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The dirt on getting beautiful hair: Stop washing it

There was a time when washing one's hair was a valid excuse for staying in on a Saturday night. The ritual, after all, tended to extend well beyond basic lathering, rinsing and repeating to include hot rollers, an iron and about half a can of hairspray. Today, though, that practice is as outdated as the Breck Girl herself, increasingly because many women are opting out of washing their hair altogether.

The roots of this movement - dubbed "no 'poo" - were planted half a dozen years ago and the reasons behind it vary. For starters, some advocates are turned off by the laundry list of chemicals found in many drugstore-brand shampoos, including sodium laureth sulfate, a suspected carcinogen. Water conservationists, meanwhile, are concerned about the damage those chemicals may be wreaking on the environment. A growing number anti-shampoo advocates, however, aren't exactly tree-hugging types. Simply put, they're eschewing 'poo because their hair looks better when it's used infrequently.

"I shower every day, but I only shampoo my hair once a week," says Kiwi Mohamed, 27, a retail-management student at Ryerson University. "I have naturally curly hair and the more I wash it the frizzier and less controllable it is."

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Anthony Ingraldi, co-owner of Hair on the Avenue salon in Toronto, puts the advantages of infrequent shampooing in terms that resonate with his clients: "Hair is like a silk blouse," says. "You don't want to wash it too often - or with heavy detergent - or you'll ruin it." Ingraldi often advises them to go three to five days between washings.

"Shampoo is a detergent that strips your scalp of its naturally occurring oils, which are important for protecting hair from the elements and ensuring it grows healthy and strong," Ingraldi says. When shampoo is used too often, the scalp overcompensates for its lost oils and goes into production overdrive, leaving overzealous appliers with greasy hair. Although it seems counterintuitive, the less you wash your hair, the less oily it will be.

Shirley Cook, chief executive officer of fashion label Proenza Schouler, recently divulged her dirty hair secret to influential beauty blog Into The Gloss: "I stopped washing my hair about six weeks ago. A friend of mine doesn't wash her hair and it looks incredible. My hair changed, and it doesn't get greasy." She treats the ends with oil and occasionally uses a dry shampoo. And when it does come time to wash it, she uses an all-natural shampoo with no chemicals.

According to Cook, the convincing factor in her conversion was her no-'poo-pushing friend's revelation that celebrity hair stylist Orlando Pita is also a believer. "He has such beautiful hair, so I gave it a whirl," she says.

The hair trends of the last few seasons have also had a hand in propagating the movement. The sleek, glossy blowouts favoured by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance, have been replaced of late by artfully tousled messes that make top knots, low chignons and loose side braids look modern and sexy by comparison. The look, it bears noting, has been especially prevalent on the runways of Proenza Schouler.

"The unstructured, bohemian aesthetic is a big trend going forward," Ingraldi says. "Uncontrived styles like a side ponytail will naturally hold better with a little dirt in your hair."

"It's more glamorous to look like you have bed head," Mohamed agrees.

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A common concern for neophyte no-'pooers is keeping the smelly fallout at bay. As seasoned vets of the movement will tell you, however, it's all in the can. "Dry shampoo has changed my life," says Elyn Kirby Arscott, 29, a Toronto PR professional who has been 'poo-free for several years. "I have fine hair that tends to be oily, so I couldn't really pull my hair back on my in-between days because it looked like it was plastered to my head. But dry shampoo doesn't just absorb the grease; it also gives my hair more volume than I would have had if it was freshly washed and blow-dried."

Despite his advocacy, Ingraldi advises his clients to ease into the routine. "If they shampoo their hair everyday, I tell them to start by doing it every other day and slowly taper it off and to brush their hair every night before bed to stimulate the scalp and hair growth."

Breck Girls, we hardly knew you.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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