Walking down the men’s bath products aisle and seeing the 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body washes is still a tempting scenario for me.
I’m a sucker for bargains, and combining two or three separate products into one “scientifically tested” product that only puts you out $5 is hard to pass up.
If you can’t tell, I’ve spent a good amount of time with various 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 products. Of course, my hair has suffered accordingly.
Back then, I thought it was normal for my hair to be squeaky clean after a shower, to the extent that static would build up in the winter and plaster my hair to my forehead since there wasn’t an ounce of natural oil to be found on my hair or scalp.
I read somewhere online that static in your hair could be fought by rubbing a dryer sheet on your head.
Guys, don’t rub a dryer sheet on your head.
I realized that this practice was as insane as it sounded, so I did some research to figure out where I was going wrong.
I was scouring my scalp and hair with these synthetic, harsh shower products and removing all the natural, healthy oils from those areas. These oils keep your hair and scalp hydrated, which in turn makes for luscious, shiny, healthy hair.
So, I realized I needed to get a quality, natural shampoo, but also came across a product called co-wash that really made all the difference.
Neither a shampoo nor a conditioner, co-wash provides mild conditioning and cleansing for hair and scalp without the harshness of a thorough shampooing. It was the exact thing my hair care routine needed: a welcome addition rather than an alternative to shampoo.
In this article, I’ve unpacked the key differences between co-wash and shampoo, and how (and when) to use each, so you too can kiss the days of brittle, dry, wiry, hair goodbye.
What Is Co-Wash?
Most explanations of co-wash will attempt to equate it to shampoo or conditioner, but it’s easier to think about it as a third, separate product entirely.
While shampoo washes your hair, and conditioner moisturizes, co-wash cleanses without over-washing and hydrates your hair and scalp.
At this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Doesn’t shampoo cleanse the scalp, too?” and you aren’t entirely wrong. Shampoo applied to the scalp will cleanse away dirt and oil, but that’s basically the same idea as washing your hands with bleach.
Will bleach clear away dirt and oil? Sure.
Will it also melt away the first layer of your skin? Definitely.
Just as there are specific soaps meant for your face and hands, co-wash is a low-foam cleanser meant for your scalp.
Since it’s low-foam, co-wash relies on the friction of your fingers scrubbing the product through your hair and across your scalp to lift out excess oil and dirt, but not completely strip those areas of natural, beneficial oils.
A healthy, hydrated scalp will produce the right amount of oil to keep your hair nourished and strong, which will give your hair that lustrous, healthy shine we’ve all seen and want.
- Cleanses your scalp without stripping away healthy, natural oils
- Deeply hydrates the skin on your scalp, which regulates oil production
- Can lengthen the time between washes
- Stimulates blood flow to the scalp, which promotes hair growth and overall scalp health
- If you get a quality one like Geologie’s Cooling Hair-Co-Wash, it’s also great for moisturizing and nourishing beards.
How to Co-Wash
So, if co-wash is a completely separate shower product, how and when do you use it?
First, the how.
Get your hair thoroughly wet, and apply a nickel-sized dollop of co-wash to your fingertips. Spread the co-wash between your fingertips, and then gently massage your scalp to apply the co-wash to all the areas of your roots.
Since the co-wash relies on friction to do its cleansing magic, it’s important to spend at least a minute scrubbing and massaging the product across the top of your head, the sides, the back, and even behind your ears.
Once the co-wash is spread evenly through your scalp and hair, let it sit for at least a minute.
Next, the when.
Depending on your hair type, co-wash can replace one of your weekly washes with shampoo and conditioner.
Co-wash is great for curly, coarse, textured, braided, bleached, and colored hair since co-wash is color-safe. So, if you usually wash and condition your hair three times a week, try swapping out one of those sessions for co-wash instead.
If your hair still feels dirty or greasy when using co-wash to lengthen the time between washes, add another wash into your weekly routine, but still keep the co-wash between those washing sessions.
For example, if you went from three washes per week to two washes with a co-wash in the middle, bump back up to three washes and stick the co-wash somewhere in between as well.
Choosing a Co-Wash
My absolute favorite co-wash is made by Geologie, an award-winning skincare company that recently stepped into the hair and body game. Their two co-washes, the Smoothing Hair Co-Wash and Cooling Hair Co-Wash, are packed with beneficial ingredients that basically act as a face mask for your scalp.
The Cooling Hair Co-Wash is my personal preference because it’s formulated with menthol, which gives a tingly, cooling sensation as it’s worked across my scalp.
I love the idea that I’m basically giving my scalp a face mask treatment every time I use this. After just one wash I noticed a lighter, stronger texture to my hair that made it easier to shape and make presentable.
The cherry on top is that these co-washes are made without harsh cleansing chemicals like sulfates, parabens, or detergents, which will dry out your hair and skin.
What Is Shampoo?
While we’ve all used shampoo at one point or another, few of us have actually taken a second to ponder what the thick, viscous liquid we slather all over our heads actually is. .
Formal definitions describe shampoo as a “detergent or soap for the hair,” which is made by combining a surfactant, a co-surfactant, and salt. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry.
A surfactant is a shorter word for the phrase “surface active agent.” These are, essentially, chemicals that clean away excess oil and dirt when applied to the scalp and hair.
The trick that most shampoos try to master is finding the right balance between cleaning thoroughly, but without stripping all the natural oils from your scalp and hair. In other words, how can a shampoo remove just enough oil to make the hair look clean, without obliterating the oils that keep it shiny and healthy?
As I’m sure you’re aware, some shampoos do this better than others, but more on that later.
- Cleans away excess oil, environmental dirt, and sebum from the scalp and hair
- Removes hair products like oils, lotions, and sprays
- Good shampoos will clean away dirt and oil, but maintain some of the natural oil your hair and scalp needs
How to Shampoo Your Hair
Washing your hair properly is simple, but you’d be surprised how many guys don’t get it quite right.
Get your hair thoroughly wet, meaning, soak it for at least a minute. Then, use a product that’s meant for your hair environment. Curly and straight hair types have very different moisture levels, and choosing the right shampoo can make a big difference when it comes to maintaining your hair’s health.
Next, don’t use more product than is necessary. It’s easy to think that the more suds, the better, but you run a higher chance of cleaning away all your natural, beneficial oils in this case.
Finally, don’t leave the shampoo in your hair for long (ideally less than a minute), and rinse your hair thoroughly.
Choosing a Shampoo
Not all shampoos are created equal.
Many shampoos that come with fun, manly packaging and engaging taglines actually annihilate any chance of having a healthy hair environment because they’re so packed with synthetic chemicals like sulfates.
Thus, I recommend looking for a shampoo that’s made with natural ingredients and is free from common shampoo cleaning chemicals, like parabens, phthalates, and sulfates.
Lucky for you, while you’re picking up your co-wash from Geologie you can also grab a shampoo that checks these boxes.
Geologie’s Strengthening Shampoo makes heavy use of Vitamin B5 and Lactic Acid. Vitamin B5 is excellent at retaining scalp moisture, and it also helps to repair damaged hair and fixes split ends by restoring broken bonds for a soft, frizz-free finish.
Co-Wash vs Shampoo: Which Should You Choose?
Ultimately, you should use both. If you’re not convinced, though, here are a few extra things to consider.
Your Hair Type
Co-wash is recommended for just about every hair type out there, including bleached and colored hair.
That said, different hair types are prone to struggling with different moisture levels: curly hair dries out quickly, while straight hair can get greasy quickly.
If you want your hair’s oil production to be regulated and optimal for your hair type, use both shampoo and co-wash.
Afraid of Balding?
The physical nature of scrubbing co-wash across your scalp stimulates blood flow there, which in turn promotes hair growth. If you struggle with male pattern baldness or are worried about it moving forward, co-wash is a great way to assist your scalp in sproutin’ more hairs.
Got a Beard?
Similar to the benefits that co-wash brings to your scalp, co-wash can help regulate the oil production of your beard by deeply hydrating and cleansing the skin beneath.
Just like with your hair, you can scrub co-wash through your beard between shampooing sessions to make it softer, fuller, and healthier.
How Does Conditioner Factor In?
Conditioner is simple. Mentally make the association that anytime you use shampoo, you use conditioner after, and you’re all set.
Even the best shampoos will likely strip more moisture away from your hair than you want, so adding that moisture back in is critical.
If you’re going to shampoo three times a week, you’re going to condition three times a week. Simple.
Time for Better Hair
Now that you understand the differences between shampoo and co-wash and how to use both, nothing is standing between you and the best hair of your life.
While adding a co-wash to your weekly hair routine will make it slightly longer, the benefits to your hair, scalp, and hair longevity are well worth it.
If you know a guy who’s been confused about co-wash or looks like he rubs dryer sheets on his head, share this article with him! He’ll thank you when he’s got hair that could be in a shampoo commercial.
Is co-wash a replacement for shampoo?
Co-wash is not a replacement for shampoo. It’s a scalp cleanser that can help lengthen the time between washes with shampoo.
How often should I co-wash my hair?
You can co-wash your hair as often as you want, but once or twice per week, in between washes with shampoo, is recommended.
What’s the difference between shampoo and co-wash?
Shampoo is a hair and scalp soap that removes oil and environmental dirt, while co-wash is a scalp cleanser that deeply moisturizes your scalp and hair.
Is a co-wash the same as conditioner?
No—conditioner brings moisture back to the hair, while co-wash brings moisture back to your scalp, which can regulate your scalp’s oil production and bring moisture back to your hair.