Friends have always complimented me on two things: my skin (Botox-free and fairly smooth — entirely because of my mother’s genes) and my hair (thick, if greying).
I’ve always been quite blase about my complexion, barely giving my skin a dab of cream, morning or evening. But my blonde mane is another matter.
On those bad days, when everything in my wardrobe makes me look fat, I’ve been known to think, ‘Well, at least I’ve got my hair’. Unlike the rest of me, it’s truly reliable and never gets spots or puts on weight. It keeps my self-esteem ticking along, even at my lowest points. A good wash and a DIY blow-dry with my Babyliss Big Hair styler can always lift my mood.
But I haven’t always been kind to my hair in return. Years of being on telly and the accompanying abuse from curling tongs, hair dryers and toxic products have taken their toll. So when lockdown was announced, I felt it was time to do something drastic — to have a break from it all, to stop washing my hair.
Susannah Constantine said her hair is truly reliable and never gets spots or puts on weight
And it seems I’m not the only one.
Sales figures for Unilever, the consumer goods giant, suggest that we’re all shampooing less these days. And Instagram is packed with evangelical ‘no poo’ (short for no shampoo) advocates, with 164,000 posts on the topic.
The theory is that if you refrain from hair-washing for six weeks, it starts to self-clean. Shampoo is full of harsh chemicals that strip your hair of its natural oils. If you stop using it, so the idea goes, your hair will adjust.
I must point out that this is not entirely correct: your hair won’t ever truly ‘self-clean’, but experts say your scalp eventually starts to regulate its oil production.
So, as I wasn’t going to be seeing anyone — apart from my immediate family and the checkout staff at Sainsbury’s — it seemed the ideal time to give six weeks without washing a try . . .
She said a good wash and a DIY blow-dry with my Babyliss Big Hair styler can always lift her mood
When not on camera, I have never been one to wash my hair every day, or even every three.
I’ve always found washing too often exacerbates grease production, resulting in a self-fulfilling hassle — the more you wash it, the more you need to.
So the first week of shampoo withdrawal is nothing new. I’m still showering, I hasten to add; but no product of any sort is touching my hair. Sensible hairdresser friends tell me over the phone that I’m regulating the natural oils that condition hair and help prevent the build-up of dirt.
This only seems counterintuitive because we’re all hooked on the idea that our hair needs to be, literally, ‘squeaky clean’.
Culture and clever marketing have seduced us with pseudo-science — no wonder the British hair care market is worth more than a billion pounds. If six shampoo bottles a year are bought by, or for, every one of Britain’s 60 million inhabitants at, say, £2 a throw, I make that £720million just on shampoo alone.
Yet lots of claims used to sell shampoo are misleading. One survey found that almost a quarter — and I’m surprised it isn’t more — of women featured in shampoo ads are wearing artificial hair. In my book, that is perpetuating untruth, aka lying.
With this in mind, I feel a bit like a standard bearer flying, courageously, in the face of the big beauty giants. But, remember, I am still on week one.
Somewhere around the middle of the second week, things take a turn for the worse.
My hair feels normal when dry, but when I get in the shower and it gets wet, it feels utterly disgusting. My hands are instantly coated in grease and my hair feels like a heavy, soggy, oily sponge.
WEEK TWO: Susannah said: ‘My hair feels normal when dry, but when I get in the shower and it gets wet, it feels utterly disgusting’
I almost call it quits, then and there. Instead, I just scrub my scalp really well with very hot water and try to ignore the clag. It’s like trying to wash a greasy pan without Fairy liquid.
This is (I hope) the low point. My hair now stands straight up and stays wherever I put it. I am revolted by the Fagin tendrils that cling to my head.
Brushing vigorously two or three times a day helps, but all I’m doing is dragging the grease down to the dry ends. It’s a real ‘what the hell am I doing’ moment. My hair is my crowning glory, why am I letting it go to seed? At this point I give in to a quick rinse in diluted apple cider vinegar, followed by a few drops of lavender oil. Mea culpa! I couldn’t bear it.
I do the smell test, rubbing my fingers on my scalp and giving a cautious sniff. I expect it to reek of dirty oven, but there is a only a distant aroma of lavender.
My youngest daughter, Cece, who at first thought my experiment disgusting, now says ‘it smells a bit like a dog’s fur when it’s just had a good wash’. I’ll take it.
My hair looks much healthier, thicker and fuller. Online experts say this means I am nearing the end of the dreaded ‘transition’ phase, as oil production adjusts to the new routine.
WEEK FOUR: Susannah said: ‘My hair looks much healthier, thicker and fuller. Online experts say this means I am nearing the end of the dreaded ‘transition’ phase’
I feel confident enough to release it from its perma-pony or top knot — but must admit I desperately miss the really clean feeling you get from shampoo. Still, I’ve done multiple Zoom interviews without people slapping down their laptops in disgust. A few even compliment me on my thick hair.
I’m still brushing my hair regularly and using a special scalp massage brush that feels divine. Apparently, it reduces dandruff and helps to control oil secretion. And dare I say it, I think my hair is getting a sort of healthy sheen.
There are downsides, though. I’m brushing at least twice a day to stop it from ‘birdnesting’. The itching has stopped, thank goodness, and my grey roots are less noticeable, but only because, frankly, they are dark with oil.
WEEK FIVE: Susannah said: ‘I’m still brushing my hair regularly and using a special scalp massage brush that feels divine’
An unexpected major plus is that it dries very quickly after showering. Also, it’s much easier to style — no need for conditioner, gel, wax, spray and a whole raft of products those pesky ad men persuade us to buy.
The checkout girl at my supermarket notices my hair looks different and comments approvingly. It now has more ‘body’ and stays where I want it to.
On the downside, having documented this journey on Instagram, I’ve noticed nasty little snippets have appeared in the Press. I have been deemed ‘disgusting’, ‘unclean’, and had aspersions cast on my personal hygiene.
WEEK SIX: Susannah said: ‘My hair gleams with new life. It feels like satin. And I know the six-week detox will now become an annual gift to my hair’
So, lets get a few things straight. My hair isn’t in any sense ‘dirty’ — I rinse it in the shower every two or three days. Then I comb it, push it into shape and leave it to dry. I also brush it, rigorously, at least once a day with a bristle hairbrush, which I’m careful to keep clean. Slobbish I am definitely not!
The challenge is over — and while, unlike some hardcore ‘no poo’ people, I don’t aim to go forever without shampooing again. I am determined to only wash my hair once every two weeks at most, using only a tiny amount of shampoo and no conditioner.
My hair gleams with new life. It feels like satin. And I know the six-week detox will now become an annual gift to my hair.