Co-Washing: What You Need to Know

The term “co-washing” has become as familiar within the natural and curly hair community as “detangling” and “wash-and-go.” But it’s far from a straightforward process – here’s what you need to know to make sure you make the most of the technique.

So, what is co-washing, anyway? It’s shorthand for “conditioner washing,” which is the technique of skipping the shampoo step and just rinsing hair with conditioner. It might seem kind of counter-intuitive, since washing generally involves a soap or shampoo-like solution that effectively removes dirt and debris, while conditioning typically deposits a fine layer of oils and synthetic agents onto the hair. Nevertheless, many naturals and curlies swear by daily co-washing – frequent shampoos can be unnecessarily harsh to delicate curly strands – and instead shampoo once weekly. This is an excellent strategy for keeping hair moisturized during the week. However, when co-washing becomes a substitute for weekly shampoos, problems can arise.

Washing and exfoliating your skin with the appropriate cleanser removes oils, sweat, and dead skin cells, and invigorates your skin by facilitating blood flow. Let’s say you exercise regularly and have oily skin. Would you get rid of your body wash and shower with lotion? Definitely not! (Unless you want greasy skin and acne.)

Permanently swapping out shampooing for co-washing can damage your hair and clog the pores in the scalp. This is because both your scalp and hair have to be clarified in order to function healthily. If you allow oils, dirt, and debris to build up on your hair and scalp, you’ll inhibit your hair’s growth and length retention, as well as its ability to absorb and retain moisture. This is because, over time, the buildup on your hair becomes a seal against water molecules, preventing them from penetrating the shafts. This causes the hair to dry out, become brittle, and eventually break.

Cleansing the hair with a shampoo or clarifying agent designed to remove buildup is critical to maintaining hair and scalp health. But co-washing between shampoos is a great strategy for keeping hair moisturized during the week. It’s particularly effective when you use conditioners that don’t deposit ingredients that are difficult to remove without vigorous shampooing. Silicones are considered a less-than-ideal ingredient because silicones aren’t water-soluble. This means that continual co-washing with conditioners with silicones will leave a buildup that may resist even a weekly shampoo, resulting in dry brittle hair.

When selecting a conditioner for co-washing, choose a product that is water-soluble and moisturizing. This is especially important if you have oily hair and/or exercise vigorously. While you might be tempted to use a creamy, oil-rich product if you have dry or coarse hair, it’s not ideal for daily applications. You always want to avoid products that have the potential to cause buildup.

AK Hair & Healing offers a full menu of natural hair styling and maintenance services designed to give clients the tools and resources they need to uncover the true beauty of their coily, curly, or kinky strands. To learn about our mission and philosophy, please visit our information page.