The great debate the past few years has been “What is the best product for washing hair?” We now have many options, such as cleansing conditioners (co-wash), low lather and no lather shampoos that are created with mild surfactants. I’ve now found what works best for my hair and scalp health.

What are the key differences between a traditional shampoo and a cleansing conditioner?

The most significant differences between the two are that traditional shampoos are formulated with SLS, or other detergents of that nature. These surfactants are made to remove product, product build up and natural oils from the hair. They are good for clarifying the hair, but cause the hair to feel very dry due to the deep clean.

Cleansing conditioners provide the best of both worlds. They are generally created with mild and gentle ingredients, making them able to clean the hair and scalp, remove minimal product and product build up without stripping the hair of all of natural oils. Hair is left feeling much cleaner and still moisturized.

Who should use a traditional shampoo?

Traditional shampoos should not be totally abandoned by everyone. People with very oily hair and issues with buildup should definitely consider continuing to use shampoo on an as-needed basis. You can use cleansing conditioners in between shampoos to prevent drying out your hair. "As-needed" will be completely unique to your hair and your lifestyle. Whether it's fine, thick, you work out daily, or wear your hair in stretched styles, will all play roles in how often you choose to wash.

Who should opt for a cleansing conditioner?

If your hair lacks moisture, feels dehydrated or if you suffer from scalp issues, such as psoriasis and dermatitis, you should consider cleansing conditioners. For those with health issues, it is important to see a physician. Come up with a plan of action that will greatly improve the overall health of your hair and scalp without interfering with your healthcare. It is very important to keep a journal of your results with each product and regimen change. This will help you to assess your progress along the way and make changes accordingly.

How can I tell what I should use?

You should always select products and regimens according the needs of your hair and scalp at that current moment. This is most important. Check out my quick check list:

Use shampoo if:

  • Your hair or scalp are dry, flaky or itchy
  • You notice heavy build up or your hair feels product heavy
  • Your favorite leave-in or styling products are not performing as expected
  • You use non-water soluble silicone based products

Use a cleansing conditioner if:

  • Your hair feels dry
  • You forget to moisturize in between washes
  • Your buildup is light
  • You only use water soluble leave in products
  • You're in a rush and don't have time for a full cleansing

How often can you use each?

Co-washing can be done daily or every few days, depending on your lifestyle. If you are very active, do cleanse your hair more often. Cleansing conditioners are well balanced for regular use. Otherwise, co-washing once or twice a week is normal. Reduce shampooing to be done once weekly or biweekly.

I have found that it is best for me to use a shampoo biweekly during the Fall and Winter. In the Spring and Summer, I shampoo weekly because my scalp requires a bit more cleansing during those times. I like to co-wash midweek on a weekly basis (when needed) in the warmer months, and biweekly during the cooler months. Co-washing provides the hair with much needed moisture, while shampooing is a wonderful reset for my hair. This is a great way to reap maximum benefits from both products. Win-Win!

Some popular cleansing conditioners options are:

L'Oreal Paris EverCreme Cleansing Conditioner $8 (pictured ab0ve)

Made to be used on all hair including thick hair. Sulfate-free and considered a two-in-one product (shampoo & conditioner). Leaves hair feeling moisturized and clean.

Herbal Essences Naked Cleansing Conditioner

Inexpensive creamy textured formula. Made to be gentle on the hair and revitalizing

R+Co Cleansing Foam Conditioner

A different type of co-wash because it is foam.  The cleanser appears to be mousse-like when it is dispensed. If you enjoy lather it will provide a sudsy wash.

Pureology Hydrate Cleansing Conditioner

Curly girl friendly due to being shampoo-free. Also safe for color-treated hair. Bonus: It is also low lather!

What do you use to cleanse?
Traditional shampoo
Cleansing conditioner
Regular daily conditioner
A DIY cleanser

Sage Quotes