By Dr. Phoenyx Austin of

Hey ladies! One of the best hair practices I adopted after going natural was co-washing. I was actually years into natural hair and cleansing my hair with sulfate-free shampoos. I knew all about the harsh sulfates thing, but I had no clue that there was something even better than shampoo. Then one day, a fellow naturalista put me onto co-washing. And boy oh boy did this doc fall in love! If you aren’t hip to the co-washing game, I’ll give you a quick debriefing of what it is, why you should do it, how often you should do it, and what types of conditioners to use.

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What is it?

Co-washing is simply using conditioner to cleanse the hair instead of shampoo. You just cut out the shampoo step and go straight to conditioning.

Why should you do it?
Co-washing is muy bueno for hair- especially natural hair! As far as cleansers, you should already be switched over to sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfates are cleansing agents that are included in most commercial shampoos. Sulfates are what give shampoos their bubbly, foamy quality. Sulfates may make bath time fun, but they are also powerful degreasers that will literally strip the oil from your hair. No bueno! This is why you should use sulfate-free shampoos IF you do use shampoo.

Now if you want to take things up a notch with your hair care, co-washing is the way to go. Commercial conditioners are actually formulated with cleansing agents too- not just conditioning agents. So shampoos are really not that necessary. You can use conditioner to cleanse your hair- it’s like getting 2 benefits for the price of 1!

What types of conditioner should you use?
The most common issue with co-washing is product buildup on hair. This is because conditioners contain silicones- an agent that gives hair “slip” and shine. Silicones come in 2 forms- water soluble and non-water soluble. It is best to use conditioners with water soluble silicones (or no silicones) because product buildup will be unlikely. Water soluble silicones wash easily from hair. Non-water soluble silicones do not- they can only be washed off with stronger cleansers that are found in shampoo (i.e. sulfates).

To tell if your conditioner is co-wash friendly, just read the ingredients on the bottle and look for these silicones:

  • Dimethicone Copolyl 
  • PEG Modified Dimethicone. 

These are the water soluble silicones. If you conditioner contains these, you’re good to go! And don’t worry about cost. There are tons of el-cheapo conditioners that contain water soluble silicones. So you won’t have to break the piggy bank when looking for these types of conditioners.

Best Cleansing Conditioners
You can wash your hair with just conditioner, but nowadays manufacturers are formulating conditioners with cleansing agents. These are some of the community’s favorite cleansers, but you can get the whole list here.

  • As I Am Coconut Cowash 
  • SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash 
  • Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Cleansing Co-Wash 
  • Nubian Heritage Indian Hemp and Tamanu Co-Wash 
  • Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Co-Wash 

How often should you do it?
That’s all personal preference. You can keep your current regimen, while simple eliminating the shampoo step. So if you normally wash your hair once a week, keep washing your hair once a week. Just use conditioner instead of shampoo. I know many naturals that co-wash daily. I don’t. I usually co-wash once a week, or at most twice a week. And if I ever feel like my hair is becoming heavy or dull from product buildup, I’ll simply clarify with shampoo or an ACV rinse once a month. Done, and done!

Do you co-wash? How well does co-washing work for your hair? What are you favorite conditioners for co-washing?
CN Says:

I used to be #teamcowash- – co-washing once a week (to bi-montly) and shampoo’ing with Giovanni 50/50 once a month. I never experienced build-up and my hair thrived. But now that I’m beasting on silicones and grease, I opt for shampoo. Nicole Harmon said it best,

“Shampoo free and Co-washing are like the Oil cleansing method, Low-Poo is like using Cetaphil or some other lotion-like cleanser, and regular shampoo is every other face wash on the market. If you have acne prone skin, or you wear a lot of makeup, or you sweat a lot during the day, you choose a face wash with those things in mind…same thing with shampoo.”


This article was originally published in November 2011 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.