Washing your hair with Dr. Bronner’s can work really well, but the truth is that it often involves a bit of tinkering to get it right. (Your hair type and water quality alone can greatly affect the results!)
Here, we try to cover all the basic concepts and offer some troubleshooting tips as well. Much of the information presented here was compiled from customers who commented on Lisa Bronner’s original hair-washing post, and a handful of excellent natural beauty bloggers—most notably, Almost Exactly’s thorough post on the topic.
We’d love to hear about your own personal experiences and help you along your hair journey, so be sure to leave your questions or feedback in a comment below!
If there’s one important thing to remember about washing your hair with Dr. Bronner’s, it’s that you need to follow up with an acidic conditioning rinse. We recommend our Organic Conditioning Rinse, which is specially formulated for this purpose and uses a base of organic lemon juice—but you can also use diluted apple cider vinegar in a pinch.
Dr. Bronner’s soaps clean your hair and scalp amazingly well, but they can also leave your hair feeling tangly and matted. This is because the outside of your hair is made up of cuticles: layers of cells that lay over each other like roof shingles. Washing with our soaps disturbs these cuticles but an acidic conditioning rinse will fix the problem beautifully: it tamps these cuticles back down and gives your hair a soft, silky feel.
While this rule generally holds, it’s not universally true. Some folks find that their hair feels fine washing with just soap, and they don’t need an acidic rinse. Others found success after combining our soap with some coconut milk, and shampooing with that, so that they don’t require a rinse either. If the basic routine doesn’t seem to work for your hair, see our troubleshooting guide below to figure out how best to tweak it.
Conventional shampoos and conditioners (which is nearly all of them… even the ones that claim to be natural, botanical, etc.) usually contain silicones and waxes that coat your hair and give it that smooth feeling.
So if you stop using these products and switch to washing your hair with Dr. Bronner’s it will very likely take your hair some time to adjust. Most transitions last between 2 and 4 weeks. Initially, your hair may feel greasier than normal. After a couple of weeks, your hair may even start to feel drier than normal. Some hair takes to the Dr. Bronner’s routine right away with no transition, which is great! But if you are like most, you may need to withstand a few weeks of bad hair in order to reach the promised land. The reward is a completely natural hair routine, and for many, the softest, silkiest hair they have ever experienced.
Which Dr. Bronner’s Soap Should I Use to Wash Hair?
Our classic liquid Pure-Castile Soaps work great for many folks. However, some of our other soaps may offer specific advantages for your particular hair type or water condition. Here’s a list of the soaps we currently make, along with their unique benefits:
18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soaps (Liquid)
Our original liquid soaps are the go-to for many folks. One advantage is that this is probably the soap you currently have in your house and is the most readily available. Which scent should you use? Your choice! For hair washing, the various scents will function pretty much the same—although Baby Unscented does contain double the amount of olive oil.
Bar soaps offer a few advantages for hair washing. For one, hemp & jojoba oil are added after the coconut, palm, and olive oils have been saponified. This means that hemp oil and jojoba oil remain as oils in the bar instead of being turned into soap, which makes our bar soaps slightly more moisturizing than our liquid soaps. This can be good for thicker or dryer hair types.
Bar soaps also seem to help in hard water conditions. Hard water is very tough on our soaps, as the minerals in the water can break down our soaps and can sometimes lead to buildup or residue on the hair. We’re not exactly sure why bar soaps help with the buildup/residue issue, but have heard from many customers that they’re effective in preventing residue from occurring. We think it may have to do with the added salt that’s in the bar soap formulation.
Our Organic Sugar Soaps (formerly called Organic Pump Soaps) are terrific for washing hair. While these soaps begin with our pure-castile liquid soap base, we add a good deal of organic sucrose and organic grape juice. The sugar acts as a natural humectant, helping skin and hair retain moisture. We’ve found this to be good for all hair types, but can be especially beneficial for thick or dry hair.
Even more sugar than our Organic Sugar Soaps! For the most moisturizing soap of the bunch try the Organic Shaving Soap. It’s super deluxe.
For many—particularly those with dry, curly or kinky hair—a regular deep conditioning routine is key to healthy hair. The basis of a deep conditioning routine is to mix a combination of moisturizing ingredients (ex. coconut oil, olive oil, aloe, honey, avocado, banana, apple cider vinegar), apply this concoction to your hair for 15 to 20 minutes, then wash/rinse your hair as you normally would. How often you deep condition really depends on your hair’s needs and your routine, but between once a week and once a month is a good ballpark. For specific deep conditioning recipes, check here.
Water hardness/softness, as well as the exact composition of trace minerals in your water, can greatly affect both your hair and the effectiveness of the products you use to wash and rinse your hair. In particular, hard water seems to present issues for any hair care routine that includes our soaps, as the minerals in hard water can react with our soap in ways that ultimately make it less effective for washing hair.
Water softening is a good solution. Even if you aren’t able to buy a water softening system for the entire house, there are water-softening shower heads available that can yield good results. You can also keep some distilled water around specifically for diluting your soap or acidic conditioning rinse.
Troubleshooting: Oily/Greasy Hair
If you’re in the transition period, we urge you to stick with it, as your hair should eventually reach its natural balance. If you’re several weeks into your routine and still experiencing oily or greasy hair, here are a few things to try:
- Use less conditioning rinse, or rinse less frequently
- Use diluted apple cider vinegar instead of Dr. Bronner’s Organic Conditioning Rinse
- Mix in some baking soda with the soap when you shampoo
- Massage your scalp firmly, but not vigorously, in the shower while shampooing
Troubleshooting: Waxy Hair or Build-Up
If you’re still in the transition period, this might be product build-up. To help with this, try using a natural bristle brush.
If you have hard water, it could be that the soap is reacting with minerals in your water and leaving a waxy film on your hair. In this case, you can use a water softening shower head or switch to using our bar soap, which seems to perform better in hard water conditions.
A couple other things to try:
- Use the conditioning rinse more often. Alternate between using the soap and rinse together, and using just a rinse
- Try clarifying your hair with a baking soda paste, followed by an acidic conditioning rinse
Troubleshooting: Dry/Brittle Hair
If you experience dry hair when washing with our soap and rinsing with an acidic conditioning rinse, you may need to increase the frequency of your deep conditioning routine. If you’re still experiencing dry hair on a regular basis, try changing the balance of your soap and rinse. As a general guideline, think of the soap as a drying agent and the conditioning rinse as a moisturizing agent.
Things to try:
- Use less soap, or cut out the soap entirely from your routine and just wash with a conditioning rinse. Remember that vinegar or lemon juice still have excellent cleansing properties and will effectively clean your hair on their own!
- Wash less often, or alternate with washing with just water
- Add some coconut milk to the soap to give it some extra moisture. Wellness Mama has a good recipe here.
- Use a small amount of Organic Coconut Oil on your hair after it has dried
Troubleshooting: Dry/Itchy Scalp
Itchy scalp can have several different causes and, depending on the underlying issue, may require a different approach. If your itchy scalp is associated with dry hair (and not oily hair or dandruff), then focus on making sure your scalp is moisturized enough. Deep conditioning will likely help, along with some of these techniques:
- Dilute the soap and the conditioning rinse: it could be that full-strength is too strong for your scalp
- Use organic aloe vera directly on your scalp: leave in for about 15 minutes, then rinse with cool water. This will moisturize your hair and help cut down on itchiness
- Rinse with water in between wash days