I have a very unpredictable head of curls, and once I figured out a routine in college, I stuck to it like a religion. But I hated going through those plastic shampoo, conditioner and styling gel bottles. I had switched to paraben and sulfate free products to be more Earth-friendly, but the packaging still felt excessive. When I started going zero waste in 2016, I started a new curly hair journey to see what worked for me.
It starts with experimentation
To be honest, the first thing I did was to buy a salon size bottle of the curl styling gel I loved, to hold me over while I experimented with zero waste hair products. Having this bulk version of my favorite product as a backup made it way easier to take the plunge of trying all kinds of sustainable products until I found a new routine I loved.
I started using the Lovely Rita shampoo bar from Dulse & Rugosa and a conditioner bar from Lush, to see how I liked them.
The shampoo bar comes in paper, is packed with nutrients, and was an easy switch to make. It was cleansing without stripping my hair of its natural oils, and I started shampooing my hair less often.
Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective
The conditioner bar was great, but it wasn’t giving my hair quite enough moisture. Curls drink moisture. I tried using apple cider vinegar, but it wasn’t quite right for me either.
After a little research, I learned from Stevie Van Horn that brushing your hair for at least 2-3 minutes every few days brings the oils that develop in your roots all the way to the ends, naturally conditioning your hair. A wooden brush helps to reduce static and breakage, and lets your hair reap the most benefits from this biweekly brushing ritual. This helped my hair health quite a bit and simplified my routine, allowing me to go longer between washes because my scalp and my hair were more balanced.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered a leave-in conditioner spray in bulk at the Soap Dispensary up in Vancouver. It was lightweight, and the perfect thing to tame flyaways and nourish my curls. This in combination with my conditioner bar and regular brushing has become my new routine.
Photo by Anya Nnenna for Eco Collective
Instead of relying on the volume I used to get from regular shampooing, I learned to dry my hair in a way that diffused my curls and lifted my roots. There are so many great videos about how to diffuse curly hair.
The other trick I love is using dry shampoo between washes! I had switched from aerosol cans to a salt shaker style brand from Captain Blankenship, but I was still concerned about the life span of the packaging. I was delighted when I learned Bea Johnson’s hack of using arrowroot powder for dry shampoo. It’s lightweight, soft instead of grainy, and so cheap! I get mine from our bulk section at Eco Collective.
I’ve never colored my hair so it's usually a blonde to brown mix, but for dark hair my friend Sedona Christina suggests applying dry shampoo the night before so it soaks up the oils overnight; by the time you wake up, voila, no white flecks!
Organic arrowroot powder, $1.75/oz. at Eco Collective
I still have the quandary of styling gel. It's been on the back burner as I finish using up the large bottle I have, taking comfort in the fact that I've reduced the amount of packaging by quite a bit. Recently, I’ve been inspired to explore recipes for making your own curling gel. I’ve have found that ingredients like coconut and castor oil also have a wonderful effect on curls, so I’ll be experimenting with my own recipes soon.
On the go
When I travel, I put my shampoo bar in a soap tin and bring a little glass jar of conditioner and one of curl gel. If I’m going to the beach, I’ll throw my wooden brush in my bag as well because hello, tangles! And I never leave home without an organic cotton hair tie.
Metal soap tin, $4.99 at Eco Collective
It's an ongoing journey!
The wonderful part about Eco Collective is that if we can’t find a product in bulk locally, we make a point to buy it in bulk for our store! We joke that the bulk section is our personal armory of zero waste. We just added a curly hair conditioner, a leave-in conditioner and a bulk styling gel. After all my exploring, I’ve really enjoyed the brands we chose.
It took a long time to create the perfect zero waste routine for my hair, but it has been so worth it! My hair is the healthiest it's ever been. My advice is to go natural, take the time to learn about your hair type, and have fun trying new things from local brands you love.
If my curly hair journey has taught me anything, it’s that every one’s hair is unique. What works for your hair? What have been your favorite zero waste solutions? Tell us in the comments below!