The sebum only method is a fascinating part of the No Poo family. Who would have thought that we could keep our hair healthy and clean without using shampoo, or any other products? I wasn’t sure how this could possibly work, so I took a closer look.
As part of the No Poo movement, the Sebum Only method relies on the sebum produced by your scalp to moisturize and nourish your hair. Converts to the Sebum Only method state that your hair can be clean, healthy, and far more manageable when using this method.
Can we really keep our hair healthy and clean without using either traditional shampoos or any of the No Poo recipes? Sebum only followers report it works incredibly well, so I decided to experiment on my own hair.
What Is The Sebum Only Method?
The Sebum Only method is part of the No Poo movement.
Followers of No Poo avoid using any man-made chemicals on their hair, in favour of using natural ingredients.
No Poo haircare converts believe that silicon and sulphates in traditional shampoos are:
- Bad for your hair
- Bad for the environment
- Bad for your pocket
Those who follow the sebum only approach use nothing but the natural oils produced by their scalp.
To really understand how sebum only works we need to have an understanding of what sebum actually is in the first place:
- Sebum: Produced by our sebaceous glands.
- Sebaceous Gland: An exocrine gland that opens into a hair follicle to secrete sebum.
- Waterproofing: Sebum lubricates your skin and scalp, repelling bacteria, and adding a waterproof layer to your skin and hair.
- Plugs: If too much sebum is produced it can block the exit to the surface, this can also be caused by dead skin cells not being removed effectively. This blockage can lead to skin breakouts and can allow bacteria to enter the follicle leading to infection.
- Wax: A sebum build up can lead to your hair feeling waxy and unpleasant
The sebum only method of not using water doesn’t mean that you can just leave your hair and pay it no attention at all.
As with the water only method, both scratching, preening, and using a boar bristle brush is absolutely necessary to be successful in this process:
- Scritching: Massaging/scrubbing your scalp to loosen dead skin cells and encourage blood flow to the scalp.
- Preening: Moves the sebum down through the hair to distribute the oils.
- Boar Bristle Brushing: To move sebum, massage the scalp, and remove tangles, remove loose skin and remove dirt.
If you follow the above steps you should end up with healthy, nourished hair, that needs no further outside assistance to look great.
I have now personally tried this method of haircare for a total of 4-5 months, so you might be interested to watch my journey, which I posted on my ‘No Poo Guide’ Youtube Channel.
The Sebum Only Method And Curly Hair
If you have curly hair this method could be the right one for you.
Curly hair tends to be more porous and dry. As such the sebum coating method, which pulls down the sebum from your scalp to moisturize the entire length of your hair, should work well.
Sebum natural hair, where you brush hair instead of washing, can still keep your hair clean and healthy.
Below are a few tips that could help you in your sebum only hair care journey:
- Scritch, Preen, and Brush every day.
- Brushing your hair whilst your head is upside down, aids blood circulation to the scalp and helps you reach the hair underneath.
- Wooden combs or part boar bristle, part nylon brushes and scalp scrubbers are useful to ensure the health of your scalp.
- Do not worry if it rains, rainwater can be beneficial, even for dedicated sebum only No Poo’ers.
- If the sebum on your hair becomes overwhelming, a microfibre cloth can remove the excess.
- Use cotton pillowcases and change daily.
- Brush your hair at night as the sebum has more chance to be taken up by the hair without looking excessively greasy.
People often turn to the sebum only method after they have already started their No Poo journey. This is likely because the transition from traditional shampooing methods to sebum only is a huge leap of faith, whereas moving to sebum only from the water only method is a much more manageable move.
So why do individuals decide to transition to the No Poo movement? Here are a few popular reasons that the No Poo community have explained to me:
- No Chemicals
- No Financial Outlay
- Previous hair care methods have not worked
Let’s get one thing straight, from having tried this method of No Poo personally I can honestly say that the sebum only method is a lifestyle choice that may help your hair be the healthiest it can be.
However, it is worth noting that any regime in the No Poo movement has the capability of improving your hairs health, so never rule out the other options. Currently, I have moved back to the water only hair care method.
Some people find that sebum only (SO) is not for them and move back to water only (WO), or another form of No Poo washing. Whichever way fits in with your hair and lifestyle is ultimately the best choice for you.
Why Is Sebum Good For Your Hair?
Sebum is your body’s naturally nourishing, cleansing, and moisturizing agent. It contains everything that your hair needs to remain healthy and manageable.
It has been around since the first humans existed and is sometimes referred to as the Caveman method.
The benefits of sebum on hair are similar to the other No Poo methods:
- Nourishing: Sebum contains everything your hair needs.
- Waterproofing: The natural oil used to coat each hair helps waterproof your hair.
- Moisturizing: Especially good for dry hair, since sebum is a great moisturizer.
- Less Frizz: Since sebum is a wonderful moisturizer and waterproofer, it helps to reduce and even eliminate frizz.
- Simple: There is no necessity to purchase or use any product, although a BBB is useful. Make sure you read my guide to the ‘best boar bristle brush for No Poo‘ before purchasing one.
How To Go Sebum Only
Going sebum only is a very simple process to describe.
It is more difficult in practice to achieve, and if this is the first step in your No Poo journey, the transition period may be longer and harder than if you were already using a different No Poo method.
These are the steps you should take to go sebum only:
- Clarifying Wash: It may seem strange to start your No Poo sebum only journey with a clarifying wash when you are about to eliminate everything including water from your hair care regime, but it is a necessary stage. The clarifying wash will remove any silicon and sulphate build up allowing you to go sebum only with the best possible start.
- Scritch: Massage your scalp (quite firmly) with your fingertips to loosen the skin cells. A scalp massager can be used if you wish.
- Preen: Use your fingertips to move the sebum from your scalp fully down the hair shaft. Each hair must be fully coated with sebum, so only preen a few strands of hair at a time.
- Brush: A boar bristle brush is often used in No Poo methods to stimulate the scalp, move down the oil to the very ends, and remove tangles. Many SO followers find that a wooden comb is best for tangles, and that a brush that contains both boar bristles and nylon bristles works more effectively that just boar bristles alone.
- Daily: Steps 2-4 should be carried out daily, with finger de-tangling as required.
- Results: Once the transition phase is over, and your scalp has reached the optimum oil production for your hair, you will notice how much better your hair feels than when using traditional shampoos.
It really is as simple as the steps outlined above.
There are no tricky recipes calling for time, effort, and trial & error, just simple scritching, preening and brushing to keep your hair healthy.
For more information on scritching and preening, take a look at my article ‘How to Scritch & Preen Your Hair Successfully‘.
Sebum Only Transition
The No Poo transition period is different for everyone.
Some people barely notice a change, whilst others suffer from over-oily hair for months before noticing a change.
In my experience (keep in mind that I was switching from water only), I reckon it took roughly 3-4 weeks before I started to see signs of improvement like the transition was coming to an end.
Just remember, if you want to stop using shampoo, transition periods can be tough and off-putting.
The transition period also throws up different problems for each individual, from hair that is too greasy, to itching, and/or flakiness.
Perseverance really is the key, as is finding the right amount of brushing and using tips such as changing your pillowcase daily.
It is difficult to predict how long the transition phase will last for you, but you will know by the way your hair looks and feels when you have reached your goal.
Why You Need To Buy A Boar Bristle Brush
Sebum on your hairbrush will show up as a waxy residue that should be removed each time you use your brush.
The residue on your brush will also contain skin cells and dirt that you have previously brushed out. It is therefore not a good idea to put this dirt back into your hair by using the brush again prior to cleaning it.
You may wonder how to wash sebum out of hair, and how to spread sebum through hair. The easiest, way is by using your boar bristle brush.
A boar bristle brush (BBB) is a great investment if you are intending to go sebum only. The brush will help remove excess sebum and pull down the oils from your crown to the tips of your hair. Brushing oil through the hair will help to make sure that each strand is naturally nourished and moisturized.
My ‘Best Boar Bristle Brush for No Poo‘ is a brilliant article if you are thinking of investing in a BBB.
Sebum Only Troubleshooting
Going sebum only is not without its problems, even though it may be the least complicated No Poo method to follow:
- No Poo Sebum Build-Up: This will happen if you do not scritch your scalp effectively. Here’s how to treat sebum build up:
- Try a scalp scubber
- Scritch more frequently
- Try a different brush
- Excess Sebum: Especially likely if you are in the transition phase. Try using a microfibre cloth to remove the excess.
- Smell: Changing from a traditional shampoo with its perfumes to No Poo can make it appear that your hair smells. Any transition smell will fade once you have successfully transitioned, and you will be left with hair that smells, well, like hair!
If none of the above work, and you have given sebum only a good try, then perhaps it is time to change to another No Poo method. Here are the most popular No Poo methods to try.
Any hair care method that does not use sulphates or silicons is healthier for your hair and preferable to returning to traditional shampoos.
Is It Healthy To Not Wash Your Hair?
Clean and healthy hair can only be achieved by washing.
Whether this is by traditional shampoos or a No Poo method, they all aim to leave you with healthy and clean hair.
The sebum only method may not be the usual method of washing your hair, however, since dirt is removed from the scalp and hair, it can class as washing.
Does Excess Sebum Cause Hair Loss?
Hair loss can be caused by many factors, many of them not at all related to the No Poo method selected.
One instance where the sebum only method could cause issues of hair loss is if an excess of sebum leads to follicles becoming blocked. This will cause the thinning of hair and could weaken existing hair as it grows and lead to it falling out.
Too much sebum can also result in yeast infections which can lead to dandruff and resulting hair loss (source 1).
Sebum Only Afro Hair
Afro hair is often thought to be dry and lacking in moisture. This is not the case.
Afro scalps can produce as much sebum as anyone else’s.
The difference is that with afro hair the oils have a harder time traveling down the hair shaft.
The sebum only regime is an extreme No Poo method that demands that nothing is used on an individuals hair, not even water.
There are no quick fixes to going sebum only, and it can be more difficult to stick to, especially during the transition period.
Many who have successfully transitioned to sebum only say that their hair has never been healthier or looked better.