There has been a lot of information popping up on social media about the co-washing trend. Co-washing is short for ‘conditioner-only washing’, meaning cleansing your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo. First gaining popularity among African-American women and those with thick, curly natural hair – Co-washing is one part of the larger ‘No-Poo’ movement.
I was SUPER skeptical; however, I did notice that it kept coming up in a couple ‘Alternative Beauty’ groups I belong to on Facebook as a way to combat the damage of continual bleaching/dying hair. Color-treated hair is often dry, possibly showing signs of breakage. I will say that I haven’t struggled with this the way many that dye their hair repeatedly describe, however I do credit that to the Manic Panic dye and its conditioning qualities.
After doing A LOT of reading into the pros, AND the cons, of this movement I was even more intrigued…
The Science Behind Co-Washing…
I am a natural skeptic – if you can’t show me actual factual evidence that something like this works, I’m generally not even remotely interested. Trying to find facts to support this movement was my first move.
Most conditioners contain trace amounts of detergents called cationic surfactants or ‘quats’. If you are searching your ingredients list for this, some examples you may see include cetrimonium and behentrimonium chloride. These quats, when mixed with water, pick up small amounts of dirt, removing them from your hair and scalp. While this doesn’t leave the ‘squeaky clean’ feeling that you get from shampoo, it does still clean your hair, giving the natural oils a chance to do their job to care for the hair itself.
From everything I’m reading all experts appear to agree that you should introduce co-washing gradually into your hair care routine to avoid ‘shocking’ your hair. To begin with, try making the change just once a week, and then slowly increase it from there. Remember that there is a transition period for your scalp as it adjusts, so you may find it to feel oily at first, more so than usual. Try to be patient!
Find the Right Conditioner for Your Hair
Not all conditioners are created equally. Many conditions include silicones, which are synthetic additives that are not water-soluble. This means that they are harder to wash out with using the same harsh detergents that you are trying to remove from your hair care routine by removing Shampoos. They build up leaving your hair feeling unclean and weighed down. Read your ingredient list and look for items ending in ‘-cone’ such as dimethicone.
Many companies are now marketing products specifically targeting the co-washing movement called cleansing conditioners. These conditioners contain detergents to help clean the hair, however still avoid harsh chemicals, using instead more natural alternatives. If you find that the co-washing process is leaving your hair still feeling oily/dirty, then you may find these products better suited to your needs. Thinner hair can easily get weighed down and lifeless, however cleansing conditioners can help to avoid this.
I do want to take this time to say that choosing to move towards a co-washing approach doesn’t mean that you must eliminate all shampoos from your routine, in fact many experts that I read articles from stressed that doing so was not the healthiest approach for most hair! I do wash my hair once a week with a sulfate-free shampoo just to clean off any build up from the week.
Even with the addition of a sulfate-free shampoo once a week, co-washing is NOT for everyone! Those with conditions like dermatitis will find that this won’t treat the condition, leaving them feeling worse. Please stick with your medicated and/or carefully selected shampoos!
While you can technically wash your hair using this technique as often as you wish, like everything there is too much of a good thing! There is such thing as over-conditioning! Pay careful attention to how your hair feels. If you find that your hair is feeling spongy or mushy you are overdoing it!
Lastly, watch for higher degrees of build-up! When co-washing, you will likely see a small amount of build up, however a larger amount of build-up will leave your hair feeling gross and dirty, and can even have more drastic effects! There are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ approaches to co-washing to avoid this, and if not done properly it can even lead to your hair falling out.
Steps for Co-Washing
These steps are compiled from a combination of different online articles as well as my own personal experiences. I am NOT an expert, and am not responsible for any complications from trying to implement these steps. Remember, if something seems off it is always safer to contact an expert!
- Fully soak your hair with water. Water plays an important part in the process – loosening the debris in your hair which in turn makes it easier to rinse out. This will also help you to distribute the conditioner evenly throughout your hair.
- You will need to use more product then you are currently used to using with your shampoo. The amount you need is obviously going to depend on the amount of hair you have – how long is your hair, how thick is your hair, etc. This could mean that some people may even need as much as a golf ball-size amount of conditioner. Try to remember that you are both cleansing and conditioning your hair, so you need to have enough product to do the job right!
- When you are applying the condition to your hair it is important to make sure you cover everything, from the scalp right through to the ends! Massage the conditioner into you hair/scalp to give it a chance to break down any oils or residue left from the use of styling products Let the conditioner sit on your hair for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, or longer for dry or damaged hair.
- Rinse, Dry, Style as usual!
- As stated above, use a sulfate-free shampoo occasionally to rid your hair of any build-up. Depending on the individual, and how your hair reacts this could be once a week, or once a month. The only way to know what is right for you is through trial and error.
It has been about a month and a half since I first made the transition. I definitely did notice that my hair got increasingly oily before it adjusted to the change, but once it did I was surprised with just how clean it felt. My hair now is softer and healthier than ever – I personally won’t be going back to my old shampoo dependant ways anytime soon!
Bonus: My hair dye is lasting even longer! Shampoo strips the dye quicker from your hair, especially if you are using a direct dye product like I do. Switching to co-washing gives it a chance to retain its bright, vibrant colour longer!
What is the key to your hair care routine? Have you ever tried co-washing? Have you done research into the products you are using, and the ingredients they contain?