Co-Washing vs. Shampooing: Which Is Better for Your Hair?

Curly-haired folks switched to a co-wash after realizing the threat posed by the sulfates in the typical shampoo. If you recently came across the word co-wash and can’t yet figure out what it means, and if this should interest you. You’re in luck! This article will cover everything you need to know and possible questions you might have.

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Early bloggers and naturalists first used the term “co-washing” on hair boards. Instead of using shampoo every week, they used conditioner to moisturize the hair between cleansing washes. After realizing that sulfates were too harsh for the hair, women would alternate between conditioners to eliminate the product buildup and moisturize the hair.

Companies recognized the trend and created a co-wash, the cleansing conditioner. 

There were a few popular co-washing methods in trend:

1. Wet Cleansing with a Conditioner. 

This technique entails applying conditioner from the middle of the hair to the ends after previously detangling the hair and letting the conditioner sit on the hair for a few minutes and rinse. This is the typical method of applying a conditioner, except there’s no shampooing involved in this method.

2. Using Conditioner as a Wet Wash Prep.

This technique involves applying conditioner to the hair as a layer of protection before shampooing. After applying conditioner to the hair before shampooing, it is not rinsed off.

Rinse thoroughly after washing with a shampoo; go in with the shampoo as you usually would. Afterward, You work a deep conditioner or rinse-out conditioner into the hair, let it stay for a few minutes, untangle it with a wide-tooth comb, and then give it a thorough rinse.

3. Using Conditioner Pre-mixed With Shampoo

Another way to co-wash is to combine your shampoo and conditioner. It does make sense that in combining both products, this was referred to as a combo wash. Sometimes, the shampoo is diluted with water instead and applied to the hair.

Shampoo vs. Co-wash

Shampoo vs. Co-wash

Co-washing is the practice of washing and cleaning your scalp with a conditioner. Wouldn’t my hair become greasy if I applied conditioner to my scalp? That fear is valid. However, several variables can influence that. I’ll discuss that further as the article progresses.

Surfactant, a cleansing agent, found in dish soap, face soap, and other products, is included in shampoo. The most popular type of surfactant, sulfate, is excellent at what it does. Still, the only drawback is that it is overly stripping, which means that during the cleansing process, it strips the hair of its natural oils and sebum, causing dryness, which is problematic for textured hair types.

Due to the oval shape of the hair follicle, which makes it challenging for sebum and hair oil to move down the hair shaft, curly hair is predisposed to dryness.

A conditioner is used to balance out the pH effects of the anionic surfactants included in shampoos. Because cationic surfactants are present in conditioners, they can cleanse, but not as thoroughly as shampoo because their primary function is to hydrate and moisturize hair. 

Co-wash Vs. Conditioner: What’s the Difference?

Co-washes are conditioners, so they essentially function the same. The only difference between a co-wash and a conditioner is that a co-wash can be designed clean and conditioned simultaneously. It is considerably kinder to the hair than a typical shampoo because it contains very mild surfactants.

Curlies soon understood, however, that a high-priced conditioner was being passed off as a co-wash. So, to find a cleansing conditioner, here’s a list of some gentle surfactants:

  • Sodium cocoyl isethionate
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
  • Sodium cocoyl (or lauryl/lauroyl) sarcosinate
  • Ethyl PEG-15 cocamine sulfate
  • Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate
  • Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate

Can you co-wash with any conditioner?

You can, but some conditioners are more suited to cleansing your scalp than simply moisturizing it. If it is mainly referred to as a cleaning conditioner or co-wash, it is more likely to have extremely mild chemicals and function like surfactants to help break down oils and leave you feeling cleaner. However, the conditioner you “should” use solely relies on your hair type.

Try a lightweight co-wash if your hair is fine and has normal-to-low porosity to avoid weighing it down. If your hair is highly porous – typically hair that has been colored or chemically processed, heat damaged, or mechanical damage, choose a co-wash that is a little richer, like Shea Moisture Curl Moisture Co-Wash.

Steps to Applying a Co-Wash on Curly Hair 

Applying a Co-Wash on Curly Hair 
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The first step is to submerge your hair in the water. Use the curly girl technique to co-wash by emulsifying a small amount of conditioner in your hands. Moosh your hands together and rub them back and forth to ensure that the conditioner covers your entire head.

Beginning at your forehead, place your fingertips inside your hair and scrub your scalp. Gently rub and clean the scalp as you move your fingers backward over it. If necessary, add a little extra conditioner, emulsify once more, and then work your fingers through your hair, beginning at the temples. Moving your hands up and back toward your crown, continue the gentle cleaning.

Repeat once more, starting at your neck and working your way up. Your entire scalp should have been cleansed by the time you’re done. Now is the moment to rinse – but don’t just dunk your head. Keep rubbing and scrubbing your scalp as you rinse to remove all the conditioner, dirt, and oils from your scalp and hair.

Will Co-washing Make Your Hair Greasy?

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These can be the biggest mental hurdle to overcome if you’re new to co-washing or have naturally oily roots. And the answer depends entirely on your hair type and the method of co-wash you are using.

In the first month or two, co-washing may make your hair oilier, but over time, as your scalp adjusts to creating fewer oils because you give your hair all the moisture it needs, your hair becomes less greasy.

Therefore, you’ll need to experiment with it for at least 4-6 weeks to observe how your hair responds and if it is particularly fine or prone to oil. Try replacing your co-wash with a sulfate-free shampoo once a week to remove build-up and restore that feeling of being ultra-clean.

How often should you co-wash?

Ideally, after each hair-washing. Some persons with oilier scalps might need to wash their hair daily, which wouldn’t be damaging, while others might only need to wash their hair once a week. Co-wash your hair whenever you normally shampoo it, and always finish with your regular or leave-in conditioner.

The Drawbacks of Using a Co-wash

The potential of product accumulation on the scalp is the main drawback of co-washing, which may result in an oily and flat appearance of the hair and itching and irritation of the scalp.

Additionally, persons with flaky scalp diseases, including dandruff, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis, should avoid co-washing. The use of co-wash products rather than shampoo exacerbates certain scalp issues. Because the co-wash product’s cleansing agents can’t break down the flakes or extra oil and remove them, the scalp becomes severely clogged.


Be sure you’re using the suitable co-wash for your hair type, and regardless, give co-washing at least a month before deciding if it’s suitable for your hair or not. You might need to use a clarifying shampoo once weekly to ease the product buildup. In either case, giving the co-wash lifestyle a shot doesn’t hurt.

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