Step-by-Step Guide to Co-Washing

by Gena Marie

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How To Co-Wash

Co-washing has surged in popularity in recent years, but there is a lot of misinformation online on how to co-wash your curls properly. Can you do it with a normal conditioner? Should you create a DIY concoction? Or is it best to stick to specially formulated products? Read on to find out!

What is Co-Washing?

Co-washing, or “conditioner washing,” is a method of cleansing naturally curly hair that is gentle and non-stripping. Curly hair is known to be naturally much drier compared to straight hair, and retaining the hair’s natural oils ensures that curls stay moisturised, shiny, and healthy. The natural oils our scalp produces are essential to lubricate the hair, prevent dryness, brittleness, and breakage.

Traditional shampoos with harsh sulphate ingredients strip out all the natural oils and moisture from the hair. Co-washes contain moisturising ingredients that condition the hair while gently cleansing. This cleansing method can save time because a rinse-out conditioner is often not needed after co-washing.

Who Should Use A Co-Wash?

All hair types can benefit from using a co-wash, especially if your hair is extremely dry or recovering from heat or chemical damage. Tight curls and coils often require more moisture so co-washing is a great way to cleanse the hair and retain moisture.

High porosity hair is often dry because it struggles to retain moisture. The oils and butters in co-washes will help to seal in moisture. High porosity curls, waves and coils also tend to be very tangly due to the raised cuticle layer, so using a co-wash is helpful to prevent matting and tangling during the shampoo process. The low pH of co-washes helps the cuticle lay flat, reducing friction, increasing strength, and adding shine.

Co-washing is also ideal for those with medium to coarse textured hair because this hair type can withstand highly moisturising ingredients. Fine hair may get weighed down when using a co-wash, if that is the only cleanser used in your routine.

When To Use A Co-Wash

Co-washes are often used when your curls require a mild cleanse, such as mid-week when your hair may not be that dirty but you would like to restyle. If you’re someone who prefers to wash your hair often due to your profession, exercise and other activities, a co-wash is a great option to avoid stripping the hair with excessive washing.

However, co-washing on its own is not enough to maintain the right balance for your scalp. It’s important to incorporate clarifying and/or regular sulphate-free lathering shampoos in your routine to avoid build-up. Solely using a co-wash can result in build-up on the scalp if you’re using heavy products and not thoroughly cleansing regularly. If co-wash is part of your regular routine, you should switch it up for a clarifying shampoo every 4-5 washes to ensure you keep your scalp clean and unclog follicles. If you’re worried about clarifying shampoo stripping your hair of moisture, you can try a specialised system like the Detox Kit, which has been designed in 3 steps to thoroughly cleanse the scalp without drying out the strands.

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What you should look for in a Co-wash

When looking for a co-wash, you should always make sure that the formula contains some cleansing ingredients. Some products are marketed as co-washes but they only contain conditioning ingredients, which alone are not enough to provide the cleansing action your scalp needs. You cannot use a regular conditioner to co-wash, as it will not properly cleanse the hair. Conditioners do not contain the surfactant ingredients that lift away product, dirt, and sebum.

You should also stay away from DIY concoctions like mixing conditioner and sugar. Adding an exfoliating agent will help lift the dirt that a conditioner alone can’t, but the sugar particles are too rough and risk creating micro-lesions on your scalp.

On the contrary, a specially-formulated co-wash like the Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash contains mild detergents that clean the hair without being harsh on the scalp. It boasts a unique cleansing complex that helps gently lift away dirt and product residue without stripping away the scalp’s natural oils. These mild detergents are called cationic surfactants, and when mixed with water, cling to dirt and oil and help remove them from the scalp. One of these is called Cocamidopropyl Betaine, which is naturally derived from coconuts and is a very gentle solution to keep the scalp clean. On the moisturising side, the Curlsmith cowash contains conditioning ingredients such as avocado oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and shea butter, great at keeping the hair nourished.

How to Co-Wash: Step-by-Step

Thoroughly cleansing your hair is essential to remove product residue, dirt, and sebum from the scalp. Because co-washes do not lather like regular shampoos, they require more scrubbing with your fingers to get down onto the scalp.

  1. Wet your hair with warm water, ensuring it is thoroughly saturated.
  2. Apply the co-wash to your palms and massage it onto your scalp.
  3. Add water as you go to help distribute the product.
  4. Take some time to work it into your hair, focusing on the scalp. Use the pads of your fingers to scrub the scalp. This friction is essential to assist the co-wash in lifting away residue on the scalp. You can also use a scalp massager brush.
  5. Work the co-wash down onto the lengths of the hair and begin to detangle and remove loose hairs.
  6. If your hair is very tangly, let it sit for a few minutes before detangling, adding water as you go.
  7. Rinse with water while gently massaging the scalp to help remove all of the co-wash from your hair.
  8. If your scalp does not feel clean, repeat steps 3-7 until your entire scalp is clean.
  9. Apply a regular rinse-out conditioner if your hair is extra dry. Rinse.
  10. Style as desired.
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Adding a Co-wash to your routine

Co-washing can be a great addition to your curly hair routine if done properly. After using this type of product, your hair should feel soft, moisturised, and shiny. It’s perfect for frequent washes and super gentle for the most fragile hair types. Alternate with a sulphate-free clarifying shampoo every 4-5 washes to prevent build-up and create a perfectly balanced curly hair routine!