6 Co-Wash Mistakes to Avoid for the Healthiest Hair

Co-wash the right way to maintain optimal health in your hair.
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Co-washing, or conditioner washing, is a good cleansing alternative to harsh shampoos, but you still need to do it correctly to gain the most benefits while also maintaining the health of your hair. It sounds easy enough to co-wash, and it really is, but sometimes we get stuck in a rut and don't realize our tresses are suffering until it's too late.

There's no need to stay away from co-washing as long as you do it right, so avoid these mistakes.

Exclusively Co-washing After Using Grease-heavy Products

Conditioner washing works best if you stick to lightweight products that don't include heavy greases and oils as part of their makeup. It's tough to completely wash away petroleum-based products without a sudsing agent like sodium lauryl or, preferably, sodium laureth, sulfate. Your hair may feel clean for a while if you only co-wash while using these products, but over time, the buildup will get worse. If you're committed to co-washing, use more water-based products that are easier to wash away without the need for drying suds.

Co-washing With a Heavy Product

There are many fine regular conditioners out there, available in all price points. Herbal Essences Hello Hydration (available at Amazon) is a fave of many women because it's easy to find, incredibly affordable and works extremely well. If you're more of a salon brand type, you'll find a large variety of pricier conditioner options that do the job.

It's not necessarily the money you spend when looking for a co-wash conditioner; it's more a matter of the formula. Thinner conditioners tend to work better than their thick and rich counterparts, especially if buildup gets to be a problem. Don't trash that heavy conditioner, however; simply save it for those times you use shampoo and need an after-cleansing treat.

Ignoring Your Scalp

While one of the main purposes of conditioner washing is to provide a gentle cleansing method for your hair, don't forget about your scalp. It's important to rub your scalp thoroughly to loosen and remove dirt, grime and buildup. Whether you alternate co-washes with shampoos or you only co-wash, spend more time rubbing your scalp than you do on your hair. Remember: good hair growth begins with a clean and healthy scalp, so make that the focus of each cleansing session.

Not Detangling Thoroughly

There's little point in cleansing your hair if you do an incomplete job of it. Part of cleansing and conditioning is detangling. Your hair products work much better and deliver more even results when they reach all of your strands. Tangled hair will not only look less than stellar in its final style, it won't get all the benefits of the products you put on it. Hair that's saturated with conditioner is in prime detangling condition, whether you use your fingers, a comb or detangle brush. 

Using Ingredients That Don't Work for Your Hair

Even the best ingredients don't work the same across all heads of hair. Some women have no problems with cone-containing products, while others know that cones wreak havoc on their manes.

The same goes for beneficial add-ins like shea butter or protein. If you find your conditioner isn't delivering the results you want, look at what's in it. You might be able to easily identify the ingredient your hair doesn't like; other times, it may be near impossible. Bottom line: if the product isn't working for you, move on to something that does.

Not Rinsing Completely

Some women purposely don't rinse all of their conditioner out, but if this isn't you, be sure and thoroughly rinse after your co-wash. Otherwise, you run the risk of buildup. Also, some conditioners leave a filmy mask if not rinsed well, and this can interfere with styling products. Your rinse water should run clear, but you should still have a good amount of slip on your hair -- that's one way to tell co-washing was successful.

Product Picks

  • Looking for a good conditioner and/or deep conditioner? See my list of reviewed products.
  • Like co-washing but still use shampoo from time to time? Check out my recommendations.