Co-washing is the Curly person's answer to the question, "How do I get my scalp clean without causing my curls to become dry and frizzy?"
Co-Wash, cowash or Cowash.... however you spell it, all you need to know is that it means using your conditioner as a cleanser, COnditioner Wash. The original method was exactly that, you would use a small amount of conditioner to give you a bit of slip as you manually cleansed your scalp. Since the technique gained popularity from sources such as Lorainne Massey's Curly Girl: The Handbook, the technique and product of choice has been manipulated to some benefit and some detriment of all Curls....
What is a Co-Wash?
Today you can find several products that are labeled "co-wash," on every retail hair care aisle in every store that sells products designed for Curly Hair. These co-washes are usually combination products, similar to the OG Pert Plus. They contain ingredients like sulfates, that are designed to remove dirt, oil and products from the hair and also contain ingredients like emollients that help to "condition" or smooth and soften the hair. The problem with many of these co-washes is that it is an Oil and Water situation. They don't really mix. Either you are going to cleanse OR you are going to condition, generally speaking. So you are going to either have a product that is potentially drying to the hair or it isn't going to cleanse the scalp.
Why do I want to Co-Wash?
Co-Washing can remove dirt/debris from the scalp and moisturize it to reduce dryness and itching that is common during the winter months. If your hair is severely dehydrated and/or damaged it will also help you to increase or maintain more moisture in the strands.
If you have dry/damaged hair from processes such as straightening, hot tools, hair coloring or highlighting or from environmental factors like swimming and chlorine, using a conditioner to cleanse the scalp will reduce the drying effect found when using most shampoos.
How do I Co-Wash and how often should I do it?
Originally co-washing was using your conditioner and applying gentle pressure with your finger pads to lift debris off the scalp. It was later expanded to include any product that did not contain sulfates.
It is important to use only your finger pads (the meaty ends of your fingers) or soft scalp massaging brushes when cleansing your scalp. Sharp nails or tips can cause abrasions which can lead to infections and hair loss. You will need to decide (and experiment) which product you are going to use. If you are new to the Curly Journey, I recommend starting with the conditioner you have on hand. However, if you have already purchased a "Co-Wash" product or two... then you can experiment with those and compare them to how using just your conditioner works!
Begin by pouring a small amount of your cowash into your hands and emulsify (rub the product vigorously in your palms) and then glide your fingers along your scalp to evenly distribute and begin with gentle pressure to massage your entire scalp. Then rinse. You do not need to work your cowash into your hair, but also, if you are using a conditioner, you can. This is how I like to cowash and I find it to be a huge time-saver as I cleanse and hydrate in one step and then quickly move on to applying my stylers.
I have several curl-friends and guests that use a CoWash product to regularly cleanse, adding in a deeper cleansing product weekly or monthly to eliminate buildup. It will take time and experimentation to determine what is the best product and schedule for you. During my curly journey I discovered that the exclusive use of cowashes, "no-poo" or "low-poo" cleansers lead to extreme buildup, creating its own set of problems.
The question of "how often should I cowash?" is going to be determined by the following factors -
What is the current state of your hair -is it dry? Dehydrated? Damaged? Do you regularly use hot tools or chemicals?
Do you workout? How often? Daily? Weekly? Do you get really sweaty?
What is your environment? Are you working in a climate controlled office or do you work outside?
Does you scalp feel dry and itchy or is it oily?
I have found that in the summer months, I use my cleanser most of the time and in the winter months I may only use it once a week -cowashing on most washdays. The most important part of the Curly Journey is learning what your curls and scalp needs are, not what someone else is doing. So the bottom line is -if you feel like you need to wash your hair with a cleanser, you should. And if your scalp and hair are telling you that it is dry and thirsty, you may want to use a cowash or your conditioner.
Finally -which product is BEST for your curls?
This is where only time and experimentation will tell. Remember when you are testing out new products and techniques it is really helpful to have a way to track what you are doing. It can be as simple as the Notes section in your or as fancy as a Curly Journal or Diary. Take pictures and then LOOK back through your journal and the photos to see the differences.
The options for products are numerous and can be overwhelming, so start with your conditioner first. Next move onto products you can get in samples or travel sizes. Join a Curly Group and create your own product exchange program or talk with your Curl Specialist to see if they have a program in place. You can purchase cowashes or make your own DIY products. Apple Cider Vinegar, baking soda and salt can all be used to create a DIY cleanser, and this is a great point to remember when it comes to a "cowash". Just because it is labeled as a cowash DOES NOT mean that it is gentle or that it doesn't contain harsh ingredients. Read your labels. If you don't want to spend hours at the store looking at the tiny print on the back of the bottle, you can use a sites like Is it CG? (recently down for maintenance), Think Dirty Curlsbot, IngredientSpy.com, CurlScan, or simply Google cowash for curly hair! Here are a few products that my Curl-Friends use - TGIN Quench 3-in-1 Cleansing Cowash, Treluxe Curl Renew and Restore, Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash, As I Am Coconut Cowash, Moptop Cowash Cleansing Conditioner, Inahsi Tropical Escape Cleansing Cowash.
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