What the Heck is Co-washing?

Good afternoon readers. What’s the weather like in your corner of the world? Today is a lovely winter day in Sydney – dry and sunny. My finger tips are still cold, so I’m not being fooled into thinking it’s spring just yet. Which brings me to the point of this post: co-washing or conditioner washing. I tend to utilise this method of cleansing the hair more often in winter, especially when I have coloured hair.
Co-washing is a way of washing the hair using only conditioner. It was first mentioned by Lorraine Massey in her book Curly Girl: the Handbook. Then it was made even more popular by NaturallyCurly.com; many of the users of the site swear by co-washing. It’s where I first heard of it six years ago. At the time I had awful blonde foils throughout my hair (not to say that blonde foils are all bad – but I didn’t know what to ask for and the hairdresser did not do a consultation with me beforehand), and I was still using strong sulfate shampoos. I had never had any advice on curly hair beyond ‘no brushing’, so I was eager to try anything.
From day one, my hair was so much better. Suddenly I was getting compliments on my hair, and it wasn’t even straightened. For about six months – over the cooler half of the year – it worked. Then the weather started to warm up and my hair got a little bit oily – but by then I knew about sulfates and knew to avoid shampoos with the strong stuff. Over the years I’ve switched back and forth between co-washing and using low-sulfate/sulfate free shampoos. And my hair definitely thanks me for it.

So how do you do it? The usual way is to use a light conditioner – or cleansing conditioner – to scrub at your scalp. The friction is really important to the cleansing – just make sure to use the pads of your fingers and not your nails. Rinse well and follow with more conditioner on you mid-lengths and ends – most curlies like to use a heavier conditioner for this step.

Why does it work? Well, I’m not a scientist, but I’ve done a lot of reading and the small amount of hairdressing training I’ve had has also informed my hypothesis as to why it works. The hair shaft has a cuticle that either lays flat – healthy and low-porosity hair – or stands up to varying degrees – damaged and high-porosity hair. Things that open the cuticles of the hair are heat, physical manipulation, shampoo, colouring and perming/relaxing formulas; and water. So curly hair – which is usually dry as it is – will have the cuticle opened just by the water, so the conditioner will soothe the cuticle, while attracting oil and dirt and removing them.

What else should you know? This shampoo free method is very gentle, so there are some ingredients that you’ll need to avoid. These are insoluble silicones (ingredients ending in ‘-cone’ and ‘-xane’), polyquaterniums and mineral oil. These ingredients tend to build up on the hair when you don’t use a shampoo to remove the build-up regularly.

My favourite co-wash conditioner is Moogoo Cream Conditioner:
It’s light enough to clean my scalp, but rich enough to moisturise the rest of my hair as a rinse-out conditioner. I also like to use it as a leave in.

Some further reading:
NaturallyCurly.com article on the No Poo Method
Waterlily716’s video on conditioner washing
Jillipoo’s post on silicones, polyquats and soap in hair products – while you’re there look around, she has some excellent curly hair thoughts and advice.

I hope this post was helpful to you guys. Have you ever tried this method/would you be open to trying it? Let me know in the comments.

Love and waves,


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