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Microscope Photos Reveal Which Natural Cleansers Work Better Than Shampoo

• Feb 26, 2015

I have finally got around to testing some more natural cleansers. In the firing line today are castile soap (diluted), natural soap or shampoo bar, oat water and shikakai.

The Experiment
I used my own shed hair and imaged it:

- on its own without any washing (oily from sheabutter/coconut oil use)

- washed with shampoo only (2 minute water rinse, 2 minute shampoo wash, 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
— washed with cleanser ( 2 minute water rinse, 2 minute (shampoo bar/natural soap and castile soap) or 5 minute cleanser wash (oat water, shikakai), 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)


Controls — Oily hair and Shampoo cleaned hair


As a standard reference for hair that has oil deposits, here is an image of the oily hair with clear clumps of oil on the strand (circled in red)


For the clean hair reference, here is a sample of hair that has been washed with shampoo (known to remove oil deposits). The shampoo was Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo.

1. Castile Soap


Castile soap produced fairly clean hair with just some minor deposits left on the strands. The soap was diluted in a 1:5 ratio with water. Using the concentrated soap may produce a more oil free result, although I would regard this as a fairly good result

2. Natural Soap /Shampoo Bar


I used a natural shampoo bar made traditionally from olive oil and sodium hydroxide. The soap produced very clean hair very similar to shampoo cleaned hair

3. Oat Water


Last year I suggested that oat water (boil oats in water, sift off the oats, cool down the water and use that to cleanse hair) as a possible mild cleanser due to the saponins in oats. It turns out that my theory was actually a good one because the hair did come out pretty clean! The oat water had an extended 5 minute cleansing time. If you are doing this method, do sift off the oats rather than using them as a mask, they can really stick in hair!

4. Shikakai



Shikakai (powdered acacia pods)  is an Ayurvedic cleanser. Having had difficulty with this product previously, I extended the wash time to 5 minutes and used hand hot water. The final result produced hair that was somewhat clean but still somewhat oily. In places, large deposits of the oil could still be seen. It may be possible to obtain a better result with extending the wash time even further.

Additional notes:
Running warm water was used for all washes. In each wash or rinse, hair was rubbed gently to simulate normal hair washing.

Please do note that under the microscope we can see oil layers but we do not see small deposits on hair e.g hair conditioner deposits (well you actually could see them with specialised instruments but not with my microscope!). Strictly speaking this experiment will answer the question, how well will washing method X remove oil from hair.

Do you prefer natural cleansers? Which ones work best for your hair type?


About The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!

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14 Comments on "Microscope Photos Reveal Which Natural Cleansers Work Better Than Shampoo"

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Very interesting!

Reece Wynter



I never thought of using those methods but might try it now. Thank you!

Alwina Oyewoleturner

I just saved money not purchasing shikakai and castile soap. I wanted to try them but I’m glad I didn’t. Thanks for sharing your results!


Great info with the warmer months approaching! Will be using some of these methods for cleansing!


Very interesting results. I’m now even more satisfied with using my shampoo bars. I’ll try to find another use for my shikakai powder now.


I love these kind of articles!


really suprised by the result, oat water really washes!


I would love to know how to make up the oat water ie how much oats to water and what kind of oats was required?

Jc Jc

I did one tablespoon of whole oats to one cup of water. I microwaved the mix for 1 minute, let it cool and then sieved the oats. There was a lot of squeezing to be done as when I let the oats cool, they really took up a lot of the water.

Chinasa Okolo

I love science! I will be sure to buy natural soap shampoo bars when I finish my current shampoos!

Jc Jc

Do bear in mind though that some people find natural soaps irritating because they have a high pH (8–10) compared to shampoo (5–7). However some people do not find the pH bothersome at all.


Great experiment! With even better results!


[…] pH is much too low/acidic. Balance is key! After co-washing for several weeks, I read an article by The Natural Haven about how well oat water cleanses hair. It seemed too good to be true! So, I decided to try it out […]

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