For most people, washing their hair typically involves lathering up with shampoo and possibly repeating the process. Thanks to the rise of the “no poo” movement (FYI: that’s no-shampoo movement), alternative methods are being championed, from never washing hair to ditching shampoo for products like olive oil or baking soda. Then there are those who swear by only rinsing strands with water. With so many options and some being admittedly smellier than others (looking at you, apple cider vinegar), it’s daunting to know where to start and whether any of them are actually right for you.
Co-washing, aka washing with cleansing conditioners only, is another option that has been gaining popularity over the past few years. Co-washing works best for anyone with coarse, dry or curly hair. Those with fine hair will want to proceed with caution because co-washing can make hair flatter and oilier. However, Nick Arrojo, owner and founder of ARROJO, encourages everyone to try co-washing if they’re interested because all hair types are different. He recommends experimenting with co-washing in the winter when hair is drier and usually needs extra hydration.
While we are all familiar with the process of applying conditioner following our shampoo cleansing regimen, washing with just conditioner is a bit different. According to Marc Anthony True Professional Artistic Director Marilisa Sears, cleansing conditioner is generally used the same way as shampoo. The stylist instructs co-washers to saturate hair with water, then use conditioner from roots to ends, although people with greasier roots may find that applying conditioner from mid-shaft is better. Those with drier hair can leave the conditioner on for a few minutes so it can absorb. Once it’s rinsed off, tresses can be styled normally.
While it’s all about the conditioner, rinsing is also important. Nunzio Saviano, owner of Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City, stresses thoroughly rinsing during conditioner-only regimens to remove a lot of the buildup, so scalps can feel clean before any styling products are applied.
Co-washing originally started with regular conditioners, but beauty brands are now developing products that are specifically meant for co-washing, with many of them formulated with natural ingredients and for different hair types. ARROJO launched ReNEW CoWash ($21). There’s also Amika Nice Cream Cleansing Conditioner ($24) and Ouidad Curl Immersion Low-Lather Coconut Cleansing Conditioner ($36). Celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean is also well-known for cleansing conditioners ($32) in his WEN by Chaz Dean range.
Whether choosing a conditioner or a cleansing conditioner, Arrojo suggests trialing co-washing by first replacing one shampoo a week with a co-wash to see how hair reacts. If strands benefit from the conditioner-only approach, increase to two to three co-washes per week. Resist the temptation to do multiple co-washes straight away because hair can sometimes have a difficult time adjusting. The result? Greasy roots.
The big question with co-washing is, do you ever use shampoo? While there are a lot of stories about people who said goodbye to shampoo years ago and never went back, the experts say that it’s still necessary to cleanse with shampoo every so often. Sears suggests doing a shampoo cleanse about every two weeks to remove any excess buildup.
Similarly, co-washing isn’t something that is meant to be done on a daily basis. The experts agree that co-washing a couple of times a week is normally sufficient, but that it’s ultimately about what works for your hair. If strands are feeling or looking dull, limp or heavy, try shampooing. As with a lot of beauty regimens, co-washing is really about experimenting and finding a routine that works best for you for good hair days, every day.