Using conditioner only to wash your hair seems like the most counterintuitive thing on the planet. It’s sold with a shampoo companion; that’s got to be for a reason. And you’ve always heard that conditioner is just supposed to moisturize hair. It can’t possibly clean it.
These were the thoughts running through my head before I tried conditioner-only washing (or co-washing for short). I pictured slathering a moisturizing treatment on top of a nasty mess that my hair had become for a lack of real, true cleaning.
Instead, after co-washing, my hair has more body, feels clean and is soft without being a greasy, slick gross soft. I will admit, though. I’m still in the transition phase. I still shampoo once every other day, at least (sometimes I’ll go with a gap of three days). I’m still a chicken when it comes to trying out co-washing after a really intense workout. I still have that hang-up that I need the deep clean that can only come from frothy bubbles.
So you might be wondering, if I can’t completely give up my love of shampoo, why bother? I’d been dealing with a dry scalp and dry, over-processed hair for a while (despite daily conditioner). I like to keep my hair long (REALLY long), which means I also need to keep my hair and scalp healthy. Plus, I’m always on a never-ending quest to stop my hair dye from fading, and shampoo is the natural enemy to hair dye (even the ones that claim to be color-safe).
I’d also been hearing for some time now that we don’t really need the harsh chemicals of shampoo. I’d read blogs about people who just wash their hair with good ol’ fashioned water. Your body is supposed to stop producing as much oil once you stop drying out the scalp with the harsh ingredients in shampoo. Your hair and scalp is built to naturally self-maintain. Shampoos have really only been around since the turn of the 20th century. Before that people used plain soap or vinegar to get a real deep clean.
My first thought was ‘no way!’ I’d feel too “dirty.” So I opted for the in-between option: co-washing. The more I read about it, the more I was hooked.
The trick to co-washing is to get a clarifying conditioner and really scrub at your scalp. The clarifying conditioner will break up the oils and scrubbing will get rid of the buildup around the scalp. That’s the idea, anyway. Although, if you have naturally dry hair, you may want to try a more moisturizing conditioner.
The other linchpin to co-washing is to get a silicone-free conditioner. Silicones will cause too much heavy buildup and weigh the hair down. Avoid anything with “–one” as a suffix in the ingredient list (Dimethicone is a popular one). I use Suave Naturals. You’ll need a lot of conditioner, so a cheap bulk brand will be your best friend here.
If you wanted to give it a go, here is a basic how-to:
- Fully soak your hair with water and massage the scalp a little.
- Start by massaging your scalp and roots with a palmful of conditioner.
- Work another palmful of conditioner into the length of your hair. Repeat until your hair is saturated. I’ve seen four palmfuls for long lower back length hair reported.
- Mush your hair onto the top of your head and leave while you do your other shower activities.
- Scrub your scalp one more time after adding a bit of water, then rise.
- I cannot emphasis this enough: You NEED to rise fully. Buildup is still a risk (too much buildup can cause hair thinning) and you need to get your hair as rinsed as possible.
If you’ve had a hard workout or you have something like paint in your hair, you’ll probably still want to shampoo. I’ve also heard of people who still shampoo their roots a few times a week to keep their scalp clear.
As a fair warning, people have reported thinning hair with this method, even with rising fully, they state. Meanwhile, tons of others have had no problems for years and years. Just keep in mind that this method might not be the best for all hair types. To be safe, again, RINSE thoroughly. If you notice thinning, add a shampoo root cleanse a few times a week at least.
Also, don’t consider yourself limited to Suave for conditioner. There are tons of conditioners that work with co-washing. A few are:
- Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Conditioner: This is a light, clarifying conditioner that would be great for naturally oily hair.
- Aveda Rosemary Mint Conditioner: If you really want to go for a natural touch, harness the powers of rosemary and mint for your hair. Apparently, it’s even supposed to make your scalp tingle.
- Tresemme Naturals Nourishing Moisture Conditioner: This one subs out the silicones for coconut fatty acids. Something like this might be good to try with dry hair.
- Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner: Aubrey Organics is a popular brand for natural beauty products. With its sea butter and fatty alcohols, it’s not for oily hair.
- Suave Naturals: Yes, I’m going to end by mentioning them again. Otherwise this list wouldn’t be complete. Anything in this line (Naturals, not Suave Professionals- careful here) is free of silicones, and I can find a giant 30-fluid-ounce container for a buck fifty. If you have long hair, you’re going to be using a lot of conditioner, so keep price in mind.
So there you have it. Not too challenging.
As part of my wacky experimentation, I went back to using shampoo and conditioner daily for the past week as a comparison point. My scalp is slightly itchy from dryness, my hair is back in frizz-bomb mode (yet at the same time more limp, go figure) and my hair dye is fading like crazy again. Guess I’ll be sticking with this co-washing thing for a while.