Does No-Poo Remove Sebum and Dirt?

November 16, 2021 9 min read 1 Comment

Woman with soft natural hair

No Poo: Method, Benefits & FAQs


 Woman with hair out sideways

1 - Introduction.

In this blog, I will answer some of the most frequent questions customers ask me about hair cleaning and maintenance particularly related to no poo method. Of necessity included in that, we also need to talk about what sebum is. Is sebum a good thing or a bad thing and where does sebum come from?

When it comes to no poo, customers are always asking me what is it and does no poo actually work? Is no poo scientifically proven? Is no poo bad for your hair?

So read on and find the answers to these and many other related question.  


Woman having her hair washed

2 - What Does The No Poo Method Mean?

As the name suggests in simple terms it is an abbreviation for no shampoo - so, if you follow the no poo method, you do not use a shampoo when washing your hair.

Looking back through history, you could easily argue that it is far from a modern trend. After all, it was not until the early part of the 20th century that shampoos were introduced (the definition being they don't leave a residue like soap) and then much later through TV advertising that frequent, even daily, shampooing became the norm. 

Prior to that, humans used to make a form of soap by combining wood ash from their fires and tallow fat from animals.


Woman with wet hair over face


3 - Why Do Some People Adopt The No Poo Method?

There is no single reason that is for sure, but there is an underlying theme. Proponents of no poo put forward a variety of reasons for not using a shampoo on their hair. To many it has become a way of life or philosophy.

A number simply want to avoid using unnatural chemicals on their hair as they have gained a better understanding of the chemicals we use every day, and how they affect our health and well-being. 

Others take, what they consider to be, a more moral or ethical stance and see their adopting the no poo method as a means of rejecting commercial pressures from major manufacturers to spend unnecessary money on hygiene. 

Some believe that commercial synthetic shampoo strips their hair of good and natural oils produced by the scalp, which would only be the case if they used a very poor quality and harsh, chemical-laden shampoo - and not one of our natural plant-based 100% chemical-free shampoos.


Woman with questioning expression on her face


4 - What Do No Poo People Use To Wash Their Hair?

Thankfully, making the move away from commercial shampoos does not mean you have to give up showers or washing your hair. Hygiene remains a concern for everyone, and that includes no poo advocates. 

Instead of shampoo, people who have adopted this hair care technique use baking soda followed by apple cider vinegar, or only use a natural conditioner bar.

Some have even reverted to some of the more ancient methods, as mentioned above, and use naturally found substances such as plant roots or clay. Whilst others buy products off the shelf that claim to cleanse your hair but are technically still not shampoo.  


Image of the pH scale


5 - Why is pH Important For Hair?

When we talk about pH, we are referring to a 14 point scale that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline or basic; a pH of about 7 is considered neutral.

The average scalp has a pH level of 5.5 with your hair shaft having a pH level of 3.67. Maintaining this balance helps with hair health.

For those considering the baking soda and apple cider vinegar method instead of shampoo, it is worth a taking a few moments to take on board the following details.

Baking soda has a pH level of 9 and apple cider vinegar has a pH level at the other end of the scale at about 2-3.

Application of high pH level baking soda to your hair and scalp can result in cuticle damage, hair breakage, frizz and skin irritation. As your skin has a pH level around 5.5, the baking soda can decrease the skin’s fat content and irritate the protective layer of the skin (same with soap bars). Baking soda also opens up the hair cuticles, which causes water absorption; a little may be fine but too much can weaken the hair. 

Using the apple cider vinegar rinse after baking soda use is in an attempt to help seal the hair cuticle to de-frizz hair, give it shine, and even help rebalance the scalp's pH.  However, apple cider vinegar will not undo the damage done by using an alkaline product on the hair. 


Man washing hair in shower

6 - What is Sebum?

Sebum is an oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands found pretty much all over the body.  The face and scalp contain the highest concentration of these glands whereas none are located on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. 

Sebum is a necessary component of a healthy skin and scalp.  Seasons, climate, temperature and hormones affect it so the amount a person produces changes over their lifetime.   

These glands start to produce sebum from when you are a baby and can increase five-fold by the time you reach puberty, particularly in male adolescents. This is the key cause of acne and excessively greasy hair that we have all seen or had to suffer. After that, sebum production reaches its peak before adulthood and steadily declines until around age 50.  

Two distinct types of sebaceous gland exist, those connected to hair follicles and those that occur independently. Your scalp will produce sebum through the sebaceous glands attached to your hair follicles.

Those with very dry skin are likely not producing enough sebum and those with oily hair or skin tend to be producing too much.

To get technical for a brief moment, sebum is made of triglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters, squalene and cholesterol.  These natural components, produced by the body, combine to form the sticky sebum that attracts dirt particles, dead skin cells, smoke, dust and anything else in the atmosphere to it.  

So it stands to reason that the more oily your hair, the faster this dirt accumulation will occur. Additionally, when the cholesterol component goes through a process of esterification (a chemical reaction in which two reactants produce an ester) it can produce that familiar ‘dirty hair smell’.  

Sebum is great in that it helps protect against bacteria and fungi and forms a protective barrier on the hair and skin against water evaporation and moisture loss. It makes hair temporarily glossy and can improve overall shine and decrease breakage in afro hair.  It can help keep the skin looking younger; oilier skin produces fewer wrinkles! 

Although regular brushing and contact with your pillow will re-distribute the sebum in the hair, it cannot be physically removed this way because it is too gummy.  As it attracts environmental pollutants, it needs to be washed regularly to remove not just the dirt particles but also the sebum itself for fresh, clean, hair and to avoid that dreaded greasy lank-looking hair, though we do seem a bit obsessed with squeaky clean hair these days - even with lockdowns!


Woman with great curly hair and a contented look on her face

7 - Does Shampoo Successfully Remove Dirt and Sebum From Your Hair?

If it is a non-harsh shampoo used regularly, then it will successfully remove both sebum and dirt from your hair.  However, if the shampoo is too harsh, it will strip too much oil away and trigger sebum production, allowing it to come back quicker.

The bubbly anionic ‘surface cleaning agents’, or surfactants, found in shampoos (and in laundry products for that matter) help lower surface tension, deflocculate/disperse clumps of grease or dirt particles into finer particles, displace, capture and suspend them so they can then be successfully washed away and not remain on your hair and scalp, or clothes in the case of laundry. There is nothing that successfully removes dirt in this way as well as a gentle, quality shampoo, which is why professionals use them! 

Ideally, you want a shampoo to gently clean your hair and scalp whilst still removing dirt, dust, shedding skin cells and sebum.  You also want the shampoo to remove residue from styling products and generally leave it in good combing condition, whether wet or dry, whilst simultaneously depositing conditioning agents onto it for strengthening, hydration and shine.  

Therefore, a good quality and correctly pH-balanced best UK shampoo bar is essential to cleaning your hair properly.


8 - Does the ‘No-Poo’ Method Really Remove Dirt and Sebum From Your Hair?

Well yes, and no.

Conditioners contain positively charged cationic surfactants to condition the hair. They are not able to displace the dirt particles in the same way anionic shampoo surfactants can, nor do they supposedly enhance the electromagnetic repulsion between hair and dirt as anionic shampoo surfactants do, meaning some dirt particles can remain on the hair and scalp.

However, as conditioners are good emulsifiers, they are able to emulsify and solubilise oil, grease and dirt particles into the solution so that they can be washed away. In much the same way as solely using fabric conditioner to remove dirt from your clothes would remove some of the dirt but probably not as well as if you used laundry powder prior to using it.

However, these cationic quaternary compounds in conditioners are not as good at removing sebum  as shampoo, so the ‘no-poo’ method may be fine for those with dry or very dry hair but likely will not be as successful for those with oily hair who regularly experience a faster build-up of sebum. Your hair will likely still feel unwashed and greasy. 

If using the ‘no-poo’ method, it is not necessary to use a more expensive ‘clarifying’ conditioner as a normal conditioner can work just as well. A good ingredient to look out for in a conditioner to successfully remove dirt and grease is ‘Behentrimonium Methosulfate’ (which you can also find in our conditioner bars), along with ‘Cetrimonium chloride’ (also in all our natural conditioner bars) if you are using a lot of styling products, as this will remove silicone type ingredients found in anti-frizz, gels, etc. It will also reduce static and act as a heat protectant. 

 Baby's face under towel


9 - Is Sebum Good For Your Skin?

In a word, yes.  It is protective and reduces moisture loss, however, it doesn’t affect how hydrated the skin is, so it’s possible to have very oily skin but still show signs of dryness through itchy or flaky skin, for example.  

Regularly applying products that contain humectants such as glycerine (as well as cold processed body soaps that naturally produce and retain glycerine such as our Castile soap collection, with our Chamomile flower and Oatmeal soap made specifically for sensitive skin), can help this.

 Woman in shower

10 - Tips to Control and Reduce Sebum Production.

Ideally we want to extend the time between washes and still have great hair.  

Our bars are water-less and so more concentrated than traditional liquid shampoos, so for many people, the time between washes is extended by 25%-30%, saving on both time and money.

Washing hair with lukewarm water is better as hot water can also trigger sebum production. 

Using a hair dryer will also increase the spread of sebum through your hair, so it is better to let it dry naturally whenever possible which should also help you go a little longer between washes, given that over-washing can also stimulate sebum production. 

Whether you have 'normal/dry' or 'oily' hair, we have the best UK shampoo bars and natural conditioner bars to suit you.

Some customers use an oily shampoo bar and a 'normal/dry' conditioner, for example so it is a case of finding what works for you. To assist you in this process we have produced a hair care guide to help you How To Match The Right Shampoo To Your Hair Type!  

Briefly, the 'Essential' haircare collection is slightly lighter and more volumizing than our 'Luxury' collection but both offer oily hair variants.  There are also quality 2-in-1 bars (such as our Frankincense or Orange bars) which have also been successfully trialled by those with oily hair.  With sebaceous glands also concentrated in the facial area, regularly washing with a light facial cleanser (such as ours) for ‘normal/dry’ or ‘normal/oily’ is also a good idea.


Two choices


11 - Conclusion.

Is no poo a myth? It is certainly not a myth as demonstrated above, many people try it – it is very much a case of personal choice, though if you have oily hair, it is probably best to avoid the 'no-poo' method.

If your hair type is dry or very dry or even if you have a child (who will have 'virgin hair' and so requires less washing), then occasionally trying the no poo method would work fine if using a good quality natural conditioner and a little patience as there'll likely be a 4-6 week adjustment period!

Don't forget to check out the full range of shampoo bars here.

Best of Luck!


PS. And while you are here don't forget to check out our great article here on how to find The Best UK Hair Conditioner Bar 2021 



This blog was updated in July 2022

1 Response


November 21, 2021

Randomly clicked on this, thought this was a great article, really interesting! I will try and use luke warm water to clean my hair with from now on and hair dry less! Also made me realise I should be open to trying new combinations of shampoo and conditioner now that I understand what is going on. Thank you so much Rebecca – really informative.

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