For those of you following at home, I previously used the no-poo method to wash my hair. That means that I used baking soda water as “shampoo” and apple cider vinegar in water as “conditioner”. It worked great for several weeks, cleaning my hair and making it feel just fine.
But then there’s the scalp.
You see, I started no-poo specifically because of my constant dandruff. Even with dandruff shampoos, every-other-day washings, cooler water, and conditioning treatments, my scalp still itched and flaked ALL the time. I figure I might be allergic to the harsh detergents in most shampoos, but I also had issues using natural henna shampoo. Castile soap was too harsh for my hair, while making my scalp stop itching (but not stop flaking).
The no-poo method seemed to work on my dandruff… at first. I think it really just loosened up all the pre-existing dandruff. However, I’m apparently slightly allergic to baking soda and vinegar on my skin. Frustrated, I took to the internet. My main health goals are to improve my scalp condition and help my hair grow out healthy and strong; the Earth, unfortunately, comes after my personal comfort and health. That said, I’ve started co-washing.
Co-washing is when you use only conditioner to wash your hair. The idea is simple: conditioners contain smaller amounts of the same cleaners as shampoo, so they can clean your hair as well as condition it. The process? Slather conditioner all over your hair, massage it into your hair and scalp thoroughly, wait five minutes, and rinse. The only other rule is that you want to avoid conditioners with silicones (they build up on hair, leading to ick), but most cheap brands like VO5 and Suave happen to be silicone-free already.
My results after a week of co-washing? Amazing!
My hair is super soft and manageable. I tested the cleanliness factor by wearing it down most of this week, and my bangs never looked gross or stringy. Honestly, the only issue I’ve noticed is that I apparently have a bit of a natural wave; that’s great, except that my air-dried hair gets a little frizzy because of it. My scalp doesn’t itch like it did, and most of the hardcore dandruff patches (think scales… of a dragon… on your head) have healed up and disappeared.
Pros of co-washing:
- Cheap products – most of the basic (less than $1) VO5 and Suave conditioners happen to be silicone free and great for co-washing. I’ve been using VO5’s clarifying lime-kiwi conditioner with no troubles.
- Scalp health – while conditioners like these contain chemicals (gasp!), they do manage to moisturize my scalp better than my attempts at massaging coconut or olive oil into it (both of which required ungodly amounts of shampoo to remove, undoing the oil treatment entirely)
- Ease of Use – conditioner doesn’t require measuring and mixing before your showers. You climb in, slather, massage, wait, rinse. Easy-peasy! Other than making sure your conditioner is silicone-free, the entire process is ridiculously easy; I only take 10-minute showers, and I manage to get co-washed daily without a problem. (Note: Some people only co-washing every few days. I’m going to experiment with skipping days starting tomorrow, while I’m off work.)
Cons of co-washing:
- Not Eco-Friendly – the cheap conditioners aren’t super Earth-friendly. On sites like the Good Guide, you can see that most of the cheap conditioners get a 6.2/10 rating. I’d love to use greener conditioners, but between their cost and the amount I’d had to use (more than half a bottle in a week of co-washing daily) they’re unattainable for me.
- Greasy Feeling – okay, look. My hair doesn’t look dirty or greasy or wet; it looks fantastic! However, if you rub your fingers through it, you can feel the residue of the conditioner. It’s almost a greasy feeling. This is more something I’ve noticed while air-drying and waiting out my week one of experimenting with this process. Perhaps that feeling can be avoided with longer rinsing, blow-drying, or different conditioners; I’ll have to have patience to see.
- Lots of Product – you use a LOT of conditioner with this, especially with longer hair. I have hair that’s 4-5 inches past my shoulders, and I used over half a bottle in a week. For $0.79 per bottle, it’s not a big deal. However, that’s why I can’t use the eco-friendly stuff for co-washing.
- Time – I take 10-minute showers, sometimes up to 15 if I’m shaving my legs. That means it’s a big deal for me to dedicate 5 minutes to doing my hair in the shower. I’ve developed a system (start the hair, clip it up, wash the body and/or shave, then rinse), but I can’t imagine it being so easy on a day when I end up running late.
I’m still waiting to find myself in need of shampoo. Some co-washers use it once a month, some once a week. I have a feeling I’ll manage quite happily without shampoo for a while longer. As long as my hair looks and feels clean after every shower, I have no need for soaps.
To soothe my inner hippy, I’ve reminded myself of this: I may be using a non-natural product in my hair, but it’s slightly better than the ones I used before. It’s also about the same amount (since I have too much hair), so the pollution levels aren’t increasing. In fact, my lack of shampoo at least adds a little less harsh detergent to our water supply. It’s not much, but it’s something.