
Also, keep in mind that because my hair is so sthuper duper long and thick, I need a lot more than you might.
- 1 tbs shikakai powder and/or amla powder and/or neem powder
- 1 tbs reetha powder
- Just enough liquid to mix it into yoghurt consistency – rose water, normal water, or even herbal teas like chamomile – have fun and experiment! It should be runny enough to work it easily through your hair, but not so runny that you’re dealing with a big dribbly mess.
- Mix powders and liquid in a bowl – add a tiny bit of liquid at a time, and try to use ceramics or wooden bowls and spoons if you can, avoiding metal
- Take into the bath or shower and get your hair wet
- Roughly section hair and massage into scalp – this is going to feel weird, it creates a very dry and sandy, gritty texture throughout your scalp – don’t panic! Use less shikakai if you don’t like the feeling or how it dries.
- If you’re just using shikakai, amla or neem you can drag it through the length of your hair a little, but reetha is more drying so personally I don’t
- Leave for a few minutes; use this time to treat yoself to a face mask or little nekked sing and dance
- Rinse rinse rinse
- I said rinse dammit
Honestly, this is not an exact science, so experiment and go nuts – and keep letting me know how you’re getting on over on Instagram, I don’t bite!
Want to know where I buy this crazy stuff from? I’ve published a handy guide on where to buy shikakai, neem, amla, reetha and other Ayurvedic herbally goodness.
P.S. HELLO to the people finding me via Good Housekeeping/Cosmo/Yahoo etc. who are suddenly crashing my website – wanna see my no ‘poo bridal hair photos? Step this way. There’s also a ton of FAQs here, and a quickfire guide to what Ayurvedic herbs might help you with your hair woes!