For people with dry or curly hair, finding the balance between keeping hair clean and keeping hair moisturized can be extremely difficult. Traditional shampoos tend to strip the hair of oils and moisture, leaving strands looking and feeling brittle and dull. However, hair products and dirt still build up over time and need to be washed away.
The solution to this problem may be hidden in an entirely different way of washing your hair—or rather, not washing. Switching to something called “co-washing” could save your hair some stress and give you the soft, luscious locks you’ve always dreamed of.
What is co-washing?
Co-washing is a method of washing your hair that doesn’t use any shampoo. Instead, you use conditioner! Thus, the term “co-washing” stands for “conditioner-only washing.”
Although conditioner is generally not used for scrubbing away dirt and grime, many conditioners contain ingredients that can pick up dirt, albeit less than shampoo can. When you wash with conditioner, these ingredients can pick up some of the dirt and oil, providing your hair with somewhat of a clean feeling.
Co-washing is ideal for people with very dry or coarse, curly hair. This is because traditional shampoos not only remove dirt, but also natural oils from the hair. While this is usually a good thing for people with straight or oily hair, curly and dry hair have a harder time staying moisturized when oils are being washed away each day. Curly or wavy hair is often much drier than straight hair because sebum (the hair’s natural oil) has a harder time making its way from the scalp down the entire strand.
Co-washing provides some cleaning to remove dirt while simultaneously nourishing hair that is already known to be dry and not stripping the hair of its natural oils. The result is essentially double the moisture.
How to co-wash like a pro
Co-washing is not at all complicated and can be accomplished in the same (or even less) time it takes to wash your hair normally.
First, thoroughly rinse your hair in the shower, getting it completely wet. This process loosens debris on your scalp so it rinses out easier. Next, use a little bit more conditioner than you normally would—you need enough to fully coat strands from root to end, so a dime or quarter-sized amount probably won’t cut it.
Massage the conditioner through your hair, starting by working it into the scalp as if you were shampooing, then working it down the strands to the tips. Once the locks are thoroughly coated, let the conditioner sit on your hair for a few minutes while you shower, then rinse it out completely.
When you’re first starting out, try using the co-washing method only once or twice a week and wash with normal shampoo the rest of the time. Gradually adding it into your haircare routine can help avoid shocking results and an extra-oily scalp because it gives your hair time to adjust. Over time, you should be able to co-wash with great results.
Additionally, you’ll want to use a clarifying shampoo every few weeks to really get your locks squeaky-clean and get rid of anything that has been building up that the conditioner could not wash away.
You may need to play with the schedule to find the washing routine that is right for your hair. Everyone’s scalp and hair are different, so what works for you might not work for someone else. You may be fine co-washing every few days with a clarifying wash once a month. Or, you might need to alternate between co-washes and traditional washes every other week to get the clean feeling you desire.
Pros and cons of co-washing
While co-washing can certainly have great effects for your hair, it does have some drawbacks and is not ideal for everyone. Here are some pros and cons to help you make the decision of whether you’re “pro”-co-wash or not.
- Doesn’t strip hair: The most important aspect of co-washing is that it won’t strip your hair of its natural oils and actually introduces more moisture, leaving your hair feeling softer and more nourished than before.
- Better styling: Co-washing can help prevent your hair from feeling limp or squeaky-clean when you’re trying to style it, allowing you to use fewer hair products when styling (and, by extension, avoid more product buildup to wash out!).
- Won’t remove all dirt: While co-washing can loosen and remove some dirt, it doesn’t remove all the dirt, oil and skin cell buildup like shampoo can, meaning your hair will need a wash every once in a while.
- Can feel heavy: Some people who co-wash say that the process makes their hair feel thicker and heavier, since conditioner can cling to the hair.
- Not for everyone: People who have oily or straight hair should not co-wash. Your strands do not have as hard of a time holding onto moisture and will get much too oily if you avoid washing your hair with traditional shampoo.
Co-washing is an excellent alternative to shampooing if your curly or dry hair is feeling brittle and lackluster. Just remember to start slow and adjust your washing schedule as needed to help your hair look and feel as healthy as possible.