Siobhan O'Connor, Journalist, New York City

Siobhan O’Connor’s journey into natural beauty began with formaldehyde. Whenever she and her best friend from back home in Montreal, Alexandra Spunt, would travel cross-country to see one other, they’d do “girly things”—including a foray into Brazilian blowouts. Their hair looked great for a month, but when O’Connor’s strands started breaking and Spunt’s hair turned into a “French-fried mangled mess,” they did some investigating and learned that they’d gotten a formaldehyde treatment. (Brazilian blowouts are now officially on the OSHA hazard alert list.) Those investigations turned into a book, No More Dirty Looks, and a thriving blog of the same name. Their goal was to break down the lingo of the beauty industry so that readers could understand exactly what they’re getting when they buy products—and to empower them to make safer, greener choices. (They’re why I started using coconut oil as a moisturizer, so I owe all my dewiness to them.) Both the book and blog are a delightful combination of thoughtfulness and sheer fun—as was talking with O’Connor about beauty buzzwords, the transformative possibilities of clean cosmetics, and chasing the beauty dragon. In her own words:

On Seeing Through Transparency
While I was learning about all the chemicals in the products I was using, at a certain point I had to go through my bathroom and throw out all the stuff that didn’t fit in with what I was learning. One of the craziest things I found was this green tea soap, and I looked at the ingredients for the first time—and there was literally no green tea in it! Green tea isn’t even desirable in a cleanser, but I didn’t know that then; I was just thinking it was semi-natural and so it must be desirable. Alexandra and I both had those sort of playful moments that were like, “Wow, get a load of this!” It’s sometimes hilarious—and sometimes a letdown. There’s been more consumer consciousness in the past few years, but then companies do things like make “natural” soaps that aren’t, and that definitely hurts. It creates an accidentally uninformed consumer. You think you’re making at least a semi-informed decision, but you’re not. There was some research last year about the natural beauty market, and the number-one thing they found across the board was massive consumer confusion. People just did not know what was what. That’s why we wrote the book—here are the ingredients, here’s where you’ll find them on the bottle, here are the different names ingredients have.

There was a New Yorker cartoon—normally I hate those, but I thought this one was awesome: I can see through your transparency. Transparency became an industry buzzword, and it’s bullshit. A lot of the big companies are “transparent”—they give you the ingredients, but it’s not really any clearer, or it’s incomplete. Companies that are radically transparent, though, will always answer e-mails from people who have questions about the ingredients. They’ll use organic, high-grade ingredients, which is why the products are more expensive. And, you know, those products can be more expensive. That’s part of why we do our Friday Deals; it’s a way of giving people things that we think are awesome in a way that’s more affordable and more comparable to what you’d buy at a drugstore, or at least Sephora. But not everything is priced prohibitively in the first place: If you use coconut oil from the grocery store, that costs seven dollars and it lasts for months, and it’s incredibly skin-compatible and moisturizing. If you leave your hair alone, maybe you don’t need shampoo or conditioner. With the exception of a few fancy eye creams, which companies send to me, I buy the products that I use, and I don’t like to spend a lot of money. But you need to figure out what works for you. I have it down to four products that I consider necessities, and the rest are fun incidentals. Using fewer things is better; you can then buy the high-quality stuff and use less of it. Like if you use a concentrated serum, you’re using a drop on your pinkie for your entire face. It lasts. People often spend more in total on less expensive products. I think Alexandra did the math at some point: She’d been using a fistful of regular conditioner every single day, and then she’d feel like it wasn’t working, so she’d cast off a half-used bottle and get something else. When you use something that actually works for you, you don’t need to do that.

On Challenge
There’s definitely a political element to natural beauty: I think it’s wrong that the government is structured so that it can’t actually safeguard consumers from the beauty industry. That makes me angry, so there’s some fire there. But beyond that: Going natural made me realize I was chasing certain beauty ideas in this unconscious way. There’s this cycle of using products that don’t work and then buying more products to try, and then those don’t work so you try others that don’t work. There’s this idea that you can buy beauty in a bottle, and that that’s what has the power. Alexandra calls it “chasing the beauty dragon,” and I just love that phrase. And as it turns out, not chasing the dragon feels really good. Things that feel good become sort of self-perpetuating as habits, so if something feels good you want to do it again. That’s how it is with not chasing the beauty dragon: It feels really good, so you want to keep doing it. A few times a year I start to wonder, Am I missing out on something by giving up all of that? But then I remember how I was before and I remember, no, it’s fine—it’s great.

I used to wake up every day and touch my face to see if something had happened overnight. First thing in the morning—that was literally the first thing I did every day. My skin has done a 180 since I went natural—it’s crazy. So obviously that was great, but it went beyond that. Something inside both of us transformed over the course of writing and constantly thinking about beauty and our relationship to it—every woman’s relationship to it. We’ve seen a lot of people fight their natural look. And it’s cheesy to say, but you know what it’s like when you see a really healthy woman, regardless of the shape of her nose or her body, and you’re like, whoa. There’s health and joy, smiles and truth—it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. Natural beauty can go beyond products; it’s about stripping all that other stuff away and just taking joy in the natural curl of your hair or the natural glow of your skin. It’s about not hiding.

We love doing challenges—someone I work with was like, “In your head, is life like summer camp?” and I’m like, You know, kind of. Challenges are fun. We did a no-makeup challenge, where readers sent in pictures of themselves without makeup. Then we did a glamour challenge, where we asked readers to do the most glamorous look they could do, preferably with natural products, and send us their photos. And it’s funny—going glam was really hard for people. If you do your makeup in a dramatic way it’s like you’re saying to the world: I want to rock this look right now, and a lot a people aren’t comfortable doing that. We had people privately e-mailing us and saying, I just can’t do it. It was interesting that doing no makeup was easier for people. I guess the mentality was, Well, if I look bad with no makeup, no big deal. But if you look bad with makeup—it’s like you’ve said to the world, This is the best I can do, and then if it doesn’t work out you feel foolish. People can be shy about the sense of showiness and playfulness that accompanies glamour. The challenge turned out fun—some people went really wild. But I was shocked at how hard it was for some people.

On Resistance to Natural Beauty
A girlfriend of mine is thinking about opening up a natural beauty store, and she was like, “It just feels so superficial.” I flashed back: Up until two months before the book came out, I would avoid talking about it because I thought that people would think I was fluffy or wouldn’t take me seriously. Isn’t that weird? Alexandra had the same thing, like, “Oh, people are going to think this is silly, we’re just girls talking about makeup.” I remember having a conversation with the guy I was with at the time, and he was like, “You need to own this.” And I was like, “Oh!” Somehow hearing it from a dude made me think about it differently.

It’s funny—I feel like guys are easier to win over with this stuff than women sometimes. Men and women are both like, “Whoa, that’s crazy!”—but then women are the ones using the products. There can be a feeling of embarrassment. My friends will say, “Siobhan, I use...” and it’s some toxic product, and I’m like, “I’m not gonna judge you. I’m really not.” It’s like there’s some shame around beauty. Sometimes we feel a certain shame in using products that we know aren’t the best for us—it’s like the guy you shouldn’t have kissed two years ago. You know you shouldn’t be doing it, but you’re doing it anyway. But we’re all about being aware of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Stripping away the physical toxins can sometimes show us the reasons we really want to wear makeup. Because toxins or not, for women there’s often a certain amount of: I need this. But you don’t. You really don’t. That feeling of need keeps you from having fun with your makeup. I love makeup so much more now than I used to, because before there was no sense of joy in doing it. It would be like, Oh, I can’t do this to my face, or for Alexandra, I’d never do that to my curls. Now it’s like: Oh my God, this is so much fun! From the beginning Alexandra and I wanted what we were doing to be fun and friendly. We both feel this joyfulness about it, and I think we pride ourselves on bringing that to what we’re doing.


For more beauty interviews from The Beheld, click here.

Grand Conclusion: No-Shampoo

I've been getting a number of questions lately about the final results of my Hair Warrior experiment, which, for those of you not inclined to such grandiosity, consists of not washing your hair. As background: I went nine months without washing my hair, beginning with several weeks of not wetting it at all and eventually wetting it once every ten days or so, plus using rinse-out conditioner. The unfortunately named "no-poo" theory is that frequent shampooing strips your hair of its natural oils and that quitting altogether (at least for a while) restores your sebum production to a place of blissful balance. A scalp rebirth, if you will. And while I don't think my hair looked squeaky-clean during the experiment, neither did it look nasty (well, not after the first few weeks, anyway, when the scalp is still churning out large amounts of oils).

But after getting a STEALTH SHAMPOO during a body scrub, I had an opportunity to see if the whole "rebalancing" thing worked or if I was back at ground zero, scalpwise. Since June I've been washing my hair about once every 10 days or so, using either regular shampoo or baking soda. People sing the praises of baking soda as shampoo, and the best I can say for it is that it works just fine. It's not harsh, but neither does my hair look or feel any better after washing with a baking soda paste than it does after shampoo. The main advantage is that it's cheaper, but it's also more of a pain because you've got to mix the baking soda with water to create a paste, and I find it more difficult to distribute evenly when doing the washing part.

In any case, I'm officially declaring the no-shampoo experiment a success in the long term. My hair, left to its own devices, doesn't start to look oily until three days after shampooing; before, it would look dirty the very next morning. I use a dry shampoo when I need to and leave it alone the rest of the time. (Of course, I wear my hair up a lot, so if you always prefer it down you may have a different experience.) As for the dry shampoo, the Bumble & Bumble Hair Powder is the best I've found because it adds texture and body; plain old cornstarch works if I just want to absorb a little oil, but it doesn't add body. (Excepting the awesome ad above, I'm not a fan of Pssssst dry shampoo, as a bottle lasted just a couple of weeks and it leaves a bit of a residue, which cornstarch doesn't, even on my dark brown hair. Just rub it out and it's fine.) It's never given me less trouble; it's more predictable. Yes, I think you should try it.

The buried lede here is that I literally have not washed my face for more than a year and see no reason to do so ever again. I splash it with water at night, and sometimes in the morning if I feel particularly greasy, and that's the entirety of my face cleansing routine. I use a baking soda scrub on my face a couple of times a week, and occasionally use coconut oil to remove makeup if my face is feeling particularly dry. Facial skin is more temperamental than our scalp, I think, and the results are more noticeable if the no-wash thing doesn't work for you. All I'll say is that while I have normal skin, it does lean toward oily, and I've noticed utterly no change in how shiny I look between now and when I was washing every day. Do with this information what you will!

How Much Time Do You Spend on Grooming?

After a week of careful tallying, I can definitively say I am six minutes
more high-maintenance than the average American woman.

After reading the somewhat dispiriting statistics about how women’s earnings negatively correlate with time spent grooming, I started thinking about my own grooming minutes. Not so much what it might mean for my earnings (when you work in women’s magazines and/or from home, your grooming/earnings formula gets a little chaotic), but more what it means about how I prioritize grooming on a practical level. So when Tori from Anytime Yoga (a wonderful feminist wellness blog) said that the study made her want to calculate her own beauty labor, I piggybacked onto her experiment. We each spent a week tallying our minutes spent on grooming; you can read Tori’s results here.

My numbers are about what I thought they’d be, and are roughly on par with the national average: American women spend an average of 49 minutes a day on personal grooming, and I spent an average of 55 minutes, making me six minutes more high-maintenance than you. Rather: If I plan on seeing people socially or professionally, I spent an average of 55 minutes on groomingdays I spent working from home and not seeing anyone socially had a much lower average, including one slovenly Tuesday when my grand grooming total was exactly 8 minutes. (Grooming as defined by the American Time Use Survey, the source of the original data I'm drawing from, includes selecting clothes, brushing teeth, showering, etc., in addition to hairstyling, makeup application, eyebrow tweezing, and playing kissyface with oneself in the mirror.)

When I was looking at my numbers, I wasn’t thinking about their impact on my earnings, but another sort of economy came to mind: my own personal labor economy, as described by Parkinson’s Law, which states that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. The term was coined in 1955 and was intended to humorously illustrate bureaucratic inefficiencies, and it’s not to be confused with actual economic theory, though there’s probably something there to be said about elasticity.

In any case: Remember when I stopped washing my hair last year? Part of the reason I quit shampooing was the time spent washing and drying my hair every dayit was taking me almost an hour to get ready, from stepping foot in the shower to stepping foot out the door. That’s not an enormous amount of time, but at least 15 minutes of that was spent on my hair, and coupled with the damage I was doing in blow-drying my hair daily, I began to question its utility. (This is why I like Verging on Serious’s take on the more-grooming-equals-less-income bit: “Perhaps these women get the same results in less time because they are super skilled at being efficient, which is a characteristic of a successful person.” Perhaps I am just highly effective. Consider skipping shampoo the eighth habit.)

The eighth habit: Be a Hair Warrior.

Now, last week was the first time I’d actually tallied up all the minutes spent on grooming, and so I don’t know what my grand total was back when I was washing my hair every day. But it wasn’t until I did this week’s experiment that I realized my shower-to-door time is back to where it was when I was washing my hair every day. Somewhere along the line, I unintentionally decided that just under an hour was an acceptable amount of time to spend grooming myself every day. And when I cut out a major time expenditurewashing my hairI expanded the rest of my beauty labor in order to fill the time I’d allotted to my appearance. They’re small things, but they add up: A year ago, I didn’t wear lipstick or eyebrow pencil, and I wore eye pencil, not liquid liner, which takes more time and care to apply. I still wore an updo, but my hair was shorter then and required less work to stay secure. I rarely painted my nails, and I’d easily skip a day or two of shaving my legs; now my nails are generally painted, and I shave every time I shower. (I finally admitted that stubble makes me feel plain old grody, and the untended leg hair look doesn't really work for me, so I suck it up even though shaving is a total drag.)

Now, if I were an economist I might look at this and say I’m being irrational, that by successfully cutting down on beauty labor only to reallocate that time to more beauty labor is defeating my own stated purpose (and adding on financial cost, with the lipstick, liquid liner, etc.). But another economist might look at my morning routineyou know, because economists are lined up outside my bathroomand argue that I’m actually maximizing my utility by exchanging invisible labor (hair-washing) for visible labor (color cosmetics). And if utility is defined as the amount of satisfaction derived from any particular good, certainly my lipstick utility is higher than my blow-drying utility, since blow-drying is bo-ring and lipstick is not.

But my own personal lipstick index aside (though rumor has it it's now a nail polish index?), I’m wondering what it means that I’m right back to a just-under-an-hour morning routinewhich, by the way, is pretty much where I’ve been since high school. I keep taking steps to minimize my routine, but then I’ll add other steps back on, all without realizing that’s what I’m doing. Maybe my personal rhythm is such that 55 minutes just feels rightenough time for it to feel like an unrushed ritual, not so much time that it seriously takes away from other things I might be doing with that time. (And about half of my grooming minutes are spent doing things I’d be doing even if I stopped all beauty laborshowering, brushing my teeth, clipping my nails, etc.)

I’m wondering about other people’s experiences with this. How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? Has that changed greatly over the years? Are there things you do in your morning routine that you didn’t do a year ago--or things you stopped doing?

Beauty Blogsophere 6.10.11

The latest beauty news, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...
The definitive guide to not washing your hair: Fonda LaShay of Mint & Chili has been with me from nearly the beginning of this hair experiment. Now that I've been STEALTH SHAMPOOED, Fonda's locks are, to me, a reminder of What Once Was. To you, it can just be pretty hair! For a complete guide to not washing your hair, check out her post here.  

Despite what you may read below, Neil Patrick Harris is not Korean. I repeat: not Korean.

Beyond guyliner: Interesting quote roundup in Malaysian Today about men's makeup. "In Korea for example, I think it's almost a norm there to wear eyeliner and foundation and not get judged." Who knew?

Totally made-up disease strikes everyone's girl crush: Poor Christina Hendricks! She has eyelash hypotrichonosis and needs Latisse (which pretty much invented eyelash hypotrichonosis). And as it happens, they needed a spokeswoman! At least she's frank about the hazards of constantly wearing false lashes.

The meeting of Dirck Hals and John Fluevog.

To Toe...
Men in high-heeled shoes in art: Hey, guess what! It's men in high-heeled shoes in art!

...And Everything in Between:
Bottoms up!: Drinking collagen? Is this a thing in the States too? "When the cap is unscrewed, a slight whiff of animal fat serves as a reminder of the drink’s high collagen content."

Call the press—photo airbrushed!: At first I rolled my eyes at news that a model sued Estee Lauder for using her in an anti-aging ad (she's 35). But once I read that the photo was snapped during a test shot for a different product, my sympathy increased. Still, what's bothersome here is that Estee Lauder digitally aged her photo instead of finding a model who could have actually used the product. What, there are no working models over 45? (Shit, are there?)

Makeup on fire!: Fire destroys "substantial portion" of Revlon's Venezuelan facilities. Nobody was at the plant at the time, luckily.

Agreeability and assessment of attraction: Fascinating study of whether people can detect when others are attracted to them. For once I'm on board with an experiment that examines attraction, as it doesn't rely on some random assessor's evaluation of someone else's beauty, but rather people's own perceptions of what others think. Turns out that in women, agreeability is linked to how well we're able to gauge people's attraction to us. For men, it's promiscuity. (Personal aside: I'm a highly agreeable woman and I think I'm generally pretty good at telling when someone's attracted to me, with the glaring exception of...promiscuous men. Seriously, they're the ones I can't read. So!)

Smell like your dad!

Que de que?: Listen, I was as guilty as the next erstwhile foodie of hopping on the bacon bandwagon. I'll even begrudgingly get behind bacon perfume. I draw the line at eau de pork BBQ, however. Introducing: Que. 

What's the point of pretty?: Interesting post at Yes and Yes about extraordinarily attractive women. "How would you feel if the only thing people ever praised you for was something you had no control over?" (Via Rachel Hills)

Possible (but unlikely) merge: Rumors of Proctor & Gamble buying Unilever?

"What I See": I'm always fascinated to read business analysis of ad campaigns, and this breakdown of Procter & Gamble's "What I See"/"Proud Sponsor of Mom" campaign is no exception. Instead of focusing on individual products (CoverGirl, Olay, Clairol, Pantene, etc.) this series aims to associate the corporate brand with Good Things like supporting parents of special needs children. I'm all for hearing authentic voices, but when you see the strategy behind letting "real" moms--of "real" children!--speak, its appeal significant diminishes and begins to seem creepy. Replace special-needs kids with body-image concerns and right there you have my unease about Dove's erstwhile body image campaign.

Self-consciousness and judgment:
Great, critical post from Decoding Dress on the "society-wide beauty pageant" we're shoved into sometimes, and why feeling ungenerous toward ourselves can prompt us to feel that way toward others.

Summer reads!:
Christ, why do magazines always call out "summer reads"? Are we not allowed to read at other times of the year? Or is it that our sun-fried brains can only handle intel lite during the warmer seasons? ANYWAY: Four new beauty books, two of which interest me: "Spa Wars," which claims to be "The Ugly Truth About the Beauty Industry," and "Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm?" by the brains behind The Beauty Brains, a fun, informative cosmetics science site you should be reading if you're not already.

Stealth Shampoo!

If you've been following this blog, you know that I haven't shampooed my hair since September 2010. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that I've happily extended into months of research. I've heard from people who wash their hair with olive oil, goat's milk soap, herbal rinses, and baking soda. I've read of spending every night manually coating your hair strands with your own sebum (I'll say it: Ew! Sebum is great but a gross word!), making your own dry shampoo with kaolin clay, and "hair perfumes." Some of you have joined me, Hair Warriors that you are! Some of you have served as beacons, guiding we newcomers through the dark desert of the unknown. Some of you have been warily admiring. Some of you have been just wary.

Whatever you think of the project, please, let us pause and give my sebum (sorry!) coated strands a warrior's rest. For deep in the annals of Queens, a stealth shampoo has been committed.

As far as luxuries go, the only thing I love more than public baths (um, the Ottoman kind, not a sponge bath at Port Authority) is a sauna. And the only thing I love more than a sauna is beer. And the only thing I love more than beer is a massage.

So basically, I had no choice but to celebrate turning 35 by a visit to Spa Castle, which is, indeed, a castle, one full of public baths, and saunas, and beer, and massages. Immersive water-jet foot baths, gold-plated saunas (and six more sauna huts, including salt, mud, jade, and color therapy lights), Korean-style body scrubs, jet-ball water neck massages, and a wade-up bar: For $45 (with additional fees for the treatments and vittles), you have unlimited daylong access to all of this.

I'd be embarrassed at how awesome this felt on my neck if I hadn't looked at the sixtysomething gentleman
next to me mid-spray and seen the sheer ecstasy—nay, rapture!—crossing his face.

Make no mistake: Spa Castle is not for those whose thrills derive from exclusivity. Families and hordes of naked people (in the locker rooms) surround you. It's more akin to Six Flags than Canyon Ranch. I promise you will emerge relaxed, but that's a testament to the sheer awesomeness of a water-jet massage that you can control and have target your problem areas as long as you wish, not  tranquility. As luxurious as it is to be at a spa in the first place, the utilitarian feel of the place is a reminder that originally, spas were places to restore health, not beauty.

In the case of Spa Castle, which is owned and operated by Korean-Americans, that extends to the basic body scrub. I've never had a body scrub before; this was a birthday treat from my gentleman friend (who spent the duration of my scrub in the men's lounge, un-naked, reading Aldous Huxley, but who wound up loving the water treatments even more than I did). For the uninitiated: A Korean body scrub, or at least this Korean body scrub, consists of lying down on a plastic-covered table while buckets of warm water are dumped on you. A spa worker then scrubs every inch of you—yes, every inch—with exfoliation mitts, puts some cucumbers on your face, lathers you up, and then slathers you with baby oil. And as anyone who is new to scrubs has probably reported: Damn, they take off a lot of skin.

So I'm lying there with cucumbers on my face, trying to ignore that every time I inhale I can feel a small shred of cucumber snake its way my nostril, highly aware of the fact that I am one of six naked, wet women in this room where six other women wearing only bras and underwear—it was too wet for anything else to be practical—are dumping buckets of warm water on us. And I'm lying there mentally composing a post about beauty labor, and ways service workers might subvert the usual power dynamic, and trying to suss out whether there's any links between North Korean politics and the constant reminders that we must all be wearing our uniforms at all times outside of the locker rooms—

—and then, the stealth shampoo.

The smell of synthetic freesia! The bubbles! The feel of hands running over every inch of my scalp! The sudden multihued highlights of my hair that were revealed upon drying! The sensation of the breeze rustling through my scalp!

I lay on the table and let her rub, wash, shampoo it all away. What was I to do? This was a coup de main performed with care, a covert shampoo operation that, once I realized was occurring, I couldn't do anything about. As with all acts of stealth, my best move was to respond with a bit of my own creep intelligence: I'd let the clandestine agent perform her duty, then debrief myself upon its completion.

I've secretly suspected Sting of being a Hair Warrior (to wit: "Would she prefer it if I washed myself more often than I do?", from "She's Too Good for Me"), so it's appropriate that I turn to him now. O Sebum, my patiently corralled secretion of lipids and wax (sorry, I'll stop soon, really): You have served me well. But as the Englishman sang, If you love somebody, set them free.

And so, Dear Reader, I have set my sebum (last time!) free. No, I'm not going back to washing my hair daily, or even weekly. Something I'd forgotten in my eagerness to engage in acts of Extreme Hair Care was that the point was to balance the scalp's oil production to get out of the wash-condition-dry cycle, not necessarily to never shampoo again. (I still hate washing my hair, but refraining entirely does indeed have its drawbacks.) It's been several days since the stealth shampoo, and my hair doesn't feel dirty at all. I imagine it will get greasy over time, and frankly, right now I don't have it in me to go through another transition period. So throughout the summer, I plan on shampooing as needed—actually, I plan on trying alternate washing methods, starting with baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and experimenting with other hair washes too. And when my would-be hair-anniversary comes in September, perhaps I'll give it another whirl. We'll see.

Beauty Blogosphere 5.16.11

The Beheld, like all blogs hosted on Blogger, has been experiencing technical issues—recent posts have disappeared; I'm still hoping/waiting to get them back. In the meantime, please enjoy my usual Friday roundup on this Monday.

And let's kick things off by agreeing to refer to Crystal Renn as a model, not a plus-size model, shall we? Daily News style writer Lindsay Goldwert lays out the history in this piece chronicling Renn's explosive rise as a "plus-size" model: "It's undeniable. The smaller she gets, the more famous she gets. But she can't get too bony—or else she'll lose her former plus-size allure, which made her a star in the first place. So why not put the whole plus-size argument to rest?" If we're ever going to have true body diversity we need to stop thinking women come in two sizes, plus or "straight," as it's called in the modeling world. Hell, even pantyhose comes in three sizes!

What else is going on in beauty this week, from head to toe and everything in between.

From Head...
Locks of lit-love: Snippets of hair from esteemed writers, via The Hairpin, which is absolutely correct when they note that Walt Whitman could've used a deep conditioner.

The day Selma Hayek became a plush toy: "Better still, Hayek circled the table so that each editor could touch her skin." WOW am I glad I'm not a celebrity hawking my own makeup line. (Though all of you are welcome to touch my hair if you wish.)

No more dirty hair: Alexandra Spunt of No More Dirty Looks, one of my shampoo-free compatriots, washed her hair. Egads! Amusing writeup here

To Toe...
Cyber pedicure: Now you (well, your six-year-old niece) can put on a pretend pedicure. Okay, I admit I don't get the point of ANY video games, unless it's Tetris on your cell phone for the occasional subway diversion, ahem. But what is the reward of a pedicure that lives in the cloud, not your feet? I mean, I get that girls are supposedly more into elliptical games like The Sims instead of the shoot-kill-race games, but this is just odd.

...And Everything in Between
Stop saying skinnyfat: I've always hated this term but could never quite identify why. Luckily, I didn't have to, because Ragan Chastain did it for us all!

Food as rebellion: Tori at Anytime Yoga puts a fine point on something I've experienced: Knowing that there's a certain cultural power in eating "bad foods" and claiming that power because WE ARE BODY-LOVING FEMINISTS DAMMIT, but internalizing shame about it regardless.

On beauty and acceptance: Interesting post at The Blog of Disquiet on the uses of beauty and the ways we choose to include or exclude the world by the choices we make surrounding beauty and appearance.

"I remember sexy": Brittany Julious at This Recording on sexiness and bodily agency--it's also a nice complement to all the "slut" talk happening around Slutwalk

On makeup as a green light: This writer is upset because a man smiled at her when she looked "like crap," and though unless the piece is satire (please?) it's basically a screed of misanthropy, I'm interested in some of her reasoning. "A woman might spend hours, nay, days during any given week with straightening irons, makeup.... For women such as myself, this process is how we prepare, how we ready ourselves to be acknowledged." A slightly maddening take on the way we believe we can control our image--and the dissonance that happens when we find we can't.

More maddening material from excellent sources: This SNL clip on "Tina Fey honoring women writers" was cut from the last time she hosted--and thankfully. It's supposed to be a comment on prizing women's looks about their talents--looking at great female writers and giving crass voiceovr commentary on their looks--but it just comes off as mean. It's "funny" to refer to Liz Lemon as unattractive, because Tina Fey is obviously pretty. The joke falls flat when you're making jokes about talented female writers like Eudora Welty...who look like Eudora Welty.

Beauty inflation: A professor of "Economics of Sex and Love" argues that because we can select the best pics of ourselves to put on online dating sites, that this creates "beauty inflation" in which we price ourselves out of the dating market. Besides the sort of gross leanings here, I call invalid on this theory because most people I know who do online dating put up representatively pretty pictures of themselves, not necessarily the "best" pictures, for fear of letting someone down. No word on whether overuse of "[insert clever headline here]" leads to irony inflation.

The house that beauty built: Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena, Clean & Clear) heiress buys one of the most expensive townhouses in Manhattan. Its previous owner? founder Roger Barnett.
30 for 30: Fashion blogger Megan at Another Zoe Day's "30 Days to 30" is chronicling the 30 days leading up to her 30th birthday on May 30. Lots of us have turned 30—but she's doing it only weeks after uprooting her cozy expat life in Berlin (with a job, boyfriend, apartment, and routine) and moving to Brooklyn (apartment-less, job-less, boyfriend-less, and craving a greater sense of center as she embarks upon this next decade). It's a neat spin on the "Turn Your Life Around in 30 Days!" type of stories you see in the ladymags, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

Drugstore markup: Drugstores need to mark up their goods; that's how they turn a profit, and I'd rather have a markup on lipstick than on cold medicine. But it also seems like they're literally banking on their ladycustomers being willing to pay whatever they price their goods at, doesn't it?

Splitting hairs: Luckily, the U.S. Justice Department intervenes from time to time to make sure we're not paying more than is strictly necessary, as happened when Unilever (Dove, Suave, Tigi, Pond's, etc.) acquired Alberto VO5. Without antitrust law coming into play, Unilever would have had undue control over bargain shampoo, meaning they could have made them not quite as bargain. Thanks, U.S. Attorney General!

Latina cosmetics leader dies: Mirta de Perales, one of the first Hispanic women to find success in the U.S. cosmetics market, died last week at age 88. Exiled in 1962 from Cuba, where she was wealthy and well-known as a salon owner, with $5 in her purse when she was afraid her business would be seized from her (which is exactly what happened), she started from scratch in Miami as a beautician, eventually becoming a major player in the Puerto Rican and U.S. Latina beauty market.

Month Without Mirrors 5.9.11 Update: My Mirror Shroud, Hair Care, and Going to the Gym

One of the cooler things that's happened as a result of this project is cyber-meeting a California academic who's also abstaining from mirrors—for a year. Not just any year: the year in which she's getting married. I love her description of plotting out mirror-avoidance with her fiance; she's also exaining mirror-themed poems and books. I'm looking forward to reading more on her blog, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall, and you should totally check it out! She's contemplating not even looking at her wedding photos until after the experiment is over; wonderful proof that the "bridezilla" phenomenon gets attention because it makes women look cray-cray. It's thoughtful, reflective stories like hers that are probably more representative of women on the eve of marriage.

"I bought it.  I loved it.  It loved me.  Until... somehow... we fell out of love. Mirrors are to blame."
—Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Her "rules" entry prompted me to clarify something that caused some eyebrows to raise; a couple of  commenters felt that my use of a hand mirror to apply makeup went against the whole point. (In fact, some felt that wearing makeup, period, went against the whole point. But this experiment isn't about my relationship to beauty standards; it's about my relationship with the mirror. Dig?) I am indeed using a hand mirror to apply makeup, but I'm using it at close range so that only the feature I'm able to see is the one being worked on. (In fact, the below shot is a broader scope than what I normally see, but anything closer made photographing this an impossibility.) And I quickly realized that I only need it for eyes and lips; the rest of my makeup, I apply blindly.

My handy accomplice.

A few people have also expressed quiet concern for the eeriness of having one's mirrors shrouded, as though I'm sitting shiva for myself. But look! My mirror veil is pink and froofy and adorable and makes use of my enormous collection of vintage slips that are far too synthetic to feel comfortable lounging around in! Betty Draper in da house!

The biggest practical concern I've had thus far has been something I wish I'd put more thought into: That other beauty experiment of mine, the no-shampoo bit. It's not styling my hair that's problematic (I usually either wear it loose or in a purposefully disheveled updo anyway); it's dealing with the greasies. Because as much as I crow about how fantastic life is up here on my shampoo-free perch, the only reason it's fantastic is because I've made good use of dry shampoos and hair powders. I don't use them daily, but I do rely on them, and without those tools I'd look, well, terrible. And again: The point of this experiment is not to see what happens if I walk around in public with toothpaste on my shirt, lipstick on my chin, and hair like a particularly bedraggled Dean Martin. In fact, I need to look reasonably neat in order for this experiment to work: I want to not think about how I look, not be concerned about whether I look poorly groomed. So I present to you my workaround:

If I feel my hair and it seems like it could use a touch-up, I lift up the white slip and find this cutout shaped to my face, which allows me to see where I need to apply some product to my hair, without seeing my face. My hair is rarely the concern when I look in the mirror anyway, so I'm satisfied with this solution. (My "bad face days" outnumber my "bad hair days" by probably a 12:1 margin—that is, assuming both of those are gauged internally, not by how your face or hair actually looks, which, in my case, is pretty much the same day-to-day.)

It's been surprisingly easy to avoid mirrors: With only a handful of exceptions, I've been good about anticipating panes of glass and unexpected mirrors. (Why do so many elevators have mirrors? I've never noticed that before!) I was out and about plenty this week but was working from home; this week, I'm working in an office—a famously image-conscious office, at that. The company cafeteria features a funhouse-style mirror at its exit; of the architecture, the New York Times writes, "Gazelles and other svelte creatures pass along a wall of rippling mirrors. Their figures merge, contort, morph and liquefy. The panoramic image changes constantly, forming and reforming in the eye of the beholder. Why shouldn't beauty flow into the soul like a fresh scent strip?" This place will be home base for the next week, folks. I'll resist the temptation to peek (never fear!), but being in an environment where image-consciousness is turned up to 11 and having no clue how I look will be an exercise in self-restraint, that's for sure.

As for other shared spaces: I admit to feeling slightly foolish at the gym when I turn away from the mirror to do my biceps curls, but the side benefit is that gym rats are less likely to gawk when you're facing them head-on. A more direct benefit is that without intending to, I've been able to do more reps, with both biceps curls and triceps extensions, which are the two exercises I usually perform directly in front of a mirror.

Previously, I'd believed I felt inspired by looking in the mirror at my muscles as I'd pump iron. I'm not a fitness fiend, but I lift the heaviest weights I can when I work my arms, and it shows. Most of the time I feel pretty good about that. I grew up thinking my body was incapable of doing anything remotely athletic: I saw no problem with sitting down on the T-ball field to pick dandelions; I couldn't ride a bike until I was 31; I would invariably feign illness the day of The Mile, when all students had to run a timed mile in P.E. class. Before joining a neighborhood gym for the first time, at age 25, I actually spent the day at a gym in the Bronx—an hour subway ride away—so that there would be zero chance anyone I knew would witness my trial and humiliating errors. So for me to not only be lifting weights but having actual muscle to show for it is still a thrill for me, and I love seeing my (moderately sized) biceps bulge when I'm straining to complete my last few reps.

But at some point in those minutes, probably once a session, I think of the time an ex-boyfriend called me a "bruiser," or the time we were watching the scene in Fargo where Shep beats up Steve Buscemi's character (NSFW) and he squeezed my arm and told me I was "built like Shep"—who, while undeniably powerful, doesn't exactly embody the look I'm after.  

Or I simply see that the muscles I've worked so hard for are snuggled into the layer of fat that surrounds them, which doesn't particularly bother me unless I'm, say, intensely focusing on the way my arms look. Which is exactly what I do every time I do biceps curls.

When I face away from the mirror, my workout becomes only about how I feel. I truly thought that it already was, mind you; but removing my self-observation cuts off one avenue for my thoughts to wander to appearance, not performance. Yes, I lift weights in part to look better. But my muscules will develop regardless of whether I'm observing the way I look during exercise, and my self-surveillance robs me of the opportunity to focus solely on the flexing and retracting of my muscle. In short: When I observe myself lifting weights, I'm impeding my flow, which is what I'm after. When I'm just lifting, however, I can harness resources that are stunted by my reflection.

It's still too early to tell how I'll emerge from this project mentally and emotionally—but if this keeps up, I'll emerge stronger in at least one way.

Please Vote: Which Half of My Face Looks Younger

I'm in the last leg of my anti-aging face cream experiment: Now, gentle reader, it is in your hands. (For those of you just now joining the beauty lab: I've been using an anti-wrinkle face cream on one half of my face for the past month.) Please vote in my poll (upper right-hand corner of the blog) on which—if either—half of my face looks younger! (You can click on the image to make it larger, either for educating yourself re: the poll or to use as wallpaper on your desktop.)

I have my own ideas about which half of my face benefited from this experiment (and so does the skin care expert I visited) but in scientia veritas, so forgive me for not letting you know which half is which until next week.

In the meantime: You came down in favor of me shampooing my hair, but it was neck-and-neck, with only a two-vote difference between the yesses and the nos. (The lone "Thought it looked like hell all along, really" vote I am discarding, as it is unclear if the person thinks I should wash it or merely dislikes my hair wholesale.) I'm hanging on a bit longer as a Hair Warrior—I'm self-employed so "Hair Warrior" is as close as I'm going to get to a job promotion—but the siren song of shampoo is calling.

To Shampoo or Not Shampoo?

This is the time of year when I always get itchy to cut my hair: It was April 2001 when I cut off a foot of hair to go short for the first time in my life, then April 2006 when I went pixie for the first time. (My current long hair is actually an accident--when I lost my job in 2008 I decided to remove haircuts from my budget, and two years of updos later I realized I was a bona fide longhair again. But I digress.)

This time around, the question isn't: Should I cut my hair? It's: Should I wash it?

Erm, to clarify, this is meant to illustrate "bedhead." But you can also see how clean/not clean it looks.

I've been evangelical about the no-shampoo thing (for those new to my experiment: I haven't shampooed since September, just rinsing and conditioning my hair once a week and using a hair powder in between), and while I've tried to be honest about the drawbacks, part of evangelism is sort of glossing over the downside. So, to be clear:

1) My hair is incredibly healthy. No split ends, thick, strong, resilient.
2) I have more time in the mornings.
3) I have more volume, and a fetching bedhead look. (Amiright amiright?)
4) My hair holds styling easier (I am still a big fan of the updos)
5) The longer I go, the more normal it looks.
6) Cred.

1) Let's be real: It can get greasy.
2) As shampoo-free Alexandra Spunt writes in No More Dirty Looks: "It's not that it stank.... But it smelled like hair, and I wanted it to smell like girl hair."
3) When I'm self-conscious, it goes onto the list of Things People Might Be Looking At, right below my extraordinarily sharp incisors but before my worry lines.
4) Getting my hair wet now seems like an enormous ordeal. I'm now understanding where the "I'm washing my hair" turn-down line came from.
5) I just don't feel clean.

As Christa d'Souza wrote in W, "I can’t help feeling like a piece of vintage clothing that hasn’t been properly dry-cleaned." It's not that I feel dirty; it's that since September, I haven't felt that super-clean, super-breezy feeling you get when every inch of you has been properly scrubbed and rubbed and cleansed and patted dry. And I miss that feeling, particularly after a great session at the gym where my body feels all stretched and fantastic...and that feelings ends at my scalp.

But, dammit! At this point I've reached the pinnacle of We Great Unwashed: My natural hair oils have coated the entire length of my strands, my hair is in great shape, and it's almost summer (humor me here), which means updos, which will take care of problems 1-4 above (I don't bother to blow-dry my hair when it's going immediately into an updo, so getting it wet isn't a problem). I'm not sure whether to consider my time investment a sunk cost or to charge forward.

Hmm. I ask the Washed and the Unwashed alike: What to do? Giddily shampoo? Try baking soda and apple cider vinegar? Be a hair warrior and stay unwashed? Another option altogether? Be candid now, please. And vote in the poll on the sidebar!

PS: Still haven't washed my face. That, for whatever reason, feels totally fine.

No Shampoo Goes Upscale

 The Unwashed took a vote; she's our new representative.

We, the Unwashed, have gone haute: W magazine has a piece about not washing one's hair; the writer went six weeks* without shampoo and chronicled her results—it's a well-written piece worth checking out. I'd also like to confess that I have been skirting the issue that the writer ends on: Yes, your hair can smell a little funky after a week of not rinsing it. But in my case it really does take a week, and so I just rinse it. I've entrusted my boyfriend with the task of gently breaking it to me if I ever really need to just wash up already (all of you are far too genteel to use the word scalpy** when referring to my essence, I know).

As for my update: My hair looks better than ever, especially once I decided to really rock the bedhead look and tease it a bit, with some Bumble & Bumble hair powder in for good measure. It doesn't feel as silky with the texturizing powder in, but it makes me feel just un peu de rock star, so I'll keep it. I also took a big leap and got my first haircut since quitting the shampoo. I'd rinsed my hair the night before so I wasn't presenting the stylist with a week's worth of grease and hair powder buildup, and I just asked them to only wet my hair instead of shampoo it. Nobody thought twice about it. And stylists usually comment on how healthy my hair is (I don't color it, that's pretty much my secret), but this time engendered raves.

I'm only now realizing that as fascinated as people are with the whole no-shampoo thing, nobody could seem to care less about the fact that my face has gone unwashed for the same amount of time. I don't know why that is—back when I was using soap/shampoo, I was much more likely to skip a day of shampooing than I would be of face wash. Maybe it's because plenty of men don't use soap on their faces, so it doesn't seem as out-there? Or because people have all sorts of ways we wash our faces—bar soap, liquid soap, creams, foams, even oils and grit powders—so it doesn't seem as drastic? Or maybe because you can look at my face and immediately tell there is absolutely nothing different about it, whereas hair requires a bit more investigation—an investigation that's potentially intimate for both parties? (Only one friend has admitted to covertly sniffing my hair while hugging me.)

In any case, now that W is catching on I feel, for the first time ever, like a trendsetter. Be on the lookout for other Autumn Whitefield-Madrano maverick moves: Quit shopping and wear the same five thrifted cashmere sweaters in Monday-to-Friday rotation until they die a proud, pilled death! Master the art of subway-sleeping so that you can get away with a smaller purse because there's no book in it! Transform your nervous habits to your beauty advantage—have you ever seen a pair of lips more exfoliated than mine? All you have to do is rub, dahling!

Thanks to No More Dirty Looks for the tipoff!

*The word wimp seems unkind, but I'm coming up on six months here, people.
**You wouldn't notice this unless you were, say, a month into not washing your hair while reading it, but The Corrections contains the phrase "scalpy smell" no less than three times. (I skimmed over all the Lithuania stuff so it could be even more.) Perhaps Jonathan Franzen is a secret devotee?

A Brief Interruption of Theory, Discourse, and Analysis in Order to Talk Mascara

I’ve always been curious about the job of a beauty editor because it seems like they’re privy to information the rest of us aren’t—I mean, how many of us have the word beauty in our job titles? And, of course, most ladymag readers share that curiosity, hence the whispered, insider-y tone of most beauty pages (and the reaction Ali gets when she divulges her job to a new acquaintance: “First they say, ‘Oh, how fun!’ Then they want me to look at their skin. I’m practically a dermatologist by now”). So even though traditional beauty tips are roughly #84 on my wish list for what this blog might put into the universe, now is as good a time as any to share the most useful and surprising (eyeshadow primer? really?) tidbits from my interview with Ali.

1) What anti-aging cream actually works? “After interviewing hundreds of dermatologists and hearing the same advice every time, yes, I now use a prescription retinoid. It’s called Renova; it’s a creamier version of the drug that’s in Retin-A. You have to ease yourself into it, using a pea-sized amount every third day for a while, because otherwise you’ll get red really quickly and then you’ll stop using it.”

2) Try an acne system, not just an acne product. “I’ve used the same cleanser for two years—Proactiv, I swear to god, that shit works! Doctors can prescribe benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together, but a single over-the-counter product can’t have both. I think it’s one of those FDA monograph things. So the systems work because they have a benzoyl product and a salicylic product, but you’re using two products so you get them both without having to see a doctor.”

3) Buy the good sunscreen. “People always want to know what you should spend money on. Sunscreen you should spend money on. SPF means nothing because it doesn’t measure the UVA protection. And UVA blockers are really expensive, so cheap sunscreens don’t include them. But nobody wants to buy the good stuff, because it’s expensive! And if you’re wearing it correctly a bottle will last you two days, tops, at the beach. Look at the back, for the drug information—each of those drugs protects you from a different range of UV light for different amounts of time, so you actually want a long list. Neutrogena makes a good one—but it’s still $12.99.”

4) If you care about “clean beauty,” Burt’s Bees is the way to go. “I’ve been to their factory, I’ve interviewed their cosmetics chemist. Their lab isn't even a traditional lab, it's in the middle of the office, because they don't use chemicals so they don't need lab ventilation. They have big bags of sugar and coconut, but they make products that work, and it looks cute and you feel happy buying it. There are other companies that do the same thing but they charge a lot more for it. Burt's Bees is more expensive than some drugstore brands, but there's a reason for it.”

5) How the “natural look” breaks down: “People say to me, ‘You're so pretty, and you're not wearing any makeup.’ I probably have 17 products on right now! I put on SPF 30 sunscreen, every morning—if you interviewed enough dermatologists you'd do that too. Then tinted moisturizer; I'm still looking for the perfect one. If my skin is looking weird I'll use Armani foundation; it’s real sheer and melts in. Then concealer, because everybody needs concealer even if they say they don't; I use Estee Lauder Double Wear, it doesn't crease, and I've tried a ton. Then eyeshadow primer in lieu of eyeshadow, because you know how your eyelids might look bluish and pinkish and weird? This evens it out. The primers I’ve tried aren’t all that different; if it's eyeshadow primer it works. Then I curl my eyelashes. If I do nothing else, I curl my eyelashes—all you have to do is squeeze! No product! Then mascara; I use Blinc, this weird Japanese thing that freaks everybody out because when you wash it off it looks like your lashes are falling out, like little spider legs all over your sink, because it wraps each lash in this mascara tube. Then blush—Julie Hewitt has this rosy cream blush, very sheer—and bronzer on top of that. I still haven’t found the perfect bronzer. On my lips I put on lipstick or lip balm or whatever I'm testing at the time. So if people think I'm pretty without any makeup, I'm like, Shit, you could look like this too! Women think that there are pretty women and not-pretty women. But it's all what you do with what you have.”

6) Primers aren’t necessarily a rip-off. “You don’t have to put makeup over primers. People always freak out over primers because they think it’s priming you for something—like, great, another product I need? But you can use them alone and get good results. It actually does something.”

7) If your favorite item is discontinued, look at partner brands. “All these brands are owned by the same handful of companies, and the same labs do their products. So you liked Prescriptives, which was discontinued? You should look to Bobbi Brown, Estee Lauder, MAC, and Origins—they’re all owned by the same company that did Prescriptives, so they have the same R&D as Prescriptives. If you Google it you can find out who owns what.”

8) Check out return policies. “It’s great being a beauty editor because I get to actually try everything, whereas the woman in the drugstore would have to buy it to try it. It could take years of testing to find out what works for you.” [Drugstore return policies vary: CVS and Rite-Aid seem the most return-friendly for opened cosmetics, followed by Walgreens (in-store credit). For a more thorough (but not user-friendly) rundown of return policies, go here.]  

9) Know where to look in magazines to find what editors actually endorse. “The beauty editors’ picks page is usually mostly truthful. If I work at a magazine and there’s a ‘My Favorite Beauty Products,’ page, I’m not going to pick some product just because they bought a full-page ad. The line credits in the stories, that’s where sometimes you throw the advertisers a bone. There’s still that separation between edit and ads in that sense, but everything else being equal and I just have to mention a shampoo in a hair story, why wouldn’t I put in an advertiser’s? But I’m not going to claim it’s the greatest shampoo ever in the beauty editor’s picks.”

10) My personal vindication: You don’t need to wash your face that often. “You’re stripping it. Just do it at night to take makeup off—if you don’t wear makeup, you can just splash with water.”

11) And you definitely don’t need a toner. “Toners are bullshit.”

Pretty Stinky People

I’m four months into the no-shampoo, no face wash experiment, to healthy results. The face part has been fantastic, actually: My skin has balanced out nicely, and even this extraordinarily dry winter isn’t causing any major flakiness. I’m using a serum on my face morning and night (anti-aging! this 1976 baby says it’s time!) and a tinted moisturizer instead of foundation, and so far so good. My face is perenially shiny and while the no-washing hasn’t helped, it hasn’t hurt. Nary a pimple in sight.

Hair has been a bit more problematic. There’s no question that my hair does not look squeaky-clean, and I eye those shiny-haired girls with envy—o, to have that utterly breezy feeling again! That said, it usually doesn’t look dirty either. The texture has changed for the better; it appears thicker and fuller, with more volume (and without any effort on my part). I blush to report that it has been called “luxurious.” The roots look oily, which I combat by sprinkling dry shampoo—or, more often, arrowroot starch (which, unlike baby powder, doesn’t make my hair look white)--through it.

I’ve largely kept mum about my experiment. And here’s why: I met up with a friend from high school recently, one I hadn’t seen for six years. After about 10 minutes of catching up, he said that my hair looked fantastic: “It’s a New York thing, right? You always have a perfect blowout?” (I’ve never had a blowout in my life.) I told him I hadn’t washed my hair in four months, and he wrinkled his nose. “I’m going to sit over there now, okay?” He was teasing, of course (I think?) but the fact is that was his reaction, and I know it’s a lot of other people’s reactions too.

I missed this story—about what seems to be people who have access to showers not showering--when it first came out. No great loss, as there’s no newsworthiness here whatsoever. I like Virginia’s take over at Beauty Schooled Project: It’s “newsworthy” because these people are unassailably attractive.
I started out joking about all the pretty people in the article, but it’s also no accident that the NYT managed to find such fresh-faced beauties to be the spokespeople of Team Dirty. If they’d shown a bunch of older, less conventionally attractive, or — God forbid! — fat people, they couldn’t even have done the story. Because unattractive people not smelling great is not news.

So when I tell people that I’ve given up washing my hair and face, I immediately invite them to judge not only my cleanliness but my attractiveness. It reminds me of the time a magazine I was working at was doing a staff celebrity lookalike bit, and I reported that a professor had once told me, “There’s something about you that reminds me of Jack Palance.” It was funny in its absurdity; still, a photo assistant came over to take a snapshot of me to show the editor-in-chief “because we need to show her that you’re pretty enough for us to make a joke about you looking like Jack Palance.” (What if I hadn’t been?) 


Jack Palance.

About 1/3 of people I’ve told about the no-wash plan get all, “That’s AWESOME” and want to know more specifics. Another 1/3 don’t think it’s news. But the last third gives me this look of—not quite disgust; these are friends, after all—but of wariness and distance, as though I’m then going to tell them my recipe for making my own maxipads out of old copies of Mother Jones. Yet nobody I’m close to—the people I’m hugging, kissing, sitting next to at work—has mentioned or even hinted that perhaps this experiment should come to a quiet close. I’m choosing to believe that the wary folks are simply jealous with all the time I now spend eating bonbons, the poor hair-dryer slaves.

The True Tale of an Unwashed Woman

I’ve stopped washing my hair. And my face, for that matter. The inspiration was an episode of Mad Men in which an unseen character is reputed to not wash her face, but she’s French so it’s obviously good advice. (Thus proving that the national girl-crush on French women went back at least to the ’60s.) It reminded me of something I'd heard once -- that if you entirely stopped washing your hair, after a few greasy weeks a small miracle would occur atop your head; oils from your scalp would work their way down your strands to protect them and lend a glossy sheen, and your hair would then have reverted to its original, intended condition. Or something.

One of my more feline preferences is that I detest showering -- I do it, but it always feels like a chore, and its pain-in-assiness factor is exponentially increased every time I have to wash and dry my hair. Plus, I’m mostly working from home these days, so if my unwashed-face-and-hair plan were to wind up making me resemble a calzone, embarrassment would be minimal. So a month ago, I swore off shampoo and face washes. I use a boar-bristle brush frequently, as it’s supposed to help with the miracle part of this whole no-washing thing, and I’ve also rinsed it twice in water; I splash my face twice a day with lukewarm water.

Surprisingly -- or unsurprisingly, depending on whom you’re asking -- I look fine. My skin looks better, if anything, but really just looks the same; my scalp looks greasy sometimes but it’s nothing a quick brush, hair powder, or updo can’t fix, depending on its severity. The hair itself looks better than ever; it magically places itself exactly as it was cut, with no styling necessary.

The real surprise, though, is how smug I’ve found myself about it. It’s not simply feeling pleased that I’ve freed myself of some beauty labor; it’s that I feel self-satisfied to a degree that surpasses how one should ever feel about one’s hair. I’m enthralled with the idea that by doing absolutely nothing, I manage to bypass all these beauty systems and look exactly the same. Behold the ne’er-washed scalp – quiver at my sebum! I alone see the forest through the trees of toners, moisturizers, cleaners, foams, and conditioners – I alone see the folly of the industry!

Except I’m not alone. When I Googled “not washing hair” and “cleaning hair without water,” I was stunned by the number and intensity of people who’ve dabbled in the realm of the unwashed. There’s a woman who, years after writing an article about the “no-’poo” method, returns to answer questions from commenters. There’s the 213-page discussion on the Long Hair Community forum, which features a litter of vaguely creepy userpics of long-haired women photographed from behind. Their inspiration seems to be Penny Weynberg, who hasn’t washed her hair for 11 years and claims it’s now as “soft as dog fur.” That's not counting the HuffPo blogger, the folks in the Times article, and various British columnists. They take a sort of defiant, proud stance, posing theories about the body’s natural equilibrium and animal fur. They have to say it loudly: They’re not dirty even if they’re unwashed; they’re, in fact, possibly cleaner than you, with your overproduction of scalp oils and chemical conditioners. They have to say it loudly because if they don’t, then they’re just dirty, and nobody will want to sit next to them at lunch, grody grody grosspants.

I’m tempted to become one of the no-’poo evangelists (and indeed simply by writing here, I suppose I am), but it seems a little to me like those slim actresses who jabber on about how it’s totally genetic and they, like, love cheeseburgers and never work out. But I look at the incessant interest these people have in their own lack of shampooing, and I wonder what sort of need it’s fulfilling. For the women on the forums in particular, the amount of discussion surrounding the no-wash method seems to surpass that of conventional hair care. It’s like there’s a certain amount of time and energy that must be devoted to our tresses, and once the actual hair-washing is skipped, the discussion of the absence of hair-washing takes its place. Participants talk of “preening” their strands, break down various scalp-massage methods step-by-step, and test water temperatures for optimizing rinses. They use acronyms particular to the method: SO for sebum-only, WO for water-only, ACV for something I can’t imagine. They assure one another that they’re not “cheating” if they use an herbal rinse on occasion.

There seems to be a sort of disciplinary aspect to these communities, a proud self-flagellation in the face of having found a way around the time normally spent washing and drying one’s hair. Do we really want to be released from the bonds of beauty? I’ve found that while overall I’ve saved time by not shampooing, I’m also peacocking in front of the mirror more. I’ve started carrying my boar-bristle brush in my purse and find myself calculating activities based on its affect on my hair (“I’m working out tonight so it’s a good night for a rinse”), something that I didn’t do before. It actually reminds me of the paleolithic movement. A friend of mine has “gone paleo,” eating raw meat, volunteering to help people move because that’s how cavement stayed in shape or something, going on barefoot runs through Central Park, etc. It’s helped her lose weight, has cleared up her skin, and has rid her of depression—this after years of veganism, so it’s not as if she was walking around in a McDonald’s daze before going paleo. As she spoke, I did indeed see a glow come over her, but I suspect it was less due to raw meat and more because she had discovered a sort of shortcut to the tangible benefits of good health promised by every blaring magazine cover. It’s basically the Atkins diet from what I can tell, but whereas Atkins sounds old-fashioned and dangerous, the caveman diet sounds old-fashioned and totally fucking awesome. There’s something appealing about the idea that by going out on a primordial limb, you can magically wind up ahead of the game and can loll about at the finish line while the vegans, South Beachers, 5-A-Dayers, and master cleanse folks gasp their way to you.

Or, in my case, I can sit atop my shampoo-free perch and watch as other denizens of the beauty game fret about conditioners and gels, knowing all the while that my hair magically creates its own mousse.