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Co-Washing Won’t Cover It: 3 Reasons Shampoo is Still Essential for Natural Hair

Avatar • Dec 8, 2013

Over the course of the re-evolution of natural hair, shampoo by and large has gotten a bad reputation. It has been written off as harsh, drying, trifling, scalp irritating, and more. Trust me, I’ve had some less than savory experiences myself. But fortunately, as time moves along and the concern for kinky and coily hair rises among product manufacturers and small businesses, more shampoo options that are SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) and/or sulfate-free become available.

You don’t have to dramatically shift your regimen to incorporate shampoo. If you are a fan of regular co-washing or natural alternatives like ACV or Clay, you can definitely still utilize those for the bulk of your cleansing. However, if you are beginning to feel like they just aren’t getting the job done, or you feel like you may have misjudged shampoo, now is the perfect time to switch it up. In fact, there are some substantial benefits to the occasional (or regular) shampoo:

1. Buildup Removal from Hair
To quote Jc of The Natural Haven, “In the grand scheme of things, shampoo will remove more oil and dirt than conditioner, conditioner will remove more oil and dirt than using plain water.” Translation: working shampoo into your regimen (at whatever frequency you feel comfortable with) will catch all of the product, dirt, and oil buildup that co-washing can leave behind on your hair.

2. Clean Scalp
Healthy hair grows out of a healthy scalp. In order to optimize healthy hair growth, the scalp needs to be free of clogged follicles that can occur as a result of sebum production (which is good) combined with product buildup, environmental dirt, and oils applied to the hair/scalp (which is bad). When follicles are clogged, it can cause flaking of the scalp, and even stall hair growth. Conditioner can remove *some* of this buildup, but not as effectively as a shampoo that is designed to do so.

3. Conditioners & Deep Conditioners Will Work Better
Without getting too scientific, the general rule is that hair carries a slightly negative charge that is enhanced by use of a shampoo with a negative charge (anionic surfactant). Conditioner has a positive charge (cationic), and of course, opposites attract. The ingredients in your regular and deep conditioners are designed to stick to the hair (adsorb), smooth the cuticle, fill in chipped areas (if there is protein), and can do so better when exposed to completely clean hair and scalp.

If you’re looking to dive into shampooing again, here are a list of more gentle cleansing ingredients to look for that are likely to not strip your hair as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

  • SLES (Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate)
  • Cocamidopropylbetaine
  • C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Castile Soap
  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Sponified Oils (click here for more info on shampoo bars)

To make things a little easier, here are some high-quality, gentle shampoos that won’t break the bank:

1. TGIN (Thank God I’m Natural) Moisture Rich Sulfate-Free Shampoo

I can personally vouch for this one. This shampoo has quickly become one of my favorites, and for good reason. It leaves my hair feeling clean, yet super moisturized and not stripped in the slightest. It has tons of slip, making it really easy to work through wet hair. Many naturals sing its praises — and they’re absolutely telling the truth.

2. L’Oreal EverSleek Intense Smoothing Shampoo

3. Everyday Shea Vanilla Mint Shampoo by Allafia

I especially recommend this for transitioners. Both are incredibly gentle and mild, and won’t strip the hair. Both of these shampoos got me through the first year of my transition. They are both affordable, and accessible — and the 32oz Allafia bottle will last you a lifetime.

4. Koils By Nature Refreshing Anti-Dandruff Tea Tree Mint Cleanser

Another personal favorite of mine. Koils By Nature is known for knockout products, and this shampoo does not disappoint. It has great slip, and cleanses but doesn’t strip the hair. The tea tree and peppermint essential oils are a bonus, especially for those with itchy scalp.

5. Qhemet Biologics Egyptial Wheatgrass Cleansing Tea

The Cleansing Tea is especially mild, but still very effective. It does not have as much slip as some of the others mentioned here, but it is still a great contender — especially if you like the Qhemet Biologics line. A small amount of the Cleansing Tea goes a long way, so an 8oz bottle will last for months.

6. Camille Rose Naturals Clean Rinse

Camille Rose Naturals is another really great natural product line to consider. Although I have not personally tried this product, the ingredient list looks stellar. Gentle surfactants, humectants (honey and glycerin), essential and carrier oils.  If you have tried it, let me know! I’m on the hunt for some.

Final Tips

If you’re still a little hesitant to try shampoo head-on, here are a few tips that will help you ease into the suds:

  • Pre-poo your hair with oil, conditioner, or a mixture of both. Using oils like Coconut Oil will help prevent protein loss, and conditioner can help prevent your hair from becoming more stripped than it would be without it.
  • Always detangle your hair prior to shampooing. Always.
  • If full strength shampoo is still too much for you, dilute it in an applicator bottle with a slanted nozzle. That way, you can concentrate on your scalp more than your hair.

Will you begin shampooing your hair? How frequently?

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About Christina Patrice

Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.

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Kimmie
Guest

Loved this post! Just recently I realised that even though I’d been mixing full strength ACV with cleansing conditioners & alone, my scalp still didn’t feel completely clean. I used the Kinky Curly Come Clean (which has C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate), worked it down to my ends & my hair & scalp felt amazing! My scalp doesn’t feel “suffocated” anymore. And my hair looks shinier, & even had less tangles than normal. I think that for me, alternating KCCC with an ACV/cleanser blend is a good balance.

Toni
Guest
Toni

Yep. I learned this a year ago when I decided to try co-washing as my only cleansing method. That did not work out for me. I started pre-shampooing using coconut and olive oil when washing with the L’oreal sulfate free shampoos. I am quite happy with the results.

Coconut + Cream
Guest

I agree! My hair thrives so much more when it’s clean. I feel like my hair gets a completely new start every week when I shampoo. I co-washed a lot when my hair was in its TWA stage, but as my hair has grown longer, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. The shampoo I’ve been using for over 3 years now is the Giovanni Smooth As Silk Shampoo. Really can’t fault it at all.

C+C

B
Guest
B

Yeah I tried to go with a co wash only routine and it was a big no no for me! My scalp got so irritated and flaky after only about a month of just doing cowashes. Now I always incorporate a pre poo, shampoo and dc on my wash day, with no problems. I LIVE for Trader Joe’s Tea Tree tingle shampoo, it is very gentle and super cheap; since I focus primarily on my scalp a bottle of it lasts months.

Aretha
Guest
Aretha

I never bought into the “no shampoo” hype, and that was the first piece of advice I received when I when natural: “Ditch shampoo!”. I got what they were saying, after research, but you gotta take the good with the bad or try to find something that is the lesser of all the evils or make your own somehow because conditioner can not get your hair and scalp clean. I tried the Trader Joe’s brands and did not like how they made my hair feel, same with Shea Moisture products. I found Terressentials mud wash (the only non-homemade product that… Read more »

Aretha
Guest
Aretha

I forgot to ad that I do co-wash, just not as the only method to get my hair clean. I do so in-between washing with my shampoo. Especially when I’m working out daily and in the summer time when I wear wash n go’s more often.

Lovely
Guest
Lovely

Unfortunately, I will have to disagree. Utilizing ACV for the past 8 years instead of shampoo has only helped my hair. My hair is currently BSL and it was below that, but due to a mishap at the salon, it is shorter. I co-washed almost daily for most of those years, and I’ve had no ill affects. Everyone’s hair is different as there is no one size fits all. I like utilizing the most basic and natural conditioners and my hair has fared well. I use Trader Joe’s conditioner or another conditioner called Himalayan — both are inexpensive and 4A-4C… Read more »

Kimmie
Guest

Lovely, you bring up an excellent point. Individual hair & scalp types will be affected differently. My scalp is oily & gets build up rather quickly; I’ve always either used shampoo or mixed a cleanser with ACV to thin it out. Also, my individual strands are fine & don’t absorb product quickly, so product can accumulate in a matter of weeks for me. But we both found what works for us 🙂

Danie
Guest
Danie

Because so many natural hair ladies rave of co washing i’m always trying to figure it out but I’ve finally accept that it’s just not for me. my hair has less breakage, less tangles and strangely feels more moisturized when I do shampoo. Not to mention a clean scalp is an amazing feel. I shampoo weekly with a sulfate free shampoo and my hair is just fine and quite honestly before then I used a sulphate shampoo weekly and that worked just fine also. I found that detangling and deep conditioning before and during the wash process has been more… Read more »

Chat1
Guest
Chat1

I use shea moisture curl and shine! Smells great, great slip, thick consistency…I love it!

JENNID
Guest
JENNID

This debate is getting old. While I don’t personally co wash exclusively I know plenty naturals who have done so for years (some 10 years plus). Crazy as it seems it does work for some people. A better discussion would be why do naturals apply so much product to their hair in the first place. Massive buildup should not happen on a regular basis. Ive seen many youtube videos where someone will use enough shea butter or gel on one twist to lube up about 5 heads. What’s up with that? Or doing a twist out style and use 6… Read more »

Christina Patrice
Guest

Hi Jennid! Thanks for your feedback. You’re absolutely right — some naturals do cowash exclusively. As with everything I write, you must do what works for you and your hair 🙂 It could be said that in the same vein cowashing exclusively is a preference, that the amount of product one uses is also a preference based upon desired style outcome. At the end of the day, we all must do what will make our hair happiest and healthiest 🙂

JENNID
Guest
JENNID

I can appreciate that Christina. I wasn’t trying to discount this article cause it is a good one. My point was that using less product kind of goes hand and hand in this discussion. Most strict cowashers know that you really cant be successful with the routine if you use lots of product. Also sulfate free and soap based shampoos don’t work as well either if you use a ton of products. Just an observation.

Christina Patrice
Guest

Gotcha, and I totally understand 🙂

LBell
Guest
LBell

Glad you mentioned the types and amounts of products used…you remind me of a YT video I once saw in which this young girl used six different styling products on her TWA in order to define her curls. O_o She got the desired result, which as we well know is all a lot of women seem to care about… For the first time in my natural hair life I’m using (whipped) shea butter on a regular basis and consequently I am now back to using (sulfate-free) shampoo regularly as well. I know some people don’t like that squeaky-clean feeling but… Read more »

Shawna
Guest
Shawna

If you’re seeking a gentle sulfate free shampoo with slip like nobody’s business then you’ll love Blended Beauty Soy Cream shampoo. It leaves 4B/ 4C hair feeling clean, soft and simply awesome.

CherishBomb
Guest

I alternate between co-washing and using a rhassoul and bentonite clay mixture. Co-washing is ok for a gentle cleaning between washes, but my clay powders get the job done best. When I used shampoos I would always have what looked like dandruff or residue left behind no matter how hard I scrubbed or which shampoo I used. When I started using clay powders, that eliminated the residue and got my scalp squeaky clean while keeping my hair conditioned and soft. My scalp feels like it can breathe after using clay. I recommended it to my best friend who as it… Read more »

Regina
Guest
Regina

I learned this after about 9 months of co-washing. Even though I avoided products with ‘cones’ so I’d cut back on the build up, my scalp was a disaster. My reality is that my scalp needs cleansing weekly despite the fact that 90% of the minimal product I apply to my hair is applied the day I wash and not reapplied throughout the week. Much like other aspects of ones hair routine, it’s so different from person to person. Co-washing is a definite no go for me.

CherishBomb
Guest
Z
Guest
Z

I agree. I disagree with co-washing. I feel that all it does is sit on your hair. You think it feels softer & more manageable…but in essence the conditioner is just trapping dirt. I love shampooing my hair, and my hair loves it too. Immediately my hair becomes softer & more manageable after a good wash…also it has more shine to it. I use Giovanni Tea Tree Tripple Treat shampoo. Its not harsh at all…but it cleans my hair well, not to mention the cool, minty feeling on my scalp after using it.

Sabrina @seriouslynatural
Guest

Shampoo leaves my hair in tangles and strips too much oil. i have tried watering it down, pre-oil treatments…you name it I’ve tried it. I started using a cleansing conditioner last January (AS I AM Coconut Cowash) and have never looked back! Now, I am doing the Curly Girl Method so I do not add silicones, sulfates and the like to my hair so there is no build up. Shampoos just are not for me.

Jesse
Guest
Jesse

This is a really great post. I tried co-washing a few years ago because so many people suggested it. However, I quickly realized it was one of those natural hair practices that wasn’t for me. I NEED a clean scalp. I am also not the type of person to go more than a week without washing my hair. Some people just have dry hair and an oily scalp (*raises hand*). I also do yoga 6 days a week, and with the amount of sweat I produce, I just can’t forgo shampoo. Since I do have naturally dry 4c hair, I… Read more »

coffeeandfingernails
Guest

Funny that you posted this now–I just added shampoo back to my routine a week ago. After a deep condition with avocado butter I washed with Organix Argan Oil creme shampoo, followed by their conditioner. My hair felt and looked healthier and more defined than it has in a long time.

Cece Danielle
Guest
Cece Danielle

I’ve been using Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle for about a year now and I’m impressed. I only have to use one bottle per year because I dilute my shampoo so saving money is always great.

kiyla
Guest
kiyla

Hey I have been natural all my life and I find that I shampoo every 10–14 days and cowash every 3–4 days in between. My scalp absolutely hates product buildup and even after 4 days my hair needs water and my scalp feels really dirty. My trick is to shampoo once for every two cowashes and my hair always feels super soft and is really shiny. I have 4a hair which is 15 inches at it’s longest parts and 12 inches at the shortest parts. the trip is to find the perfect combination for your hair. I always use cold… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

Diluted Apple Cider Vinegar rinses work better for me than any shampoo ever has.
🙂
It clarifies and soothes the scalp very well, removes gunky buildup, add shine, detangles, and defines curls. Best of all, it’s cheap.

MommieDearest
Guest
MommieDearest

I just don’t feel like my hair is clean unless I use shampoo. I NEED lather! I’m sure it’s primarily psychological, but I don’t care. I own it. LOL!! I rotate between several brands of sulfate free shampoos (depending on what’s on sale at the time of purchase)- Loreal, Organix, Renpure, Aveeno, etc… All of these are available at the grocery store and cost under $8.00. I wash and deep condition my hair every 7 — 10 days. To deep condition I use a thick, creamy conditioner like Herbal Essence Hello Hydration and seal it with olive oil. After I… Read more »

CB
Guest
CB

Gosh! Thank you for this. I used to shampoo my hair every week then I started hearing how its bad for your hair. I stopped. Then I started shampooing once a month, my hair itches sooooooo bad if I don’t shampoo every week. So I said, I’ll do the Bentonite clay thing…did it. Loved it. BUTTT it was a pain rinsing the whole thing out. Stood in the shower for 15 minutes scrubbing my scalp…had to go back in after I found clay still stuck everywhere. Finally had to shampoo it out. LOL! I am sticking to my shampoo. Works… Read more »

Francesca
Guest
Francesca

Maybe try a finer grade of clay or different brand. Or a weaker dilution with water.

Jesse
Guest
Jesse

Lol! Yes the exact same thing happened to me once! I love Naptural85 (Whitney) so you KNOW I made my own claw mix when she put out her recipe. It worked a few times and it made my hair soft, but over time I began to have buildup. One of my homemade clay concoctions was so bad that I had to use HAND SOAP to wash it out. I had nothing left because I also heard that shampoo is bad blah blah blah… The hand soap worked. My scalp was finally clean. My hair was a little dry, but it… Read more »

NotCare
Guest
NotCare

7 to 10 days? Jesus Christ!

CB
Guest
CB

and I have to add…

I workout 5–6 days a week. I need shampoo. LOL!

Tya
Guest
Tya

Yes I workout too and use regular shampoo. I do detangle beforehand. I normally use castor oil and do a hot oil treatment, then detangle, then shampoo and deep condition. Hair feels great afterward too. I henna once a month too.

luminous
Guest
luminous

I find that clay works really well. But sometimes when I experiment with different products/conditioners, the clay can’t wash some products out. In those instances I have to revert to shampoo. If I stick to products with no ‘cones, the clay works really well.

TINA SMITH
Guest
TINA SMITH

THAT HAPPENED TO ME WITH THE QHEMET TWIST BUTTER I WILL NEVER USE THAT STUFF AGAIN

NotCare
Guest
NotCare

Clay hasn’t been used since the Middle Ages. There’s a reason for that.

natty
Guest
natty

People use clays today : rhassoul, bentonite, etc.

Love JAH
Guest
Love JAH

My scalp isn’t clean without shampoo…I use kinky curly come clean© after a hot oil treatment and my hair is thriving…I’m not about that bandwagon life, I do what has always worked!

Francesca
Guest
Francesca

i don’t use store bought shampoo anymore and don’t miss it. Mostly co wash with shea moisture conditioner and the rest DIY with ingredients like shea butter, rhassoul clay, argan oil, ACV, essential oils, nettle leaves I pick and infuse in my ACV. Real hippie stuff! Once every 2 months or so i use a shampoo bar that is really gentle and follow with a ACV rinse. It works well for me and my scalp is clean, hair is thriving. I am really happy not to buy so much stuff except the shea moisture for now.

askvivi
Guest
askvivi

I feel I need to use shampoo because my head just doesn’t feel clean. I make sure to use natural products though, like pro naturals argan oil shampoo and conditioner which are sulfate and silicone free so less chemicals on my hair.

usoundugly
Guest
usoundugly

I tried that co- wash a FEW times its a no go for me. I need the shampoo b/c my hair itches way to bad if i just co wash for now I co-wash my 3 year old b/c he has locs and he hates when it gets washed so its a one step process and his hair is very clean b/c i use mimunally product in his hair throughout the month. It just depends on your hair needs.

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

I use4 shampoo when I do my deep conditioners, but other than that if I feel like there is build up on my scalp I use apple cider vinegar. I may use a clay wash that I saw on Naptural85. I do have to say especially while I was transitioning that shampoo actually made it more difficult for me to do my hair. once I started co-washing it made things so much better. I haven’t given up on shampoo altogether, but I don’t really use it all that often.

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

sorry the 4 was not supposed to be there. I don’t know how my finger hit that?

CG
Guest
CG

Shampoo always leaves my a dry tangled mess. My hair has been thriving the past few months without it. I don’t get any build up and can stretch up to 3 weeks between cowashes. I also stick to water and oils for moisturizing and sealing so maybe that has something do with it.

However I will be starting a workout routine soon so I’m sure my hairs needs will change. But for now I am happy without shampoo.

NotCare
Guest
NotCare

That’s why you use shampoo then conditioner! /eye roll/ Your logic is really great: “Shampoo alone makes my hair dry so I’m not going to follow the rest of the steps to moisturise it, I’m just going to not wash it at all and let it stink!”

Chrissie
Guest
Chrissie

What a rude and presumptuous comment, what makes you think she wasn’t using conditioner after or that her hair stinks? What works for you doesn’t have to work for her, and for all we know her hair could easily be healthier than yours.

tmc (toronto meetup dec 14)
Guest

i can’t eliminate shampoos from my regimen too. i use black soap now. this is the recipe i used to liquiefy it
themanecaptain.blogspot.ca

tmc (toronto meetup dec 14)
Guest
ladyluo
Guest
ladyluo

Either method works for me. Cowashing (mainly vo5 conditioners) cleans and moisturizes my hair and so does my loreal evercreme shampoo. If either of these methods is not working for you, it may be the product you are using.

Carla
Guest

I’m a relatively new natural (two years no relaxer and one year since my big chop), so I’m still learning as I go and I know that we all are. I tried the co-washing thing and I believe that it worked for me (somewhat) during the summer months. I also tried washing my hair every two weeks, but it just doesn’t work well for me (I had a flaky scalp.) I like the clean feeling that shampoo gives me and I also noticed that my hair appreciates me for washing it once a week, lol. I recently re-incorporated shampoo into… Read more »

Ty
Guest
Ty

I suppose I don’t understand why a lot of naturals are so anti shampoo. I read a lot of blogs and see a lot of youtube channels hearing how “bad” shampoo is for your hair. I tried the no shampoo thing for a little while and all I got was a very itchy scalp and residue under my nails when I did scratch. I suppose that’s the beauty of this whole natural thing; we can all do something different. However, I do know that in order for my scalp and my hair to be clean, I need a little more… Read more »

Hansy
Guest
Hansy

I confess that I am one of the naturals that still uses shampoo. Yes, I tried co washing. I tried ACV. I tried baking soda. For me they just don’t do the work specially because my hair likes heavy oils like Canola that are not water soluble. So I need to shampoo at least every 2 weeks to get rid of the build up and my hair loves it. As soon as I rinse the shampoo my hair feels looser and soaks in the water better. Right now I have the L’Oreal Everpure which is not only sulfate free but… Read more »

ManeOrigins
Guest

I have tried cowashing in the past and didn’t really care for it too much. While I did notice my hair didn’t feel so dry I really didn’t feel like it was clean. While this may be a great method every once in a while, I am still a fan of sulfate free shampoo and conditioning afterwords for about 5–10 minutes under a heat cap. This way I feel my hair is clean and still maintains its moisture.

Deja Belle
Guest

I’ve been only co-washing for the past couple of weeks and it works well on my hair, but my daughter’s scalp is still flaky. And I noticed it getting flakier after every weekly co-wash. So I went and bought Shea Moisture’s Sulfate-free, black soap shampoo for dry scalp and I will use it on her next wash day. I’ve used it before on her and loved how mild it was and how well it alleviated her dry scalp. Her hair definitely needed more conditioning/moisture, but the balance of that and cleanliness is necessary!!

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