I haven’t washed my hair since I was 12, and I have great hair. I say this all the time to guys who come into my shop, Tribe Barber in Boston’s South End, and it gets all kinds of reactions. But what most guys think about the shampoo is wrong—it’s based on misinformation they’ve been fed because they think their scalp produces grease, or that “dirty” hair smells. Sometimes, they’re shampooing to try to control hair that’s only uncontrollable because of the way they’re combing it in the first place. Whatever your views on shampoo, here’s how I see it. Read this, and then you can decide.
Everyone thinks your body makes grease. Your body doesn’t make grease. Your body has been engineered since the fish crawled out of the water to make everything it needs.
The oils you produce on your scalp are the same oils you produce on your forearm, your thigh. But for some reason, we go hard on the head because we’ve been taught to think of it as “greasy.”
I used to try to reason with guys about this. I used to say, “Think how good your hair looks when you go camping.” When you’re outdoors for a week, it gives your body a chance to start to regulate itself, and you’re not breaking out, and your hair isn’t greasy or matted.
Now I just say, “You own a hat?” They say yes. I say, “You’ve never washed that hat in your life. That hat doesn’t smell like anything. And it’s not covered in grease.”
I found a hat outside my shop. It’s a real frat guy type Red Sox hat, plenty of wear on it, obviously never been washed. I keep in the shop. I dare people to smell it. It doesn’t smell like anything, so it proves the point.
Google “1960s men’s hairstyles.” Now Google “1970s men’s hairstyles.” That change? Shampoo was invented.
In the 1960s you’ve got guys looking like Don Draper from “Mad Men”—slicked-back styles, clean parts, dapper, hair under control. In the ’70s it gets bigger, fluffier. Everyone starts looking like the Bee Gees.
The change was because of the rise of a whole industry of at-home styling. “Getting a shampoo” used to be something that required a lady to go to a salon. Even the first at-home applications took time and effort. It used to be a once-a-week thing, rollers in the hair, with women saying, “I can’t go out, I’m washing my hair that night.”
Suddenly there were all these products that were easy at home, and men started, too. But no man washed his hair pre-1967, I would guess.
Today almost all guys wash their hair. And the first ingredient in shampoo is ammonium laureth sulphate. It’s floor cleaner. That’s why your hair is thick.
Soap is soap is soap is soap. Your floor cleaner is basically the same as your shampoo. We put ammonia and sulphates on stuff to give it that “squeaky clean” feeling. And those ingredients burn your hair.
Sure, this isn’t every shampoo to a T, but most are equivalent. The first three things you see in most bottles are ammonium laureth sulphate, sodium laureth sulfate, and glycerin. The only difference in body wash and so-called “conditioner” is that glycerin is first. And your hair doesn’t recognize glycerin as a moisturizer. It just feels slippery on your fingers.