I started experimenting with my hair in middle school. In true 90s fashion, I wanted the same sleek, pin-straight hairstyle sported by Jennifer Aniston and Tyra Banks. I bought my first Conair straightener and woke up an hour early each morning to tame my wavy locks in time for school. Around 16, I had it chemically straightened, then dyed it jet black and by high school graduation, it was streaked blonde with highlights. All this upkeep was expensive, and by college, my hair was so frazzled and fried it stopped growing for two years.
Eventually, I returned to my natural brunette hair color, but continued to straighten and utilize an arsenal of costly shampoos and serums. Then, around five years ago, I began my journey to a zero waste lifestyle and it completely changed my relationship with my hair. Switching to a more simple, minimal beauty routine was liberating, and I was surprised to discover that many low-waste alternatives were not only super effective, they left my hair and body feeling great. I embraced my wavy hair and soon my hair tools were gathering dust in a drawer.
Now at 35, my hair has never been healthier or better looking (if I do say so myself!). I’ve learned that hair care, like any beauty routine, doesn’t have to be super elaborate or expensive (or wasteful!) to achieve great results. Here are some of my favorite low-waste options:
Solid bars of soap are a great low-waste option to wash your body, but they’re also great for washing hair. Shampoo bars usually come in a cardboard box or recyclable metal tin and they’re perfect for traveling (no more tiny shampoo bottles!). Just like a regular bar of soap, you rub the shampoo bar in your hands with a little water to create a lather, then massage the soap into your roots and rinse. Adjusting to a shampoo bar can take some time—they’re often less sudsy than commercial shampoos and your hair might feel greasy for a wash or two. I personally have been loving Ethique’s Heali Kiwi which completely solved my dandruff issue and didn’t take any time for my hair to adjust. If you prefer a more traditional shampoo, I recommend Plaine Products which comes in an aluminum bottle that can be recycled or returned to Plaine and refilled (cheers for a circular economy)! If you want to go hardcore, you could try no-poo or washing your hair with baking soda and rinsing with apple cider vinegar. If none of these options work for you, try buying your favorite shampoo in the largest size available—many salons offer gallon-sized jugs (usually sold to hair salons) that can be purchased online. While it still comes in plastic, it’s much less wasteful than buying tons of individual plastic bottles and you can decant from the jug, as needed, into a smaller refillable bottle.
- Daughter of the Land Moon Flower Shampoo Bar
- Ethique Heali Kiwi Shampoo Bar
- Lush 'Honey I Washed My Hair' Shampoo Bar
- Meow Meow Tweet Rosemary Avocado Shampoo Bar
- Plaine Products Rosemary Mint Shampoo
Truthfully, I don’t use conditioner anymore. But every now and then, I like to use a homemade apple cider vinegar rinse to naturally strip built-up residue. It also leaves hair super soft and shiny and it helps balance your scalp’s pH and naturally fights dandruff. And, it’s super easy to whip up—just mix one part vinegar to four parts water in a bottle. There are also conditioner bars, that work similar to a shampoo bar, or traditional liquid conditioner sold in aluminum or glass. Like shampoo, if you have a conditioner that you love that comes in plastic, see if you can find it online in a gallon jug, then decant it as needed into a smaller bottle.
- Ethique Wonderbar Conditioner
- Fat & Moon Conditioner Bar
- Jim & Henry Eight Leave-In Hair Conditioner
- Meow Meow Tweet Lavender Hemp Conditioner Bar
- Plaine Products Rosemary Mint Conditioner
Serums & Sprays.
To smooth flyaways and moisturize ends, look no further than a natural oil like argan, jojoba, castor, coconut, sweet almond and rosehip or make your own blend. You can also find some serums sold in a glass dropper bottle. The great thing about natural oils is that they are multi-use—moisturize your face, body, cuticles and remove makeup. If you’re looking for volume or to hold hair in place, you can try making your own hairspray or look for a non-aerosol spray which doesn't contain yucky volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to global warming.
- Kreyol Essence Haitian Black Castor Oil
- Captain Blankenship Mermaid Sea Salt Hair Spray
Afro Hair & Skin Co Bloom Omega Healthy Hair Oil
- Hairspray Recipe: Lemon Juice + Vodka
- Hairspray Recipe: Sugar
I don’t use my hair appliances like a straightener or curling iron much these days, mostly just for special occasions. Instead, I let my hair air dry in twisted pigtails (a tip I learned from @bleubird on Instagram). When you get out of the shower, squeeze out excess water with a towel then air dry until it's slightly damp. Then, divide it into two pigtails and twist each section away from your face until the whole section is tightly coiled. Finally, bind the bottom 1-2" of the sections together behind your head (or in front of your face if you’re at home!) with a hair tie. It’s a great way to score natural waves with minimal fuss. You could also try drying your hair in braids for a similar wavy effect. When your hair appliances no longer work, always be sure to recycle them. In terms of brushes, if you have a plastic brush or comb that work just fine, keep using them. When they’re ready to be replaced, switch to a wood or bamboo brush and comb. They feel great on your scalp and are naturally static resistant and compostable at the end of life.Recommended:
For hair ties, use what you have. You could also try the zero waste trend of locating hair ties in the wild (they’re seriously everywhere when you start looking) and reuse them after a good wash with soap. Traditional hair elastics are made from a mix of rubber, synthetic fabric and a metal clasp, so they belong in the trash once they break. For a sustainable alternative, try Kooshoo made from organic cotton and natural rubber. I also love this plant-based acetate hair claw from Machete made from cellulose, a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based materials.
I hope these low-waste tips were helpful, but please keep in mind that this is what works for my hair and may not work for yours. It can take some trial and error to figure out what products you like, and we’d love to hear below what low-waste products and practices you already use!