If your hair is Afro, mixed-textured, very curly or perhaps even just extremely dry, damaged or over-coloured, there is a good chance that your haircare regime could benefit from the introduction of co-washing.
Co-washing basically means ‘conditioner washing’, in other words, cleansing your hair using a conditioner as opposed to a shampoo, and if you haven’t tried it yet, once you get your head around missing out the shampoo stage of your routine at least every other wash, you will probably be impressed at how quickly the condition of your hair improves, not to mention the saving you will make on using less shampoo!
Many shampoos are formulated to include sulphates – harsh detergents which, whilst cleaning the hair thoroughly, can actually strip natural oils and moisture from the strands, leaving them dry and prone to breakage. By cutting down on the use of shampoo via a co-washing regime, hair is able to maintain its natural moisture levels and so becomes healthier and more resilient. However, co-washing is not just about skipping the shampoo and applying conditioner as you normally would; it assumes you will use your conditioner in place of your shampoo, too.
If you are keen to try co-washing, to begin with you will need to find the right conditioner – your personal favourite is probably fine, but just make sure that it does not contain silicones. While these impart shine, the effect is temporary and the silicone builds up over time, coating the hair and making it feel heavy and look dull and lacklustre. The ingredients that will really benefit your tresses are emollients (shea butter, oils, wheat germ etc.) that will soften and smooth the cuticle and reduce frizz; proteins (wheat, wheat germ or soy protein etc.) that will coat the hair shaft and help protect it; humectants (honey, panthenol, vegetable glycerine etc.) that will absorb water and lock in moisture; and moisturisers (amino acids, aloe vera etc.) that will add softness, suppleness and shine.
Once you have found a conditioner you are happy with you can begin co-washing. Wet hair then take a small amount of conditioner (half to one teaspoon) and apply it to your scalp, using your fingertips to rub gently in much the same way as you do when shampooing. Take time to rub over your entire scalp before rinsing thoroughly. The conditioner you have used coupled with the friction of your fingertips rubbing your scalp and root area will have loosened dirt and residue without stripping the natural oils. Next, take your regular amount of conditioner and condition as usual, using your fingers or a wide tooth comb to carefully remove tangles and spread the conditioner throughout the length of your hair. If your hair is particularly course or curly, you might want to try leaving the conditioner in, or just rinsing for a few seconds so your hair is still coated with a light film of conditioner, rather than rinsing out completely – this is where you can experiment with what works best for your hair type.
Depending on the styling products you use, and how often you are co-washing instead of shampooing, you might find that you get a bit of product build-up, and in this case it is advisable to cleanse hair with a mild clarifying shampoo every few washes, as necessary (usually about every three weeks). Many devotees of co-washing have eschewed shampoo permanently and find that through leaving a quantity of conditioner in their hair, they are able to exclude most styling products from their routine and thereby eliminate the problem of build-up altogether.
So, now that you know what it is, why not try working co-washing into your hair care regime and bring back some of your hair's natural bounce?