Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When Co Washing Curly Hair Becomes a Nightmare


It's mid week, probably just came from the gym--I think I'll co wash my hair. For those of you that don't already know, co-washing is when hair is washed with conditioner instead of shampoo. It's a great way to put some moisture and do a bit of cleansing--without the risk of drying out the hair with shampoo. Co-washing is a great option for curly hair, which thrives on moisture.....unless....


I step into the shower, drench my hair, and add some conditioner to the ends (so that I can section my hair safely without breaking any ends). Some folks like to co-wash with their hair in big sized two strand twists or even braids. I'm not gonna cause myself any extra trouble--just wanna get in, clean up, and get out. Once I put my hair into about 4 sections, I run some conditioner (liberally) from root to ends. I use my hands to smooth the conditioner through well, then I use the balls of my fingers to massage my scalp.. I may even add some olive oil to my hair, and then I put that section into a mini bun. Once each of the 4 sections are bunned, I finish up in the shower (this gives the conditioner at least 5 minutes to penetrate and the steam to assist).

Now here's where the problem can happen. You ever co-wash and have shed hair tangled onto non-shed hair? It hangs so low, you don't know where it starts or ends--now you're tempted to rip it off, but you know better. FRUSTRATION BUILDS. 

When my once trusty conditioner fails to give any "slip", then my hair actually knots up and tangles, and the co-wash becomes a "hot mess". This may very well be the same conditioner that worked wonders just a few days ago. "What could be causing this drastic difference" you ask?

I'm so glad you asked! One possible culprit for a tangled mess during co-wash could be product buildup. I bought some "cheapie" conditioner to co-wash a long time ago (before I knew any better), and didn't check the ingredients to see if there were synthetics and other things that could coat the hair. Some synthetic ingredients coat the hair like plastic, and won't be removed without harsh sulfates or an apple cider vinegar rinse. 

If the hair is washed with synthetics during a co-wash (or after a shampoo), they will sit on top of the hair strands and make the application of any other product(s) nothing short of ineffective.  Buildup on top of build-up will result due to repeated c0-washing with synthetic ingredients. 

All of a sudden, the mid-week co-wash brings to mind tangles, knots, shed hairs and breakage. The worst part of this whole scene is the fact that the hair is most vulnerable to breakage when wet. During a co-wash, hair without slip from the conditioner will suffer breakage even with finger detangling alone.

I've heard quite a few curly girls say that they don't like to co-wash. If the whole idea of the co-wash is to replenish moisture, avoid dryness, and have an easy cleansing session, then what's the problem? Co-washing should not be a cause of hair breakage/thinning. 

Another possible culprit for damage during a co-wash could be thinned out, unhealthy hair. Hair that is already in a fragile state will not respond well to constantly being manipulated while wet. I've seen this happen firsthand. My daughter chopped off over 5 inches of hair in patchy sections (well, she was 4 years old when she did this), and every time I went to wet her hair I would get really nervous. The hair kept breaking whenever I would manipulate it while wet. As a result, I stopped manipulating it while it was wet. I did all of her de-tangling when her hair was dampened and coated with conditioner. This worked wonders for her hair health and length retention. Her hair has finally recovered from the fragile state.


  • Co-washing with build-up can cause tangles. It can even make carefully done finger detangling an impossible task. Probably won't get any "slip" from the conditioner, and knotting and or breakage can occur at the ends.
  • The most successful co-washes are done on hair that has minimal products (or products that don't build up and put a coating on the hair)---and has been properly deep conditioned. Butters leave a film as well--maybe not working well with the conditioner for slip and easy detangling.
  • Co-washing when the hair is fragile due to breakage (or choppy, thin layered sections). This type of hair is extremely vulnerable, and will break easily.
  • Co-washing hair that has split and damaged ends. This hair will not separate easily, and may tangle, rip, and continue to split up the shaft
  • Most times, I detangle only 4 times a month. I may co-wash 1-2 times during the week. Co-washing presents as high manipulation when the hair is loose. I especially love to co-wash when I have my hair in small sized two strand twists (still low manipulation). 
  • When I co-wash, I do not use a tool to detangle. I use my fingers to detangle and pluck away any tangles. 

IN SUMMARY: The Co-Wash is great for relaxed, transitioning, and tex-laxed hair as well! A few main requirements for having a successful co-wash session appears to be the avoidance of product build-up, pull out shed hairs before they cause tangles, plus strong, healthy strands and ends!


  1. I love how my hair feels after a cowash.
    I cowash every Wednesday now.

    By the way, you and your daughter, both of you look SO much alike now. The first pic, when I saw it, I was like, "is that Tia or her daughter?" Took me quite a while to guess who.

    1. You're getting this whole curly hair thing figured out Sam..I love it! I would have never known what to do with my hair (unprocessed) when I was your age LOL! I see you influenced your mom into checking out her curls! I'm still trying to get my mom to stop relaxing her hair every 5 weeks (much less convince her to stop altogether)! I'm impressed! Yeah, that T person keeps trying to copy me Hahah! She says she mixes up our pictures too, so you're not alone :o)

    2. My mum's like, "You were right, I have bigger curls than yours!" "Look how thick my hair is now!" "I like you just braided my hair," "My hair needs some coconut oil are you or are you not going to work it up into my hair?" "Give me a few more months and a few more inches of my natural hair and I'm going to cut of the relaxed ends," "I love what you did with my hair!" "She's gotten me! I'm going natural!" and so on. haha :)
      So many girls at my school are going natural 'cause they love my hair. One of them literally said, "I love your hair, I want your hair and I AM GOING TO GET YOUR HAIR!"
      I don't look like my mum, some people think I do, but she's like SO fair, and I'm like SO dark. People don't believe she's my mum (or that my brother's my brother 'cause he's fair too). If I looked like my mum, I'll be impersonating her on a daily basis.