And it’s an important question. That’s because shampooing too often can lead even more dryness and damage, due to harsh detergents in certain shampoo formulas and the friction caused by sudsing and rubbing. But the styling creams and lotions that help make curly or relaxed hair look their best—soft, shiny, frizz-free—may also build up on the hair and require thorough cleansing to remove. Once solution that strikes a perfect balance for many women with ethnic hair? Co-wash with a cleansing conditioner!
1. What Cleansing Conditioners And Co-Washing Is
Co-washing is short for “conditioning washing” or “conditioner-only washing.” This no-shampoo method is also referred to as cleansing conditioning or “no-poo” shampooing. It’s done with shampoo-free formulas that cleanse, balance and refresh your hair without stripping or depleting its natural oils and nutrients.
Natural oils and nutrients are important because they prevent your hair from becoming dry or brittle. And as curly girls know, coils can make it tough for oil to travel from the scalp to the ends, which means your hair gets thirsty really quickly!
That’s why traditional shampoos may not always be the best solution for your hair type. They contain detergents that are chemically attracted to the dirt in your air. They’re distributed by rubbing, scrubbing and lathering, and when they’re rinsed, your hair feels squeaky clean—which isn’t always the best thing if it tends to be dry or damaged! Co-washing skips the sulfates and detergents and relies on conditioning formulas to gently lift oil and debris from your scalp and hair. Because cleansing conditioners are gentle, it can be done more frequently than shampooing with traditional shampoo formulas.
2. The Benefits Of Co-Washing African American Hair
Many co-washers with naturally curly hair say that cleansing conditioners keep their hair fresh for days. They also say the practice helps with detangling, combing and making curly hair more manageable. Other fans note that it helps define the curl pattern of natural hair, and some say it actually promotes and speeds up overall hair growth.
3. What Are The Best Hair Types For A Cleansing Conditioner?
Co-washing isn’t for everyone, but it may be right for your curly or relaxed hair. Co-washing is great for keeping your hair moisturized without stripping the natural oils. If you use a cleansing conditioner on your hair, you can wash it more frequently than you may when washing with shampoo, because co-washing is gentler than using harsh detergents. Co-washing can be a part of your weekly hair care routine, and some people with ethnic hair co-wash several times a week. Cleansing conditioners soften your hair and will help keep your scalp moisturized, a benefit for anyone with persistent dry hair and a dry scalp. Co-washing may also help your color last longer since you are not stripping it out with shampoo. And if you tend to use a lot of heat to straighten your curly hair, cleansing conditioners are gentler than shampoo when hair is exposed to thermal tools on a frequent basis. Avoid co-washing if your hair is weak or over-processed. That’s because these formulas soften the hair, which could weaken curls that are already thinning or highly damaged. Skip it if your hair is extremely oily and check with your dermatologist if you have scalp issues like dandruff, dermatitis, psoriasis or eczema.
4. How Often & When To Co-Wash African American Hair
Your personal co-washing routine will be a case of developing customized system for your hair:
You may want to maintain your regular shampooing schedule (once a week, twice a week,) and use a cleansing conditioner on the “off” days.
You may want to replace your normal shampooing wiht co-washing. Remember, though, if you have curly hair, the processes of wetting, towel-drying and styling your hair can be disruptive regardless of what type of cleansing formula you use, so keep that in mind when deciding how often to co-wash.
Many co-washers feel it's important to shampoo with a conventional shampoo from time to time, in order to remove product build-up.
If you still find that your hair is dry, you may want to include a deep-conditioner in your regular routine.
Many ethnic hair types--especially those that are chemically processed with relaxers or straighteners--are protein-depleted, so regular protein treatments (every six to eight weeks for heavy treatments; every one or two weeks for light treatments) are still recommended.
Finally, if you find your hair becoming too soft, oily or "moisture-overloaded," reduce the frequency of your co-washing.
5. How To Co-Wash African American Hair
When using a cleansing conditioner on curly hair, saturate and detangle your hair and divide your head into four-to-six sections. Place the co-wash formula on the tips of your fingers and work it into the scalp area of the first section. Massage thoroughly into the scalp and then work the product through the midlengths and ends. Complete the remaining sections, rinse and style as usual. The technique is nearly similar for relaxed hair. Start by saturating your hair in the shower. Then apply the cleansing conditioner to your scalp and gently massage for about 3 to 5 minutes, focusing on the new growth. Proceed with your shower, detangle with a wide-tooth comb, rinse with lukewarm water and style.
6. How To Identify A Good Cleansing Conditioner
Ideally, co-wash formulas should be “free from”—free from sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate) and soaps that remove impurities harshly; free from parabens, which are preservatives that many people prefer to avoid; free from heavy petrolatum or mineral oils and free from silicones that can sit on the surface of the hair and cause build-ups.
Some women with ethnic hair co-wash with conventional conditioners. There are also formulas specifically designed for co-washing. Some of these co-wash products combine a “no-poo” cleansing agent with a heavy conditioner that sit on the hair and then gradually penetrate. These formulas must then be rinsed thoroughly, and over time, they might cause an undesirable build-up. More modern cleansing conditioner formulas feature a unique, tandem approach of cleansing and conditioning—they melt into the hair and quickly draw out impurities without causing weighty build-ups. They’re also targeted for specific hair types—so if your hair is curly, there’s an option for you! Also, look for healthful additives like anti-oxidant fruit complexes that protect hair from damage.