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The no-shampoo method of washing curly hair, also referred to as co-washing or conditioner washing, originated in the book Curly Girl: The Handbook, written by Lorraine Massey, Michele Bender and Deborah Chiel. With a goal of helping people embrace their natural hair texture, Massey described a new and revolutionary routine to get healthy, well-behaved waves, curls and coils.

Although the very best way to do this routine is after reading the book, we understand that many people just can’t wait another day because their hair is begging for help. Here are the basic guidelines of the routine to help you get started.

More: Curly Girl: The Handbook

Why No Shampoo?

Most commercial shampoos contain sulfates and surfactants that are too harsh for our hair and tend to rob our hair of moisture. Curly hair tends to be more porous than straight hair, which makes rinsing out all traces of shampoo virtually impossible and causing frizz. Many conditioners also contain mild surfactants which, paired with a little manual friction, can lift off dirt, debris and excess oil from our scalp and hair.

Most commercial shampoos contain sulfates and surfactants that are too harsh for our hair and tend to rob our hair of moisture.

To make a shampoo free routine work, you should eliminate the use of most silicones (‘cones for short) from your hair care routine since most can only be removed with harsh shampoos. Washing with a conditioner while using them would cause them to quickly build up on the hair, which results in dull, matted hair and poor curl definition.

More: Sulfate Free Shampoos

Choosing a Conditioner

It is very important to choose a good conditioner if you're going no shampoo. Here is what you should look for on the label:

Emollients

Emollients soften, smooth the hair and give it shine. There are hundreds of them, including such natural emollients as vegetable oils and nut butters. Widely used emollients include glycerides and liposomes.

Proteins

Proteins temporarily “repair” the hair and/or protect it. Occasionally proteins will build up on some people’s hair, especially on healthier hair. In this case, alternate with a protein-free conditioner. Examples of proteins include silk, soy, wheat, keratin or individual amino acids (components of proteins).

Humectants

Humectants absorb water and hold in moisture. They are absolutely crucial in a conditioner for curly hair. Panthenol, vegetable glycerin, sorbitol, and honey are just a few humectants to look for on the label. Moisturizers soften and control to curly hair. Amino acids and aloe vera are two great moisturizers.

While the no-poo method started out with curlies using regular daily conditioner to cleanse their hair, the industry took a cue from this method and started formulating conditioning cleansers specifically for co-washing. Co-washes typically contain a gentle detergent, while daily conditioners do not. You can read more about using co-washes vs. conditioners here to decide which is best for you.

Here's a list of 15 low poo and no-poo cleansers to get you started.

How to No-Poo

  1. Wet hair under a gentle shower. You don't want the water to be so strong that it disrupts your curl shape.
  2. Take the amount of conditioner that you would typically use, and using your fingertips massage your scalp. This friction stimulates and loosens any dirt or product residue, lifting it from the scalp.
  3. Continue this motion all throughout your scalp, starting at the temples, continuing up to the crown, and down the back of the head.
  4. Rinse all of your scalp so that all of the buildup is removed.
  5. Smooth conditioner gently over your hair until it feels silky. You can either leave it in or rinse it out, depending on how much moisture your hair needs.

How to Shampoo the CG Way

Massey concedes that some people may have to continue using shampoo (hopefully a lot less often than before) because of an oily scalp. This is usually more common in those with wavy hair. To avoid drying the hair, here's the CG way to use shampoo:

  1. Wet hair under a gentle shower.
  2. Take a tablespoon of conditioner, and using your fingers, lightly coat your hair from the ends to the mid-shaft. This hair has been around longer than the hair at the roots and needs more lubrication. The conditioner protects the hair by not allowing shampoo to penetrate and dehydrate the shaft.
  3. If you're using shampoo, squeeze a half teaspoon (no more) onto your fingertips and apply it gently to the scalp and roots only. Don't use your nails. Start at the forehead and work around the scalp, then rinse thoroughly.
  4. Add a half teaspoon of conditioner to your hair and work it through with your fingers. Then rinse quickly, for just a few seconds. Now you're ready to blot-dry your hair.

How to Clarify

Sometimes residue from gels and oils may not rinse off with water and conditioner and result in a little buildup. You might notice right away that your hair feels "gunky," but other times, your hair just stops responding to the routine. It may begin to tangle easily or curls loose definition and shine. Washing with a clarifying shampoo will refresh them and usually bring the bounce back.

Does the no shampoo method work for your hair? Leave your comments below and let us know!


This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.