Have you been hearing the buzz around co-washing your hair and wondering what it even is? Allow us to fill you in.
In short, co-washing means that you’re replacing your shampoo with just one product that can simultaneously do the job of shampoo (cleanse the hair) and that of conditioner (keep hair extra nourished and moisturized).
“The cleansing conditioner allows natural oils to clean, nourish and hydrate the hair and scalp,” explains celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean. And while Dean maintains co-washing can be a good practice year-round, the warmer months are actually the perfect time to make the switch. “During the summer, we tend to wash our hair more, as we sweat more and expose hair to sun, chlorine and saltwater,” he says.
The damage that all those things can cause is exactly what co-washing is supposed to help fix, as it prevents the drying out and further damage of hair that can result from using shampoo too regularly. “Co-washing simply leaves hair smoother and shinier than washing with shampoo and following with conditioner,” says Hollywood hairstylist Jimmy Servera.
Another benefit of co-washing is having one less product to buy, which means you’re not only saving a bit of money, but also space in the bathroom. It can even have a positive environmental impact, adds Servera. “The practice saves energy and water,” he says.
So, what’s wrong with shampoo?
Many shampoos are formulated with detergents like sulfates. Those do clean hair and make a frothy lather, but they aren’t your mane’s best friend. “Using a traditional shampoo can not only strip your scalp of its natural oils, but cause hair to break and become brittle,” Dean says. It can even leave it “hay-like,” adds Servera.
Does it matter what type of hair I have?
To some extent, yes. Co-washing can be a game-changer for those with dry, wavy or curly, coarse or medium-textured, and/or color-treated hair. “People with these types of hair know how difficult it is to style their hair after washing with shampoo,” says Servera.
However, he advises anyone with fine or oily hair to steer clear. “It will just make your hair weighed down and flat,” he says.
How do I co-wash?
Co-washing isn’t simply skipping shampoo and applying conditioner in your regular way. You will actually be washing with conditioner. Many conditioners specifically marketed for this purpose will provide directions for how best to go about it with that product. But in general, here’s how: Wet hair very thoroughly, then massage your whole scalp with the conditioner.
You’ll want to use more than you would if you were using shampoo. Experiment to find out how much works best for your hair. Then massage your scalp with your fingertips. Finally, using your normal amount, condition as you always did and rinse well. “For a healthy scalp and hair, it’s always important to completely rinse out any product,” says Servera.
Can I still use my favorite conditioner if I decide to give co-washing a whirl?
Possibly, sure, as long as it doesn’t contain silicones. That’s an ingredient in many conditioners that adds shine. But with continued use, it has the opposite effect, building up and weighing your hair down and leaving it dull. Dean points to SD alcohol and polymers as two more ingredients to avoid, since they can both dry out and weigh down your locks.
Beyond those caveats, conditioners that contain these key types of ingredients are especially good candidates for co-washing:
- Humectants, like honey or vegetable glycerin, work to lock in water.
- Emollients, like oils and shea butter, will smooth the cuticle and help banish frizz.
- Protein, such as wheat or soy protein, will coat the hair shaft.
- Moisturizers, including aloe vera or amino acids, soften hair and leave it glossy.
What if I’m not ready to totally ditch shampoo?
We get it. But you won’t be totally ditching it. Even if you embrace co-washing, you should still clear out buildup — the conditioner, sweat and styling products — from your hair. So you’ll still need to use a clarifying shampoo occasionally. An affordable silicone-free option is L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Clay Shampoo. It knocks out oily roots and buildup while hydrating dry ends.
Start by using clarifying shampoo once a month, and if hair continues to feel weighed down, make it every two weeks. Still not enough volume? Then you might consider alternating between co-washing and shampooing.
If you still don’t want to dive in just yet, you can dip a toe in the co-washing pool with Lush Avocado Co-Wash. It looks like a fancy bar of soap, but it’s a hybrid of about four-fifths conditioner and one-fifth shampoo. It’s powered with fresh avocados, cupuacu butter and olive oil for a best-of-both-worlds option.
Co-wash-ready conditioners we love
You have plenty of options when it comes to conditioners that are great for co-washing. We’ve curated our list of favorites. Check these out, keeping in mind that you may wind up trying a couple before you land on the one that delivers perfect results for you.
Pantene Pro V Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash ($9.99; target.com)
The argan oil in this drugstore mainstay goes easy on dry curls, moisturizing and boosting shine, while keeping them bouncy. And it will go easy on your budget, too.
Ouidad Curl Immersion Coconut Cleansing Cream Conditioner ($34.08, originally $36; amazon.com)
A top pick for coarse or dry hair and tight curls, this product gets its silkening power from Abyssinian oil and mafura butter. Meanwhile, sage oil can help get rid of scalp impurities.
This silicone-, sulfate- and paraben-free conditioner uses the moisturizing powers of shea butter to help boost moisture in your strands. Ideal for curly and textured hair, SheaMoisture says this product is particularly great for 3A, 4A, 3B, 4B, 3C and 4C hair types.
Hask Monoi Coconut Oil Nourishing Conditioner ($4.79; target.com)
This one is a favorite of Servera’s. “It’s moisturizing and cleansing without stripping hair of natural oils, which makes it great for co-washing,” says Servera. “It’s also affordable and smells so good.”
L’Oréal Paris EverPure Cleansing Balm ($9.97; amazon.com)
This rich potion is a mashup of a conditioner and a gentle cleanser that’s especially good for color-treated hair. It has no sulfates, parabens or silicone, the usual suspects when color is stripped out of hair.
Carol’s Daughter Coco Crème Curl Quenching Conditioner ($10.99; target.com)
Coconut oil, coconut butter and mango butter fuel this ultra-moisturizing, silicone-free conditioner that obviously smells like a dream. Reviewers love this formula on waves, curls and dry scalps. It also avoids shea butter entirely, which is ideal for people who have a shea allergy.
Lush Happy Happy Joy Joy (starting at $14.95; lushusa.com)
This creamy yet light conditioner is an all-around winner for different hair types, from bleached or overprocessed to naturally straight and wavy. Its protein comes from almond milk. Glycerin serves to lock in moisture while jojoba oil is there to silken strands. Plus, the natural floral-citrusy fragrance leaves hair smelling out-of-this-world amazing.
Kérastase Discipline Cleansing Conditioner Curl Idéal ($34.72, originally $41.19; amazon.com)
Curly hair is especially prone to being frizzy and dull. This luxurious cleansing conditioner nourishes curls and waves so they stay silky and defined, and not weighed down.
Mizani True Textures Cream Cleansing Conditioner ($26; sephora.com)
Great for natural hair textures, this cleansing conditioner uses coconut oil to help control frizz and even olive oil to maintain the softness of your curls.
Wen by Chaz Dean Sweet Almond Mint Cleansing Conditioner ($49.50; qvc.com)
Completely detergent-free, this pick is rich in natural ingredients that bring big benefits. Fig helps cleanse hair while also hydrating, pomegranate moisturizes, and tea tree oil soothes sensitive and flaky scalps.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.