It seemed to happen overnight and without warning. My hair changed.
Growing up, I had a thick, wavy thatch. I have vivid memories of combing my dome before school, parting my tresses, and shaping this wave so that my bangs looked like a massive rip curl on top of my head. This curly swell lasted through attempts at all the trendy haircuts of the nineties: skater cuts, butt cuts, undercuts. It stood strong through years and years of chlorine damage and yes, even a little co-ed water polo hair-pulling. In college, injuries forced me to quit swimming, and almost overnight, my noggin became an aquaphobic, frizzy mess of mane. All of a sudden, I had a ‘fro.
Since then, I’ve tried everything: relaxers, expensive shampoos, conditioners, and plenty of trips to ridiculously overpriced salons. I’ve even tried cutting it all off and starting from scratch. Nothing worked to tame the beast. Until the day became my own personal haircare mixologist.
I met Ryan Babbitt shortly after I moved to Chicago. He’s a different breed of barber: He trained as a graphic designer, and he likes to make his own hair product. With his encouragement, I’ve begun to do the same. Other than the occasional J.R. Liggett’s Shampoo and Doctor Bronner’s Peppermint for extreme post-Tough Mudder grunginess, my routine is now entirely homespun. Here’s a brief tour of my haircare journey, with Ryan as my guide:
The Dry Stuff: Yucca Root and Baking Soda
Powder—I had to wrap my head around it. I know ladies have come to embrace dry shampoo but the thought of pouring an anthill of Arm & Hammer in my hand and swishing it through my strands didn’t seem like it would be a comfortable experience. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. I started with baking soda. There was some grit to get used to as it made its way around my head, but in the end it left a clean and not-too-stripped feeling. To counter the grittiness, Ryan suggested using the ground-up root from a yucca plant. The yucca, when wet, congealed like a paste in my hand, and went on smooth. It left my crew cut feeling clean and there was barely any smell—unlike the baking soda, which left an Ajax-like scent on my scalp.
The Suds: Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
My hands-down favorite. I use apple cider vinegar more than anything else. If my hair is only moderately dirty, I pour a little in my hand, and just spread it around the parts of my gourd that feel the grimiest. If my dome’s really dirty, I’ll squeeze my eyes tight, and pour a shot of the stuff directly on my crown and then massage it through. Works like a charm.
The Style Set: Castor and Coconut Oil
After cleansing, most guys are used to using a pomade or a gel to style. Ryan suggested trying a “mask” of castor oil. I’m not partial to the smell of the stuff, but after leaving it in for 15 minutes and washing it out, my strands felt soft and somehow fresh. I’ve found that I like coconut oil as an alternative to other styling products. It smells like Hawaii and keeps my frizz at bay. I scoop a quarter-sized dab and leave it in, but I’ve found if I use too much, it will dry and become sticky. To combat the stickiness, I cut the coconut oil with a bit of the apple cider vinegar.
Note: It’s important to remember to test these for yourself. My experiences will not be your experiences. Everyone has a different head of hair, and we’ll all hope to achieve something different with our hairstyle.