The biggest influence on hair care brands to develop new and innovative products is you, the consumer. Your most pressing needs drive the market. Hence the presence of non-traditional cosmetic hair products like 2-in-1 shampoos and conditioners and specially formulated co-wash products. While they both claim to cleanse and condition, there is a difference.

2-in-1 Formulas

This innovative technology was originally created to save time by dually cleansing and conditioning the hair in one step. The most popular 2-in-1 product is the original 2-in-1 Pert Plus Shampoo Plus Conditioner. While it seems difficult to accomplish, the 2-in-1 formulas use cleansing agents to suspend dirt and debris within the lather while simultaneously adhering conditioning agents to the hair shaft. Finally when the hair is rinsed with water, the dirt, debris, and cleansing agents are washed away, leaving behind the conditioning emollients to temporarily bind to the hair shaft to assist with hydration and protection.

Consistent users find the product to be effective in volumizing the hair, especially for fine hair types. However, Ni'Kita Wilson, chief executive officer of Catalyst Cosmetic Development, provides a word of caution, "If you use it every day, then your hair starts to look dull and weighed down. You'll need a clarifying shampoo to strip it bare and start all over again." A popular modern version is the Dove Daily Moisture 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner.

Dove Daily Moisture Top 5 Ingredients

  • Sodium laureth sulfate (cleansing agent)
  • Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate (cleansing agent)
  • Cocamidopropyl (cleansing agent)
  • Betaine (conditioning agent)
  • Sodium (wetting agent)

Co-wash Formula

Within the last decade, naturally curly women have yearned for a cleansing product that does not leave their hair dry and parched. The consumer demands drew the product developers to create a new, problem-solving product. Co-wash is a nickname for a conditioner wash. This cleansing and conditioning formula gently lifts dirt, debris, and some oil from the hair while providing nutrients to condition the hair. Many find these formulas to deliver the hydration needed while keeping their hair moderately clean. The Camille Rose Naturals Carmel CoWash is a curl community favorite. CEO of Camille Rose Naturals Janell Stephens explains, “The Caramel CoWash is great for anyone who loves soft cleaning. It is a mild sulfate-free cleanser that suds! It is moisture-rich enough to use as a conditioner wash.”

Carmel CoWash top 5 Ingredient Breakdown

  • aloe barbadensis leaf juice (conditioning agent)
  • sodium cocoyl taurate (cleansing and foaming agent)
  • stearic acid (conditioning agent)
  • behentrimonium methosulfate (BTMS) (conditioning agent)
  • cetearyl alcohol (conditioning agent)

The Difference 

While both formulas cleanse and condition. The 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner formula typically achieves both goals in different degrees, moderate cleansing and gentle conditioning. On the other hand, the co-wash or conditioner wash formulas tend to mildly cleanse and moderately condition. This is clear in the number of cleansing agents versus conditioning agents within the top five ingredients in the formula.

So you definitely want to make your choice based on your need for more conditioning or more cleansing. However, consider a word of wisdom: these two innovative formulas are considered non-traditional and are not best used exclusively but can better be utilized in tandem with a traditional shampoo as needed to prevent and remedy product buildup.

If you love using the 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner as a co-wash, feel free to use it often, but consider clarifying the hair with a shampoo at least once a month. This balance will prevent excessive product buildup yet maintain the clean, full-bodied, conditioned curls you crave. 

Which is your preference?