Shampoo, rinse, condition. Decade after decade, not much has changed. But recently, the buzz has been building about a shift in that shampoo and condition routine. Dubbed conditioning cleansing or “co-washing” by some, it’s a new approach to cleansing and caring for hair. The main difference? You don’t use shampoo. Instead, you apply a (sham)poo-free formula—commonly called a cleansing conditioner. Cleansing conditioners are gentle, detergent-free, all-in-one formulas that clean, hydrate and condition hair in one step.
The benefits of co-washing hair
Using a cleansing conditioner prevents the depletion of the hair’s natural, healthy oils, which shampoos are designed to strip away. “I notice with many of my clients that too-frequent shampooing can lead to excessive dryness, flyaways and basic unmanageability,” says Celebrity Stylist George Papanikolas, who divides his time between Beverly Hills, New York and Dubai. “And as more people are developing a higher awareness around health and wellness, they are questioning some of the common ingredients found in shampoos. For them, cleansing conditioners are becoming attractive alternatives to conventional shampoos. What’s more, many people note that over time, their hair becomes softer, easier to style and in some cases, fuller with more defined texture, when they switch to cleansing conditioners.”
Your hair type may be a deciding factor in your co-washing decision, although modern cleansing conditioners are available in formulas for a variety of hair types, including fine, normal, coarse and curly. If you’re not sure what type of hair you have, here’s a quick cheat: Isolate one strand of hair from your head and slide your thumb and forefinger along the entire length. If…
…you barely feel it, your hair is fine.
…you feel it easily, your hair is medium.
…you feel considerable thickness, your hair is thick.
Take a look as well. If you see any kind of coiled or s-shaped pattern, your hair is curly, and you may benefit from a conditioning cleanser for curly hair types.
Armed with this information, here are some additional reasons to consider co-washing.
1. Cleansing Conditioners Help Protect Color-Treated Hair
Changing up your hue is fun for sure, but frequent color services can cause the normally smooth surface of your hair strands to become ragged and pitted. That, in turn, allows haircolor to more easily slip away when you shampoo your hair. For longer-lasting color, and to limit the scrubbing and friction that occurs when you shampoo your hair, co-washing could be a perfect solution. These formulas melt into your hair and rinse out gently, along with dirt and debris, without disturbing the surface of strands. Your hair color lasts longer and your hair stays healthier.
2. Co-Washing Better Provides Essential Moisture For Curly Hair
The practice of co-washing has long been practiced within the African American community. The coiled nature of textured hair makes it difficult for the scalp’s natural oils to travel from roots to ends, and too-frequent shampooing can lead to dryness, damage and unwanted frizz on highly-textured hair types that are already oil-depleted. Co-washing is a great solution for curly hair—you can refresh and restyle your curls without stripping precious natural moisture.
3. Cleansing Conditioners Help Repair Dry, Damaged Hair
As with color-treated hair, damage caused by thermal abuse (blow dryers, curling irons), hair straighteners or relaxers or over-manipulation (tight braids or ponytails, hair extensions) can compromise the structure of each strand, leading to a lack of shine, breakage and a brittle texture. Scrubbing and rubbing with shampoo only makes matters worse—it’s like putting your delicate silk fabrics on the “heavy” cycle of your washing machine. Gentle cleansing with a cleansing conditioner prevents your damaged, dry hair from undergoing even more abuse, treating each fragile strand with the TLC it needs to avoid further deterioration.
4. Using Regular Shampoo Frequently Can Strip Your Hair Of Essential Nutrients
Co-washing is an ideal way to whisk away build-up of oil or debris from your hair and scalp as often as you need to do so, without stripping them completely. Why is this so important? Maybe you’re in a line of work that causes you to get your hands (and more) dirty—and you’re in and out of the shower one or more times a day. Maybe your recreational activities—Soul Cycle, a Masters swim program, an adult soccer league—cause you to reach for the shampoo bottle frequently. While this attention to hygiene may be excellent for the rest of you, it could be taking a toll on your hair!
5. Cleansing Conditioners Are Ideal For Dry Climates.
If you live in a super dry climate, your environment could be having a negative impact on the health and appearance of your hair. Sun and dry heat reduce the amount of natural oils that are distributed along the hair lengths, UV rays cause free radicals that can damage the integrity of your hair, which can ultimately weaken the structure and cause dehydration. When that’s the case, too-frequent shampooing isn’t helping. Ease up with co-washing. Select a formula that targets your hair type and skip the suds. Let your hair strike a balance with your harsh environment for a healthier, lusher texture.