You could say at one point that the biggest decision I was ever forced to take part in was whether I was Team Edward or Team Jacob (totally team Edward by the way). This was wholeheartedly the case until most recently, where within the natural hair community, I’ve found myself in the middle of an even hotter debate: #TeamShampoo or #TeamNoPoo.
The topic of washing natural hair using either shampoo or a cleansing conditioner (co-washing) has been considered, discussed, challenged, debated, questioned, disputed, accepted… you name it!
So why is everyone so split down the middle? Well, each washing method has exclusive benefits that the other cannot provide, so depending on your hair situation, one technique may be better suited for your curls than the other.
Not sure what team you’re on? Let’s talk over the options…
Many of us are familiar with shampoo as it is the traditional way to cleanse our scalp and strands of excess oil and product buildup, but the thing is, most shampoos achieve this by using sulfates, or harsh detergents, that can be stripping to the hair.
These detergents are responsible for the lather that makes us feel luxurious while scrubbing away in the shower, but they are also the same chemicals that can be found in laundry detergents and carpet cleaners.
You know that squeaky clean feeling you get after washing your hair that can make your strands feel a bit like straw until you revive them with conditioner? Yeah, that’s the result of the sulfates stripping your hair bare.
While shampoo can be helpful to those battling greasy strands and limp tresses, it can be a red flag for people with afro-textured or extremely curly hair because oil cannot travel down kinks and coils the way it does with fine or straighter strands. This means it is naturally dryer than other hair textures.
So to prevent excess dryness and breakage, I recommend going what is called low-poo or using a sulfate free shampoo. Sulfate free cleansers substitute the harsh surfactants I mentioned earlier for milder cleansing agents that are less stripping to the hair. There are even some that eliminate synthetic detergents all together, replacing them with natural ingredients such as castile soap for an even milder alternative.
I also recommend shampooing no more than once a week to minimize breakage. Because natural hair doesn’t accumulate oil as easily, excess washing will only further dry the hair and lead to breakage (even with the use of a sulfate free shampoo).
Should you decide to make the switch to low-poo cleansing, it can not only prove a healthier option for your hair, but a safer one for the environment since not all synthetic detergents are biodegradable.
While sulfate-free shampoos might be better for our natural tresses, even they can be too drying if used too frequently. That’s where co-washing comes in.
Co-washing is using conditioner only to cleanse the scalp as a shampoo would, yet still receiving the moisturizing benefits that only a conditioner can provide.
This is possible because all standard conditioners contain traces of mild detergents that can gently cleanse the hair. In fact, the increase in popularity of co-washing has led brands to create conditioners with extra cleansing properties to specifically meet the purpose of co-washing.
Although using conditioner rather than shampoo allows for more hydrated and softer hair throughout the cleansing process, it should not be used as standalone method for washing hair since excess co-washing can cause more buildup than it actually removes.
Think of co-washing as a bridge between your shampoos. If you shampoo weekly, co-wash every three days to maintain a clean scalp without sacrificing moisture.
If you still are not sold on sulfate-free shampoos and rather co-wash exclusively, than get into the routine of using a clarifying shampoo monthly. It will remove all build-up left by your conditioner so that every month you’re given a fresh start.
Who says I need to pick a side?
I personally think shampoo and cleansing conditioners are equally beneficial when it comes to the health of our hair.
Think BALANCE. In some cases, even a mild shampoo can be too drying for natural hair and potentially cause breakage, yet on the other hand, co-washing alone is not enough to efficiently clean the scalp, and we need unclogged follicles for optimal hair growth.
So what exactly am I trying to say?
The key to success is finding out what works best for you and your hair. Everyone is different, so their hair care regimen should reflect that. The state of your hair and the life you lead may require you to choose a completely different regimen than what I would do.
I am a weekly shampooer, an occasional co-washer (depending on how often I work out or some other variable), and a monthly clarify-er. This is my regimen, based on my hair needs and lifestyle, but in no way does it have to be yours too.
So in an epic plot twist I am both #TeamShampoo and #TeamNoPoo, but I am curious to know… What team are you? Vote down below!