If you wear your hair natural, you are probably familiar with co-washing, or washing the hair with conditioner only. Conditioner washing avoids harsh results from frequent washing with shampoos and helps to keep natural black hair soft and manageable. Co-washing can be done as often as you’d like, even several times a day (this is a plus for natural hair wearers in the hot days of summer).
Oftentimes the question of “How do I co-wash my hair?” comes up. The answer would seem simple, but there are some steps you can take to get the most benefit from this technique and do it with ease.
* First, find a conditioner that works for your hair type. Search online for keywords “hair types” and narrow your hair type down to one or two close categories. You may be a combo 3c and 4a. This will help you better understand which type of conditioner to purchase among the many available.
* Get to know your ingredients. The long, hard-to-pronounce ingredients on the label can be overwhelming. But with familiarity, you can learn to spot which ingredients you want to keep and which you want to avoid. Ingredients like propylene glycol, cetyl alcohol and panthenol are common. Search online for ingredients lists. One such list can be found at http://sci-toys.com/ingredients/ingredients.html.
* Recommended: Purchase an extended shower head/hose. Handheld shower heads with variable sprays offer the best control for rinsing the hair and are often well worth the investment.
* Rinse the hair with warm water. Avoid water that is too hot (if it initially stings your back, it’s too hot). Cleansing results from the action of water plus cleanser (shampoo and/or conditioner) and agitation (hand movements through the hair). Warm water will clean hair well while hot water can be damaging. While rinsing with water, gently comb your hair with your fingers.
* Apply your conditioner. This can be done in several ways.
(1) Pour a line of conditioner into your hand (as opposed to pouring a dollop) and apply each line onto parted hair sections. Work the conditioner from the roots to the tips. Continue until all the hair is covered.
(2) Squeeze your normal amount of conditioner into a large bowl, preferably plastic. With the shower head, add water to the bowl and mix the water and conditioner well with your hands. Bend your head over the bowl. With a cup or other small container, scoop up some of the mix and pour it onto your hair. You can then lean further over into the bowl and wash your hair with your hands directly over the bowl if you’d like. This allows for even coverage, but note that the conditioner will be more dilute.
(3) Squeeze your normal amount of conditioner into a large clean spray bottle and mix with water. Shake well and spray liberally onto the hair. Again, this mixture will be more dilute than a direct application. This method is great for those who only have minutes to spare in the mornings. Make a large batch of diluted conditioner, spray your hair and rinse out after bathing.
* Comb your hair with a wide-tooth comb with rounded-edge teeth. This step is optional, as there remains a debate as to whether combing while wet does more damage to hair than combing while dry. It has been said that combing while wet can stretch the hair past it’s longest point, thereby causing breakage. However, many who wear their hair natural report that combing while the hair is fully conditioned is the best time for them, as the hair is soft and pliable, leading to less breakage. In either case, comb hair gently by grabbing one small section at a time. Comb from the TIPS first, ensuring there are no snags then work your way to the roots. It’s OK if you cannot comb from root to tip in one stroke. The main idea is to ease tangles and distribute the conditioner evenly.
* Allow the conditioner to set on your hair for at least a few minutes if possible. Both steam from the shower and the conditioner itself will work on your hair during this time. Give yourself a nice salt or sugar scrub while your hair is being conditioned.
* Rinse your hair well, again with warm water. Ease your fingers through each section while the water flows through to remove any remaining conditioner.
* Optional: Apply your hair products at this step — while your hair is dripping wet. Many naturals swear by this technique and believe the best absorption is gained at this time. At the least, your product(s) can be more evenly distributed throughout your hair while it is sopping wet.
* It’s time to dry. Just as with the application, there are several ways to dry your hair.
(1) Dry with a towel. Avoid rubbing your scalp and hair with a towel at all costs! Instead, simply dab and pat your hair dry, or grab sections and squeeze excess water into the towel.
(2) Shake and go. Lay your towel across the back of your shoulders (lengthwise shoulder to shoulder). Grab the bottom corners of the towel and raise it up to your head, almost over your head. Think of Batman’s cape raised up as he jumps off a tall building! With the towel raised, shake your head from side to side (ear to shoulder) and left to right (like saying no), shaking excess water into the towel. This is what I call the “no touch” method. Sometimes drying the hair directly with a towel can remove products you’ve just applied, even helping to separate your freshly-formed coils and spirals. You want your coils to group together to avoid the frizzies. This method is perfect for the warmer months when you possibly can afford to go longer periods with damp hair.
(3) Blow dry, but with care. When blow drying, the use of a diffuser is best. A diffuser will spread the heat from your dryer more evenly and minimize potential heat damage. You can find diffusers at most beauty supply stores at a minimal cost. If you do not have a diffuser, use the low heat or cool setting and blow dry from at least six inches from the furthest part of your hair. Remember, you are not trying to get the hair bone dry — just dry enough to style and go out.
In summary, with the above methods you’ll find shampooing your hair by co-washing is a great alternative to traditional shampooing which can strip your hair of much needed oils and moisture. With just a touch of practice, getting in and out of the shower with a clean head of hair will take less time than applying your makeup, and your hair will benefit greatly from it.
Elle Paris is the owner of My Natural which provides no-nonsense user reviews for hundreds of products for natural hair care.