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When Your Hair Simply. Won’t. Get. Clean.

By Amalah

Oh Amalah.
I’m the one who wrote to you last March about my hair not getting clean, and at the time we got to the root (ha!) of the problem: poor quality shampoo, product build up, bad scrubbing technique, etc. I bought the Wella and it was really lovely, made my hair soft but not too flat. I bought Pureology’s Root Lift and it added a nice but not too heavy texture (and my bangs always swooped perfectly). I continued using Bumble & Bumble’s Sunday Shampoo once or maybe twice a week, and it kept all things in order. I was happy.
And then. I moved to Dublin, and of course, like whenever you move somewhere, I blamed my suddenly bad hair on the foreign water. I was back to my stringy greasy ways in the back, and even when I would pull it into a ponytail you could see where my fingers had threaded through–you know, like when you put your hair up after you haven’t showered for a while and you still look nasty? I also blamed my new hair dryer, which I am not allowed to use on the highest level because it sets off the heat alarm (I am not going to get started on that debacle).
But now I’ve been living in Dublin since October. That is four months, and my hair is still awful, and I really think the water is just different here. I have tried. The only non-drugstore brand I’ve recognized so far is Aveda. I started with their Pure Abundance Shampoo, plus Conditioner, and OH MY GOD WAS IT BAD. I went back into the store and showed the woman what it had done to me, and she simply did not believe that I had washed my hair that day. They wouldn’t give me a refund because I opened the bottle. I moved onto their Rosemary Mint Shampoo, which I admit is better, but not by much. My current hair routine is: the Sunday Shampoo is now an everyday shampoo; sometimes I use it on its own, and other times I use it before using Wella or Rosemary Mint; it sort of helps, but not all day long; I scrub and I scrub, I rinse carefully and I blowdry, and it’s still so gross.
I am in dire need of a new shampoo once again, but I don’t know these brands here, and if a company does happen to ship internationally, it’s crazy expensive. Is there anyway in your infinite knowledge that you are familiar with UK or Irish brands of shampoo? We have Boots here, if that helps. Also, I know you loved dry shampoos during your pregnancy but not so much afterward… do you think it would be worth trying?
Thanks a million, Amy, you’re the best.
🙂 Molly

Okay, I’m going to do a complete 180 here and recommend you try Something Completely Different. Because about a month postpartum I was exactly where you are — shampoo, scrub, rinse, blowdry, what the eff? My hair (particularly on the sides and back) was stringy, greasy and gross. No change in the water, no change in my shampoo or technique. It just wouldn’t come clean.
And like you blame the water, I blamed my hormones. And I tried every brand of shampoo I had in the house, I shampooed repeatedly and firmly. I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. Combing my hair out before I washed it helped a little, as did dividing my hair into sections with a comb IN the shower (my hair was also getting very dry and tangled on the ends, making it very difficult to fully rinse the roots on the bottom), and rinsing my hair with my head upside-down with the aid of a cup to directly dump the water on.
But what finally cured the problem was Pantene. Cheap, drugstore-brand Pantene. Not the shampoo-and-conditioner combo, but the basic “classic” shampoo. And then a good haircut (to cut off several inches of the dry, dead hair that was making the rinsing so futile) and some new highlights (to get rid of the oily roots).
pantene.jpgHere’s why I think the Pantene worked: the salon-quality shampoos and other “premium” brands, are in themselves ultra-moisturizing and conditioning. This makes them “better” than cheaper brands because they protect your hair from a multitude of sins: harsh water, heat styling, the sun and other environmental factors. The downside is that not everybody needs all that protection sitting on their hair everyday, AND that a lot of the premium shampoos leave out ingredients that make for a really nice rich lather. (Because of this, quite honestly.) Those ingredients ARE very chemical-sounding and CAN irritate scalps if left on for a long time. But they are also extremely good at lathering and cleansing, if a little on the abrasive side.
Which honestly? That’s why I think you might need. Aveda is one of the brands that definitely leaves out anything like sodium lauryl sulfate (Pureology does as well) and packs their products full of gentle, natural ingredients that pack a powerful moisturizing punch…but not so much with the lathering and cleansing. (I’ve never had any luck with any of Aveda’s shampoos. They leave too much residue behind even when my hair ISN’T going through a postpartum freakout.)
So. I think you might want to stop coddling your hair so much, and shock it back into cleanliness with a basic, drugstore-brand shampoo. If you can’t get Pantene, look for something possibly labeled “clarifying” (this means meant to scrub out product build-up) and check the ingredients for sodium lauryl sulfate. (Plus, if it doesn’t work, you won’t be out much more money.) Definitely lay off the root lifts and other products for now when you blowdry.
The dry shampoos I’ve talked about before are probably not strong enough to be a full solution, but they are good at masking moderately oily roots — not so much product residue, though, as I learned. Before laying out cash for one, try powdering the bad patches of your hair with plain old cornstarch. If it seems to suck up the ick, the dry shampoos will probably work for you. (I like the Ojon spray, but it runs out REALLY QUICKLY if you’re using it regularly. Oscar Blandi makes a non-spray version that doesn’t pack as much of a punch but lasts a lot longer so I can justify the price a little more.)
Finally, your problems could very well be all the fault of the water, but since this is a recurring problem for you, I wonder if there could be other causes? Your diet? Stress? Are you getting your hair trimmed as often as you should? (Dry, gnarled ends do make rinsing more of a challenge.) Are you on the Pill or another hormone-based birth control? If so, maybe think about switching it up? My hair problems cleared up about 12 weeks postpartum, and I was able to go back to my old shampoos and conditioners, and reaffirmed my belief that hormones can pretty much cause EVERY PROBLEM IN THE WHOLE WORLD, MY GOODNESS.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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