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Should You Wash Your Hair with Conditioner?

Back of a woman's head as she washes her hair.
Agnieszka Marcinska/Shutterstock

Do you reach for the shampoo every time you wash your hair? Most people do—but swapping out your shampoo for conditioner might be better.

“Co-washing” means using only conditioner to wash your hair. It’s not right for every type of hair, nor is every conditioner ideal for it. However, if you use the right product, your hair might thrive.

Is co-washing right for you? If so, how do you get the best results? Let’s take a look at how to use this easy shower hack to reach your hair goals.

Who Should Co-Wash?

Co-washing works best on curly hair, but it can help any hair type that’s prone to dryness or frizz.

When you shampoo your hair, the powerful detergents remove its natural oils. While this helps combat grease, it can be too much for hair that tends to be dry. Your hair will struggle to maintain a healthy moisture level, and become frizzy, dull, or breakage-prone.

Washing with conditioner might sound like a recipe for dirty, oily hair. But most conditioners contain mild cleansers that provide just enough cleaning action for dry hair types. There are also “cleansing conditioners” that offer shampoo-level cleaning abilities without the dryness.

If you have straight or fine hair, you should probably skip co-washing as the heavy moisturizers can make your hair limp. And if your scalp is excessively oily, you need a shampoo to combat that. However, most other people might benefit from giving co-washing a shot.

If you don’t love it, you can always go back to shampoo.

Which Conditioner Works Best?

When picking your co-wash conditioner, the main thing to look for is one that’s silicone-free. Silicones make your hair shiny, but they also coat and weigh it down. If you wash with a silicone conditioner, there’s nothing to cut through that buildup, so it leaves your hair limp and heavy.

If you want extra-clean results, get a cleansing conditioner instead of a normal one. Both products can be used for co-washing, but which one will work best depends on your hair type.

It may take a period of experimenting before you find the right conditioner. Once you land on the right product, though, you can use it just like your shampoo.

How to Get the Best Results from Co-Washing

While every hair type is different, these co-washing tips can give you better results.

Make It a Two-Step Process

Your hair might benefit from two applications of your co-wash product. Start by scrubbing your scalp, just as you would with shampoo. The friction from your fingers ensures your hair gets clean. Next, add your co-wash to the length of your strands to help condition them. You might want to use a cleansing conditioner followed by a regular one if your hair is super-dry.

Use Lighter Styling Products

Co-washing doesn’t remove product buildup as well as shampoo. You’ll get better results if you switch to lighter hair products, or just use less product in your hair. If you notice your hair becoming dull or limp from buildup, use a regular shampoo occasionally to get rid of it. It’s often best to keep a clarifying shampoo on hand for occasional, thorough washes, as everyone’s hair will experience buildup over time.

Rinse Thoroughly

Rinsing out a co-wash can take more effort than rinsing out shampoo because the rich moisturizers cling to the strands. If you don’t get it all out, the leftover conditioner will weigh down your hair. A film of excess conditioner can add valuable moisture to dry curls, but most hair types look best when all conditioner is thoroughly rinsed out.

Use a Ton

You’ll need more conditioner than you might think. Be sure to coat your hair with liberal amounts of the product. You’ll probably go through your co-wash much faster than your regular shampoo, but many people find the results worth any additional cost.

Transition Gradually

Your hair might not take to co-washing right away. Your scalp might feel greasier than usual, at first. This is because your hair is used to producing more oil to combat the drying effects of shampoo. Start with a weekly co-wash, and then work your way up to a more regular schedule.

Keep a Hair Journal

Keeping a hair journal while you transition to co-washing enables you to note what works and what doesn’t. Write down every product, cleanser, or treatment you use each day. Consider taking photos to document your results, as well. This way, if you notice any changes you like or don’t like, you can easily look back and see what produced that result.

Co-washing isn’t for everyone, but it’s a popular hair hack that delivers ideal results for lots of people. Unless your hair is straight, thin, or oily, we recommend trying it out and seeing what you think. Next, keep the moisture drenching your strands with our easy DIY hair masks!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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