Why Cleansing Conditioner Is The Best Product You’re Not Using

August 11, 2014

Photo: Ondrea Barbe/Trunk Archive

When I recently decided to stop chemically straightening my hair after years of abuse, I realized that everything about my hair routine had to change. And given that the foundation of great hair starts with cleanser, that’s where I started. A friend recommended cleansing conditioner and, within one use, I realized I’d stumbled upon the Holy Grail of hair products. After shampooing, I had the softest, strongest, most easily detangled hair of my life. Consider me hooked; I’m hopelessly devoted to this product.

Many women with curly hair have adopted the term “co-washing” for years, skipping shampoo altogether in favor of conditioner, which can remove residue and surface dirt from the strands. The idea started with California-based hairstylist Chaz Dean, the creator of Wen as well as the concept of cleansing conditioner. “I had never heard of co-washing prior to 1993,” he says. “I gave up lather after I realized it was stripping my hair and my clients’ hair; using harsh shampoos breaks hair down, leaving it finer, thinner and weaker.”

You’re probably thinking that you want to remove the oils from your scalp because they’re dirty, right? Not so fast. “The natural oils produced by the scalp are, by design, the most nourishing and hydrating,” explains Morgan Willhite, Creative Director of Ouidad. “Using a cleansing conditioner is an excellent way to remove daily environmental debris and product buildup without causing further dehydration. Especially for my clients who work up a daily sweat or like to regularly shampoo, a cleansing conditioner is the perfect solution to preserve their luscious locks.” In other words, “squeaky-clean hair” isn’t a good thing for those hair textures—and cleansing conditioner prevents that from happening. “It simultaneously hydrates and cleanses without stripping your hair because there are no harsh chemicals, detergents, polymers or fillers, as found in traditional shampoos.”

If you use cleansing conditioner, do you still need a shampoo? How do you use it? “Cleansing conditioners are to be used on wet hair the same way you would cleanse with a shampoo or conditioner,” says Dean. “Soak hair completely, massage the product into your scalp, comb it through to your ends, and then just leave it on for the duration of your shower. Rinse it out thoroughly at the end of your shower.” Dean suggests that clients use a leave-in conditioner to maintain the moisture balance of the hair until the next shampoo, but then proceed to style your hair as normal. I can vouch for the fact that when I do decide to blow my hair out, my drying time is cut in half and—here’s the best part—there’s no frizz.

And it’s not just for women with curly hair. “If you have any type of hair on your head, you are best suited for a cleansing conditioner,” argues Dean. “Fine hair gains fullness and manageability; wavy hair softens; coarse, unruly hair becomes hydrated and more manageable. It’s absolutely universal and works with all hair types around the world.”

Look, it’s hard out there for a head of hair: sun damage, heat styling, harsh chemicals additives in beauty products, bleaching and straightening treatments. Maybe give your hair a break from the harsh cleansers and try a more gentle solution. Cleansing conditioner might just be the difference between misbehaving hair and a more manageable mane.