Can I Use Conditioner Without Shampoo? Experts’ Tips And Advice

Is shampoo a must-have in any washing routine? What if it does more harm than good for my hair, and I want to skip it? Can I use conditioner without shampoo? 

The classic combination of shampoo and conditioner has long been a staple in every woman’s hair washing regimen. So long this duo took hold in our routine that some of us might not feel at ease to skip either of them. 

However, this is not the case for everyone. For those well aware of the harsh chemicals present in shampoo, the traditional shampoo-then-conditioner routine puts plenty of concerns on the table. 

Can I use conditioner without shampoo? If you want to ditch shampoo from your regimen, you’re not alone. This is a legitimate question, especially when your hair is not doing fine with your regular washing routine involving shampoo. 

We’re here to answer this question and address issues regarding this topic! So, stay tuned!

Can I Use Conditioner Without Shampoo?

Yes, it is possible to use conditioner to wash your hair and exclude shampoo from your hair-washing regimen. 

However, before making the switch, it’s best to reconsider your hair type because conditioner-only washing is not for everyone. This method can do wonders for dry, damaged, and frizzy hair, leaving it healthier, more hydrated and smoother. 

However, it can make a bad match with oily hair. Using conditioner without shampoo in oily hair only worsens the oil buildup. 

The hair is also easily weighed down right after the wash. Scalp calamities such as rashes and skin flakes are also more likely to happen as a result. 

Yes, you can use conditioner and skip the shampoo!
Yes, you can use conditioner and skip the shampoo!

Pros And Cons Of Using Conditioner Without Shampoo

Using conditioner without shampoo can also be referred to as co-wash, with its own benefits and drawbacks that you should contemplate on before pulling the trigger: 

Pros

More Gentle To The Hair

A large number of shampoos on the market contain harsh chemicals that can wreak havoc on your hair. Below are common shampoo ingredients that can be your hair’s foes: 

  • Silicones: Silicones can cause buildup in your hair, which ultimately leads to a dry feel and a dull and lackluster look. In addition, silicones that are not soluble in water can be a hassle to remove.
  • Sulfates: Sulfates strip the hair strands of essential moisture, leaving them dryer than normal, unhealthy, and more prone to breakage.
  • Parabens: Parabens are also your hair’s enemy. This chemical can penetrate the skin to irritate the scalp and trigger hair loss. Other detrimental implications of parabens include hair dryness and color fading. 

Harsh chemicals in shampoos strip your scalp of its natural oils. Skipping shampoo means that you can avoid this issue from the get-go. Furthermore, conditioners help lock in the moisture and keep your hair better dehydrated. 

By cutting shampoo from your routine, you’re doing your hair a huge favor. 

Your hair can maintain the natural moisture balance and grow longer and healthier. At the same time, this method still cleanses hair to a certain extent and leaves hair look glossy. 

Detangle Hair

Using conditioner only makes the hair shaft softer and easier to detangle. This means that you won’t have to create much pulling and friction to detangle the hair later and reduce the risks of breaking and falling. 

This is not the case if you use shampoo only. The alkaline pH of the shampoo and hot water lift hair cuticles to penetrate and cleanse your hair. 

At the same time, this can create more friction between hair strands and cause tangles. More tangles means more breakage for hair, unfortunately!

Hair after a co-wash is easier to detangle
Hair after a co-wash is easier to detangle

Easier Styling

Typically, it’s hard to rock a sophisticated hairstyle with freshly-washed squeak-clean hairs. They are simply too slippery to hold on to the pins, not to mention those hard-to-manipulate flyaways. 

Hair after co-wash is soft and has fewer flyaways to allow for easier styling, yet still has enough texture to look healthy and clean.  

Add Bounce And Volume

Co-wash, if done right, can be a sure-fire way to refresh your curls. Curls are dry by nature, and they plump up with moisture. Simply rinsing your hair with water can achieve this, but it’s more effective with a bit of conditioner. 

Co-wash will help lock in the moisture in hair, and also do a better job of removing dirt and product buildup that weigh down the curls. This helps your hair appear more bouncy and voluminous. 

Maintain The Color

Using conditioner only also benefits those with color-treated hair. Most shampoos contain cleansing agents, which can cause the color to fade away quicker. 

On the other hand, co-wash goes without these properties, and thereby does not strip hair of color pigments the way that shampoo does. The color can stay on your hair for longer, and you can space out the trips to the hair salon. 

Plus, remember the main perk of co-washing – moisturizing? Hair coming out of a coloring process can be extremely dry, and co-washing can pump some moisture into your tresses.  

Cons

Potentially Promote Buildup

This can be one of the biggest cons of co-washing. Most hair conditioning formulations use cationic surfactants, which can stick to the hair due to static attraction. 

However, this also means that these elements can potentially cause the buildup of residues under the cuticle scales. 

Not Effectively Remove Buildup From Hair And Scalp

Shampoos give your scalp a clean slate from product residues, dirt, and oils every time you use them. Conditioners cannot replace shampoos in terms of cleansing effects, but have the potential to worsen the buildup as discussed above. 

You’re not getting a fully clean head, and that’s why it is important to slip shampoo into your regimen from time to time. This powerful cleanser can deal with all the leftovers that the conditioner will likely miss. 

In addition, too much of the buildup from dead cells, styling products, and pollutants can suffocate hair follicles over time. When your hair has breathing problems, it cannot grow at its best, and become weaker and easier to break.

For this reason, if you want to grow long and healthy hair, you’d better skip co-washing to avoid these unwanted issues. 

Shampoos are far more effective in cleansing hair
Shampoos are far more effective in cleansing hair

Unwanted Smell

In many cases, washing your hair with conditioner only might stink your hair. It leaves an unpleasant, musky smell behind instead of a refreshing, amazing scent that you would get with a shampoo. 

Who Should Co-Wash? Who Shouldn’t?

The Right Hair Types For Co-Wash

Dry, Wavy, Curly Hairs

Also known as co-wash or “no-poo”, this method is highly preferred by those with frizzy, curly, and coily hair categorized into types 3 and 4 on the universal hair type guide. 

When used on these hair types, this method promotes smooth strands, voluminous roots, and more defined curls. 

Yet, it’s still necessary to wash your curls with shampoo from time to time to clean them up. Make sure to choose the one with clean ingredients and without sulfates in your hair’s best interest!

Co-wash is also popular among individuals with extremely dry and damaged hair, or in other words, anyone with moisturizing being their top priority.  

Long, curly, and textured hair is inherently drier than other hair types. 

The reason is pretty simple: the natural sebum secreted from the scalp has a harder time traveling the spiral slides of curly hair than it would with straighter hair. 

The frequent lack of moisture also leaves curly and wavy hair more brittle and vulnerable to damage. 

Co-washing does two things for these naturally delicate hair types. First, the process skips the use of shampoo, which means that the hair is spared from harsh chemicals such as sulfates and detergents in the product. 

The result is that your curls and waves become more moisturized and look more refined with less frizz. They also look more voluminous stepping out of every co-wash. 

Second, with the conditioner alone, you’re only going to infuse a lot of moisture into your hair. This provides exactly what your dried-out hair needs. 

Color-Processed Hair

As mentioned, women with color-treated hair (and still with a healthy scalp) are also suitable for co-washing.

Besides restoring moisture to the dried-out, damaged hair, this method is less likely to steal the color pigments from hair as the way shampoo does. 

High-Porosity Hair

High po hair is also a good candidate for co-washing. Typically, high po hair will absorb moisture and all the goodness from the conditioner more quickly than low po hair, so it is unlikely to cause more buildup. 

The Hair Types To Skip Co-Wash

As mentioned, co-wash is not a one-size-fits-all method. We do not recommend going down this route if you have oily and thin hair. Conditioner is what causes the natural oils to build up faster in hair. 

So, it only adds up to the greasiness that you have to put up with and more frequent washings to do for oily hair. For thin hairs, conditioners can weigh them down and make them look flat.  

If you have straight hair, there is no need to adopt co-washing because you won’t benefit much from it. 

Straight hair has no curling, bending, or waving patterns, and this means that the natural scalp oil can travel down to your ends without any impediment. This hair type simply does not crave moisture as much as curls and waves do. 

That said, straight-haired people with extremely oily scalp can still enjoy the perks of co-wash. This method can balance out the oil production from the scalp and reduce the greasiness. 

Nevertheless, this can be achieved by using a clarifying shampoo or any shampoo that goes without sensitizing agents. 

Those often suffering from scalp itchiness, skin flakes, dandruff, psoriasis, and dermatitis should also give co-wash a big no. 

Even the ones with gentle cleansing effects, the conditioner itself is not powerful enough to remove the buildup on the scalp and hair. 

This will contribute to a greater amount of buildup to clog the scalp and more severe itchiness, and perhaps more horrific results in the long run. 

How Often Should You Use Conditioner-Only Washing?

It all comes down to your scalp and hair condition! If you’ve just got started, we recommend alternating between co-washing and a traditional shampoo-conditioner routine. 

It’s more about developing a routine and making sure your hair can adjust itself to it.  So, try co-washing once or twice between normal wash days. 

Once your hair feels the pattern and grows familiar with this adjustment, reduce the frequency of normal washing and increase the use of conditioner-only wash. 

Over time, you can feel free to co-wash your hair anytime you would normally shampoo it. It is fine to co-wash two or three times a week, depending on your hair condition and how heavy-handed you’re with hair styling products daily. 

It is common that the hair can become oily in the first month or two of co-washing. 

Basically, your scalp needs some time to adjust to the new washing routine, and it will generate less oil over time when provided with the moisture it constantly asks for first. 

In the meantime, to keep all the excess greasiness away in these first few months, use a dry shampoo formulated for your hair type. 

Can You Co-Wash With Just Any Conditioner?

Yes, you can use JUST any conditioner to co-wash your hair, but it’s better to choose conditioners that go by the names of co-wash or cleansing conditioners to co-wash. 

Yet, brands have come up with conditioners that not only dehydrate your hair but also cleanse the scalp better than regular conditioners. 

These conditioners go by the names of co-wash or cleansing conditioners. They are formulated with gentle cleansing agents to break down the oils and give the feeling of freshly-washed, clean hair. 

If your hair gets on the right terms with the current conditioner, you can kickstart your co-wash routine with it. That said, it pays to keep a check on your hair condition after co-washing to see if it’s a right fit.

It’s worth mentioning that regular conditioners can make hair become oily, suffocate the hair roots, cause more buildup, scalp irritation or allergic reactions. That’s why we’re a big advocate for co-wash/cleansing conditioners. 

However, there are a few factors to consider while choosing the best conditioner to co-wash your hair:

Hair Type

  • Fine hair or low-to-medium-porosity hair: Choose a semi-lightweight conditioner with less oil content to avoid weighing down the hair. 
  • High-porosity hair or extremely dry hair: Opt for an ultra-moisturizing conditioner to replenish moisture in the hair.

Ingredients To Look For

  • Proteins: Proteins from wheat or soya further protect the hair strands by forming a protective coat around them. 
  • Humectants: Vegetable-derived glycerin, panthenol, or honey to absorb water, and thereby draw in the moisture and lock it in. 
  • Emollients: Oils, shea butter, or wheat germs help hair softening, smoothing, and frizz reduction. 
  • Moisturizers: Moisturizers such as aloe vera or amino acids dehydrate, soften, and boost hair shine. 

Ingredients To Avoid

  • Silicones
  • Parabens
  • Sulfates

Top 3 Best Conditioners For Co-Washing Your Hair 

#1. Unwash Bio-Cleansing Conditioner Hair Cleanser

Key ingredients: Cationic cleansers, hydrolyzed keratin, hemp seed oil, and organic evening primrose oil.

This color-safe, non-lather formula claims to work with all hair types. Surprisingly, it performs impressively in most arenas, from straight tresses to super kinky curls. Anyone with chemically-processed hair can find this co-wash a viable option, too. 

With the nourishing and strengthening blend of hemp seed oil, hydrolyzed keratin, and evening primrose oil, this cream can do everything from infusing moisture, fortifying the strands, taming frizz, and adding more shine. 

The cationic cleansers in this conditioner are in charge of cleansing the dirt, grime, oil, and product buildup while keeping hair cuticles intact. 

Pros

  • Deep conditioning
  • Safe for colored and chemically-treated hair
  • Pleasant smell
  • Travel size option

Cons

  • Quite expensive

#2. Curly Hair Products by Carol’s Daughter

Key ingredients: Agave nectar, shea butter, sweet almond oil, vitamin B5, and biotin.

Give your hair the TLC it needs with this Carol’s Daughter milk cleansing conditioner. Its key ingredients – Agave Nectar and shea butter – help intensely moisturize, detangle, and of course, condition hair strands. The Biotin and pro Vitamin B5 fortify the hair structure from within. 

As a gentle cleanser, this milk contains glycerin, agave tequilana stem extract, and fatty alcohol to do an admirable job of removing impurities and product residues while also controlling frizz and detangling those troublesome knots. 

Pros

  • Tames frizz
  • Free of artificial colors
  • Strengthens hair structure
  • Natural ingredients
  • Supports hair growth

Cons

  • The scent is not everyone’s taste

#3. As I Am Coconut Cowash Cleansing Conditioner

Key ingredients: Coconut oil and castor oil. 

This co-wash comes with a nourishing blend of coconut oil and castor oil, which not only promotes moisture retention in hair but also makes curls easier to manage and detangle. 

As I Am coconut co-wash is also free from notoriously harsh chemicals such as sulfates, parabens, and phthalates so that you can wash your hair guilt-free. 

For the same reason, this no-suds cream is used to prolong the lifespan of keratin treatment on hair in place of keratin shampoo with harmful surfactants.

Pros

  • Free from harmful ingredients
  • Ideal for keratin-treated hair
  • Helps with detangling and manageability

Cons

  • The packaging (jar) is not shower-friendly

How To Co-Wash?

Follow the steps below to co-wash your hair correctly: 

Step 1: Saturate Your Hair With Warm Water

First, rinse your hair thoroughly with warm water until it’s soaking wet. The water helps loosen all the dirt and grime and also helps you distribute the conditioner more evenly afterward. 

Step 2: Squitz Out A Healthy Dose Of Conditioner

Do not skimp on conditioner on this step. You’re using it to cleanse your hair, not just condition it. This means the amount you usually use in your shampoo-then-conditioner routine won’t work. 

Instead, squeeze enough conditioner to apply from root to tip. Most conditioners recommend using around 10-20 pumps of product. You’d better stick to this suggestion. 

Step 3: Massage It Into Your Scalp

Use your fingertips to massage the first round of conditioner to your scalp gently and spread it evenly to your hair. 

Remember to scrub the scalp, too! Scrubbing creates friction to eliminate oils and product residues from hair. Otherwise, you’re letting these impurities sit on your hair forever. 

Step 4: Let It Sit

Allow some time for the conditioner to process. Wait for around 3-5 minutes for normal locks and longer for ultra-dry curls and waves. 

Step 5: Rinse Thoroughly

Rinse off the conditioner completely. You should use warm water to open up the skin pores and, thus, flush out all the grime and dirt more effectively. 

Step 6: Finish With Another Round Of Conditioner

Treat your hair with another dose of conditioner to get the best result. Let it sit for around 10 minutes to allow your hair to soak the moisture. 

This time, there is no need to cover the scalp – begin at the ends and go all the way to the mid shafts. The conditioner will further detangle and condition the curls while also helping boost the moisture in them. 

Once finished, rinse your hair with warm water until there’s no product on your hair. Finish with a good flush with cold water to close all the pores. 

Pro Tips

Since conditioner only cannot clean the hair as effectively as it would with a shampoo, you will need to wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo or regular shampoo every so often. 

We recommend giving your hair a thorough cleanup with either of these shampoos once a month. Do it more frequently if you’re a heavy product user. 

The Bottom Line

Can I use conditioner without shampoo? Yes, and in fact, this is a curl-friendly alternative to traditional washing for dry, curly, and wavy-haired women.  

This method forgoes the detergent-based shampoos to minimize damage to hair while focusing on hydrating hair types that are in desperate need of moisture.  

Despite the several benefits, make sure to check your hair type first before converting to co-wash. Right candidates for this method also need to look for the best conditioner for their hair to ensure the best results!

Jessica

I am Jessica Coles, a hairstyling and trends expert who also holds a master's degree in cosmetology. I am one of the leading hair care experts who has been offering support round the clock.

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