What is co-washing and is it only for curly hair or can you try it on wavy hair too? Is using a co-wash good for hair growth and what are the best co wash products? Find all these answers in the article below!
Listen, if you have been on Tiktok or Instagram recently you might have seen a ton of curly-haired girls showcasing their own unique hair care methods.
But one thing that seems to be common and catching on quite fast in the curl community is the “No-Poo” movement and the rise of the co-wash.
If you giggled reading the words “No-Poo”, I don’t blame you. But it simply means “No Shampoo”.
In this method of caring for curly hair, you skip using a shampoo altogether and use something called a co-wash instead.
Now what is a “co-wash” you dare ask?
Well, it’s simply washing hair with conditioner.
Conditioner + Washing = Co-Washing!
But…But… that sounds horrible! No it doesn’t. I have tried it myself for my 4a curls and co-washing has been a boon.
Here’s a guide detailing my experiences with co-washing and what to expect and what to avoid while going “No-Poo”.
What Is Co-Washing Hair
Co-Washing can be simply defined as the act of washing your hair with conditioner instead of a shampoo. And this doesn’t mean you skip shampoo, rinse hair with water and directly proceed to applying conditioner on your ends.
No, co-washing entails actually “washing” hair with conditioner. So you’ll be applying it to your scalp as well.
And before you ask, you can use regular conditioners to co-wash hair.
But if you have an oily scalp and want a little more cleansing effect you should have a legit co-wash product that can remove dirt and debris from your scalp without the use of sulfates or any surfactants whatsoever.
How Do I Co-Wash My Hair
I first learned about co-washing hair while reading up on the Curly Girl Method and have wanted to give it a try ever since as I have 4a hair (coily, kinky hair texture) which is very prone to dryness.
I soon found that co-washing hair is just like shampooing. You only substitute one product for the other! But here are some tips that will help you do co-washing the right way.
Make Sure Your Hair Is Sopping Wet
Unlike shampoos, co-wash products do not contain surfactants. So they will get activated only if you use a lot of water.
Also, making your hair sopping wet can help the product get absorbed better in the strands. It will, furthermore, loosen any debris or dirt on the scalp, making it easier for the co-wash to work its magic.
If you fully saturate your tresses with water, the co-wash also gets distributed easily through wet hair.
Massage The Co-Wash Into Your Scalp And Hair
You know all that sagely hair care wisdom that tells you NEVER to apply conditioner to your scalp? Well, you can forget all about that when it comes to co-washing.
This is why I started using a proper co-wash like the Briogeo Curl Charisma Co-Wash (which BTW is a fantastic product by a black-owned brand).
A regular conditioner if applied to the scalp as co-wash can clog hair follicles and cause buildup and dandruff, but a co-wash will cleanse the area and not stick to your scalp.
Co-washes are cream-based cleansers and will break down the dirt and grease on your scalp without drying it out and instead will moisturize hair.
Think of it as an oil-based cleansing balm but for your hair.
Rinse, Rinse, And Rinse Some More
At the end of the day, a co-wash is still a rich, moisturizing product. Too much of it isn’t going to do you any good.
So always rinse your hair thoroughly to get rid of any product residue. Pay special attention to your scalp as any buildup can really mess up your scalp’s environment.
Always Clarify Hair And Scalp At Least Once A Month
While co-washes have their benefits, a good thorough cleansing always brings out the best of my curls.
I’ve often found even the most well-formulated, silicone-free co-washes can buildup over a period of weeks and make it difficult for other products to get absorbed into hair.
And they also lessen my curl definition by weighing the strands down.
So I started using a clarifying shampoo once a month to remove the product buildup.
If you’re still strictly anti-sulfates then you can try a more natural method of clarifying your hair such as using an apple cider vinegar rinse.
Benefits Of Co-Washing Your Hair
The chief benefit of co-washing your hair is to add moisture to your curls and keep them hydrated. Curly and coily hair textures are more prone to breakage and frizz due to dryness.
So substituting a shampoo (which can further remove hair’s natural oils) to a co-wash which adds moisture to your strands can leave your curls softer.
A co-wash also lacks harsh surfactants which lead to friction on hair, causing breakage. So you can detangle curly hair with a wet brush while in the shower as co-washing would have made hair really slippery and easy to comb thorough.
Co-Wash Vs Shampoo
A co-wash is basically a conditioner used to “wash” your hair. Unlike shampoo it doesn’t contain either harsh surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate or milder surfactants like Cocamide Betaine.
So it can remove some dirt and debris from the scalp but it won’t strip hair of natural oils or grease.
And unlike a shampoo, it will actually add more oils or emollients to your scalp and hair to keep them moisturized.
Can Co-Washing Be Bad For Hair: When To Skip It
Co-washing seems amazing and also less time consuming than your regular shampoo session. So is it for everyone? Nope.
I strongly suggest NOT trying co-washing if you have fine, straight hair. Even those with type 2 wavy hair should not co-wash except for maybe once a week or something.
These hair types do not get dry easily and do not require all the extra moisturization. You will simply be left with greasy, lanky hair.
Also, even if you have curly hair, pay close attention to your scalp health before deciding to co-wash. If you have conditions like dermatitis or dandruff, co-washing might not be the best idea.
FAQs about Co-Washing Curly Hair
Is co-wash better than shampoo?
Co-wash is better than shampoo if you have curly hair or coily, African American hair types. It is basically a cream cleanser that doesn’t contain sulfates or surfactants of any kind unlike shampoos.
Co-washes cleanse hair to a certain extent and focus more on moisturizing it. However, if you have straight or slightly wavy hair, a co-wash can be too rich for your hair type and leave strands and scalp greasy. So for you a shampoo would be better.
How often should I co-wash?
I usually co-wash my hair 2-3 times a week and then follow up with an apple cider vinegar rinse once a week to clarify my hair. This routine suits my hair type and curl pattern the best. But the number of times you co-wash hair should be tailored to your curls, scalp conditions and dryness of hair.
Is co-wash different from conditioner?
Yes. These are two different types of hair products. While you can technically use a regular conditioner as a co-wash, the vice versa isn’t possible.
Co-washes are cream based cleansers that are formulated to both cleanse and moisturize your hair at the same time.
So your everyday, wash-off conditioner can be used as co-wash. But a co-wash cannot be used in place of conditioner.
Can I co-wash with a regular conditioner?
Yes you actually can use a regular conditioner for co-washing hair, provided it’s free of any silicones or parabens. Silicones can really clog your pores and cause buildup. So using a silicone-based conditioner on your scalp is a huge no-no.
But if you have an oily scalp along with curly hair, you might need a little extra cleansing power from a co-wash. In this case, a regular conditioner would be of no use, and you would require a co-wash product that can cleanse and moisturize at the same time.
Final Thoughts on Co-Washing Hair
A lot of curly-haired folks have noticed that traditional shampoos tend to dry out their hair. And while shampoos containing sulfates and other harsh surfactants can be bad for all hair types, they are especially worse on curls.
This is because the shape and texture of curls make it difficult for your scalp’s natural oils to get distributed throughout the strands. So curly and coily hair is more prone to dryness and frizz.
Co-washing can help prevent this by cleansing hair without the use of surfactants and by moisturizing hair at the washing stage.
I’d recommend using a co-wash product instead of regular conditioner for co-washing as the latter sometimes contains silicones and can clog follicles when applied to the scalp.
Also, if you’re co-washing do not forget to clarify your hair every other week to prevent buildup.