By Kristen Philipkoski
When Michael Gordon, a New York City transplant and dedicated yogi founded Bumble & Bumble in 1977, little did he know he had launched a hair empire that would spawn an array of hair products, a haircutting school, and endless fashion designer collaborations. His Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray inspired a legion of imitators.
Gordon sold the company to Estée Lauder in 2000. He then took some time to think, do lots of yoga, and make a film about Vidal Sassoon. It all led to an epiphany: everything he had created at Bumble & Bumble was to counteract the damage caused by the detergents in shampoo. The co-washing trend—basically using only conditioner to (try to) clean your hair—was evidence that people were catching on and wanted an alternative.
And this was the start of Gordon's second empire, the cornerstone of which is New Wash (originally launched in 2013 as Purely Perfect; rebranded, reformulated and re-released in 2015). It contains no sodium lauryl sulfate, a sudsing detergent used by nearly every company on earth that makes cleansers, including Method and the The Honest Company. But many people find it irritating, and Gordon says it's terrible for your hair, drying it out and perpetuating the need for endless hair products.
Because New Wash is so gentle and packs in so many good-for-hair ingredients, it's the only product you'll need—no conditioner, no masks. Skeptical? So was I. I have very long, thick, highlighted and colored hair, and it's historically impossible to comb through without conditioner. But when I met Gordon at a panel discussion at StyleSeat's headquarters in San Francisco, he promised I would not need conditioner.
He was right. I've gone from using shampoo and gobs of conditioner, plus a styling balm, plus a mask at least once a week, to using only New Wash. I comb it through in the shower and the comb glides effortlessly through. My scalp feels tingly and clean, and my hair looks and feels shiny, soft and healthier than ever. When I noticed my free sample was nearly gone, I re-upped with the $90 New Wash Club subscription (paid for out-of-pocket), which includes a refillable stainless-steel bottle.
Gordon has also created Hairstory, an online media outlet and physical space in New York City where independent hairstylists in can learn Hairstory methods and even cash in on sales of the brand's four products, which also include an air-drying balm, a blow-dry cream, and a texturizing spray. Read on to learn more in my interview with Gordon.
What makes New Wash different from shampoo or conditioner? Did you work with scientists on the formulation? Can you talk a bit about how you chose the ingredients? Are the ingredients all non toxic?
"To put it really simply, the magic here is not what’s in New Wash, but what isn’t in it. What people don’t realize is that what’s in shampoo, no matter the price, is essentially water and some version of sodium lauryl sulfate or a derivative of that. Surfactants that are used, whether they are sulfate free or not, if they foam, they will dry your hair out.
New Wash is a combination of aloe vera and essential oils and doesn’t have detergent, doesn’t foam, doesn’t strip hair but effectively cleans hair and scalp. It’s not a co-wash, it cleans hair thoroughly, simply, but leaves hair feeling much better than before without the use of conditioner. When you touch your hair after using New Wash you can immediately feel a difference. The other amazing part is that it works equally well on any hair type: very fine, color treated, naturally thick, curly, African American hair, Latina hair. We’ve never found a hair type that it doesn’t work on.
Think about that in comparison to the endless new shampoos that companies are constantly releasing. There are so many that you lose count, all of them claiming to address a certain type of 'problem' with your hair that doesn’t exist. The problem here is basically caused by detergent. Detergent is very bad for hair and scalp, it encourages the scalp to get oilier quicker which means that you’ll have to wash your hair more often. With New Wash you’ll find that you need to wash it less frequently and that your hair will have a lot more bounce and life to it."
How does it work? My hair is damaged from lightening it… how does the product counteract that?
"If you think about it, coloring your hair is an aggressive process, even more so if it’s bleached or highlighted, so putting detergent on your hair is going to aggravate it even further. Since New Wash does not contain detergent of any kind it doesn’t contain the agitators which strip the hair in the first place, and as a result, New Wash actually helps to preserve your color longer. New Wash is particularly effective on color treated hair, in fact, you’ll notice that it immediately improves the quality of your hair. For those people who do color, we also often recommend using a bit of our Hair Balm after you wash. It is a moisturizing and conditioning creme which is fantastic for air drying."
Why do you have to wash your hair less when using New Wash?
"I personally used to wash my hair every day for years because it just didn’t look good in the morning. To explain the difference between shampoo and New Wash, I often use this analogy: Imagine you throw your clothes in the wash on regular wash, maybe you make a mistake and you put in a sweater or cardigan, what happens when it comes out? Well, if it’s cashmere or wool it’s dead, shriveled. Every beautiful quality that that garment had is gone. So if you take your hair and scorch it with detergent-laden shampoo, and foam, it’s the same as throwing that cashmere into hot water and detergent in the wash. Because with New Wash, you’re not upsetting the hair with detergent, the scalp will stop producing so much oil and your hair will simply look good for much longer. It’s not to be confused with a co-wash, because it actually cleans your hair. People are often shocked to find that they can go 4-5 days, sometimes longer in between washes, saving time, water, and money."
Do the styling products have some of the same ingredients as the wash?
"There is some ingredient cross-over between our styling products and New Wash, however we try to formulate per product, meaning we look at what suits each individual product best for performance as opposed to having ingredients consistent within the line. The one aspect that does remain uniform throughout all products is the natural fragrance. It was important for us to steer clear of synthetic oils and essences which are typically used in traditional shampoos and conditioners, and many other types of beauty products."
Do you have other product releases planned for the future?
"We do only make three styling products, which seems crazy in this day in age when most companies have 40-400 SKUs. I mentioned Hair Balm earlier, which is an amazing product we encourage people to air dry with when possible because the natural texture of the hair comes out, there’s no heat damage, and you’ll save energy. Dressed up is our designated blow dry lotion, it’s very light, seems invisible in the hair, but it does give a beautiful amount of body to the hair. Undressed, is similar to a surf spray, although I think it’s a modern version, it doesn’t make the hair crispy or dry, gives it incredible texture, you can add it to dry or wet hair, and can’t use too much. It gives a beautiful, casual look with lots of volume.
Because our mantra is 'less is more,' and our products are minimal, we will likely launch a few more things in future, but we plan on keeping it simple and pared down to necessities. We think that these four things take care of most people’s needs and we don’t think that people ultimately need a lot of product. It generally just sits in a bathroom looking ugly. Our simple, beautiful, restrained packaging is rather wonderful. Most companies survive by releasing a new product every month, and we are the total opposite. We think that you really need less."
The Wired article talks about a future where your products create zero waste. Can you talk more about that?
"The goal is to eventually have refillable packaging. We do currently offer a subscription service that comes with an aluminum canister that holds New Wash. The customer basically buys a pouch that refills the canister, and the delivery frequency can be adjusted based on usage. It can last a long time, some people can go 3 months in between refills. It depends on how many people are in the house, how often they use the product, etc. This system, which we call New Wash Club, has been embraced very strongly from the beginning because I think that people dislike clutter, dislike the idea of throwing things away, and love the idea of doing something sustainable without trying very hard. Because of its popularity, I can see this idea spreading throughout our product range."
Why did you rebrand?
"Purely Perfect as a brand was a bit of a test from which we hoped to learn. What we eventually realized was that we had to tweak the formulas because they were so thick, because they had such little water in them that the pump had a hard time dispensing the product. This was by design because I found it silly to sell people a product with so much water but in fact we went too far in that direction. The new formulas are much better and are easier to use.
In regards to the packaging, I didn’t like the first version and couldn’t wait to change it. I worked with a friend, Steve Hiett, who’s a brilliant graphic designer and came up with something that is classic, simple, modern and striking."
In your video at the Hairstory website, you talk about working with stylists to support their independence. Can talk specifically about how you do this?
"Our sales strategy is focused on e-commerce business and on selling exclusively to independent hairdressers, hairdressers that are not affiliated with a conventional, commission-based salon structure. The challenge these stylists face is that larger product companies don’t want to sell their product to independents. In addition, the buy-in is very high for an individual and they can’t afford it, nor do they have room to store tons and tons of bottles.
With our structure, it’s very simple as you don’t have to buy much product at all, you can introduce your client and if they want to buy it you can sign them up online so that they can purchase whenever they like. Whoever introduces the customer to the products receives an ongoing commission when they purchase. This is a big deal to hairdressers because in most cases, clients who buy from you first will often repeat their purchases through other retailers, most likely they’ll buy it online. This structure really puts the power back in the hands of the independent hairdresser."
By Pei-Ru Keh
The anti-shampoo movement may have only recently hit the mainstream, but for Michael Gordon, the hair master who founded Bumble & Bumble and counted Vidal Sassoon as a mentor, eschewing traditional shampoo has been the end-goal for developing Hairstory.
Consisting of just four products, Hairstory distills some of Gordon’s greatest hits in their purest form. ‘Undressed’, a texturising hair spray, evokes the undone, everyday elegance of French women by producing a matte, perfectly mussed finish. ‘Dressed Up’ – a lightweight crème – protects hair from heat styling while providing non-greasy hold and separation. ‘Hair Balm’ is a frizz-controlling moisturizer that adds a natural definition to curly hair. The true hero however, is ‘New Wash’, a creamy hair wash infused with lavender, nettle and calendula to soothe the scalp and repair dry hair. Formulated without any sulfates and detergents (the culprits that create a need for conditioners, treatments and all the other haircare products that flood the market), it’s so nourishing that nothing else is needed after.
‘The most important question for me was: could we develop a new way to wash hair, and what would that look like?’ Gordon recalls. ‘I was amazed at how many different shampoos, conditioners, masks and treatments companies had, and had finally woken up to the fact that it was mad. I was convinced a less-is-more approach was needed.’
He adds, ‘I honestly think in five years people are going to go, "Oh God, remember when we used to wash our hair with shampoo?’’’
Hairstory (which was initially known as Purely Perfect when it first launched in 2013) today consists of a product line, creative studio and content portal for hairstylists and hair enthusiasts alike. In addition to the products, Gordon runs an invitation-only hair studio from his home in downtown Manhattan, where his team creates real (and enviable) hair on real people to debunk the airbrushed myths of conventional beauty. Focused on individuality, colour and a liberating, non-conventional approach to hair, the results are artful and inspiring, accompanied by an imperfect standard of beauty that we can get behind.
By Laurel Pantin
By now, the whole “no shampoo” conversation is somewhat tired, right? It’s nothing entirely groundbreaking within the beauty sphere to look at conditioning cleansers, and the whole “no ’poo” movement. However, when you actually commit to it, the results, especially for curly hair, are actually kind of groundbreaking.
In my three decades on this earth, I estimate I’ve spent 12 years fussing with and caring for my hair. It’s soft and fine, insanely curly, and *abundant*. There’s a lot of it, but it’s floaty, like marabou feathers, and the curls don’t clump together in a satisfying way—nor do they frizz exactly. It’s just fluffy. It’s also highlighted within an inch of its life (though that stops now!), and generally dry and sad. And trust me when I say I’ve tried everything. I’ve done a Keratin treatment (albeit ages and ages ago when it first hit the market), I use masks and balms, deep conditioners, scalp massagers, taken supplements, sat on the couch with mayonnaise in my hair and my head wrapped in a plastic grocery bag for hours on end (seriously), and it was always just kind of puffy, weird, and not fun.
A few weeks ago, I went to Hairstory Studio seeking a makeover. I walked out brunette with short curly bangs, but also with the very best hair product I’ve ever tried in my life. The genius behind it is that it essentially commands that you stop caring for your hair.
When Wes Sharpton and Roxie Darling sat me down to tell me about the New Wash, the shock for me wasn’t that I had to stop shampooing (most girls with curly hair are cool with that), it was that I wouldn’t need conditioner, masks, supplements, or a Costco-sized vat of mayonnaise, nor endless hours worrying over the state of my hair. There is literally nothing more boring than worrying about your hair.
So I went home, made puppy eyes at my Ultra Hydrating Deep Conditioning Power Explosion conditioner I usually apply by the fistful, and just used New Wash, followed by a single pump of their Hair Balm once I got out of the shower. And then, my hair dried all on its own into happy, springy ringlets that held together all day in a very satisfying way. My life = changed. New Wash is the most incredible blend of non-toxic, nourishing, but somehow also cleansing ingredients that acts as a very gentle cleanser, but also deeply moisturizes your hair. I don’t understand how it works, but I’m super into it.
In the three weeks since, it’s only gotten better. I was worried that not shampooing my brand-new bangs would make them limp and greasy, but somehow they’re just fine. I also worried that my ends would turn to straw and would be itchy and horrible, but miraculously, they’re not. There’s the line from that sunscreen song that says “Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.” That always stuck with me, and as it turns out, it’s true. I’m sure in two weeks I’ll get the itch to try or do something else with it, but for now I’m finding that beauty-wise, sometimes nothing is the very best thing you can do.
By Erin Lukas
Lather, rinse, and (maybe) repeat. Washing your hair is probably a chore you don’t think twice about. Since I dye mine, I usually grab whatever shampoo and conditioner for color treated hair is on sale, lament the fact that my strands are too dirty to stretch out my last wash with dry shampoo, and finally jump in the shower and call it a day.
If you’re like me, you typically don’t stick with a single shampoo and conditioner set because you fear commitment. I was doubtful a monogamous hair product relationship was for me, until I met Hairstory New Wash. Developed by Michael Gordon, founder of Bumble and Bumble and the effortlessly cool hair artist collective Hairstory, the cleanser cleans hair without detergents, which strip natural oils and lead to the need for conditioner in the first place. If you’ve ever accidently skipped conditioner after using a traditional shampoo, you’re all too familiar with the rough, unmanageable texture of unconditioned hair. New Wash's non-foaming formula, however, is packed with nourishing fatty acids, essential oils, and aloe that rid strands of residue without stripping hair, making conditioner unnecessary—seriously.
As soon as you slather on New Wash and thoroughly rinse it, you can feel the difference. My hair has been less fuzzy and more silky-smooth, yet not so soft that it can’t be styled. Even better, since I’ve made the swap I’ve been able to wash my hair less frequently—no dry shampoo required.
The best part? Along with removing my shampoo and conditioner and freeing up some prime shower real estate, my slimmed-down shower time has allowed me to push back my weekday morning alarm by 10 minutes.