Low poo. It might sound a bit silly, but it’s a very important concept in the CG community. The term low poo is derived from the phrase “low shampoo”, and is used to describe a method of using either very little regular shampoo or a specially formulated low poo shampoo to clean your hair.
So what exactly is low poo, how does it compare with regular shampooing with normal shampoo, and could it be right for your hair? In this guide we’ll explain what is low poo and what its benefits are, and help you decide whether a low poo routine could be right for you.
Low poo is a pillar of haircare in the curly and wavy hair community, but oddly enough, there are two interpretations to what low poo actually is. One approach to low poo is using regular shampoo, SLS and all, but very infrequently and in small quantities. The idea is to mitigate the damage that shampoo does to natural and curly hair by using it only sparingly, supplementing it with more regular co-washes, and using a pre-poo to mitigate the drying effects of shampoo.
The second and likely more common take on low poo is using a type of specially formulated low poo shampoo. That sounds like quite the oxymoron, so let’s take a moment to understand what constitutes a shampoo and what makes a low poo shampoo different.
In regular, normal shampoos, there will always be a sulfate (most commonly sodium laureth sulfate, but there are several others) which acts as a surfactant and lathering agent. For a simple analogy, think of it as soap – breaking apart and washing away dirt and oils. For wavy, curly, and natural hair, however, regular shampoos often strip away too much of the hair’s natural oils. This is where low poo shampoos come in: they are specially formulated without harsh surfactants like SLS and are intended to gently cleanse the hair without stripping away every last drop of your hair’s natural oils. Low poo shampoo can be used semi-regularly because it is far less drying than normal shampoo, and is often used by curlies on every wash day.
While going low poo is a great way to help your hair retain its natural moisture, the low poo method does come with some caveats. Because of the lack (or minimal presence) of sulfates, those who choose to go low poo must avoid conditioners and styling products that contain silicones and petroleum derivatives. As these products are water insoluble and cannot be removed without the aid of detergents such as SLS, using products containing these ingredients will result in buildup in your hair over time, and will eventually damage your hair and irritate your scalp.
Some curlies find that both approaches to low-poo are still too drying for their hair, and even using a specially formulated low poo shampoo sparingly results in dull and dry curls. When this happens, the best solution is to take the low poo concept a step further and switch to a no poo routine. No poo is exactly what is sounds like – cutting any kind of shampoo out of your haircare routine for good. Of course, hair does need to be cleaned, and water alone isn’t going to cut it. In cases where a curly chooses to omit shampoo from their routine altogether, co-washing becomes the go-to cleansing method.
For practically all curlies, their haircare journey is filled with trial and error, and deciding between no poo vs low poo is no different. For the most part, you won’t be able to know how your hair will react to each method until you’ve tried it. Because going no poo is quite a drastic change for most people, and due to the little-discussed fact that your hair will overcompensate oil production after years of shampooing with regular shampoo (which initially gives you unpleasant greasy hair), we recommend starting out with the low poo approach. Gauge how your hair reacts to the low poo method, and see if you notice an improvement in dryness, dullness, and frizz. If you still notice dryness, treat your hair to a pre-poo before each wash. If, after at least a month of low poo, you believe your hair will benefit from even gentler cleansing, try going the no poo and co-washing route.