Co-wash: The Process
One of the first passages into nurturing the full possibilities of your natural texture, or simply taking more gentle care of your hair is the co-wash: washing your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo.
However, the cleansing is not in simply applying conditioner to the hair. Co-washing is a process - if you do it right, your hair will come out both conditioned and clean at the other end. Get it wrong, and you could be left with musty hair and buildup that'll have you scrambling for the first bottle of clarifying shampoo you can get your hands on.
Cleansing with conditioner
The gentler surfactants, cleansing agents, in conditioners remove dirt from your hair without stripping it the way shampoo can all too easily do. While the conditioners themselves double up as cleansers, however, the method is still intended to be a two-step, rather than a 2-in-1, with the co-wash conditioner replacing the shampoo alone, not the shampoo and the conditioner.
Why? Well, those particles in the conditioner that do the cleansing work and the conditioning work are usually one and the same.
If applied to dirty hair, those same surfactants are too busy forming micelles with the dirt and grime on your strands - and rolling off your hair with them once you rinse - to do much in the way of conditioning.
On cleaner hair, the conditioner can adhere to the surface of your hair better, instead of just hooking onto the dirt, and thus can provide your hair with the thorough conditioning it needs.
Co-rinse v co-wash
If you simply rinse-condition-rinse what you're doing is a co-rinse. This only provides a shot of moisture and emolliency to your hair - it doesn't cleanse. Without working the conditioner into your scalp to lift away dirt, smoothing the resultant lather down to the ends, leaving it in for a couple minutes to do its work, and then rinsing thoroughly, you're not cleansing your hair enough to call it co-washing. However, this is perfectly fine to do between washes when all you want is an intense dose of moisture, smoothness or combability.
Step by step: an effective co-wash
To perform an effective co-wash, you have to recognise the difference between the cleansing power of the conditioner you're currently working with and the shampoo you were probably raised on. The surfactants in the conditioner are much less powerful. While they are often superior at removing oil-based debris compared to those used in conventional shampoos, what you gain in gentleness you tend to lose in potency. This means that the conditioner usually needs a lot of assistance from you in getting your hair clean.
To get your hair clean with conditioner, you need to start by rinsing thoroughly.
Drench your hair in warm water for 2-5 minutes, making sure you open up unexposed sections of your hair and scalp to the flow of the water, especially if you have particularly dense hair, to ensure no part goes untouched.
Next, apply a generous amount of conditioner - usually a palmful, some hair may need more - to your scalp.
Using the pads of your fingertips, massage this into your scalp all over, from your hairline to your nape, gently but effectively lifting dirt and debris from your scalp. This should take a minimum of 2 minutes. Next, squeeze this lather down to the ends of your hair. If there's not enough, then quickly dip your hair under the water and apply some more conditioner. This will help ensure you get a good dense foam that's easy to spread through your strands and thoroughly cleanse your hair.
Next, leave the conditioner in your hair to do its work for at least 2-3 minutes. Remember, the cleansers in conditioner lack the power of those in shampoo and so they need a little extra time and effort to get the job done.
After letting the conditioner do its magic, now it's time to rinse the hair thoroughly, for a few minutes, to ensure every last drop of dirt and debris-saturated conditioner is removed.
Now you have clean, co-washed hair, the perfect canvas for the moisturizing and smoothing your hair needs. To make sure your hair gets adequate conditioning, follow your cleansing step with a separate application of conditioner. You can use the same conditioner you used to co-wash, or, for more intense conditioning, select a richer conditioner or even a treatment.
What about leaving my co-wash in?
It is common to leave in conditioner to help tame strands as they dry. However, if you do this with the same application of conditioner you used to wash your hair, then your hair isn't clean. Not only is this not co-washing, it's also a tad unhygienic, as all of the dirt you've removed from your scalp just remains stuck in your hair. This will eventually accumulate, causing dullness, brittleness and tangling, and might lead to you relying on clarifiers much more than your delicate strands would prefer.
If you want to get the benefits of leaving conditioner in, provided that works for your hair type, then rinse all the conditioner you used to co-wash your hair out, and only then reapply the conditioner you want to use as your leave in.
If you only want to leave in some of the conditioner, then you can rinse it out partially and then proceed to styling. But don't make the mistake of leaving in the grime-laden stuff you've just used to clean your scalp and hair.
And remember: only do this with conditioners that you know for sure are safe to leave in. Often the permitted levels of ingredients like essential oils and certain surfactants are a lot lower in leave ins, because of the risk of irritation. So unless you get confirmation from the manufacturer that a conditioner is fine to leave in, it's best to assume it isn't.
Getting it right feels so good!
Co-washing can be a lifesaver for fragile or damaged hair, whether curly, straight or somewhere in between - as long as you get it right! Sometimes, the so-so results from making the mistakes listed above can be misleading, and leave you thinking this gentle method is not for your hair. Getting it right means you can stack up the benefits for your hair, leaving you with strands that feel smoother, are stronger, and grow longer.
To make sure you get all those benefits of gentler cleansing, just use this washday checklist.
|Lucy Loomis| Jaime |Jef Harris |Steven DePolo|
DHA Hair Care Experts