As I explained last week, I have long hair. I hadn’t really thought about the possible environmentally negative consequences of long hair until Jax got me thinking about the products I use to care for my hair. I’ve continued thinking about the “cost” of long hair. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I think this cost is two-fold: (1) personal economics, in the bills I pay and (2) environmental, in the resources I use. Let me explain.

Before I begin though, let me just say that I still love having long hair and I have no intention of shoring my locks. So, if you’re looking for an epiphany-to-drastic-change read, this ain’t it. =) This is just a reality check.

I Use A Lot of Water to Wash My Hair

The average shower, including a hair wash, takes about 18 gallons (at about 2 gallons per minute for a 9 minute shower). My hair is not just long, but by all (hairdresser) accounts, it is also thick. I estimate (conservatively) it takes me 15 minutes to wash my hair, which puts me at 30 gallons per wash. Let’s say the average person washes their hair 3 to 4 times a week (as recommended). That’s 54 to 72 gallons on showers alone per week for the average Joe and Josephine. That’s about 90 to 120 gallons for showers each week for me. That means I use about 67% more water (in gallons) than Joe / Josephine each week for showers.

Crickey. More water use = higher water bill. Not to mention the environmental impact and the scarce resource water becomes in a drought state. Double crickey. How much am I willing to pay to be beautiful??

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this part of the Rapunzel Tax for a while. I know I’m being a water-hog when I wash my hair, so I try to offset in several ways:

  • I don’t wash my hair often. I try to keep it at 2 times a week; 3 times a week is the maximum. Which, let me tell you, can get a little uncomfortable in the summer, or any other time I’m sweating a lot. Sometimes my hair gets a little stinky between washes. Solution? Perfume.

  • I wear clothes more than once before washing them (provided they aren’t gross).

  • I tinkle in the shower. Hey! Don’t judge me! Brazil encourages its citizens to wash and wee.

  • I don’t run the sink water when I wash my hands. I get them wet, then I turn the water off while I “scrub.” Then I turn it back on to rinse.

  • I use greywater when I can. For example, I pour unused drinking water to rinse other dishes. I use water left in the sink after doing the dishes to wipe down my counters.
I Use A Lot of Electricity to Style My Hair

It takes a long time to blow dry my hair. And a long time to flat iron it. Woe unto me when I do both. Well, normally *I* don’t do this. I leave it to professionals who can reach the end of my hair better than I can. It also takes a long time to curl my hair, when I choose to do it. So, what kind of energy are we talking here. Do you really want to know? Because it’s a lot.

Hair dryers vary in energy use, with a range of something like 1,200 watts to 2,000 watts. That’s the equivalent of turning on 20 to 33 light bulbs (60w). Holy crud. Flat irons (or at least this model) appear to be small offenders by comparison, drawing on average 123 watts, or about 3 light bulbs (60w). Truly though, I prefer the blow out over the iron. My hair looks SO pretty when it’s blown dry with a roller brush. I couldn’t find information on the energy use for steam curlers, which is what I use when I want ringlets.

So, how do I offset this energy suck? I rarely style my hair. I love the way it looks when my hair is “done,” but it’s a rare event. I should pat myself on the back for saving energy, but really I’m just lazy. It takes me over an hour to do my own hair. And it makes my arms hurt. I can’t afford to go to a salon all the time, so that’s not a viable option for daily beauty, either. “I enjoy being a girl” <♫> but that doesn’t make me good at it. =)

What about you? Do you have think about your water and energy use? Do you have some other guilty pleasure that you try to offset by modifying other behaviors? Keep your responses clean, please. *wink*

+ Featured image, book cover for Rapunzel 2009, art by Katalin Szegedi.