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Co-Washing: Is It Really OK to Stop Sudsing Up Your Hair?

Cleansing with just conditioner? The trend—long popular among women with naturally thick, curly, or coarse strands—is becoming mainstream, thanks to several new products designed for all hair types.

| June 23rd, 2014
Co-Washing: Is It Really OK to Stop Sudsing Up Your Hair?

Browse a few online beauty forums, and you’ll find proponents of “co-washing” touting the benefits of cleansing strands with specially formulated conditioners instead of shampoo. (We even reported the “anti-shampoo” movement here).

Among them: Suds-free formulas can moisturize dry scalps, reduce frizz, detangle knots, and soften texture. African-American women have long used conditioners instead of lathering shampoos to refresh strands and help keep them moisturized and glossy, and now new non-foaming and low-lather formulas from companies such as Ojon, Palmer’s, Purely Perfect, and Kerastase, Vidal Sassoon Pro and Wen are geared towards those with straight, fine hair as well. Though it may seem like a gateway to build-up, tiny amounts of detergent in these products remove dirt and grime without stripping color or natural oils (traditional lathers, which often contain harsh sulfates, make hair squeaky clean, but frequently leave it brittle, frizzy, and damaged), so they are gentler than even the gentlest shampoo.

Think of it, if you will, as the hair-care equivalent of hand-washing your favorite cashmere sweater. Like dry shampoos, these formulas can be used between regular washes, but they're laced with ultra-rich ingredients that smooth and lock in moisture, so they're more than just a temporary fix. Over time, they can save money, precious minutes, and even a need for masks or styling products.

But before you think about swapping your regular conditioner for shampoo, be warned: “The silicone in traditional conditioners would eventually create residue,” says  Michael Gordon, a celebrity stylist and the creator of Purely Perfect (as any fine-haired woman who’s mistakenly grabbed the wrong bottle can tell you). “These new products are similar to the high-end, non-foaming cleansers that you’d use on your face because they contain oils and moisturizers, but have a specific cleansing system, so your hair does gets clean,” Gordon says. With continued use, they claim to help restore hair’s natural vibrancy and oil balance, giving you that “Very much desired ‘second-day hair look’ on the first wash,” Gordon says. The pros? Smoother, healthier strands, plus fewer products to get there. The cons? If you enjoy working up a good lather in the shower, you’ll be robbed of the experience.   

Though I don’t wash my long, super-thick, wavy, color-treated Indian hair on a daily basis (it’s more like three times a week), I was a bit skeptical about trying this new trend. As someone who swims frequently and spends a lot of time outdoors in hot, sunny Los Angeles, I do appreciate the “so fresh, and so clean, clean” feeling of a nicely-scented, lathering shampoo. In general, I don’t use styling products (they tend to weigh my hair down), but I still had some concerns about build-up and oiliness.

Courtesy PhotosFrom left: Ojon Rare Blend Moisture-Rich Cleansing Conditioner, $27; Palmer's Olive Oil Co-Wash Cleansing Cream, $10; Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Colorfinity Cleansing Conditioner, $4; Wen Cleansing Condition in Summer Honey Peach, $30 [Limited Edition]

The first day I tried the Palmer’s Olive Oil Co-Wash Cleansing Cream—which contains vitamin E, keratin protein, and natural herbal extracts—I was admittedly surprised by the great results. I massaged a small amount from roots to ends, just as I would a conditioner, and rinsed. I ended up skipping conditioner altogether, since my hair felt smoother in the shower already. The scent, very green, seemed like an organic, non-chemical shampoo, and though different from the perfumed shampoos I’m used to, was actually fresh and clean-feeling.

But, the best and most noticeable thing was how soft it made my hair; Touchably soft to the point that I wanted to wear it down instead of in my go-to top knot all day. The next day, I went for a swim, and used the co-wash again. There wasn’t a single trace of chlorine left in my strands: Just smooth, nicely-scented hair.

I don’t think I’ll be giving up shampoo altogether, but in-between washes, I’d definitely incorporate a cleansing cream to moisturize and soften my normally dry hair.  

MORE: How To Go Three Days Without Washing Your Hair

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