No-Poo: 12 Low-Sal Safe Items to Use in your Hair

In my last article and video, I covered what NOT to use in your hair! This time, I give 12-ish options for you to try out! Salicylate-free shampoos are hard to find, and even the few that do exist, don’t meet everyone’s hair needs. Some report that they are drying, or in my case, I’ve still had hair loss while using shampoo. Even the sal-free shampoos still use coconut-derived products. While I do think it may be possible to refine products so much that they don’t really have anymore residual salicylates (I’ve actually extracted aspirin in a chem lab before from raw ingredients!), I’m always a big believer in the lurking variable. Meaning, we may never truly know that it’s only salicylates that we’re sensitive to. Oh yeah – and everyone is different!

These are my recommended no-poo options you may want to try out (and why):

  1. Rye flour – Rye is salicylate free and contains saponins that are a natural soapy compound useful for cleaning. I did try this out (I hadn’t while narrating the video) by mixing 2Tbsp. of Rye Flour with 1 cup boiling water. I let it sit for 1-2 hours, then strained all the fibers out using a mesh bag. I have long and thick hair, so I used the entire amount in my hair, making sure to massage it around and break up greasy hair strands. It didn’t overstrip, so I didn’t need a conditioner.
  2. Rice Milk – Rice levels vary, but the RPAH lists white and brown rices as low in salicylates. Fragrant rices like basmatti and jasmine are listed as moderate. Some people have issues with brown rice, and I’m not sure if that’s a salicylate issue, or something else. I mean, there are only (eye-roll) 40,000 cultivated varieties of rice – so I think lumping them all together may be near-sighted. In salicylate forums, calrose and arborio seem to be the most well-tolerated. For this method, use the same process as the rye flour. Try 2-3 Tablespoons of white whole rice (not flour), 1 cup boiling water, let it sit a few hours, then strain it and use the milk.
  3. Quinoa – All colors of quinoa are listed as low by RPAH. The flakes and flour have also been tested in a lab in 2017 (Malakar et. al) without any detectable salicylates. Use the whole quinoa, make a mixture like the rye, and strain out the fibers. Quinoa also has saponins which is why it’s a good cleaner in your hair. I’d think that the flakes would loose the saponins in processing. Oh, and if you can’t handle rye or quinoa – some people are sensitive to saponins in their food, but this should be safe in your hair. It’s recommended to rinse quinoa before you eat it, to remove the saponins because it can act like a laxative.
  4. Baking Soda – I like to use baking soda in my hair as a clarifying shampoo when it gets really dingy, or I have a lot of oils/lanolin in it. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is basic (pH 8.3). Your skin and scalp is acidic and ranges around 4.5-5 pH. While I don’t think using baking soda in your hair once-in-a-while will damage your hair, there are reports that when people use it regularly, their hair has become brittle and broken. Others say if you use it with an acid rinse every time, it should be ok.
  5. Rice or Malt Vinegar –  Both vinegars are negligible in salicylates, and can make a nice acid rinse in your hair. Acid closes the hair shaft and follicles, functioning as a conditioner. When I use a vinegar, I dilute it (like a 1 vinegar to 4 water ratio). People say the smell dissipates when your hair dries – I have a super-sniffer of a nose, so I don’t think that’s really true, but for the average person – probably. My hair is long and can get to my nose, so if you have short hair, you may not notice it like I do.
  6. Keifr, Yogurt, Buttermilk, or non-dairy Kefirs – Most fermented dairies are acidic (about 4-5pH from what I’ve tested at home). These don’t smell like vinegar, and are quite nourishing for your hair. This is what I prefer to use! If you use yogurt – dilute it with water.  I can now find kefir without a bunch of preservatives from a nearby farm, but when I lived in the city, I made my own with a kit from Cultures for Health (not-sponsored/affiliated). They also have some for water-only kefir, and I think I’ve seen a non-dairy one (for oat or rice milk) too.
  7. Lemon Juice – OK, well, lemons used to be negligible, now they’re in the high categories for RPAH (which combines both amines and sals for the category). When they were retested in a lab, Malakar et al. reported them at 6.74mg/kg, which includes both free and bound salicylic acid. For context, under this method Brussels sprouts also tested high at 8.60mg/kg. To my knowledge, limes have never been tested in a lab. Overall, when I use a very small amount of lemon or lime, I don’t have a reaction, and I use it mostly on my body (I use straight lemon juice only for deodorant). With that said – if you react to citrus – don’t use this method, use vinegar! I’ll use 1Tbsp of lemon juice diluted in 1 cup of water, pour it on my hair, and then rinse it out after a minute or so. Please note that lemon juice can lighten your hair when you’re in the sun. Because of this, I don’t use this method during the summer – I like my dark hair! Oh yeah, lemons and limes are acidic, so it makes a good conditioner.
  8. Clay – Bentonite clay, Kaolin clay, and Rhassoul clay – Clays are basic and make a great cleaner similar to baking soda. They are negatively charged and porous, so they pull impurities from the skin, and absorb oils from your hair. I’ve had issues using just the powder in the shower, so I like to dilute it in a bottle or jar beforehand, to make it easier to use. You may need an acid rinse afterward. I also like to use bentonite clay with rice vinegar on my face as a mask.
  9. Epsom Salt – I haven’t tried this yet – but will soon! There are several people in the forums that use this method. Make sure to buy plain Epsom Salts without fragrance! Many of them come with a mint or methyl salicylate to ease sore muscles – which is terrible if you’re sensitive. Dilute the salts in a little bottle first to make it easy to apply.
  10. Raw Egg – I’ve used this many times and it does work as a cleaner! Beat it before you go into the shower, and make sure to use cool water when rinsing it out. Some people are sensitive to protein in their hair, so keep that in mind if it doesn’t work for you.
  11. Water only, or Water only with Mitt – Of course, you can just do water only, which many people love! I did water only for about 3 months, but I had better results using a silk mitt to absorb some grease and remove dead skin cells. When the mitt would get greasy, I’d use some soap to clean the mitt, then go back to rubbing my hair. I’d make sure to not get any soap in my hair. This is the mitt I’d use (not an affiliate link) The only reasons I stopped this method is because I was swimming and needed to get the salt/chlorine smell out, and then I also moved to a hard-water area. I also had better luck using very hot water which melts the grease away.
  12. Sal-free soap (low-poo): I prefer tallow or lard soap bars. I’d get it with goat milk if the combination existed. Check out the hair and soap products in our directory. I order most of mine from Etsy, and get it in bar or liquid form, depending on my needs. If you’re looking for vegan options, contact a soapmaker through Etsy to see if they can make you a custom Castile soap or bar soap using sal-safe oils like canola, soy, cottonseed, palm, rice bran, safflower, or sunflower. Let me know too, because if they’re making a batch, I’d like to test one out! Soap doesn’t have a detergent in it, so this is why it’s considered low-poo. When I use my soap, it doesn’t overstrip my hair (sometimes I have to wash twice) so I don’t need to use a conditioner with it. I’ve seen parents have good luck pre-diluting the bar soap in a squeeze bottle in water, to make it easier to use in kids’ hair. I have had it in my eyes though, and it definitely stings.

Check out the video and leave comments there about what works for you (or not!).