CO-WASHING: Putting conditioner first in your natural hair care line-up

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Conditioner Only Washing, or co-washing, is meant to give you all the clean without the squeak. All of you clean freaks know what I mean by “the squeak” – that effort we make to cut the grease, or oil factor, in whatever it is we’re trying to get clean.

That may be fine for your dishes, and even your floors, but you need to give your hair a miss when it comes to that. When hair is squeaky clean, you’ve managed to strip away all of your natural oils, leaving your hair depleted and dry.

Part of the no-poo movement, co-washing was suggested to minimize the dry cycle that some shampoos create by eliminating the shampoo phase altogether. Since conditioning has traditionally been viewed as the “loving your hair” phase of hair maintenance, it made sense to apply all of the love and avoid all that dries.

Most often recommended for thirsty-haired curly-cues

If you have thick, dry or coarse curly hair, co-washing may be just what you need to combat what plagues you. Curly hair, whatever size the curl, is naturally dry due to the fact that sebum cannot easily travel through the bends and down the hair shaft. Using conditioner as a cleanser will add the moisture you’ve been missing to your hair care routine.

Fine hair finds its place in the co-wash movement

Whatever your hair type, if thirsty hair is your greatest concern, co-washing may be just what you’re looking for. If you happen to have fine hair, it will require a less heavy application of conditioner and potentially a more thorough rinse.

Fine hair can’t take the weight of heavy conditioners like coarse hair can. Diluting your conditioner with water may also make co-washing fine-hair friendly.

Be sure to read the labels and use the conditioner that is best suited to your hair type. Using the wrong product may give you less than favorable results.

Getting started with co-washing

When you first start co-washing, be prepared for your hair to feel different during wash mode. Due to the nature of conditioner, you’re not going to have the bubbles and suds that you’ve grown accustomed to.

Somehow those suds became a subliminal indicator that your wash cycle was complete when they overtook your tresses. With that missing, you now have to be thorough as you work your fingers through your roots.

Keep in mind that your goal is to remove built up dirt, bacteria and sloughed skin cells. Natural oils are good for you and do not equal dirt, so expect to feel some residue. The more you use this technique, the easier it will be to distinguish between clean and dirty. Here’s what you do:

  • First, you want to thoroughly wet your hair in preparation for the conditioner. You will be using the conditioner like shampoo, so expect to use more than usual.
  • You will want to coat the hair from root to tip and gently massage your scalp to free up any debris.
  • Let it sit on your hair and scalp for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing. Leaving it on for a prolonged period of time is like giving yourself a hair mask. Adjust the time to suit your individual hair needs.
  • Finally, rinse your hair and style as usual. If your hair habit normally includes a leave-in conditioner, you may want to do a light rinse so that you can retain some of the co-wash conditioner.

Be careful of build up

Due to the gentler cleansing agents found in conditioners, there is a distinct possibility that build up may occur with the adoption of this method.

You may be a victim of product pile on if your hair shows signs of the following:

  • a heavy or weighted feeling
  • appears dull or devoid of shine
  • lacks body or fullness
  • is more difficult to style than usual

When you see these signs, it’s time for a clarifying shampoo to rid your hair of the excess.

The pluses and minuses of co-washing natural hair

LIke most things in life, there are positives and negatives. Equally true, what’s good for someone else is not always good for you.

With that in mind, let’s look at the pluses and minuses of co-washing so you know what to expect before you give this a try.

Co-washing Pluses

  • Because conditioner has a more gentle cleansing agent, it will not strip your hair of natural oils and retain more moisture content.
  • Co-washing can make the detangling process easier. With added moisture to your normally dry hair shaft, your hair will become more pliable and thus limit the amount of breakage.
  • This method can encourage more bouncy and voluminous hair.
  • Styling may be easier since it removes that awkward too-clean-to-style phase. It’s often difficult to get your hair to respond the way you want when it’s too clean.

Co-washing Minuses

  • Over-moisturized hair can be prone to breakage. Remember your hair is actually dead once it grows beyond the follicle. If it becomes damaged, there is no regeneration. All you can do is grow it out and replace it with healthier hair. As such, your damaged hair can break with the weight of the product left in or on the shaft.
  • Too much build up can make your hair unresponsive to styling. There is a fine line between that hair that styles like a dream and too dirty hair that continually falls flat.
  • You will need to wash more often because you are no longer using shampoo. For those of you that often experience a time crunch, adding extra wash days into your normal routine may not be ideal.
  • Healthy hair growth requires a clean, unclogged scalp. If you are not diligent in your cleansing, you may negatively affect your hair’s growth cycle.

Co-wash with caution

Co-washing is not for everyone, even if you have moisture-deprived hair. It could be the application of the technique or just the technique itself, but you may discover that co-washing fails to give you the results you crave.

It’s important to listen to your hair and be aware of how it responds to any change in your routine. Finding the right balance in your hair care is key to getting the hair you want.

Let us know your personal experiences with co-washing in the comments below. Share your successes and failures with us.

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