After doing a certain ritual for so many years, there always comes a time when you challenge the routine by asking questions like why do I do this and could I still have the same effect if I did something else? This is what happens to us with our shampoo and conditioning. What is your hair care ritual? I detangle, shampoo, and condition every time. What do you do and why do you do it? At some point, I heard the question,

Can you shampoo after conditioning?
Not knowing how to immediately respond caused me to dig deep within my own knowledge and experience. I sought out key contributors of our beauty industry for insight on the topic. This method could change the way your hair feels after wash day, for some the change will be positive and others it may be negative. But knowing that there is another way beyond the traditional directions on every bottle may open your eyes to new ways of using your favorite products.

The Purpose of Shampoo

Shampoo was created to cleanse our hair and scalp of dirt, shed skin, dust particle debris, product buildup, and excess sebum, the natural oil produced by our scalp. The active ingredients that cause this cleansing action are surfactants. Surfactant molecules have a hydrophilic heads and a lipophilic tails. The lipophilic end attaches to the debris causing it to cluster into little balls that can be washed away. The hydrophilic end attaches to water molecules, causing the debris to rinse off. As the hair is rinsed, the dirt and other debris are washed away. Although there are many different types of cleansers, the average shampoo will have a pH of 8, which is slightly alkaline. At this level, the hair shaft will swell to raise the outer layers of the cuticle (that protect inner workings of the hair) similar to limbs on a tree.

The Purpose of Conditioner

Conditioner was created to strengthen and moisturize the hair after shampooing. Conditioners have a pH between 3.5-6. It’s purpose is to bring your hair back into a healthy moisture balance and smooth or “close” the cuticle while detangling and preparing the hair for the rigors of styling. This happens through the cationic surfactants within the conditioner that carry a positive electric charge that binds to the negative charge of the hair strand. These surfactants coat the hair, leaving a thin film that adheres to the cuticle, providing moisture, protection, and manageability.

Shampoo AFTER Conditioner

Anna Purseglove of Daily Mail considers reverse shampooing the secret to perfect hair. Touting her much desired benefits of detangling, and glossing along with extra volume. She states,“ I could see a marked difference in my hair. Not only did it leave my hair shinier, it helped combat frizz caused when particles of dirt stuck to the residual product. Best of all, it felt softer yet thicker.” Utilizing this technique would first coat the hair strand with binding surfactants followed by the shampoo which would remove most of what is currently present, depending on chosen shampoo. Typically this technique would not utilize a follow-up conditioner.

shampoo after deep condition

Shampoo Before Conditioner

To continue the tried-and-true method of cleansing before conditioning would mean you would cleanse the hair with your shampoo, removing dirt oil and buildup followed by the a surface conditioner. You should end up with clean, well-conditioned, manageable hair. As your cuticle becomes slightly raised by the water and shampoo, your conditioner instantly counteracts, smoothing the cuticle for the ideal pH balance for healthy hair.

The Facts

Wavy hair types might be tempted to utilize the reverse shampoo method, but this has the high potential to bring extreme damage to kinky curly textures, due to the swelling of the hair strand from the alkaline pH without a balancing follow-up. Regardless of hair texture, a raised cuticle is not the ideal state for the hair. A cuticle in it’s raised state is more susceptible to damage from the elements and daily styling, making it more prone to chipping along the hair shaft which leads to breakage.

Obia, owner of Obia Natural Hair Care, chimes in: “If you are not getting great results with your current shampoo-conditioner, you need to get a new product. There is a scientific reason for shampooing before conditioning. Ideally, your shampoo will have a higher pH balance and your conditioner will have a lower pH to bring your hair back into the appropriate moisture balance. Your products should have a pH of 4.5-5.5. The right formula will produce the right result. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense scientifically, it will not make sense practically.”

The Final Verdict

Is this an acceptable practice? Well, to each his own. It may work for someone, but not without great risks. Instead of risking it all for added volume, try a product with a low molecular weight, one that will not add weight to the hair, such as a leave-in conditioner in place of your rinse out conditioner and shampoos containing light oils rather than derivatives of castor oil and the like (check your ingredients). For the curly that craves more moisture or strength from a shampoo ritual, add pre-poo to your regimen before you shampoo and conditioning. This is proven to reduce swelling of the hair shaft.


Will Williams, an education director of new products, and research and development of M & M products recommends the following:

  1. Allow your coconut oil to sit on your hair for a minimum of 15 minutes or overnight (pre-poo)
  2. Cleanse with a sulfate-free shampoo followed by a rinse out conditioner
  3. Apply a leave-in conditioner
  4. Seal your tips with a very light oil

Looser textures can also benefit from the same regimen by simply using lighter versions of products.

Do you shampoo before conditioning? Do you condition before you shampoo? Have you tried both? What was your experience like?