Sunday, May 19, 2013

Just WHAT is CO Washing? And WO Washing? And Should You Do It?

I have mentioned a few times on my blog that I do not use shampoo. After my first YouTube video I had a few people contact me to ask for more details about it. Let me start by defining the terms co washing and wo washing. The co stands for conditioner only, and the wo stands for water only. Now I will be honest. The first time I heard about the concept I thought it was simply hippy dippy crap and lets get real here. It sounds kind of gross. So let me explain a bit about the processes and the why and the how. I will also try to answer some of what were at least MY questions when I first heard about this, and then when I started seriously contemplating this.

Shampoo is a detergent. And as a detergent, it is harsh and drying. We as a society have pretty much accepted that you cant use a drying soap on our bodies. We want moisture, we DONT want harsh sulfuctants stripping our body of moisture. So why do we accept that for our hair? The basic theory is that not shampooing can allow the hair to return to a natural/more balanced state. Shampoos tend to be very high in harsh surfactants which are drying and damaging to the hair, as well as stripping the natural oils from our scalp. Now I know what you are thinking. We want to get rid of the oils. My hair 18 months ago was a greasy, oily mess and if you had told me I would even CONSIDER not shampooing I would have laughed at you. I couldn't go 24 hours without washing my hair, let alone longer than that. But the concept that stripping my scalp of oil was exacerbating and increasing the issue and causing my scalp to make MORE oil to compensate for the harsh stripping did make sense.

So if you agree with, or can understand the paragraph above as possibly being true, that shampoos are drying and harsh and strip your hair of essential oils leading your scalp to produce even more oils, what do you do? My hair became an oil slick by day two, I needed to wash my hair! What else can you do?

Now I will start by saying that I do not wo wash. I tried it and it didn't work for me. I do however co wash. I have not used a shampoo in about 20 months.

So the first questions I had, and the first questions I tend to get asked are:

1. But how will your hair get clean? Isn't it DIRTY?
My hair IS clean, just as clean actually. My hair still gets washed. I just use conditioner to wash it. The thing a lot of people don't realize is that conditioners have surfactants in them too, they just contain a lot less and at a lot more diluted amounts. So they still can break down the dirt and oil on your hair without stripping them.

2. Isn't your hair oily?
My hair is not oily, greasy, grimy or waxy. It is not a statement i could have made BEFORE going stricly co washing. But grease is no longer an issue for my hair.

3. Doesn't your hair smell bad? It must smell like wet dog or something! 
My hair doesn't smell bad or dirty. It smells like nothing. Or it smells like the conditioner I use in it, just like yours does, and just like it did before I switched to co washing.

Now the above two pictures are my hair with no product in them. The above one is just naturally air dryed and the bottom is with a flat iron (no product at all). As you can see I have fairly curly hair. I could not EVER straighten my hair without a ton of product in it before going without the 'poo. Will it work for everyone? NO. And is my hair perfect? HELL TO THE NO! Not even close! But its a night and day difference from what it was. 

Some PROS of co washing:

  • It adds moisture to very dry hair. My hair was a greasy oily mess, yet it was at the same time dry and brittle. How does that happen? Seriously! Only ME! But yes, the conditiioner only meathod will tend to leave your hair overall more moisturizing
  • It can save you a TON of money. Not only are you buying only conditioner and saving the money of the shampoo, but people tend to find that they end up preferring cheap conditioners over the pricier options out there. Because you are using the conditioner to give yourself a quick blast of moisture and to merely clean your hair, you will find you no longer need a deep conditioner.
  • You avoid the harsh effects of shampoos. You avoid the sulfates and other harsh chemicals.  

 Some CONS of co washing:

  • Some people can find that if you are using conditioner too much (I only wash my hair with conditioner every 3 to 4 days, the rest of the time I just use water) the weight of the conditioner can weigh down the hair leading to breakage
  • It can lead to a protein overload if you start co-washing regularly and your conditioner is high in protein. Now, your hair is made of protein, and can usually benefit from using products that contain proteins. But excessive amounts can lead to brittle, breaking hair. This can be solved by either using a protein free conditioner, or by alternating the conditioners you use. 
  • Some people tend to take the fact that conditioners are lower in surfactants that they are fine going to a daily wash when before they washed their hair only every other day or every two days. This is not the case. Just like shampooing, I have to caution against washing your hair on a daily basis! And using conditioner is still WASHING your hair! 
 My personal experience:
 So what pushed me over the edge and made me take the plunge? To start with, this girl did:

image taken from a thread on a forum I am on found HERE!

image taken from a thread on a forum I am on found HERE!

And her daughter:

image taken from a thread on a forum I am on found HERE!

At the end of her post she adds this "Oh yea! No shampoo, combs, brushes,silicons or sulfates for me in over 2 1/2 yrs :) I finger comb only! I "wash" it wish condish!"

That was for me the straw that broke the camels back. Now it was NOT a fun path I took.

So I was warned that there would be an adjustment phase. Now as I mentioned, when I went TWO days without washing my hair it was an oil slick! So do you want to know what would happen after one week? EEK! Two weeks? If you think it sounds like a nightmare, it really really was! I was warned that it could take up to 6 weeks to balance out. Now lets be honest, who can afford to go 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 5 weeks or 6 weeks of HORRIBLE, GREASY, DISGUSTING hair?  I couldn't. I work. Now as it happened I had to have some very major surgery in September or 2011. Major enough that I was off work for 3 months. I figured that I would use that to allow me the time to try to ride it out and try it out. Now it took about four weeks for me until my hair seemed to start to balance out. And probably another 3 weeks after that until it was really and truly NOT greasy. Now in that time I was going water only. No conditioner. From what I read online and from friends who have done the conditioner only washing from the get go, 2-3 weeks seems to be a more accurate timeline for the hair to finally balance out.

Could I have managed to go to work daily while making this change? I think its fairly safe to say by day 3 I would have been so disgusted and embarrassed to be out in public and would have shampooed it.

Would I ever go back to shampoo? Not in a million years. I don't have perfect hair. I will likely never have the type of hair that we see in pantene commercials. But my hair is not dry, no longer breaking anywhere  near as much and my hair is manageable. I really don't love my hair, but I can now at least say I don't DISLIKE my hair, stress about my hair (though it still remains in a pony more than it ought to!) and I spend a quarter of the time on it I used to.

Have you ever tried wo or co washing? What was your experience? Would you ever debate doing this? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and opinions!


  1. I'm having issues with my hair right now, and it has to do with my work. I work underground in a mine, and when I come up, my hair is gross - filled with sweater, mine dust, and reaks of diesel fumes. I HAVE to wash my hair every day. And where before, I was fine washing it every other day without it getting too oily, it's now accustomed to daily washings. And it's also dried right out at the ends, no matter how long I leave conditioner in. :(

    I've actually dabbled in CO washing, but more accidentially. There's been a few times where my hair wasn't really dirty, but I was in the shower and if I don't condition my hair after it gets wet, I can't brush it without breaking half of it off. I've never considered switching to condition only though.

    I wonder if even switching 2-3 of my daily washings at work with conditioner would help. Hmm.

    Also, your hair looks lovely, don't be so hard on it. :)

  2. I have been considering the WEN stuff for a while, but my hair is soooo oily I would be scared to go through the adjustment period. I wonder if it makes a difference when hair is colored or processed.

  3. Being a hairdresser I came across a client who had short but baby soft hair and when I asked her what she used she said 'I've only ever used conditioner' So I totally understand all of what you said, I just wish I had time for the 'adjustment period' I've wanted to do it for years, and when I have kids shampoo will never be touching their little heads! It also makes sense because shampoo literally STRIPS hair of all oils and goodness making it dry and porous hence why with 'think' conditioner is important. I honestly have always thought shampoo is a totally un-needed step!

    Jamie-Lee | Glitter Infatuation | Beauty & Lifestyle Blog!

  4. It is very similar in concept to the "Lo-Poo" and "No-Poo" stuff marketed towards wavy and curly heads. I totally get it. Also the fancy brands that are no sulfate and organic etc. But they are not telling you that you can get the same effect without using their products! I am an oily-ish fragile haired and my daughter is thick healthy but with very dry scalp. I notice the less frequently we shampoo the better our hair does. Healthy hair also comes from good nutrition, hormonal balance etc. But scalp care(which includes massage for good circulation) is as important as skin care, and most people don't even give it a second thought!

  5. I can see how this could work with curly hair that's normally dry, but not sure it would work on mine. I have straight hair that's very fine and am afraid using just the conditioner would weigh it down. It's certainly an interesting idea.



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