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Everything you want to know about co-washing

Co-washing is short for conditioner washing, or washing your hair with conditioner. You may have heard of it. One of the most important steps in the Curly Girl Method is to stop shampooing your curls. According to that method, you wash your hair with conditioner from now on. Curious how that works, which conditioner you need and whether your hair will really be clean? We’ll tell you all about it in this article.

Also read: How to start the Curly Girl Method: steps for beginners

In this article:

In this article:

What is co-washing?

Co-washing is a method where you only wash your hair with conditioner. So you no longer use shampoos. 

This is because shampoo is often harmful to your hair: it contains harsh cleansers such as sulfates, which do their job so well that they wash away the natural oils from your hair and can therefore damage the structure of your hair. 

That cleansing effect is actually too intense for your scalp and hair. This can cause irritated and dry scalp, hair that quickly becomes greasy and frizzy hair. 

Fortunately, co-washing is much gentler on your hair and scalp.

What are the benefits of co-washing?

Curly hair is naturally drier than straight hair. The oils your scalp produces, unlike straight hair, take longer to get to the hair strands. So if you keep washing your hair with a shampoo that contains a lot of harsh cleansers, your hair will stay dry.

The advantages of co-washing are as follows:

  • Your hair and scalp will stay hydrated.
  • Your hair gets more shine.
  • Less frizz
  • It helps to define your curls.
  • It makes your hair softer, making it less brittle and easier to comb.

How does co-washing work?

Fortunately, co-washing is very easy. However, it is important to first know which curl and hair type you have. 

Then you will see which conditioner fits with that. When you’ve found the right one for your hair, apply the co-wash to wet hair. 

You massage the co-wash into your hair for about five minutes, from your roots to your ends. Just like you would with regular shampoo, actually. 

By rubbing you gently clean your scalp; you soak all the dirt from your scalp and hair, as it were. Leave the co-wash on for a few minutes and then wash it out thoroughly. 

If your hair and scalp still don’t feel completely clean, you can repeat this process again – or as often as necessary. That is it!

You can occasionally alternate co-washing with a deeper cleanser. You can do a weekly exfoliating scalp treatment and a shampoo with conditioner once every two weeks for a real deep clean.

Also read: What is my Curly Girl curl type, hair thickness and density?

Shower, build up, overload

Are all conditioners suitable for this?

If you follow the Curly Girl Method, you want a conditioner that is free of silicones in addition to sulfates. Silicones seal your hair, which means that they cover your hair with some kind of thin layer. 

Good hair products – that do care for your hair – cannot get through here. Most silicones are very difficult to wash out of your hair, so it will build up in your hair and you will suffer from a build up.

Curious which conditioners are CGM- proof? We’ll help you get started with a list of brands that sell shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, hair gels, hairspray, hair masks, and other hair products without silicones. 

Most of these products are available at Kruidvat, Etos, Action and De Tuinen – now Holland & Barrett.

  • Cantu
  • Dr. Bronner
  • Dr. Organic
  • Less is more
  • Petal Fresh
  • Pure Nuff stuff
  • Shea Moisture
  • Yes to…

Deep conditioners and intensive masks are also not recommended to use as a co-wash. These products are a lot heavier and not suitable for use several times a week. 

They provide a build up faster. So preferably go for a natural and light conditioner.

All conditioners have cleansing ingredients, some more than others. Nowadays there are also special co-wash conditioners for sale. 

These contain more cleansing ingredients than a normal conditioner, but less than a shampoo.

Who is co-washing best for?

As long as the co-wash you use has the right ingredients for your hair and you rinse it well, co-washing works for every curl and hair type.

It helps to moisturize the hair, so for those with thick, dry and porous hair, co-washing is totally recommended. If your hair is badly damaged, co-washing is not recommended. 

Conditioner makes your hair soft and hair that is weak or very damaged becomes even weaker. Co-washing is also not ideal for oily hair: because the natural oils are not washed away, it can make your hair even more oily.

What is build up?

Conditioners generally leave a thin film on the hair to condition the hair. Natural ingredients such as coconut stick to the hair and can build up gradually. You call this a build up. 

How do you know that you are experiencing a build up? Your hair will become duller, less shiny, and your scalp may feel itchy. 

Also, your curls may not form as well as they normally would. That’s the point where many people give up the Curly Girl Method. 

But keep going! These are just signs that you need to cleanse your hair a little deeper, also known as clarifying.


Also read: The main techniques of the Curly Girl Method

When do you use a clarify?

After using a co-wash, do you have a dry, itchy or flaky scalp, oily hair, products that suddenly stop working, or lifeless curls? Then it looks like you have build up, and your curls probably need a clarify. 

Basically this is just a CG proof shampoo. There are even special CG proof clarifying shampoos for sale, which contain more cleansing ingredients than a normal conditioner, but less than a shampoo.

Another way to clarify your curls, is with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. This removes build up from your hair, keeping your scalp and hair clean and healthy. 

In addition, it nourishes your hair with nutrients, provided you use organic apple cider vinegar. This includes vitamins B, C and potassium, which helps you get and maintain healthy hair.

Have you just done a clarify? Then the symptoms you notice may also be signs that you are using products that are too heavy, or your hair is still getting used to co-washing. 

Really take a few weeks for this. Do not clarify too often, because that is also harmful to your hair.

If you stick with co-washing, we promise you that after a while you will start to experience the benefits of co-washing. 

More volume, more shine, less frizz, beautiful healthy and nourished curls; Who would not want that?

We are curious how you like co-washing. Will you let us know on Instagram? And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

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