How to Co-Wash Thick Curly Hair | Stop Striping & Start Hydrating

If you’ve recently entered the curly world, you’ve no doubt come across the word “co-wash” and are probably a bit confused about the term. 

In this post, you can expect to learn all the ins and outs of co-washing thick curly hair. By the end of this post, you will be better informed about a co-wash and if it is right for you. 

Within the subculture of curly hair, you will undoubtedly find many different terms and products referred to that you’ve never heard before.

But don’t worry, I have a special gift to help you better understand the curly hair process. 

 In an effort to help you wrap your mind around all the ins and outs of curly hair, I created a “curly girl cheat sheet” to help guide you along the way. 

In this FREE cheat sheet, you’ll get a step by step guide on curly hair care so you are never left wondering what to do next.

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What is co-washing and why you should try it!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Meaning that at no cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you purchase through my link. But don’t worry, I never promote products that I don’t believe in or truly love <3 You can read my full privacy policy here.

Let’s start at the start…..

Technically speaking, co-washing is washing your hair with a conditioner. 

By ditching shampoo and sticking to a co-wash, you will be able to add additional moisture to your hair. 

That being said, it’s not as simple as grabbing your favorite conditioner and using it in place of your shampoo. 

If you do that, you will probably end up with scalp issues down the road or over moisturized, greasy hair at best. Yikes! This is not a situation you want to get yourself into.

The difference between a traditional conditioner and a product labeled as a “co-wash” is that a cowash has an ingredient (or two) added to it that aids in cleansing the scalp without drying it out like many shampoo’s tend to do. 

Different versions of surfactants are generally added to co-wash products that make them different from normal conditioners. 

The surfectant is a cleaning agent to help remove any dirt or build up gently. 

Important note: If you do choose to co-wash, be sure to grab a product that is labeled “co-wash”. DO NOT use your normal conditioner. 

When and why to try a co-wash: The best indication that a co-wash may be right for you is primarily based on your hair’s need for moisture. 

If your curls are brittle or loose moisture easily, then a co-wash may be right for you. 

Adding a co-wash to your winter routine is another great time to give it a try. 

Our curls, like our skin, are typically much more dry in the winter and adding a co-wash is a good way to give them a boost of moisture to whether the winter storm.

Important note: As with anything with curly hair, it is oh so important to keep a detailed log of how your hair reacts to new treatments. 

I recommend only changing one thing in your routine at a time and spend 2-4 weeks experimenting with that specific product or treatment. 

Take very specific notes on how your hair reacts to said treatment and adjust accordingly. 

Are you confused about your curl type and how to choose the right products? 

CLICK HERE to take the FREE curl type quiz!

Choosing the Right Conditioner: Co-Wash vs. Regular Conditioner. What’s the Difference?

When it comes to choosing the right conditioner and or co-wash, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

The first thing you need to understand is your hair. Obvi!

All hair types are different and all hair types have different needs. 

When It comes to hair type, I’m not referring to your curl pattern alone. I’m talking about curl pattern, porosity, density, and texture. 

All of these elements play a roll in product selection. 

Choosing products can be a very overwhelming when you are getting started on your curly hair journey, so I wrote a couple in depth posts on these topics to help you make the best desicion for YOUR hair.

You can check out the posts below to understand more about your hair type

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Next, you need to understand what products are for and how they affect your hair. 

There is an overwhelming amount of curly hair products on the market and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll end up feeling confused and probably spending a lot of money on products that aren’t appropriate for your hair.

It can be REALLY frustrating!!

To help you better understand how to choose the right products, I created a FREE guide to choosing curly hair products. 

You can also go to this post and read all about how to choose the right curly hair products. 

Can you co-wash with any conditioner?

Unless you want to end up with moderate to severe scalp issues, that’s a hard no.

If you choose to introduce a co-wash into your routine, it’s super important that you get a product that is designed to cleanse your hair.

Traditional conditioners are not formulated to be applied to your scalp.

They can cause irritation and unwanted build up which can lead to many other problems including itchy scalp, unwanted frizz, and loose curl pattern.

Say it with me: DO NOT use your normal conditioner as a co-wash

The Best Co-Washes for Your Hair Type

When it comes to finding the best co-wash for your specific hair type, there will always be a level of testing and experimenting involved. You need to fully understand your hair before you will ever be able to choose the right products.

Visit this post to learn more about your curly type.

That being said, there are a few co-wash products that are fairly standard and a good place to get started.

As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner –  This is a good co-wash to start with because it’s affordable, accessible (can be found at most drugstores) and isn’t too heavy.

Product highlights:  Gentle Daily Cleanser for Hair and Scalp. Removes Residue, adds and preserves moisture, and detangles and rinses easily.

Mop Top Cowash Cleansing Conditioner – This cowash is appropriate for all hair types, is affordable, and can be found at some drugstores. 

Product Highlights: Moisturizer, made w/ aloe, sea Botanicals & honey that reduces frizz, increases moisture & manageability.

How To Co-Wash: __ Easy to Follow Steps

Co-washing your curls is fairly simple. 

  1. Fully soak your curls with water
  2. Use a generous amount of the co-wash of your choice
  3. Using your finger tips (but avoiding your nails) gently massage the cowash into your scalp in small circles. This helps create friction and cleanse your hair and scalp. 
  4. Rinse thoroughly 
  5. Follow with your regular conditioner

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How often should you co-wash?

This will depend on many different factors and can be ever changing.

The current condition of your hair, your curl type, the porosity of your hair, and the time of year can all play a role in how often you should use a co-wash.

The only way to truly find what is best for your curls is to take the time to diligently test, track, and experiment with different co-wash products.

Keep in mind that as your hair gets more and more healthy, there is a good chance it will need less moisture because it will be able to retain moisture better than unhealthy hair.

A good rule of thumb is to start using a co-wash 1-2 times per week and adjust according to your hair’s needs.

The Benefits of Co-Washing

The biggest benefit to co-washing is that it adds moisture to your curls and helps reduce dry frizzy curls.

Since traditional shampoos strip your hair of natural oils (necessary for curls to thrive), opting for a co-wash cleanses your curls without disrupting the good oils that are beneficial.

Are you confused about your curl type and how to choose the right products? 

CLICK HERE to take the FREE curl type quiz!

The Drawbacks of Co-Washing

While co-washing can be key in adding moisture, there can be a few disadvantages.

Using a co-wash can cause heavy feeling curls that look dull.

Even though a good co-wash will contain a cleansing agent, it’s not something you want to use exclusively to cleanse your scalp.

If you are not introducing an actual cleanser from time to time, a co-wash can clog your hair follicles and inhibit growth.

You should use a clarifying wash on your curls occasionally as a “deep cleaning” for your scalp and hair strands.

Think of it as a “clean slate” or rebalance of your curls. I do this the first week of every month or any time my hair is acting funky.

Will co-washing make my hair greasy?

It certainly can! There is a possibility of product build-up that can cause your hair to feel heavy or oily when using a co-wash.

Keep in mind that as your hair changes, your routine will need to change as well.

If your co-wash use to work but is now causing adverse side effects, try switching it up or ditching it completely for a bit.

Any time you are experiencing things like excessive frizz, greasy hair, heavy or weighed down curls, or simply unexplained funk in your curls then it’s time for a clarifying wash.

The clarifying wash will strip your hair down to the bare bones and will give you an idea of what your hair needs.

The Bottomline

For the right type of thick curly hair, a clarifying wash can be a game-changer.

Be sure that you understand your hair type, take the time to understand choosing the right co-wash for your curls, learn how to use a co-wash properly….

…..and always remember that when in doubt, reach for your clarifying wash.


P.S Don’t forget to get download the FREE curly girl cheat sheet here!

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