If you had told me two years ago that I’d have Bumble and Bumble founder Michael Gordon eating gluten free cookies in my living room, I’d definitely have called you a liar. Yet there he was, and there we were, discussing a radical shift currently happening in the beauty industry and the roles we both play in it.
Michael and I own companies focused on the same mission, what we see as the next evolution of beauty and personal care: soap and detergent free cleansing. Michael left his wildly successful haircare company Bumble and Bumble to create Hairstory (and the detergent-free miracle product that is New Wash.) I left my career as a Master Esthetician to start CRUDE after realizing the oils I was mixing in my kitchen worked remarkably better (and faster) at clearing acne than the expensive facial products I was selling at the spa.
I was introduced to Hairstory through Steven- my friend, Hairstory hairdresser, and co-founder of the Detergent Insurgents podcast. I fell in love with New Wash immediately and even used it as a body wash before developing my own soap free wash for CRUDE. Steven joined me in my third conversation with Michael Gordon- the first happened over toast and coffee at Hairstory Studio in New York City and the second we recorded for a Hairstory podcast episode.
I love discussing and connecting with him, founder to founder, about our tough-to-sell but ever so important message. It’s time to say goodbye to soap and detergent in personal care.
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Denise: I was hoping to begin that you could talk a little bit about who you are, your history and how you got to where you are now with Hairstory.
Michael: I got into hairdressing when I was really young. I was a hairdresser in London and eventually, again quite young, opened Bumble and Bumble when I was 21. It grew and grew and grew and then I ended up consulting on marketing for some of the major companies. Eventually, I decided that none of them seemed to be making what I thought were good products so we decided to make our own. We started that in 1992 and then got serious about it in 1996. We sold to Estee Lauder and started thinking about other ways of doing things, which is how we came up with Hairstory.
D: Can you tell me what led you to remove the detergent from your products? Was there an article you read? What ignited that idea?
M: Well, we were talking a lot about why hair was awkward to work with after it was shampooed. It wasn't any secret, especially on photo shoots or for fashion shows. Clean hair was difficult hair.
"Clean hair was difficult hair."
At Bumble we created a lot of stuff to make it what we called "cool looking" after a shampoo. You would put three or four things in the hair to make it look good again. We experimented with a few ideas on how to wash hair but it was difficult to do. Once you're part of a big company you can't really rock the boat. So the idea was there for a really long time. During “retirement” I had time to think and rethought the whole thing.
I started noticing that in skincare people weren't using soap anymore and tried a few different products that felt much gentler on the skin. From there I came up with a list of what I didn't want in the solution, a list of what I did, and then what a chemist thought we needed.
At the top of the "don't put this in" list was detergent, very clearly. And surprisingly they didn't. They didn't even try to put the so-called “good detergents” in - the coconut derived, the sugar derived - so it was a big awakening. Even though it came slowly, once you were using this you went, "Oh, my hair looks really, really good and I don't wash it as much."
This happened for a year or two and I came around to deciding what the product offering would be, it was really reduced to two or three things...and that is difficult because it's going against what people think they need.
"...it's going against what people think they need."
People are sort of brainwashed into thinking that they need lots of things and when you give them only a few things they think “Are you sure I don't need that?” Though we're in the midst of finding people who don't like shampoo and don't like detergent.
The Wall Street Journal, an obviously very serious newspaper, had an article, three days in a row, a few weeks ago about detergents. They were mainly taking a stab at the Honest Company, they hired two chemists to research the ingredients in the products. They said conclusively “No, it's got detergent in it.” The Honest Company said, “No it doesn't!” So they investigated and then said “Oh, we don't make it, we get it from a manufacturer, they must have put it in.” This is all paraphrased but I’ll send you the article. Meanwhile, literally overnight, they changed their website and the claims they made.
The manufacturer said, "Of course we put detergent in it, why wouldn't we?" They said it had the same amount of detergent in it that Tide does and you'd think Tide has the most of any product. So, it seems like it's being looked into and taken seriously.
D: That's interesting to hear. I think it was you who told me that even a small amount of detergent, at least in personal care, will destroy your skin and the oils on your skin. And with shampoo, even a small amount is a problem.
M: You'll survive, but you don't need to! It should be avoided at all cost. It shouldn't be in shampoo, it shouldn't be in skin cleansers, it shouldn't be in toothpaste or in a lot of things that it’s in. And people shouldn't be washing their clothes in it.
D: Have you had a difficult time conveying that message to your customers?
M: Some people just immediately get it and for the most part, equally, there are those that are resistant. I think it's still in the early stages of discovery and revolution.
Recently there was a situation with the Wen brand that didn’t help. Wen is a very successful hair cleanser that was on QVC, HSN, etc. and has been for about ten years with very, very, very big sales. It recently had a class action suit against them, people claiming they’re losing their hair, which I am not really sure is true, I think that happens when you're big enough to sue. But it does have silicone in it, which perhaps over time you know stops cleansing your scalp, so maybe there's some correlation.
D: And they’re detergent free?
M: Yeah, they’re detergent free. They just have some dodgy things in there. It doesn't really get your hair clean, so for the first three weeks, people love it. Then they sort of go, "Oh, I don't know, it doesn't feel clean."
Ours does clean your hair, it just doesn't feel like the "old clean" people are used to. The problem with that is people think that they've got 200 different types of hair so there should be 200 different shampoos and if products don't have detergent they’re all created equally. Which of course, they're not. So Wen actually made it more difficult for us, it hasn't helped.
D: Throughout the research I've done on soaps and detergents, I have come across the no-poo method multiple times. It's interesting reading forums where people are talking about no longer using soaps on their body or no longer using shampoo at all. I’ve read what a horrific experience that is at least for the first month or so while your sebaceous glands regulate. You're stinky and greasy and sweaty.
M: That's really not sexy, is it?
D: I think New Wash is the perfect solution. It's an amazing cleanse, you're still really cleaning your hair, but it's not stripping.
M: I think people feel the same with your oil. It's such a beautiful thing to use and as a routine in particular.
Steven: There are a lot of people thinking about an alternative. There are so many things you read about on forums or see on Pinterest about alternatives. People are trying really hard to have an alternative to washing with soap, they just lack the guidance or direction to do it successfully. Or they find varying levels of success with some of these other things.
These brands simplify it so much because it works on everybody instead of just one type of consumer. I think the population, in general, seems more eager to embrace it then other hairdressers. Hairdressers sometimes seem to be the most programmed- that all of these products are the right way because that's what they have been selling for so long. It's the clients that seem to be the most open. It's clearly on their minds.
D: Yeah, it's very interesting to see who takes to it.
S: I don't mind that it's a little bit difficult because it means we're not just following after a bunch of other companies.
D: Yeah. It's a new frontier.
"It's a new frontier."
S: I would rather be on the front lines then come back in after somebody else made the revolution happen, it's nice.
M: There's another article in the newspaper about, "could hairdressers be the solution, or part of the solution, to global warming?" They were perfectly serious. If hairdressers would stop, and in turn, if people would stop washing their hair so much we would stop wasting a lot of water and energy. It was an interesting position.
It's not necessary to wash your hair every day which is what everyone used to do. You can wash it every 3 or 4 or 5 days. Before, when I used shampoo, I wanted to wash it every day because my hair didn't look good. It was oily and didn't look good and made me sort of angry. Angry hair.
S: I used to use so much product in my hair and I would want to wash them out the next day. Or I would completely surrender to the fact that I had terrible hair for the first couple of days, go a week or two and after the second week it would look good. I couldn't ever find that middle ground where I liked to wash my hair.
M: It's habitual you know, people used more shampoo and more shampoo and conditioners and more conditioners! One encouraging thing is when I went gluten free 20 years ago the market told me I could eat a few things and just avoid the rest. But now there are warnings and we have so many gluten-free options, it's fascinating. It's taken hold... Even though there has been a habit, bread bread bread, gluten.
D: Yeah, that became a movement very quickly.
M: It seems like it was quick, maybe the last two or three years but it was actually brewing for the last 20 years with crazy people like me!
S: I wonder where we are at on the arc of a “movement” if detergent-free has been brewing for a while? We all know it has been. As a hairdresser I have been telling people to wash their hair less forever, even when I was still using shampoo. It makes me wonder, are we in the two-year phase? Are we just entering into it? Is it about to bloom and make a big shift?
M: I think we're still in the beginning, unfortunately. With CRUDE, do you get people saying, "I don't know, my face doesn't feel clean. How do you use it?"
D: We definitely get a lot of questions. CRUDE does require quite a bit of explanation because it's kind of a new concept- people are used to squeaky clean skin. So, we do get questions but people can tell right away that it works for them and I think it's probably similar with Hairstory.
"...it's kind of a new concept- people are used to squeaky clean skin."
M: I have a question: Why is it necessary to wash the face towel after every use?
D: Because you are removing the debris from your skin and you don't want to then put it back on your skin.
M: Ok. That settles that, good
D: Have you not been washing your PULL cloths after every use?
M: Yes, I have, but I was just curious. I was thinking maybe I can use it again.
D: No. That's when people break out.
M: What do you wash it in?
D: Just a gentle detergent.
S: If I wash my hands with Hairstory’s New Wash or CRUDE’s Everything Oil, is that doing what it needs to do to have clean hands so that I’m not spreading germs and bacteria?
D: Water actually removes most of the bacteria from your hands, just water. I think if you were going to give somebody surgery you might want to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. But they have found that water removes most of it. If you use New Wash or something that has aloe, or an oil, that would remove more. But Michael I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
M: I totally agree with you, in hospitals you can barely walk 5 feet without sanitizers. It's the most likely place to contract a staph infection is in a hospital. It's dangerous. Hospitals are dangerous. They admit it. It's a dangerous place. But they are always sanitizing. All the time. I think washing your hands is a good idea but anesthetic used to be a piece of wood or scotch whiskey. Some things have improved, but you can over sanitize and over cleanse. The body's natural bacteria, a lot of it is good and a lot of it has been lost.