Oil and water

We might also neglect our appearance. We may not realize that our hair is frizzily out of fashion. We know there are metals in antiperspirants and chemicals in skin and hair products which are not good for us, but we don‘t realize that because we don‘t use them, we may look plain and even be a bit smelly. This doesn‘t make us too attractive to others. We have to find our own easy-to-maintain style, and natural products that bring out our best.
—Rudy Simone, Aspergirls

The natural growth of your inner life will guide you slowly and in good time to other conclusions..
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

It took me ten years to figure out how to wash my hair and body. This is the story of my deconstruction from shampoo and body wash. (Dramatic and thrilling subject matter, I know.)

I remember in my teens when I started making my own decisions on what body care products I used, I was constantly switching shampoo/conditioner brands. I don’t know what I was looking for in these products, but something started not feeling right. Then when I was eighteen, I simultaneously developed a crush on a “hippie” several years older than me and learned about the “no poo” movement. My hair had felt yanked around by all these corporate products and their breezy promises, so I wanted to exit the norm and free myself of the man. This was, in a sense, my first real step towards an alternative way of life. In a weird way, scouring these natural living blogs changed the course of my life forever.

But unfortunately I didn’t understand my hair, my body. I didn’t know what I was looking for, just what I was trying to leave. I was trying to be “natural,” but nothing was working, even when I followed blog recipes. Baking soda started making my hair fall out. Apple cider vinegar felt magical at first and then ineffective later on. My hair seemed to have developed a personal vendetta against me. Always feeling waxy, flaky, and itchy, no matter what I did. At one point in time, I got so frustrated with my hair that I angrily scrubbed it with DISH SOAP, some deranged effort to rage the grease out of my hair. I was mad that I’d followed my heart and given up conventional products, because even trying to make peace and go back to them didn’t fix the mess my hair had become. Plus I hated the synthetic way my hair smelled and felt afterwards. And the fact that I’d have to be dependent on these products for the rest of my life, multiple days a week.

Couldn’t go back, but didn’t know how to proceed forward.

When I shaved my head in 2020, honestly about 25% of the reason I did it was because I was hoping that giving my hair a “fresh start” would sort out its problems. But no. Soon enough, the oily gunk started coming back, even while my hair was still extremely short. I hated washing my hair so much that I considered keeping it shaved permanently. It was a constant struggle not to run back to the barber (but I missed bun life too much).

I just didn’t understand this tradition in the first place, of gunking up our hair with expensive goop day after day when all we were doing was living sterile lives in the modern era. Most of the time nobody is getting their hair genuinely “dirty” with mud or dirt or whatever. So why the fucking glop addiction?

This was the final state I had reached, up until very recently: “I hate everything. I’m just going to wash myself with plain water for the rest of forever. If it doesn’t get me fully clean, then that sucks to fucking suck but I’ll suck it up, because again, I hate everything.”

Finally, this month, after weeks of dedicating myself to the practice of silence, solitude, listening to myself and the earth and God (not solely for the intent of getting better hair, it was just a nice side effect lol), I just asked myself: what does my body want? What are these oily flakes in my hair telling me? They keep coming back, no matter what I do. That must mean something.

Oh. Ah. Yes, the answer is coming to me. Transmission received.

The flakes are a part of me. This stuff is called sebum. All this white stuff is the clogged version of the natural oil my body creates. And will continue to create until the day I die. Okay, I’m stuck with this stuff. Now what? Well, why does my body make this oil? What does this oil want? It wants to take care of my hair for me. This stuff is a free natural cleansing and conditioning agent, courtesy of my own scalp. It wants to be unclogged and be able to spread all the way down to the roots of my hair. The “no poo” I was looking for was on top of my head this entire time.

After perusing a couple “water-washing” blog posts, I learned that all I really have to do is give myself a head massage with the pads of my fingers to “warm up” the oil and then spread it down the length of my hair using either my fingers or a boar bristle brush. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

Our bodies are meant to take care of us. A lot of what they need surface level is just oil redistribution. But since oil and water don’t mix, can’t touch, my all-natural practice of throwing water on my face in the morning and angrily scrubbing my hair with plain water in the shower was doing almost nothing. This is where soap would usually swoop in to save the day, which obviously I was unwilling to accept. The molecular makeup of soap is able to work with both oil and water. The part that sticks to oil rearranges and surrounds the oil in a circle and then what remains on the outside edge of the soap circle is the part that sticks to water. This is what gives the illusion of water being able to wash grease away. All soap does is cling to the oil so the water can push it away.

Since I understand this now, I know I don’t need to use synthetic soap products that’ll absorb into my skin, simply to move the oil on my body. Instead, I can use bristles in my hair or a scrubby on my body to do the same, and that stuff WON’T absorb into my skin. Instead of using soap to get oil off my body, I’ll use soap to get oil off the brush or scrubby. That becomes the middleman, keeping soap away from my body.

You don’t know how satisfying it was to figure out all this sciency stuff, because I have about an elementary school level of science education, if that.

Around the same time I struggled with hair soap, I also stopped wanting to use body soap. It didn’t affect me as much as the hair did, but I still felt greasy in different areas and felt like I had a lot of acne on my chest and back. Cuz plain water wasn’t doing shit and I thought scrubbing my body had no purpose unless there was soap on it. Now in the shower I’ve been using this rough hemp scrubby I have, just scrubbing the areas that get the oiliest, like my face, back, and chest. Afterwards, my body is soft and smooth and smells like nothing, which is probably my favorite smell. And my acne is disappearing, even the stubborn patches of blackheads that have graced my chin and neck for years.

Poor blood circulation, clogged pores, oil buildup. Get outta here.

How was I unable to figure out these issues after a decade of trying to be “alternative”? Because I didn’t understand or accept the natural order of my body. I only saw its problems. I didn’t see the “problem” as the “solution.” White oily flaky stuff = immediate embarrassment and damage control.

It was the alienation of my body, separating myself from it with a layer of man-made goop, that made it so I couldn’t understand my body and therefore couldn’t accept it. And then in trying to exit the matrix of soap, the detox caused me to panic and enter crisis mode. I didn’t listen to my body for ten years, unable understand how it worked or what it needed. Just got pissed at how it was behaving.

Now that I understand and accept the way my body works, I can problem solve easier. I’m still a bit in the transition phase, so my hair is still kind of waxy and sticky, another symptom of oil buildup. I read that an applesauce hair mask would do the trick. After letting the sauce get lost in my hair for an hour underneath a very floral granny shower cap and rinsing it out thoroughly, I was briefly dismayed to discover my hair was three times as flaky as it had been before the applesauce. Instead of letting myself panic, since everything is simpler now, I was able to figure it out quickly. So I said, “Hmm, the acid in the applesauce must have dried out my hair immensely, causing my scalp to freak out. But some of those flakes must also be applesauce bits that didn’t completely wash out. By tomorrow, with some brushing, most of the flakes will be gone and my head will have created a new batch of oil to take care of the dryness.” And I was right. The next day almost all the flakiness was gone, the pervasive wax was greatly reduced, and my hair felt softer and fuller than it had in years. 1-2 more spaced out applesauce masks might be necessary to fully clear out the waxy buildup, but should be good to go after that.

Things make much more sense stripped down as low as they can go. I hated science in school, but maybe I would have liked it better if I’d understood it through the lens of deconstruction. What is the essence of a thing? What is its base form?

This is like the process of deconstructing from Christianity, which is a subject I’ll touch on more later, or perhaps not at all. lol. We’ll see. Something just wasn’t working and I began to question and seek outside ideas and influences. That should be the normal response to something not feeling right. Not doubling down with extra doses of the thing that doesn’t feel right.

The transition phase of exiting religion was itchy and angsty and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Until I boiled down the truths behind Christianity that people sought, the foundational things they hoped to gain from this belief system. Peace. Alleviation from fear and anxiety. Empowerment. Hope. Love. Freedom.

I went straight to the source, as best as I could figure, straight to God, without the clogged confusion of church, the bible, and, even though this man is one of my heroes and worthy of great respect and admiration—Jesus too. I didn’t necessarily “get rid” of Jesus, because he’s one of my greatest inspirations and models for how to live, but I got rid of the concept of having to “go through Jesus to get to God,” because that shit makes zero sense to me, especially if they’re supposedly one in the same. Now, my “faith” or “spirituality” or whatever you’d like to call it is much simpler, cleaner, softer, more effective. It makes more sense to me, stripped down to its purest sense.

Going both “no poo” and “ex-Christian” were similar experiences because within both things, I felt stuck in the middle, wishing I could go back to how things were before but knowing I never could. Not knowing what I was walking towards or how to get there, just knowing what I wanted to leave behind. Being willing to walk blindly for a bit paid off. Because with enough walking, I eventually gained clarity to know what I then wanted to walk towards. I finally knew what I wanted to know. And that clarity speeds up the progress. My hair journey took ten years to figure out (2013-2022). My religious deconstruction journey took four (2017-2021). I’m getting faster.

Even though leaving religion and quitting conventional hair care products seem like laughable comparisons, they represent an important singular lesson. To trust that gut feeling, that intuitive desire, and follow it all the way through to the end. Because though it’s gross and uncomfortable in the middle, it’s leading to a gloriously clean, silky smooth, new beginning.

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