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Is Shampoo Really Necessary? What the Science Says

Written by Robbie Salter
Is Shampoo Really Necessary? What the Science Says

No-poo. If the name alone has you asking questions, welcome to the club. 

Depending on who you ask, “no-poo” is a flash-in-the-pan beauty trend, a rejection of modern marketing, or an unfortunate attack on basic hygiene. But what is it? 

No-poo is short for “no shampoo.” It’s a hair care practice that started cropping up online a few years ago. No-poo advocates believe that shampoo isn’t necessary for all hair types or for scalp health - and in fact, that your skin and locks may be better off without it. 

So is there any truth to these provocative claims? And is going no-poo a good idea if you’ve got dandruff? Can it solve your scalp issues for good - or will the lack of peppermint scented shampoo just make an itchy situation worse?

Let’s take a look at the arguments people are making against shampoo. Then we’ll see how they stack up against the science of scalp care when your goal is making dandruff disappear.

The Case of The "No-Poo" Proponents

Many anti-shampoo arguments you’ll read online come in the form of first-person testimonials. They generally have headlines like, “I went six months without shampoo and my hair looks amazing!” 

Most people motivated to drop shampoo want to avoid certain harsh chemical ingredients that appear in mainstream commercial hair care products, or cut down on unnecessary packaging waste. 

Often, people report an “adjustment period” to quitting shampoo. They say that in the initial weeks or months after quitting shampoo, they had to deal with natural hair that was greasy, stinky, flat, and generally not very good-looking. They did not feel the hydrating effects that shampoo offers. But with perseverance, these stories usually go, that awkward adjustment phase passed. And now their hair has never looked better.

Many claim that the need to shampoo regularly is nothing more than an invention of the cosmetics industry, and use their own experience to prove their case.

What's Missing From the "No-Poo" Picture

While it’s certainly possible that some people can go without shampoo or significantly reduce their use of it, these individual anecdotes do not make a compelling case and are not scientifically proven or dermatologist approved.

If you read deeper into the no-poo stories, many people end up using DIY methods or substitutes for hair cleansers and conditioners - baking soda to wash, apple cider vinegar to rinse, etc. (More on these DIY solutions in a moment.)

Another pitfall of going without shampoo is that if you use styling products, it is especially important to regularly remove impurities, as they can cause scalp irritation, clog pores, and weigh hair down. A water rinse alone is often not enough to thoroughly remove product buildup.

The reality is that, for most people, going the no-shampoo route is not easy, comfortable, or pleasant. And it’s definitely not a good idea if you’re dealing with dandruff. Let’s explore this last point, and learn what causes dandruff, the proven ways to treat it, and the best dandruff shampoo for your hair and scalp.

Science shows that regular use of a professionally formulated anti-dandruff shampoo is the best proven method to stop dandruff. Antifungal agents, specifically Zinc Pyrithione (also referred to as Pyrithione Zinc), can eliminate a flaky scalp and an itchy scalp.

Science and dermatology shows that regular use of a professionally formulated  anti-dandruff shampoo is the best proven method to stop dandruff, and it’s also helpful to occasionally gently exfoliate as a part of your routine.

Why Shampoo is Crucial to Eliminate Flakes & Itching

Dandruff - the itchiness and flaking that happens when your scalp gets irritated - is a chronic condition that involves several kinds of buildup in the scalp. 

There are the signature pesky white flakes that end up all over our head & shoulders. There is also sebum, an oily secretion from your sebaceous glands that helps moisturize and hydrate our hair follicles and skin. People with dandruff tend to have an excess amount of sebum.  

And then there is Malassezia, a fungus that’s a natural part of your skin’s microbiome. It feeds on sebum, so it often proliferates to unhealthy extremes in people with excess sebum production. Malassezia then leaves behind waste in your scalp - an excess of which can cause irritation and dandruff flakes that are caused by clumps of skin cells sloughing off your scalp.

In a healthy scalp, a smaller quantity of all of these substances is normal and tends to go unnoticed. But if you’ve got dandruff, you need to interrupt the buildup process to tame the irritation and itching, eliminate flakes, and get your scalp microbiome back in balance. This holds true whether your dandruff is caused by seasonal dry scalp, a skin condition like seborrheic dermatitis, inherited sensitivities, psoriasis, or any other cause.

Science and dermatology shows that regular use of a professionally formulated  anti-dandruff shampoo is the best proven method to stop dandruff, and it’s also helpful to occasionally gently exfoliate as a part of your routine. Antifungal agents, specifically Zinc Pyrithione (also referred to as Pyrithione Zinc), can eliminate flakes and itching. There’s a huge amount of science to back up this claim - and no science at all to support the idea that no-poo cures dandruff. When looking for a better shampoo, always make sure that the label says sulfate-free. Before you grab the cheapest bottle on your drugstore shelf or overspend on Dermstore products, check the label to ensure that what you are going to lather on yourself is safe for your scalp and hair.

Dandruff can’t be cured, but using the right hair and scalp care products regularly is key to keeping that unhealthy spiral of buildup from going out of control again. So try not to be distracted by the latest trendy hair care fad. If you’re struggling with dandruff, going without shampoo - and especially going without a science-based anti-dandruff formulation - is definitely not in your scalp’s best interest. 

What About DIY "No-Poo" Options?

Many anti-shampoo testimonials end up acknowledging the need for some kind of cleanser or conditioner to maintain healthy hair and scalp. Various DIY remedies like aloe, coal tar, or tea tree oil,  and diluted apple cider vinegar as a conditioning rinse are not proven as a healthy alternative. 

If you’re already dealing with a sensitive situation in your scalp, experimenting with DIY options can easily make things worse. Baking soda, for example, is much harsher as a cleanser than commercial shampoos. It can strip straight or curly hair of natural oils to a far greater degree, removing too much moisture and causing extreme dryness. Its abrasive structure can also cause split ends, making frizz control difficult, even if a moisturizing ingredient is added later. The strong alkalinity of baking soda can even harm your scalp - especially if you have existing sensitive skin conditions. 

In addition to the risk of further damaged hair and skin, these commonly-touted DIY remedies of the no-poo movement do not address the specific skincare, scalp, and hair needs of people with dandruff. 

Remember - however natural or simple a remedy might sound, that doesn’t mean the ingredient is either safe or effective when it comes to taking care of your scalp. Of course, some natural compounds - like lavender, coconut oil, and rosemary - can help address dryness and calm irritation when scientifically formulated as part of a scalp care product. But they will not effectively treat dandruff, that is why you need a dandruff care product professionally formulated with the proven active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione.

What If I Just Hate Dandruff Shampoos?

We get it. It’s no surprise that people are going no-poo, given the medicated smell, chalky feel, and generally depressing vibe of conventional, store-bought dandruff shampoos such as Dove or L'Oreal. But you don’t have to choose between flakes on the one hand and a totally unpleasant shower experience on the other. Meet Jupiter, the first holistic dandruff and scalp care brand made from clean, effective, luxe ingredients that leave your scalp cleansed and looking its best.

If you deal with dandruff, your treatment regimen needs to be a regular part of your life. And like any long-term relationship, we think this one will work better when you get true joy out of it along the way. That’s why we use only the best ingredients and formulated a spa-like all-natural scent for an enjoyable shower experience.  

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.