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What is Co-Washing: A Curly Hair Guide

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Image of hairstylist brushing curly hair with co wash product.

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If you’ve come across the term “co-washing” and found yourself wondering its significance, you’re not alone. What exactly is this co-washing buzz all about, and why does it seem to be on everyone’s lips? Well, if you’re a newcomer to the world of natural curls, battling persistent dryness, or find yourself needing frequent hair cleansing, co-washing could be your hair care savior.

Co-washing, short for “conditioner washing,” is a revolutionary approach to hair care that involves cleansing your hair with conditioner instead of traditional shampoo. It’s a method particularly cherished by individuals with curly, coily, or kinky hair, offering a gentle, moisture-retaining alternative that can reduce frizz, reduce breakage, and enhance the natural beauty of your curls.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what co-washing is, how it differs from traditional shampooing, the multitude of benefits it offers, and how you can incorporate it into your hair care routine.

What is Co-Washing?

Image of a blob of product on a peach background.

Co-washing, short for “conditioner washing,” is a hair care method that involves cleansing your hair using a conditioner instead of a traditional shampoo. It’s particularly popular among people with curly, coily, or kinky hair types.

Co-washing is often hailed as more of a deep hydration technique than a traditional cleansing method. This distinction arises from the fact that conditioners are primarily formulated with ingredients aimed at hydrating and moisturizing your hair.

The idea behind co-washing is to retain natural oils, moisture, and the integrity of your curls while gently cleansing away dirt and build-up.

10 Benefits of Co-Washing Curly Hair

  1. Hydration: Co-washing helps lock in moisture, making it an excellent choice for those with naturally dry or curly hair prone to frizz.
  2. Reduced Breakage: The gentle cleansing action of co-washing can help minimize hair breakage and split ends.
  3. Enhanced Curl Definition: Co-washing can enhance the natural curl pattern, making your curls look more defined and bouncy.
  4. Reduce and Manage Frizz: Co-washing not only reduces and controls stubborn frizz but also provides an extra layer of protection. The powerful natural emollients like shea butter and coconut oil work to soften and smooth your hair’s cuticles, resulting in a sleeker appearance and enhanced manageability. With this added protection, your hair is better equipped to withstand environmental factors that can exacerbate frizz.
  5. Reduced Scalp Irritation: If you have a sensitive scalp, co-washing can be a more soothing option than frequent shampooing.
  6. Fortify Your Hair’s Strength: When you nourish your hair with the enriching botanicals found in co-washes, you’re not just providing essential moisture, you’re also boosting your hair’s elasticity, a crucial factor in reducing breakage. This means you can bid farewell to the days of dry, brittle hair that’s prone to snapping.
  7. Less Frizz: Co-washing can help reduce frizz by keeping your hair’s natural oils intact.
  8. Increased Shine: Many conditioners rely on silicones to achieve that sought-after shine, but the downside is that they tend to accumulate over time, leaving your hair feeling weighed down and lackluster. Co-washes can increase the shine in your hair by harnessing the power of natural ingredients like coconut oil and aloe.
  9. Streamline Your Routine: Simplify your shower routine and save time by skipping shampoo and going straight to co-washing. Massage it in, rinse, and you’re done!
  10. Healthier Hair: Over time, co-washing can lead to healthier, more manageable hair.

What is the Difference Between Co-Washing and Shampooing?

Image of a shampoo vs co wash products.

Co-washing differs significantly from shampooing in several ways:

  1. No Harsh Cleansers: Shampoos often contain sulfates and other harsh detergents that can strip your hair of its natural oils. Co-wash conditioners, on the other hand, are very gentle on your hair and scalp.
  2. Retains Moisture: Co-washing helps retain the moisture your hair needs, while shampoos can often leave your hair feeling dry and brittle.
  3. Less Frequent Use: Co-washing is typically done less frequently than traditional shampooing. While you might shampoo every few days, co-washing can be done more sparingly, often once or twice a week.

How to Co-Wash: Step by Step

Image of woman applying conditioner to her hair.
  1. Wet Your Hair: Start by thoroughly wetting your hair with lukewarm water.
  2. Apply Co-Wash Conditioner: Take a generous amount of co-wash conditioner and distribute it evenly through your hair, focusing on the roots and ends.
  3. Massage Your Scalp: Gently massage your scalp with your fingertips to help dislodge dirt and build-up.
  4. Detangle: Use a wide-toothed comb or your fingers to detangle your hair while the conditioner is still in.
  5. Rinse Thoroughly: Rinse your hair thoroughly with cool water, ensuring all the conditioner is removed.
  6. Style as Desired: You can now style your hair as usual, whether you prefer to air dry or use a diffuser.

Ingredients to Look for in a Good Quality Co-Wash

You’ll want to pay attention to the ingredients in your co-wash conditioner. Look for the following:

  1. Cationic Surfactants: These positively charged surfactants help condition and detangle the hair.
  2. Emollients: Emollients like fatty alcohols, shea butter, or coconut oil can provide moisturization and soften the hair.
  3. Humectants: Humectants, such as glycerin and propylene glycol are excellent humectants that attract and retain moisture.
  4. Proteins: Hydrolyzed proteins like wheat and keratin can strengthen and repair damaged hair.
  5. Botanical Extracts: Some co-washes contain natural plant extracts like aloe vera, green tea, or lavender, which can have soothing and nourishing properties.

Concerns with Strictly Co-Washing

While co-washing has numerous benefits, it may not be suitable for everyone. Some concerns include:

  1. Build-Up: Over time, product build-up can occur, which may lead to heavy or greasy hair. To avoid this, use a clarifying shampoo occasionally.
  2. Scalp Conditions: Those with specific scalp conditions, like dandruff, contact dermatitis, or psoriasis, may require specialized shampoos for treatment.

Finding the Right Balance: Co-Washing and Shampooing

Image of a balancing scale.

While co-washing can leave your hair feeling incredibly soft, it’s essential to strike a balance for long-term hair and scalp health.

Many individuals report initial benefits from co-washing, but these can be short-lived and may even lead to a range of hair and scalp issues over time.

To maintain the right balance, we recommend incorporating sulfate-free shampoos into your routine at least three times a month.

This approach ensures that your scalp receives a thorough cleanse, addressing factors such as sweat, product build-up, metals, dead skin cells, sebum, grime, dust, and environmental pollutants that co-washing may not entirely eliminate.

By alternating between co-washing and shampooing, you not only enjoy the softness of co-washed hair but also maintain a clean and healthy scalp, promoting the overall well-being of your curls.

Who Should Skip Co-Washing?

Co-washing may not be the best choice for individuals with:

  1. Oily Scalp: If your scalp tends to produce excess oil, co-washing alone may not effectively cleanse your hair and scalp.
  2. Regular Exposure to Pollutants: If you’re regularly exposed to environmental pollutants or have a very active lifestyle, occasional shampooing may be necessary to thoroughly cleanse your hair.
  3. Build-up: Product build-up on the hair’s cuticle forms a barrier that obstructs product penetration and chemical interactions. This impedes product efficacy. To optimize results, addressing and preventing build-up through proper cleansing is essential.
  4. Itchy Scalp: An itchy scalp can stem from many things such as, accumulation of dirt, sebum, and residues, disrupting scalp health. Inadequate scalp cleansing can lead to fungal issue, so it’s important to prioritize proper cleansing techniques and scalp microbiome maintenance for overall scalp well-being.

Hair Care Tips for Different Hair Types

Fine Hair: Look for a lightweight formula that won’t weight your hair down, but will provide the moisture you need without compromising volume and texture.

Coarse Hair Care: When it comes to very coarse, a comprehensive application of conditioner can offer significant advantages. All-over conditioner application helps by evenly coating the hair strands, allowing the conditioning agents to penetrate the hair’s cuticle layers more effectively. This process aids in moisture retention, promotes better hair elasticity, and minimizes frizz, contributing to improved hair health and appearance.

Wavy Hair: Wavy hair requires a gentle touch and products with ingredients boasting small and lightweight molecules. Opt for a lightweight co-wash formula designed to nourish without weighing down your waves. These products contain fewer oils, ensuring your waves maintain their natural bounce and volume, all while utilizing ingredients that easily penetrate your hair due to their smaller and lighter molecular structure.

Curly Hair: Curly hair often benefits from prolonged exposure to conditioner, as it allows for better absorption of moisturizing and conditioning agents. This extended conditioning time can help your curls maintain their natural moisture balance, resulting in improved softness and definition.

Coily Hair: Type 4 hair, known for its coily or zigzag pattern, demands special attention. Often prone to dryness and undefined curls, those with this hair type (4a, 4b, 4c) can benefit from swapping their regular shampoo for a co-wash.

Coarse Hair Care: Coarse hair, known for its thicker texture, benefits from extended conditioner application. Consider leaving the conditioner on for a bit longer to ensure optimal moisture absorption. However, remember to rinse thoroughly to prevent any potential residue buildup.

Co-Wash Product Recommendations

I’ve already covered co-wash products extensively in two separate blog posts. You can find detailed information in my articles titled “Best Co-Wash For Curly Hair (Our Ultimate Guide)” and “Best No Poo Shampoo For Curly Hair: Our Top Picks!” There’s no need to duplicate the content here, so feel free to visit those posts for comprehensive insights.

You can also find co washes for your specific curl type by visiting my blog – Curly Hair Types: The Definitive Guide.


Co-washing can be a game-changer for those with curly and textured hair, offering a gentle and more hydrating alternative to traditional shampooing. By understanding the science behind co-washing and its benefits, you can make an informed decision about whether this method is right for you and your unique hair type.


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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