If you’ve read any of my earlier posts on the curly girl method and how to get started with products here in the UK, you might have seen me mention co-washing. But what is co-washing? In this post, I’m going to be examining this particular aspect of the curly girl method in a bit more detail. It’s the question most people ask me about after reading my curly girl method posts!
Before you read on it might be helpful for you to jump back a few posts and check out my beginner’s guide to the curly girl method if you haven’t already. If you’re ready to find out more though, keep reading and I’ll try and explain how co-washing works.
It’s important to remember that there are different ways to make the curly girl method work for you, so don’t get too hung up on specifics. Trial and error are a huge part of finding the right method for your hair.
The main thing to remember is to try not to give up too soon; it can take a little while to see results, but you will see them!
So, you’ve done a final wash and you’re ready to get cracking with the next step. Co-washing time. But what even is co-washing and how do you do it?
What Is Co-Washing?
Co-washing is pretty much a fundamental component of the curly-girl method. It’s short for ‘conditioner washing’ and essentially, that’s the long and short of it. Shampoo is a distant relative, conditioner is now your main squeeze.
But not all conditioners are equal, and some are better suited to the techniques needed for co-washing than others.
But before we go into co-washing much further, let’s recap some curly girl method basics. These are particularly important when you’re adapting to a new washing routine, because that transition can often be the hardest thing.
Things To Remember Before You Start
Before You Start Co-Washing
- Prepare your hair for its new life
This is going to be one of the last times you brush your hair, so give it a good detangling and then put your brush away. You’re not going to be needing it that much from now on! You’ll want to look for a wide-toothed comb, to begin with. Remember that your hair is going to feel really weird for the first few weeks, but don’t worry, it’ll soon feel a lot better!
- Say goodbye to heat styling
You won’t be using your straighteners or heated tongs from here on out. Put them away and try to avoid the temptation to get them back out again!
- Get your old t-shirts ready
You’re going to be using an old t-shirt to dry your hair with from now on. Resist the urge to use a towel like you used to, you’re going to need a stock of old cotton t-shirts you’re not bothered about getting a bit messy.
- Check your products
Make sure you’ve got the products that you think will suit your curls best. Don’t worry if you’re just starting out, you’ve got time to try new ones out. What’s important is that you follow the steps here and see what works for you.
- Don’t wash too much
Remember, you’re probably only going to need to wash your hair once a week from now on. That’s going to take some getting used to!
How To Co-Wash Your Hair
The idea of a co-wash is that it’s a cleansing conditioner. It’s often lighter than a standard conditioner and that’s so that it can be used at the root to really cleanse your scalp. Co-washing is more about cleansing the roots of your hair than the actual lengths and ends. You don’t need to use the same quantity of co-wash as you would a normal conditioner, because once you’ve cleansed with the co-wash, you’ll still need to condition with a conditioner afterwards.
Co-washes have the same ability to cleanse your scalp and hair as a shampoo, but they’re free of the chemicals that strip your curls of moisture. Because they’re lightweight in texture, it can feel like you’re not really getting your hair that clean. This is just because you’re so used to washing with shampoo though, so don’t worry if you feel like you haven’t done a thorough job.
I remember the first time I co-washed and I was sure I’d done it wrong. I didn’t feel like I’d really washed my hair, but my curls really reacted well to the change in routine!
Recommended Co-Wash Method
Use your co-wash in the shower for best results, especially if you’ve got finer, wavier curls; the extra rinsing really helps. You don’t need to scrub your scalp in the same way you would with a shampoo either. In fact, vigorously rubbing as you would with a normal shampoo can cause tangles, so be careful!
You need to be gentle and work the co-wash through your curls, starting at the scalp. Imagine you’re giving yourself an Indian head massage; be firm but gentle. This will help lift up any dirt or product build-up without tangling your hair.
Some people will say it’s a good idea to wash your hair upside down to encourage the curl pattern to reform. I’d say you can try this, but be careful it doesn’t start to cause tangles! I try to wash with my hair tipped back, and then I scoop my hair up on top of my head and hold it there to rinse. Again, it’s all about what works for you.
Once you’ve co-washed, you’ll need to condition, just in the same way you used to do. Think of your co-wash as a shampoo replacement; you’ll still need to condition once you’ve cleansed. Some people don’t need to do this and just use a co-wash, but I usually follow up with a conditioner as well. My hair’s pretty dry though, so go with what works best for your curl type.
Smooth your conditioner through gently rather than raking it. You want to try and minimize any damage already done to the hair and encourage the curl pattern to reform, so be gentle. When rinsing, you can leave a little bit of the conditioner on the ends of your hair if you like. This will help with smoothness of the curls as your hair dries.
You might see this called ‘STC’ or ‘squish to condish’. No, I don’t know why everything has to have an acronym these days either. But anyway, this refers to the method used when both applying and rinsing your conditioner after you’ve cleansed. I could try and explain this technique but instead, I’ll put a video at the bottom of this post so you can see exactly what I mean.
After you’ve conditioned, and while your hair is still wet, you’ll probably want to add your styling products into your new routine. These products might be different for different people, but for me, they usually include a leave-in conditioner and a gel. You want to apply these with the same smoothing and then squishing technique while your hair is soaking wet, because the moisture makes a huge difference to how the products work on your hair.
5. Plopping and drying
Here’s where your old t-shirts come into play! You want to use one to gently squeeze/squish excess water from your hair (but not too much), and then another one is going to act like a head wrap that you ‘plop’ your damp hair upside down and into. You can then leave your hair in this ‘plopped’ state for a bit while you get dressed or do whatever else; some people leave their hair in the t-shirt for a few hours, others only for 15 minutes or so, it depends on your preferences.
Remember to be gentle with your hair and if you want to you can use a diffuser with your hairdryer after you’ve plopped your hair for long enough. Make sure your heat is on the lowest and slowest setting. If not, you could end up with very frizzy, crispy clumps! Bounce your hair gently upwards to the root as you dry, to encourage the curls to form. I’ll write a separate guide on styling and drying in my next post.
What Is Co-Washing: Helpful Tips
- You don’t have to do everything upside down! Yes, tipping your head upside down to style and dry can help with volume, but it can also cause tangles. Tilt your head from side to side instead, particularly if your hair is long.
- You don’t need loads of styling products. Try a few and see what works. Sometimes less is more!
- Remember not to scrub too hard. You need to be firm with your co-wash but don’t rive at your head too much or you’ll cause damage.
- It’s ok if your hair starts shedding. It might look like you’re losing a lot more hair than normal but this is part of the hair cycle and you can shed a lot more hair when following the curly girl method than you might have noticed before you started!
- Air-drying your hair is great, just remember to keep the air cool.
- After your hair is dry, it might feel a bit crispy. If it does, scrunch it and fluff at the roots for volume. You might need to experiment with how much gel or mousse your hair can deal with.
Are You Ready To Try The Curly Girl Method?
If you’re feeling inspired to give it a go, you can find some links to the products I’ve used below. There’s a lot to choose from out there, so it can be useful to have a starting point! Remember that some of these products will be suitable for your hair and others might not, so try a few out and see. Some of these links are affiliate links.
Co-washes I like to use:
You can also check out my offer for 25% Off Noughty Haircare here! I use a lot of Noughty products and would definitely recommend them.
Check Out This Video For More Insight
If you’re still a bit unsure then I’d recommend checking out this brilliant video by @hanzcurls, who I mentioned in my curly girl method Instagram post a while back. I’ve chosen this video because I feel like she has very similar hair to mine and it’s a really clear and helpful tutorial. Don’t worry about following it all exactly though, it’s just a good starting point!
What Do You Think?
Are you ready to give the curly girl method a try? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or as always you can catch up with me over on Twitter. You might also like some of the helpful pins on my Curly Girl Method boards over on Pinterest. Please give this post a share if you think it’s been helpful too!