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Co-washing: All about this hair care hack and the best products to try

Curly hair routines are all about hydration, with moisture being essential to strengthen hair shafts and tame messy manes. And if your locks have had more frizz than defined curls of late, the solution might be to switch out the shampoo in your hair care routine with just conditioner. Here, we understand co-washing, a go-to hack for most women with ringlets and waves.

For most women with curls, a hair care routine goes beyond the shampoo-conditioner-serum formula. It involves weekly masks, a specific set of products, elaborate hair drying techniques, and hours spent browsing hair-care forums (read, Reddit). And what remains undisputed is the fact that hydration is key to transforming limp, naturally frizzy strands into luscious curls. In fact, nourishing masks, deep conditioning serums, and lightweight oils are vital to lubricate strands, improve their elasticity, and protect them from environmental and heat damage. When these products don’t do the trick, the culprit might be overwashing.

What is co-washing?

Co-washing for curly hair

The hair hack that breathes new life into curls requires just one product, conditioner. It is done to keep hair and scalp nourished and prevent natural oils from being stripped by shampoos. While hair washing is often determined by hair type and lifestyle choices, the ideal bet is to scrub your hair only twice a week to avoid dryness.

That’s exactly what co-washing does. The conditioner works through the hair and the scalp to flush away dirt and buildup (from products or everyday grime) while adding moisture to each strand, right down to the cuticle. This makes it great for everyday washing, especially for people with coarse manes. This practice is also common amongst women with type four (oily) hair and can be especially beneficial over the summer when excessive sweating leads to far more showers than usual.

Benefits of co-washing

1. During warmer months, when tresses are exposed to the sun, chlorine, pollution, and saltwater, co-washing helps nourishing ingredients and natural oils to reverse hair damage and hydrate the scalp.

2. While shampoos, which often contain sulphates, can nuke your hair strands and leave them dehydrated, co-washing takes a gentler approach, preventing breakage and adding shine and body to your tresses better than the usual shampoo and conditioner routine can. This is especially important for textured and naturally dry hair.

3. Since oil breaks down oil, co-washing can dissolve scalp oils to prevent grease, without drying it out.

Who should avoid co-washing?

1. Some people, especially those with a naturally greasy scalp, might find their tresses weighed down, especially in the first few washes. Proponents of this hack claim that this gets better over time as you train your scalp to produce less oil with every hit of moisture, with most suggesting countering it with dry shampoo or washing with a sulphate-free soap every week. That said, many experts state that oil production is genetic and can’t be altered, making co-washing unsuitable for certain hair types.

2. Co-washing could lead to product build-up and cause itchiness and irritation. This could be prevented by using a scalp scrub while washing and ensuring all the product is rinsed out of your hair. A clarifying shampoo once a week (or two) might help as well.

3. Those with scalp conditions like dandruff, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis might find their symptoms worsening due to co-washing. This could be due to the fact that the cleansing ingredients or process involved in co-washing might not be enough to break down flakes and other grime.

Can you co-wash with a conditioner of your choice?

Co-washing for curly hair
Image: Courtesy Taiisia Stupak/Unsplash

Most proponents state that co-washing can be practised with your favourite nourishing conditioner. However, experts suggest buying products that are specifically formulated with mild, surfactant-like ingredients that will leave you feeling cleaner and are a good compromise between shampooing and conditioning. Not to mention, they save you a lot of time. Besides, the products don’t lather like most shampoos and are sans parabens or sulphates, which are common ingredients in cleansing products.

Those with fine or low porosity waves could try a semi-lightweight co-wash with fewer moisturising ingredients. Meanwhile, those with higher porosity or chemically-treated, dry tresses can opt for products with shea butter, castor oil, jojoba oil, wheat germ, soy protein, and coconut oil. Humectants like aloe vera, almond milk, glycerin, honey, panthenol, and hyaluronic acid are great ingredients to look out for as well, regardless of your hair type.

Using a specially formulated product will also prevent excessive buildup and greasiness. Regardless of which way you go, experts recommend picking products without silicones. Although they add shine, silicones weigh strands down and eventually make them lacklustre.

How to co-wash your hair at home?

Begin with a co-wash that best suits your hair type and take a generous amount into your palms. Apply this into your hair, coating your scalp and strands. Massage your hair for at least a minute or two to create friction that will help scrub the dirt and grime from your tresses before rinsing it out completely. Repeat the process to help detangle your strands, avoiding the scalp this time. Rinse it out with lukewarm water until there’s no product remaining.

You could repeat this process several times a week or every day, depending on your lifestyle and how greasy your hair can get. If you generally have dehydrated hair, you could wash it more frequently. That aside, don’t be afraid to pack on the conditioner and give your locks some much-deserved love and attention.

Eshita Srinivas

Eshita spends her days writing, rewriting, and thinking of things to write about. In the little time she has left, she daydreams about going on a solo trip across Asia.


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