The market has become a tad complicated with our inclusion, as manufacturers have altered their language to sustain and draw new consumers. It is kind of flattering that we can move mountains like that, but this massive amount of information has become confusing, and for a newbie it can be downright disheartening. Many newbies do not know what to use or understand the terms cleanser, a co-wash, or even sulfate-free shampoo and whether you need all three? Well, I will help you understand these various products.
Shampoo & Co-wash Conditioner
Shampoos and co-washes (also known as cleansing conditioners) are cleansers. Both cleanse the hair of pollutants, sweat, dirt, and even oils. Shampoos contain detergents and these detergents act like surfactants, which are surface active agents. According the chemistry expert Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, this allows the detergent to be less likely to adhere to oils, dirt, and pollutants. Shampoos tend to have the harshest detergents or sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, or sodium laureth sulfate.
Co-washing or conditioner washing is very similar to shampooing because the object of this cleanser is to remove pollutants just like shampoo but with less vigor and determent. Co-washing is a method of cleaning the hair for many curly, coily, or wavy haired-women because shampoo is often too harsh on their delicate strands and removes many of the natural oils that these hair types need. There is still the act of cleansing and many co-washing products do have surfactants but not as highly concentrated as a typical shampoo and are usually plant-based or even fruit based like tangerine.
The confusion of co-washing comes into play for many newbies because many use a products labeled co-washes while others simply use a regular conditioner or what some would call a botanical conditioner. A botanical conditioner is simply a conditioner that has high concentrations of plant-based ingredients (lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree oil) and most often do not contain sulfates or silicones. They will lightly but effectively cleanse the hair without stripping it of the natural oil that textured hair craves.
Cleansers have surfactants that remove product buildup from that is heavy, like silicones. Many who do co-wash regularly may still need to cleanse with a shampoo regularly (depends on the individual on how often) or use a clarifying shampoo that is formulated to remove all buildup more effectively than regular shampoo.
Co-wash conditioners or botanical conditioners will have plant-based ingredients that cleanse but not as harshly as shampoos. They will both have fatty alcohols or long-chain alcohols that function as emollients. Emollients give our favorite products the slip that makes detangling much easier. They are not bad for our hair and some examples of popular ones are cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, and isostearyl alcohol. These good alcohols coupled with the plant-based cleansers can give a curly girl the best of both worlds when it comes to cleansing her tresses and encasing the hair shaft with a photo protective shield. These conditioners may also have humectants that will draw moisture into your strands and even have moisturizers that will add softness and control the hair.
How do you prefer to cleanse your hair?