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Curly Nikki

Conditioner Only Washing, Does it Really Work?

By January 27th, 202127 Comments
Conditioner Only Washing, Does it Really Work?
Jamila of ForTheFabulousandFrugal

by Jenell of KinkyCurlyCoilyMe


If you have been natural for longer then 1 week, I am sure… no I am absolutely certain that you have heard someone say “Co-wash“.
If you were clueless about the whole natural thing like I was, then you
probably thought this was how someone with an accent says “cold wash”. 
A co-wash is easy to do, just wash your hair with conditioner instead
of shampoo.  It sounds really bizarre, and it may take you some time to
wrap your head around how is it that a product that is meant to restore
and add moisture to your hair can also cleanse your hair at the same

It really depends most on the ingredients in the conditioner and the
state of your hair at the time you plan to use the conditioner.  Let’s
break down both. 

Cleansing Ingredients in your Conditioner

There is actually science and logic to support this hair care regime.
Shampoos are typically composed of about 10-15% detergent. They use
surfactants like Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate which
do an excellent job of cleaning and removing oil from hair.

Conditioners also have detergents, but they are different than those
found in shampoos. They use cationic surfactants (or quats) which have
the tendency to stick to the hair, which is how they
provide conditioning. Common quats are Cetrimonium Chloride or
Distearyldimonium Chloride. They’re used at levels between 1% and 5%.
Although they do stick to the hair, these ingredients also have the
ability to cleanse the hair, which is why the no-poo washing system can

If you turned your conditioner over you may find the following
ingredients amongst a list of oils and other hard things to pronounce:

glycerin, cetyl alcohol,
behentrimonium methosulfate, cetearyl alcohol,
stearamidopropyl dimethylamine (SADMA), and amodimethicone

These are very common conditioner ingredients. Here’s what they do:

Glycerin can provide moisturization in a leave on product, but it
doesn’t do anything for hair when it’s rinsed out. Cetyl and
cetearyl alcohol are thickening and emulsifying agents are are used to
make a conditioner rich and creamy. Because they`re oil soluble they
could, in theory, help lift some of the sebum of your hair and scalp.
Behentrimonium methosulfate, SADMA, and amodimethicone are very
effective conditioning ingredients because they deposit on the hair

How dirty is your hair?

If you’ve recently used gels or
products with silicones, petroleum, mineral oil, and/or lanolin, then
you may want to use shampoo to effectively cleanse your hair, because
conditioners just don’t have the same cleansing detergents as shampoo.
 If you did decide to use a conditioner only method after using a combo
of these ingredients, you could end up with buildup, itchy scalp, lack
luster hair and your hair may even feel weighed down.

However, if you’ve managed to avoid all of these ingredients, rest
assured, that conditioner alone will do the job.  You can use any
conditioner you prefer.  Some of my favorite conditioners are
Design Essentials Natural Moisturizing Conditioner, Giovanni Smooth as
Silk Deeper Moisture Conditioner, Herbal Essence Hello Hydration
Conditioner, and Shea Moisture Yuccaa & Baobab Volumizing

Why not just use shampoo?

Shampoos have harsh detergents that can leave the hair stripped and
dry. Depending on the products you used, you may feel the need to
shampoo to thoroughly cleanse your hair.  I find that shampoos labeled
“moisturizing” work great in my hair even if they contain sulfates.
Using shampoo or no-pooing is a personal preference based on your hair
care needs.  When I first went natural I used shampoo every other wash
day. The wash days in between, I used conditioner only.  I also co
washed mid week to give my hair a moisture boost. There are many
shampoos on the market with absolutely no sulfates, these are great
alternatives to shampoos with sulfates. It’s your hair, use what you
want. Just be informed.

Source¹ Source²


  • Roc$tar says:

    I liked this post a lot, this post made Co-wash explanation very simple. I do like to use a sulfate shampoo when I feel my hair is extremely dirty. I also use a low-poo or sulfate free -poo. But co-washing has always been my fav, even before I found out this was the "thing." I use to do this because I am very tender headed and as a teenager realized it was easier with conditioner than anything else.

  • Jadar says:

    Co-wash is my friend! Esp in the summer. But the winter does require a whole new routine! It does work but everybody hair and scalp need a varying level before a wash is needed!

  • free says:

    just tried the As I Am co-wash and leave-in conditioner. i'm REALLY happy with it!

  • Derika says:

    Me too!! I hated cowashing because I had soo much build up! I then found out that I have low porosity hair so cowashing was not the best for me. I use Shea moisture shampoo now which is sulfate free and LOVE it!

  • Tracye Kately says:

    I also tried a Co-wash from Sally's this brand is called As I Am. I've been Co-Washing my hair for awhile now and this is the best brand I've use so far.
    I paid $7.99 before the $1 off any As I Am product.

  • Mara Berry says:

    The Terresentials is a great way to cleanse your scalp and your hair. But you should know that it is not recommended if you have color treated hair or are not natural. just my 2 cents

  • Keba says:

    I started cowashing about a year ago and I've found that it has helped with my dandruff problem….my scalp doesn't get as dry as it used to…when I do cowash I absolutely love Garnier's Hello Hydration.

  • Hudson Valley Soap says:

    I mix it up a bit. I wash once a week and use that time for a nice deep conditioning treatment (read pampering). Otherwise I co-wash every other day. Then again I don't use styling products just a spritz of an oil mixture I whipped up to help guide the curls and then try my darndest to not touch my hair. I have had a lot of growth and not a whole lot of shrinkage this way.

  • Nat says:

    warning KCCC shampoo had extremely drying effects on my hair even though its sulfate free. i was very disappointed, i had to stop using it

  • Nikell says:

    Thanks! I'll look into that. I had no clue where to start when looking for a good shampoo.

  • Flavia says:

    I have also tried co-wash but, as I started using heavier products to style, that was no longer enough. However, I think I did find a good product/solution that you girls may wanna try. I started washing it with an Indian herbal hair powder and am really enjoying the results. Although it is sulfate-free, it does lather a little, due to one of its compounds, the madhuca longifolia, which is largely used in soaps and detergents in India. However, I am satisfied with the results. Product name: meera herbal hairwash powder. I believe you can find it in Indian stores, or even at amazon.

  • Ria says:

    "Kiss My Face" makes a rwally good sulfate free shampoo" imo. My hair doesn't feel stripped when I use it and you don't need to use much of it. I do wanna try the KCCC shampoo and the Terresentials mudwash.. especially Terresentials, I heard it's amazing.

  • Karen Hodge says:

    Shampoo is over-priced soap. I wash my hair with Indigo Wild's Zum Bar, a natural moisturizing soap with goat's milk. Don't need a rinse-out conditioner — I just use a leave-in. Does the job, saves money and no plastic containers. Sometimes I use a pre-shampoo conditioner — Burt's Bees or any oils does the job.

  • Alexandria says:

    The best cowas I have tried was coconut co-wash its 10.99 at Sally's and let my hair feeling wonderful doesn't leave any build up its like a web for natural hair

  • Imani Monroe says:

    I co wash every other day hell I wish everyday but I have to use so much conditioner … I shampoo once a month if that and my hair is clean thriving and happy

  • LaNeshe Miller says:

    Yes! that Lavender is the lol I think I'll just buy the large container next time to avoid having shipping so often. I can use the Shea Moisture Purification masque when I'm not using Terressentials to get my hair clean.

  • CurvyCurly says:

    I agree. I felt as if the conditioner was maybe rinsing a layer of gunk off my hair but it was also sticking to certain ingredients that were on the hair that needed to be removed first. Thus, contributing to the buildup even when not using products laced with mineral oils, petroleums, etc. I was just using certain butters and this was happening. I personally like to start with a clean slate because my hair performs better. I think it's important to follow up with the proper conditioner, leave-in and sealant whether light oil, butters, or gels.

  • CurvyCurly says:

    Girl I love my Terressentials Lavender! I wish I could buy it on the ground 'cause the stuff is pricey and those shipping costs are ugly. Using my Trader Joe's TTT shampoo throughout the month and saving my mud wash for only once a month allows my bottle to last awhile.

  • CurvyCurly says:

    When I was strictly doing a CG routine it was fine to do co-washing regularly however when I started using products with beeswax or heavier butters for styling, co-washing just wouldn't cut it and I ended up with buildup and itchiness. I just went back to washing my hair but with sulfate free Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle shampoo and always use either a heavy/deep conditioner or Tresemme Naturals Nourishing conditioner afterwards.
    I wash about 2x a week depending on my activity level with exercise and such. Once a month I use Terressentials mud wash to "detox" my hair. It's like starting with a clean slate each month, love it. Depending on whether I just used a leave-in with oil or gel, I can sometimes get away with a quick co-wash with Tresemme in between washing to freshen up but I don't do that often.

  • LaNeshe Miller says:

    I co-wash, and use Terressentials Mud Wash about once a month when my hair is really good and it works great for me. Haven't pulled out shampoo in about a year.

  • Sophia L. says:

    I tried cowashing, but I like to shampoo with gentle shampoos better (right now I use Kinky Curly Come Clean). When I did conditioner only, my scalp felt itchy and my hair felt like it was always covered in product. I've been alternating shampoo and cowash week to week, and it's been pretty good. I have fine hair, so I think it does better when I get everything off with shampoo and just apply one layer of product and sealant.

  • Megan M. says:

    I tried it and I had so much build up on my scalp. My scalp felt gummy with a white flim on it, I hated it so much. I now shampoo with sulfate-free shampoos like my fave Shea moisture's raw shea butter shampoo gets the job done or I also have a tea tree shampoo that is from petal fresh I bought from Ross to try for a clarifying shampoo because it is clear, I use it when i need it or straighten my hair once in a blue moon. So far love it.

  • Bridget Daniels says:

    While my hair definitely seems to benefit from co-washing, I still need to wash with a shampoo as I use gel on a regular basis. During the warmer months, I tend to co-wash appoximately 3 times a week and shampoo wash 2 to 4 times per month depending on the need. I use sulfate-free and mild shampoos and my hair. During the colder months, I tend to co-wash 1 to 2 times a week and shampoo 2 to 3 times per month. My new goal, however, is to work on perfecting styles that will last the full week such that I will only need to co-wash and/or wash on a weekly basis.

  • Davina916 says:

    Co-washing works fine for me.

  • Nikell says:

    Co-washing definitely works for me. My hair is softer, more manageable, and my scab hair is even better. I think I still need to find a good sulfate free shampoo for the times when I use gel etc. as mentioned in the post.

  • Miss Anne says:

    Co-washing has reeeaaalllly helped my transitioning journey. I'm better able to manage my hair now than I was when I just started 8 months ago. My fav conditioners for co-washing are Yes to Carrots (heaven, I tell you), Tresemme Naturals and Herbal Essences Hello Hydration.

  • Abstract says:

    I've tried co-washing a few times with several different conditioners and it's just not for me. My hair feels like it has buildup. It eventually becomes dry because I believe moisture that I try to apply afterwards is not able to penetrate the buildup plus the conditioner cations that have now stuck to the buildup. I'm no chemist, it's just what I think could be happening. I don't even use petroleum and mineral oil. I use a lot of olive and coconut oil and water in my hair. I do use Eco-styler gel frequently so maybe that's the reason why it's not working out. Now days, between shampoos, I do a thorough water only wash. It is working out great for me!

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