Should you co-wash natural hair?

The internet is full of hair care experts handing out advice on what you should be doing with your hair. How can you be sure which hair care practices to keep and which ones to ignore? It can be tricky and it usually takes lots of trial and error to figure out what works for you. The truth is, every head of hair is different and everyone’s schedule and lifestyle is different, so of course there’s no one size fits all answer to what will work for your hair.

In reality, the answer to a lot of hair care questions is – it depends. I know, I know, that’s not what you want to hear. But, while I can’t say for certain that this will or won’t work for you, what I can do is give you some guidelines to follow to help you make your decision. I hope that helps!

What is a co-wash?

Today we’re talking about co-washing. That is the practice of “washing” your hair with no shampoo and only using conditioner. The idea here is that shampoo can be very harsh on the hair, especially on curly hair. It strips our hair of its natural oils, which we already don’t have a lot of, and makes our hair feel hard and dry. Then we have to use conditioner, moisturizers, and other products to try to add that moisture back into our hair. This may or may not work for you depending on the quality of products that you use.

Some people’s answer is to just not wash their hair. If you only wash your hair once a month (or once a quarter…yuck) then you don’t have to worry about it being dry, right? Um no, because there are other things that can cause your hair to be dry like putting more and more oil on it every day and never washing it out which causes buildup on your hair and prevents any moisture from getting through.

You need to clean your hair at least once a month. That’s at a minimum. Ideally you should be cleaning your hair and scalp once a week.

Ok, so if you need to clean your hair once a week, but shampooing once a week leaves your hair feeling dry, how about if you clean it with just conditioner and no shampoo? That’s how co-washing became a thing.

Here’s the problem with co-washing – it doesn’t get your hair or scalp clean. Co-washing simply cannot be used as the only method of cleansing your hair. Conditioner is not intended to be a cleanser and it doesn’t have the ingredients needed to remove dirt, dead skin, and hair products that build up on your hair and your scalp over time. 

black woman with natural hair

When should you use a co-wash?

You can use co-washes. I’m not saying they aren’t useful at all, but you need to understand that when you do this it’s like taking a wash up in the sink instead of a tub or shower. It will get you clean enough to go home, but you still need to take a real bath.

Co-washes can be useful if:

  • You shampoo your hair during your weekly wash, but you work out daily, so in the middle of the week your hair needs a refresh.
  • You like to wet and re-style your hair every week, but you only use shampoo every 2 weeks.
  • You’re in a hurry and don’t have time for a full wash, but you need something to get you through the next few days.

To summarize, if your hair has been shampooed recently, but you need a refresh, a co-wash may be a good option. Or if you’re in need of a good shampoo, but you don’t have time at the moment, a co-wash can hold you over until you’re able to shampoo again.

How do you co-wash?

You co-wash your hair by wetting it and applying the product just like you would with a shampoo. You work the product into the hair from root to tip and massage your scalp, then rinse thoroughly.

What a co-wash can’t do is get your hair clean like shampoo, so it is not to be used as a complete substitute for shampoo. Most people who use co-washes as part of their hair care routine, will use a regular rinse-out conditioner. Others use deep conditioners as a co-wash. A third option is to use a product that is labeled as a co-wash. These products are regular conditioners with a very mild detergent as an added ingredient. Co-wash products are not much more effective at cleaning your hair than a regular conditioner, although some of them are just mild moisturizing shampoos that are sold as a co-wash for marketing purposes.

black woman washing hair

What is a good alternative to shampoo?

If you hate the drying effect of shampoo and you’re looking for a true alternative, clay masks are a viable option. A clay mask can actually remove dirt, oils, and dead skin from your hair and scalp, so it can be used in place of shampoo, or in combination with shampoo.

The Indara Naturals Ayurvedic Clay Wash is made with Moroccan Rhassoul Clay, organic aloe vera, and organic herbs to cleanse your hair, soothe scalp irritation, and boost hair growth.

You should also take a look at your shampoo and make sure that you are using the right kind of shampoo for your hair. Use a clarifying shampoo if you have significant product buildup and need a more thorough cleansing. These shampoos contain harsher detergents and can leave your hair feeling stripped. Be sure to deep condition after using a clarifying shampoo.

Moisturizing shampoos are better for monthly or bi-weekly use. The detergents are milder, but can still make your hair feel dry. Be sure that your moisturizing shampoo does not contain sulfates, as this adds to the drying effect.

Medicated shampoos are used if you have a scalp condition such as dandruff or eczema. These shampoos can also be very drying, and often contain sulfates and other less desirable ingredients. Clay washing can be useful here to offset the negative effects of the shampoo.

indara naturals ayurvedic clay mask

Is co-washing right for me?

So should you use co-washing as part of your hair care routine? If your hair needs a quick refresh before wash day, co-washes can get you by in a pinch. However, be sure not to use co-washes as a regular substitute for real cleansing because this can lead to build-up and an itchy scalp.

Take a look at the shampoo you’re using and make sure you have the right shampoo based on your hair’s needs. 

If you need a substitute for shampoo that does actually get your hair and scalp clean, try our herbal shampoo replacement – the Ayurvedic Clay Wash. It gives you deep, gentle cleansing while hydrating your hair and stimulating faster hair growth.

If you need help with your hair, sign up for our email list where you can get one-on-one help with your hair care and personalized answers to your questions!


Thank you so much for reading Terri!

Indara Naturals February 17, 2022

Great info as always!

Terri Bailey February 17, 2022

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