So imagine this: you hop in the shower, condition your hair, rinse, and repeat. Wait, what?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking that that plan will only leave you looking like a greasy mess. However, apparently this routine, known as Conditioner Only (CO) washing, isn’t as unusual as you might think. Actually, there seem to be quite a few benefits to cutting out shampoos.
But why would you want to stop shampooing? One word — sulfates. Not all shampoos are necessarily harsh on hair, but those that contain sulfates (such as sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and others) can be quite damaging; not only can these chemicals dry out hair and cause thinning along with damage to the hair follicles, but sulfates may negatively affect the immune system and are known to penetrate skin, potentially leading to problems for more than just your hair.
Conditioners, though they can also contain sulfates, tend to be much gentler on hair. Sulfates in shampoo are what make them lather and bubble, and they help strip the hair of build-up. Both products have their place in most people’s shower routine; as Billy Madison informed us all, shampoo “go[es] on first and clean[s] the hair”, conditioner “leave[s] hair silky and smooooth”. But in CO washing, conditioner takes on both roles, cleaning and silky-smoothifying.
Here’s what you do:
- Thoroughly wet your hair. Obviously.
- Apply your conditioner of choice to hair. Be sure to get your scalp, too, and spread conditioner to the ends of your hair. A light conditioner is recommended to help avoid build-up.
- Let the conditioner sit for 5 to 15 minutes, then rinse it out thoroughly.
- Apply conditioner again, this time to the ends, the way you would normally condition after shampooing. For this step, a more moisturizing conditioner can be used, but using the same product as in step 2 is fine as well.
- Rinse, and you’re done. Rinse with cooler water to help relax frizziness.
There is one little problem, though, for those of us who have been regular shampooers for years, and that’s the amount of sebum that our scalps have become accustomed to producing. Sebum is a natural, oily substance that our bodies make and is what makes our hair feel greasy; when shampoo is used to clean hair, the sebum is stripped away and the body is prompted to make more to accommodate for what is rinsed out in daily routine… which I’m sure is great biologically but it’s hard to appreciate if it’s making you look like you couldn’t handle a successful wash. So that means that the transition to CO could mean an awkward period of a few weeks where your sebaceous glands would be adjusting to having to produce less sebum and, well—things could get a little greasy. The transition is different for each person, though, and some people don’t notice more oiliness or frizz at all.
After the potentially yicky transition, there are apparently many benefits to be had, especially for curly hair. Conditioner-only curls are supposed to be more cooperative and less frizzy; straight hair without shampoo is said to regain lost body. If sulfates were causing hair to thin, the switch to CO will have hair feeling thicker in a few months. And with all that conditioner, hair is sure to be super soft. But if build-up occurs, a sulfate-free shampoo or a shampoo substitute—like a bit of baking soda in water—can be used.
Honestly? — I shed like a cat. Really, my hair is everywhere and finds its way to some odd places. So when I came across CO washing and heard it could help with the crazy shedding, I was sucked right in. I’m going to try to try this, and I’ll be sure to update on how it goes… if I make it through the greasy transition which, knowing my hair and my luck, I’m sure to endure. If the results are half as good as they sound, I think I’ll have some happy hair.