How to Co-Wash Natural Hair

One of the best ways to keep your curls quenched.

Natural Hair
Photo: Stocksy

If you've spent years devoted to shampoo only to find your natural curls or waves are less than impressed by the formula, then this is news you'll want to hear: You might be doing it all wrong. Instead, haircare experts say co-washing may be a better option — especially during the fall when temperatures drop, and the air ( both inside and out) becomes a lot more dry.

Co-washing is essentially washing with conditioner (or cleansing conditioner) to score healthier-looking hair. "The conditioning properties of a co-wash cleanser gently removes dirt, allowing for better hydration and less color stripping for colored treated hair," Miko Branch, co-founder of natural haircare brand Miss Jessie's explains. Rocio Mora, a beauty blogger who regularly shares tips and tricks for styling naturally curly hair on her YouTube channel, Risas Rizos, adds that she chooses to co-wash as a way to eliminate sulfate-rich shampoos from her routine.

Ready to give co-washing a shot? Here, Branch and Mora share details on the benefits, as well as their go-to products and tips for co-washing at home.

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Why Should I Try Co-Washing?

"The main benefits of choosing to co-wash versus shampooing would be the moisture benefit that simultaneously cleanses," Branch explains. "Many shampoos, which have harsh surfactants, contain drying agents that strip the hair of all of its moisture."

Mora agrees.

"I always like to give the analogy of our hair as a slide in a playground," she adds. "If you go down a straight angled slide, you'll reach the bottom much faster than you would if you went down a spiral slide. The same concept applies to our hair and the natural oils that are produced from our hair follicles. The oils are going to get to the ends a lot faster with straight hair than with curly hair."

When the oils don't reach the ends as fast, Mora says the result is dry hair and the curlier the hair, the drier it tends to be, which is only exacerbated during colder seasons.

"If you're constantly washing your hair with shampoos that contain sulfates, you'll continue to strip those curls causing them to look dry and frizzy," she says. "Don't forget that dry and frizzy hair can lead to breakage so the best way to keep your curls looking and feeling healthy is by skipping shampoos altogether and making the switch to a cleansing conditioner."

But Will My Hair Be Clean?

The short answer? Yes!

"There's a misconception that not washing your hair with shampoo will leave your hair smelly, dirty and unclean," Mora says. "However, you can still get a clean scalp and cleansed hair by washing with a cleansing conditioner."

But, it's important to note that a co-wash may not always be as powerful as a shampoo. "The application of co-washing itself is not known to cause build up on the hair," Branch says. "[But] it may not be effective in thoroughly removing some of the heavier, waxier products on the market for curly hair that can cause build up in the first place."

You also shouldn't be surprised if it also takes a bit of time to get used to the co-washing process, especially if you are transitioning from damaged hair to healthier curls. "You might be used to the sudsy/foamy feeling of washing with shampoos but cleansing conditioners tend to not sud on account of the missing sulfates and detergents," Mora says.

How Do I Choose a Co-Wash Product?

A product free of sulfates and silicones is your jumping off point when choosing a co-wash product, according to Mora. However, it still may be a case of trial and error to find what's right for you.

But to help you get started, a few popular products include: DevaCurl No-Poo Original ($48), SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser ($12), Head & Shoulders Royal Oils Moisturizing Co-Wash ($8), and As I Am Coconut Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner ($9).

How Do You Co-Wash?

Now that you have the details about why co-washing works, it's time for a play-by-play on how to do it, right? Here, Mora shares her own routine:

  1. Hop in the shower. "I'll let the water from the shower rinse my curls first without me touching my hair, moving my head side to side to get my hair as wet as I can without disrupting my curl pattern much," Mora says.
  2. Massage co-wash into scalp. Mora says she uses the pads of her fingers to work the product into her hair. "What massaging will do is loosen and release any dirt or leftover product from my scalp," she says.
  3. Rinse thoroughly.
  4. Add conditioner. Mora says it's important to choose a silicone-free conditioner that will help curls retain moisture. She likes DevaCurl One Condition Original ($48). "I leave it on for the rest of my shower routine while I soap and shave," Mora says.
  5. Rinse out conditioner. Or half-rinse and leave a bit in, Mora says, to help keep hair soft and smooth. "Either way, I will rinse it with cold water to help seal the cuticle, which helps to enhance shine and avoid frizz," she says.

Should I Still Use Regular Shampoo?

Sure, co-washing is where it's at, but that doesn't mean you won't want to occasionally clarify your hair "to really give your hair a deep cleansing that it deserves," Mora says. And sometimes that means using sulfates.

"The pros of sulfate shampoos are the clarifying and cleansing factors that can benefit [curly girls] who use several products that may have product buildup on their textured hair," Branch explains.

As for Mora, she says, "I'm constantly trying different products and I notice that after a while, my curls don't spring as much as they used to." Her favorite way to clarify? Simply adding baking soda to her cleanser.

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we're celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.

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