Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Should you be co-washing?
The term co-washing typically refers to using conditioner only to cleanse your hair and scalp. Co-washing can benefit and maintain the health of your hair, but only if done correctly. The key to effective co-washing is adding lots of water and then vigorously scrubbing your scalp. You need to seriously scrub it in, and then scrub it as you rinse just as aggressively. If you feel like you aren't scrubbing enough we highly recommend a silicone scalp scrubbing brush like the Color Proof Scalp Brush ($19) that we use in salon. Co-washing can be very helpful for dry scalp and thirsty hair textures.
A Healthy Scalp is Essential to Healthy Hair
Co-washing works best if you use a water soluble conditioner because anything else will build up on the scalp. Build up leads to, not only greasy looking hair, but an environment that stays damp for hours and hours and creates an ideal growing area for fungi, yeast, and other things that should never be on your scalp. Yuck!
“Let your healthy scalp & your hair's bounty be your true guide.” - Lorraine Massey
How can I tell if my conditioner (and other products) are water soluble?
You'll need to read the ingredient label to decide if your conditioner is water soluble. You'll want to avoid all silicones (anything that ends in -cone, -conol, -xane ie. dimethicone), heavy oils like mineral oil, waxes, and butters. The molecules of these oils and butters are too large to penetrate the hair to hydrate it and instead they just sit on top effectively suffocating the hair over time. If there are multiple butters, oils, etc on the label that should be a red flag as to water solubility. There is a difference between water soluble and Curly Girl Method or Curly Hair Method approved and we will explain more of the difference in an upcoming blog post.
Remember that ingredients are listed in order of quantity so if shea butter or coconut oil is in the top 5, it's likely not going to be water soluble. A higher quality product may have those ingredients but they will be a more refined version with smaller molecules and used in a much smaller amount so they'll be listed way further down on the label.
To test your existing conditioner at home to see if it's water soluble, put some in your palm or a container and add water. Mix together and if they separate, it is probably not water soluble.
We recommend not exclusively co-washing.
A sulfate-free cleanser alternated with co-washing is an effective way to guarantee that you're cleansing your scalp properly. If you have success with co-washing more often that's fine however, we do recommend clarifying regularly to again maintain a healthy scalp. We love both DevaCurl Build Up Buster and Malibu C Undo Goo for gentle clarifying needs.
TIP: If you're alternating co-washing with a low lather cleanser, you can also just scrub your scalp with water for a clean feeling especially if you're co-washing post workout.