The Curly-Wavy Guide to Co-Washing

Photo by stylist @nubiarezo

Why co-wash instead of shampoo?

Co-washing or “conditioner washing” is washing your hair with a conditioner or specialty formulated product called a “co-wash/cleansing conditioner” as opposed to using a regular shampoo. For those with any kind of texture, co-washing is usually a safer option because it cleanses our hair yet keeps it hydrated. The main benefit of co-washing our hair versus regular shampoo is by co-washing, we are not stripping our hair of natural oils which dries out the hair leading the excess frizz and unmanageability.

How often should you co-wash your hair?

How often should you co-wash your hair is a matter of preference. Some prefer co-washing every single wash and don’t touch shampoo at all; others will co-wash once a week and alternate the next week using regular shampoo. Some may only use regular shampoo once a month. It really depends on your own hair’s specific needs. I usually wash my hair twice a week, co-washing the first wash and using a sulfate-free regular shampoo the other.

If I ever do wash my hair more than twice a week, I always reach for the co-wash for the additional washes. My reason for using a regular shampoo for one wash is I pile and pile products on my hair all week, even the days I don’t wash and I just like that extra clean feeling from the shampoo. Again, it is a matter of preference.

Better hydration, more defined waves and curls 

Co-washing allows wavy and curly hair, which is usually dry already by nature, to obtain better hydration which leads to better curl definition, less frizz and more shine. If you color your hair, co-washing can also help maintain your color, keeping it fresh and vibrant where as too frequent regular shampooing can strip the color and cause fading very quickly.  

Focus equally on the scalp and length

When co-washing, make sure to use enough product. Now is not the time to scrimp. As opposed to regular shampoo where you want to concentrate on the scalp as to not dry out the lengths, it is okay to co-wash your scalp and your hair–it will cleanse and condition in one. Some curly wavies, especially those with finer hair that gets weighed down easily, may be able to co-wash and skip conditioner afterwards depending on how hair feels. You want to make sure to really spend a few minutes thoroughly massaging the co-wash on the scalp, as the friction of your finger pads (don’t use your nails–it can scratch your scalp and/or lead to hair breakage) is helping to loosen any dirt and oil to really get your head clean.

Read next: Top 10 Co-Washes and Cleansing Conditioners 

How to co-wash curly-wavy hair

  • Double wash – I personally like to cleanse and repeat as I feel the first cleanse is what is removes dirt, toxins and pollution from my hair and the second is helping to hydrate.
  • Add water – I also like like to add a few additional splashes of water. Co-washes do not lather, and they are not supposed to due to their lack of sulfates, but adding additional water helps to spread the product through the hair and get your hair clean.
  • Detangle to distribute – I can easily detangle my hair with my fingers in the shower while co-washing. You can also use a wide tooth comb to detangle. Doing so helps spread the co-wash through your hair evenly.

The best co-washes for wavy-curly hair

1. Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Co-Wash

Aside from that delicious, fresh Briogeo scent, this co-wash is fortified with shea butter, avocado oil, quinoa extracts and aloe with hydrate, enhances manageability, soothes plus cleanses the hair all in one. It’s creamy, nourishing and cleanses without stripping.

2. Nubian Heritage Indian Hemp Co-Wash

This is super affordable and insanely moisturizing. I really like this one because of ingredients like garlic and bamboo which helps hair growth and tamanu oil which keeps hair hydrated.

3. Tweak-d

This is a unique co-wash. The brand describes it as a “self cleansing treatment” and what if different about it is you apply it to dry hair before getting in the shower. Once you get your hair wet you massage the product in. There are several formulas of this product, my favorite is the Restore- I notice no frizz and extra shine even time I use it, even without additional styling products. It also leaves my hair soft and silky.

4. As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner

This is the NaturallyCurly community’s Best of the Best award-winning cowash for all hair types and has been a crowd favorite for years.  It achieves a balance between cleansing and moisturizing, and works well as a detangler too. 

5. Living Proof Curl Conditioning Wash

The Co-Wash features Living Proof’s patented molecule, OFPMA which is an emollient and polymer blend as well as time-released conditioners which will not only help clean and conditioner your hair but help with curl definition and provide frizz free humidity defense and moisturizing effects all day long.


This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated. 


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