How to Co-Wash

One of the most thrown around terms in transitioning/natural hair land is co-washing. I remember when I first started, I’d be listening to bloggers and vloggers telling me about their regimens and how often they co-washed; not having any idea what the hell “co-wash” was. Fortunately, it has been a few months in my transition, and I’ve come to understand and appreciate the benefits of actual co-washing.
What is a co-wash? Basically, co-washing is just washing your hair by substituting conditioner for shampoo. Shampoo-ing hair frequently may leave a stripped, dried out feeling to your strands. This is because shampoos contain ingredients that are meant to totally clean all build-up, dirt, etc. Shampoos that contain sulfates (i.e. sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate) are especially drying because they take with them the natural oils that hair contains. *That’s why you may notice that a lot of naturals/transitioners avoid products that contain sulfates, because it leaves that squeaky clean dry feeling, instead of the moisture that our hair requires*
How do you co-wash? You co-wash the same way that you would shampoo. After wetting your hair, you apply your conditioner to your head and wash accordingly. Afterwards, you condition, deep condition, and style as usual.
What do you use to co-wash? This is the part that got me. At the end of the day you can use any surface conditioner to co-wash. Can you use your plain rinse out conditioner? Yes. Is it true that there are products specifically marketed as a “co-wash”? Yes, that is true. The difference between a “co-wash” and your plain rinse out conditioner is that a co-wash is made with more cleansing ingredients. They both serve the same purpose, but the co-wash will remove more product build-up than your rinse out. The important distinction is this: You can NOT use your co-wash as a regular or leave-in conditioner; however you CAN use your plain rinse out conditioner as your co-wash.
The one thing that you cannot use to co-wash with is anything that is marketed as a deep treatment/conditioner. If you look at the label on the jar & it states leaving the product in for over 5 minutes, it isn’t an appropriate conditioner to co-wash with. Deep conditioners and treatment are thicker, and have a higher possibility of sticking to your hair strands and causing build up because they are meant for other purposes within your hair.
How often should you co-wash? This is completely up to you. From my personal transitioning experience, I can co-wash my hair up to a maximum of twice a week because of the hassle it would take me afterwards in terms of styling (my hair isn’t ready for a wash and go yet). I mostly co-wash when I want to wash out gel or something in the middle of the week between my wash days. This varies however, and for the majority of the time I co-wash once a week. There are others however (that may already be natural), that co-wash around three times a week. Just be aware that there could still be product build-up in your hair from co-washing, because it doesn’t contain the same cleansing agents as shampoo. It might be wise for you to determine a good shampoo schedule- for example I shampoo every two weeks. A good clarifying shampoo is good, and I hear that most naturals use one at least once a month to totally clean their hair (after using Yes2Carrots shampoo for months before discovering that it contained sulfates I’ve started to only use Shea Moisture Moisture Retention shampoo).
Recommended Co-wash At first I used the As I Am Coconut Cowash, which was great because it’s a decent price for such a large amount of product. Recently though I began using the Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash and it has become my new favorite product.
It’s good to wash your hair and keep it clean- that’s the best way to start preparing your hair for growth. Without a clean scalp, the hair becomes blocked and you will notice little to no length retention. Sometimes however, it’s good to co-wash and get rid of some of the build-up in a gentler way. Co-washing is easy to do (it just involves switching one product for another) and it helps to nourish your hair.
How often do you co-wash? What is your favorite product to co-wash with?