By Vicky Waltz, Head Groomer at the Urban Hound
I’ve never been one to fuss over my hair. I generally wash it before bed and let it dry overnight. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll curl it before rushing off to work, and if it’s a special occasion, I’ll actually use a hair dryer to give it a smooth and polished shine.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my hair. During my freshman year of college, I chopped it off during an uncharacteristic fit of rebellion, and I regretted it almost immediately. It took nearly two years to grow back, and I will never cut it short again. I’m going to be one those women who has hair past her shoulders even when she’s in her seventies.
Aside from a disastrous perm in 1990, I’ve never treated it with chemicals, and thankfully I’ve shown no signs of gray, so I don’t dye it. For years I believed that expensive shampoos and conditioners were a waste of money. I bought whatever was on sale at the drug store, and it worked just fine, thank you very much.
Thus it’s unsurprising that when I started grooming, I felt similarly toward dog shampoo. Like its human counterpart, there are literally hundreds of options from which to choose, but I’m easily overwhelmed, so I picked a brand and stuck with it for three years.
True, my skin was often dry and cracked to the point of bleeding, but that’s what happens to people whose hands are in water all day, right?
In 2013, I met a local groomer named Sara who quickly became a friend and mentor. One day she gave me some shampoo samples. “This is expensive, but worth it,” she assured me.
I was skeptical. Nonetheless I tried it out on a particularly greasy Kerry blue terrier, and oh-my-god-I’m-not-kidding-it-changed-my-life-forever.
My dogs had never felt so clean. This shampoo left no nasty build-up or sticky residue. Hair took less time to dry, and it was easier to brush. I noticed fewer dogs with dandruff, and the rash on my hands disappeared.
A few months later, I attended a grooming conference and came back to Boston with dozens of product samples: shampoo, conditioner, detangling agents, finishing sprays. After some experimenting, I learned which products to use on different coat types for the best results.
Dogs’ coats were cleaner, softer, and shinier—and our clients noticed. And best of all? These products saved me time and energy. Yes, they cost significantly more than the lower-grade shampoo I’d been using, but the results were well worth the expense.
Around this time, I also took up swimming. Despite wearing a cap, I noticed that after a few weeks, my hair was turning dry and brittle. I’d heard that coconut oil was a good remedy, so one night I slathered my head with half a jar, wrapped my hair in plastic, and let it sit for two hours.
I do not recommend this.
Even after washing my hair twice, it remained a greasy mess. It was so oily it wouldn’t even dry.
I called my mom, who suggested rinsing it with baking soda or vinegar. (Note: she said or, not and. I’m sure you can guess where this is heading.)
So I mixed a cup of water with three tablespoons of baking soda, dumped it on my hair, and chased it with half a bottle of vinegar.
And then my head erupted.
I’m not sure what I was thinking. My only excuse is that fifth grade science class was a long time ago, and I probably wasn’t paying much attention because I was too busy writing Sweet Valley High fan fiction.
You may not think hair can be simultaneously dry and greasy, but it’s totally possible. Also, baking soda and vinegar explosions cause hives.
Defeated, I called my hairdresser. “I think I broke my hair,” I blurted, and proceeded to explain what I’d done. I’m pretty sure I heard a thud, which I can only assume was her head banging against a wall.
“We’ll fix it,” she promised.
And she did. She washed my hair with a clarifying shampoo and followed it with a hot oil treatment, and afterward it was so soft and smooth that I couldn’t stop touching it.
“What shampoo are you using?” she asked.
“Anything I find in bulk at Costco,” I replied. “Hey, why doesn’t it ever feel this good when I wash it?”
She glared at me. “Um, probably because you’re using shampoo you buy in bulk at Costco.”
Afterward, I reached out to a friend who also swims. She recommended a shampoo that specifically removes chlorine. My hairdresser convinced me to use a keratin-infused conditioner at least once a week, and I also bought a daily leave-in conditioner to help with frizz and tangles.
My new beauty regime is expensive, but my hair is healthier.
My motto? What’s good enough for the dogs is good enough for me.