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.
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. This post contains some affiliate links to products I think will work well if you’re looking to start co-washing your hair.
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
A co-wash is essentially 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 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 shampoo, but they’re free of the chemicals that strip your curls of moisture. As 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. Stick with it and you’ll see the difference really quickly!
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 reacted incredibly 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!
Follow these steps in order to co-wash and condition your curls carefully and effectively.
Start by cleansing your hair and scalp with a suitable co-wash product. You need to be gentle and work the co-wash through your curls, starting at the scalp. Imagine you’re giving yourself a 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. You can definitely 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 it 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. Make sure your conditioner of choice is curly girl-approved.
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 the 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. Anyway, this refers to the method used when both applying and rinsing your conditioner after you’ve cleansed.
You’ll want to squish your curls up towards your head as the water gently runs through them. Try not to rake through with your fingertips as you’re rinsing the conditioner out. Instead, cup your hair up gently and squish towards your scalp. You might feel like you’re not getting a thorough enough rinse, but it’s not a bad thing if a bit of conditioner is left in after rinsing this way.
After you’ve conditioned, and while your hair is still wet, you’ll 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 squishing technique while your hair is soaking wet because the moisture makes a huge difference to how the products work on your hair.
Plopping and drying
Here’s where your old T-shirts come into play. You want to use one to gently squeeze and squish excess water from your hair (but not too much), and then another one 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 while you get dressed or relax for a bit. 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. You can also use one of these special microfibre hair towels from Noughty, which I use to reduce frizz and keep my curls in shape.
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 okay 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. 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.
Curly girl method products to get started with
If you’re feeling inspired to give it a go, check out some of these starter products for the curly girl method. 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 better suited to your hair than others, so try a few out and see. Finding the right balance of co-wash, conditioner and styling products can take time.
These are some products that work well for me, so give them a go and see how you get on. Some of these links are affiliate links, and there’s a 25% discount code available at Noughty that I’ve added to the list too.
Co-washes I like to use
These are some of my favourite and most reliable co-washes. You’ll want to experiment a bit to see which ones work for you, but these are good for getting started.
Noughty 1 Hit Wonder Cleansing Co-Wash – a fantastic starter co-wash that doesn’t leave your hair feeling flat or greasy. It’s fairly light as well, which works brilliantly on my curls and doesn’t weigh them down.
As I Am Coconut Co-Wash – this is probably one of my most staple co-washes. It’s a great starter co-wash and a little goes a long way. I tend to switch it up with the 1 Hit Wonder Co-Wash from time to time, as my hair can be a bit sensitive to coconut.
Boucleme Curl Cleanser – at the slightly pricier end of co-washes, but incredibly effective in its cleansing and curl-boosting power!
You’ll also want to stock up on some suitable conditioners to use after co-washing. These are some of my favourite conditioners to use and make great starting points if you’re new to the curly girl method.
As I Am Naturally Hydration Elation Conditioner – another hit from the As I Am range, this conditioner works well in tandem with their co-wash.
Noughty Wave Hello Curl Defining Conditioner – I use this one all the time and it’s really good on my fine textured curls.
Leave-in conditioners are another good addition to your curly hair product lineup. Depending on your curl type, you may or may not need these. However, if you’re looking to give your hair a bit of a moisture boost, these are some great leave-ins to try out.
Noughty Intensive Care Leave-In Conditioner – you only need a little of this to go a long way! Use sparingly on the mid-lengths and ends of your curls for a smoothing boost.
As I Am Naturally Leave-In Conditioner – this smells amazing and really works well to improve texture and coiling when your curls are drying after washing.
Noughty Thirst Aid Leave-In Spray – this is a great product to have handy to refresh your curls throughout the week. It really helps with detangling and frizz. You can also use it to give your curls some additional hydration before leaving them to dry.
You can also check out my offer for 25% Off Noughty Haircare here! I use a lot of products from the Noughty range and would definitely recommend them.
Give co-washing a go
Are you ready to give the curly girl method a try? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Remember, try a few different products and techniques before giving up; the curly girl method really is a marathon, not a sprint!
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, I’d really appreciate it. If you have any questions about co-washing or the curly girl method in general, drop them in the comments and I’ll answer them as best I can.