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Monday, November 9, 2020

No Shampoo for a Month

I have a confession to make. I haven't used shampoo in a month. No, this isn't a "pandemic-hair, I don't care" moment. This came about because I was searching for a way to tame my unruly, naturally curly and frizzy hair. Well, it turns out that the naturally curly part is something I'm stuck with, but not the naturally frizzy part. 

About a month ago, I read about the curly girl hair method. Curly hair tends to be dry, as scalp oils don't slip down the hair shafts as easily on curly hair as on straight hair. To add to this, I color my hair, which increases the dryness. Well, dry hair attracts moisture from the air, leading to frizz.

So, one of the ideas behind the curly girl method is to "heal" some of that dryness by skipping traditional shampoos (which contain oil-stripping and drying ingredients) and wash the hair either with a sulfate and paraben-free shampoo or wash hair with a conditioner. It turns out that conditioners have enough of the cleansing agents needed to actually wash away dirt and bacteria and get the hair clean. (I never knew that!) The sulfate and paraben-free shampoos tend to be expensive, so I opted for washing with conditioner only. The bonus is since I'm "shampooing" with conditioner, my hair color (from a box) doesn't seem to be fading as fast. The sulfates in traditional drugstore shampoos are a no-no for colored hair, as they strip color while stripping oils.

There's more to the curly girl method, such as using gels to hold the curl in and never brushing the hair. But for now, I'm sticking with just my co-washing (washing with conditioner only). 

What I thought would happen

I thought that my hair would feel greasy or I'd develop dandruff. It didn't and I didn't. I thought I would need to co-wash my hair more often than I'd been shampooing with regular shampoo. I didn't. To clean my scalp, I use my fingertips to scrub the conditioner into the scalp, then rinse thoroughly before adding a bit more conditioner to the ends. In spite of my fears, I wound up with soft hair that feels and looks clean and appears to be improving significantly in the frizz department.

This doesn't surprise me

The success of using conditioner to clean my hair doesn't really surprise me all that much. About 15 years ago, I stopped using facial cleanser to wash my face. After struggling with some small patches of facial eczema for about a dozen years, I decided to ditch the cleansers and just "wash" my face with my moisturizer (a drugstore moisturizing lotion, not necessarily for the face only, but recommended for eczema). Like the hair and shampoo, I thought I might have to deal with break-outs or greasy-looking skin. I didn't. I used the lotion to wash my face, then rinsed with water before patting dry and applying a small amount of new moisturizer. The eczema flare-ups are few and far between, now, and mostly related to trying cosmetics to which I'm allergic. The bonus is my face never looks red or ruddy any more. I think that facial cleansers (even the expensive ones that are meant for dry skin) were simply too irritating for my sensitive facial skin. As I've gotten older and my skin has become a little more dry, I've switched to the heavier moisturizing cream by the same company (CeraVe, in case you're curious). Whether this is just good genes or ditching the facial cleansers, I do get a lot of comments that my skin looks young for my age. I hope that with even more time of co-washing my hair, its texture will improve to the point of just looking and feeling like normal, healthy hair, instead of always looking like it's been damaged. And maybe I can cut back on future purchases of expensive hair masks.

Do you remember when I said, "I also discovered that we can stop buying hair conditioner now. I think I have enough hair conditioner to get through this pandemic and the next one." Well, I now know how I'll be using up this surplus of hair conditioner.

Co-washing isn't recommended for straight, fine, and/or oily hair, although I have found a few women with thick and barely wavy hair that say co-washing works for their hair type, too.

Has anybody, here, used conditioner instead of shampoo? What were your results?


  1. Doing exclusively co-wash while good for hair in short term can cause scalp problems. Now alternating co-wash with a shampoo might be good if you wash frequently. You still get to use extra conditioner without risking the health of your scalp ��

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      You didn't leave your name, so I don't know if you're a for real commenter or someone just trying to stir things up. I went ahead and approved your comment anyway, because I think you bring up a point that may be valid for someone else. Was this your personal experience, that you developed scalp problems? Because if it was, I'd like to hear more (and so would others, I'm sure). Or, if this wasn't your personal experience, can you point me to some reputable articles that say co-washing causes scalp problems?

      What I have read online is for someone with a specific skin condition, seborrheic dermatitis, co-washing could be bad for their scalp. (article with this info: )
      I have also read in several magazine articles (Good Housekeeping, Elle, Cosmopolitan) that regular conditioner has enough surfactants to loosen dirt and dissolve oil from the scalp. The curly girl method also calls for daily use of gels, which can build up on hair and scalp. For those following a routine of gels, then a reset wash is often recommended every 3 or 4 washes with a sulfate-free shampoo.

      I only wash my hair once per week. It has been a little over a month (since the end of September) since I last used shampoo. If I do develop a skin condition from the conditioner, I'll certainly mention it on my blog. And if I feel there is a build-up of conditioner, then I will try a reset shampoo with a sulfate and paraben-free shampoo. But so far, this is my personal experience with co-wash. I like that I have soft hair that doesn't feel like really bad Barbie hair anymore. I'm hoping that co-washing is the answer to my 60 years of bad-hair days.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. I do not like to comment with my name, so I use the anonymous :) Many people end up developing scalp problems by doing exclusively co-wash and ignoring the build up. I commented not to stir things up, but to incentive people to research a bit :) and to be on the lookout for signs of build up. Unfortunately in an era of information, there are many people who would read your article and get the first conditioner and stop using shampoo no matter what. For me, even with a dry scalp/hair, using only conditioner would be an oil party in my head, so not even an option. Now when I am on the wash my hair every day, alternating is actually a good option.
      A good article I found is here: :)

    3. Hi again,
      I understand on wanting to keep your anonymity. Since many bloggers don't allow anonymous comments on their blogs, a good alternative is to simply create a "commenting" name that is unrelated to your real name and that you use exclusively for blog comments. Many bloggers have found fewer troll comments when they disable anonymous comments.

      I would hope that people who read my blog would be aware that what I write about is from my perspective of my experience, and they wouldn't continue doing something that felt harmful to themselves, simply because it worked for me. You know, basic common sense.

      Thanks for the link to that article. I did read it. At the end of the paragraph titled "Limitations of the Co-Washing Method" the author adds "There are no scientific data on how frequent the co-washing method should be used and how safe it is for the scalp health." Author also says, "The co-washing method is suitable for individuals with a minimal product buildup on the hair and scalp." The author does suggest that using a clarifying shampoo every 15 days would be beneficial and that conditioners with silicones should be avoided.

      I think that co-washing is a YMMV thing. Washing with conditioner-only seems to work for many people. But it also does not work for many people. I find it hard to believe that the 20th century (with the advent of modern surfactants) was the first time in the history of humans that people had good hair. Before modern shampoos, people used all sorts of things to clean their hair and scalp, with varying degrees of success. I know someone personally who uses vinegar and water only on their hair, and has been doing so for about 10 years, and with an improvement in scalp condition using just this treatment. Since there is limited prescriptive information on packaging of cosmetic and hygiene products, learning what works for one's own hair is a matter of trial and error. Sometimes this means trying something that is out of the ordinary. And that's where my blog post comes in. I tried something out of the ordinary and now I have posted about my experience, not necessarily a recommendation for all who read here.

      I understand your fears and cautions. Your warning is taken. And I'm very glad that you know our own scalp type and know how best to treat it.

      I hope you have a great day!

    4. Hi anonymous!

      I want to reassure you that Lili has created a lovely community here. I am also very privacy-minded and only use my first name. Lili's suggestion of an alternate name is a good one and I hope you feel comfortable enough here to visit us more often. This is one of those rare, uplifting corners of the internet.

  2. Very interesting topic. I had never heard of co-washing before. Lately, I have been only washing my hair every other day and have stretched it to every two days. I only wash once and condition once so no double suddsing while washing. I have felt like my hair has been healthier. So there must be something positive about less frequent washing. The bad side to frequent hair for me is that I get very frizzy hair so this is good for me.

    I also haven't had my hair cut since just before covid started so I'm getting longer hair. Enough to put a short braid or a barrett at the nape of my neck. I'm liking it.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Maybe you've noticed this for yourself: as I've gotten older, my skin has become drier in general, producing less oil. I now wash my hair once per week, whereas I used to wash it twice per week in my younger days. I do think as we get older, most of us find that our hair benefits from less-frequent shampooing.

      You've got the pandemic hairstyle! I wonder how many of us have just let our hair grow for the last 10 months. I've trimmed my own hair twice, so mine doesn't count. But I think you are in good company with the longer-than-usual hair.

      Have a wonderful day, Alice.

  3. This is very interesting. I have never heard of washing with only with conditioner. I have fizzy hair, especially in humidity. However, it is also thin and fine so a little conditioner goes a long way. I'm not sure if this would work for me or not. However, I may try conditioner only on the days I don't go to work to see how it works out.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      With your fine hair, you might be better trying something other than co-washing. Your situation might be that the cuticle of the hair is not laying flat on the hair shaft. I've heard of 2 very easy and cheap ways to flatten the cuticle after shampooing. 1) use a cold water rinse as your final rinse, 2) use an apple cider vinegar rinse (apple cider vinegar mixed in water) for your final rinse. Both are supposed to cause the cuticle layer to tighten or "close". I've used both types of rinses before (a hair stylist I had years ago always rinsed my hair in very cold water after shampooing) and may try the vinegar rinse again this time in addition to co-washing, to see if my hair looks any shinier. Anyways, since these two rinses are the cheap option, you may want to give them a try before anything else. In addition, some shampoos are more harsh/stripping than others (more sulfates). You could try a shampoo that is sulfate-free. Those types of shampoos are also supposed to help with frizz. According to Redken, sulfates lift the hair cuticle and what you want for frizz-free hair is to have a tight cuticle layer on the hair shaft. Good luck!

      Wishing you a great day, Live and Learn!

  4. I have tried co-washing in the past, though I currently use a "silver" shampoo to help prevent yellowing of my early white/grey. It worked well for me; not sure why I stopped (it's been several years). My hair is stick straight, but on the coarser side and tended toward dryness when I still colored it.

    Now, the washing without cleanser thing? I do that most of the time. For several years, I used the oil cleansing method, and still do sometimes in the colder months. Now I use a food quality moisturizer in the colder months, and sometimes use it to cleanse as well. Most days, I just wash with water and a cloth, morning and night. Occasionally, in the shower, I will use a cleaner after getting particularly sweaty or oily during a workout or something. There is always cleanser there due to having teenagers, and it's the Target version of Cetaphil. My skin is one thing I regularly receive compliments on. Being as I never wear foundation, don't even own any, it's always on display, lol.

    1. Hi Cat,
      That's interesting about your skin, no cleanser, and yet it's the one thing your regularly are complimented on -- similar situation to my own, although I "wash" with moisturizer. I rarely wear foundation, once per week at the most and never since the pandemic began. Perhaps not adding foundation to sensitive skin might also add to youthfulness. I do "wash" my face a couple of times per day -- AM, PM, and if I got really sweaty working out and it's not near bedtime, then after a workout, too. Can you share the brand of the food-quality moisturizer that you use?

      With regards to hair, I do think that our hair needs change over our lifetime. What you're currently using may be just the right thing for your hair at this stage. Thanks for sharing about your co-wash experience. I've heard straight but coarse hair benefits from co-wash, too.

      Have a great day, Cat!

    2. Yes, I use the Trim Healthy Mama Orange Silk Hydrating Cream. I have also used their "The Fountain", but am not crazy about the rose scent though I love the product. The Fountain is too heavy for me except in winter, so I use the Orange Silk much more often. Bonus: it's less expensive!

    3. Thanks, Cat. I'll check out that product!

  5. I'm so happy you found the curly girl method!! I've been using it for about 20 years and I'm 57 now. It's brilliant. My hair is in great shape and that's good. I choose to color my hair and that's hard on hair especially gray hair that is curly. My hair is not dry and people say my hair is beautiful. I'm so happy that you found another fun and frugal way to take care of your beautiful self :)

    1. Hi knitter4years,
      Another curly girl! It's wonderful to finally find the thing that helps hair or skin, isn't it? For so many years, I tried using the products/methods that friends or my sister used, only the products didn't work for me (friends and sis had very different hair and skin from my own). I had never heard of the curly girl method and was skeptical at first, but now I see that my hair is in much better shape. Can I ask a few questions, since you have experience with the curly girl method, graying curly hair, and coloring hair? Have you ever had scalp issues from not using traditional shampoo? Have you found particular products that work well with the curly girl method? At only 6 weeks in, I'm still new to this method, but I am loving waking up with soft hair every morning. It's like having day 4 or 5 hair on days 1, 2 and 3. I only wish I'd known about this type of hair care when I was younger. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      Wishing you a wonderful day, knitter!

  6. I do wish I had thick curly hair! Mine has always been fine and thin. For years I washed it every day and it took 20 minutes to get it to have volume (and then when it snowed or rained - all that work was for naught). A few years ago I started washing it twice a week and it has been such a great thing. And with the covid, I also have let it grow out and started wearing it up in a clip. I have loved it and received compliments - and it takes all of 5 minutes. Why didn't I think of this sooner? Great topic, Lili!

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      And I always dreamt of having fine and straight hair! We always want what we don't have, don't we? I have found that my curly hair is difficult to make polished.
      With your hair type, there are many, very elegant hairstyles that you can do, as you've discovered with wearing yours up in a clip. I'm glad that this pandemic has brought this little hair-surprise for you. And that fact that you now save significant time on styling is quite a bonus!

      I hope you have a fabulous day, Ruthie!

  7. Add me to the list of people with a longer hairstyle! I have been getting regular haircuts since, I don't know, May? My hairdresser mostly works out of her own home and keeps her clientele to a select few so, as I told her, it's a calculated risk for me to go to her. My thought with the longer hairstyle is, if it everything shuts down again, it's easier to pull my hair back when it's longer. I've never heard of your hair washing method before. My hair has always been straight with a tiny bit of wave but I'm finding I have a bit more curl now that I'm getting older. Changing hormones? I do tend to be oily so I think I'll skip trying your technique but it's always good to hear about something new.

    I've only been using water to wash my face for years. Once in a while I'll use the generic version of Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser, which also acts as a moisturizer. I mostly do that on days when I skip showering (yes, I do shower regularly, but especially in the winter, if I can get away with skipping this, I find my skin is less dry). But I am with you on the Cere Ve night cream--it's wonderful stuff! Pricey but worth it. My skin also seems to be aging well (which I know has a lot to do with genetics--thanks, mom!) so maybe we are on to something???

    1. Hi Kris,
      The pandemic strikes again -- another longer hairstyle sporter! Good thinking on if there's another shutdown, you can go extra weeks without a cut, if you need to. In our household, I've trimmed my own hair twice in the last 10 months (no pro cuts), my husband has let his completely grow (looking a little 19th century in hairstyle), one daughter has cut her hair twice, and the other daughter did go to a stylist in the summer when the case counts were at their lowest. That daughter wore a mask the whole time (so did the stylist), there were no other clients/stylists in the shop at the time, and the shop left the front and back doors open the entire time. Those would be the measures that I would feel safe with if seeing a professional stylist during this time. And it sounds like you minimized your own risks, too.

      I think you're right for yourself. With oily skin/scalp, co-washing is not recommended. That's interesting about your hair getting more curl now. Maybe it is hormone changes.

      I love CeraVe products. I look for buy1get1 specials at the local drugstore. Even a buy 1/get 1 50% off is a god deal. On the positive side, CeraVe may be pricey compared to other drugstore products, it's so much more affordable than department store products. And I only use a small amount at a time, so a big jar of the cream lasts a long, long time. Hmmm, another low-product, good skin person. Maybe we really are on to something. Or at least we've found what works best for our own selves (and I'm glad that this means saving money, too).

      Wishing you a lovely day, Kris!

  8. I mostly just rinse and use some conditioner on the ends. Sometimes use conditioner like shampoo. Every 1-2 months I notice a buildup and use some shampoo on my scalp. (Just the cheap VO5 since I rarely use it.) This has worked for me for about 10 years or so.

    1. Hi Jen,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. That's a really good point that using a cheap shampoo is likely not damaging if only used once every 1 or 2 months. I'll keep that in mind, as it would save money over buying a sulfate-free shampoo. And it's really good to hear that co-washing has worked for you for so long.

      Have a great day, Jen!


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