A Conditioner Will Never do the Job of a Shampoo: How to Wash Your Curly Hair

To shampoo or not to shampoo curly hair is still a question for some in 2022.
Lorraine Massey, author and populariser of the Curly Girl Method (CGM), recommends that only sulphate-free shampoo be used on curly and other textured hair. This is because sulphate is a category of surfactant (cleansers) that are meant for commercial levels of de-greasing. They were developed not for hair, but for cleaning floors and other surfaces. When used on the hair sulphates have a stripping effect which causes an pH and moisture imbalance in the scalp and hair. This can lead to dry and frizzy hair. Not at all cute for coily hair. 

In the mid-2000s, some CGM proponents and the company Deva Curl took this further and began advocating for eliminating any shampoo from our curly hair routines. Even the sulfate-free ones. Gasp! Instead the suggestion was to wash with a silicone-free conditioner, or co-wash the hair in order to keep it from getting too dry and help it better retain it's curl.

Besides the fact that a 'cleansing conditioner' is an oxymoron, there are health concerns to consider with the long-term avoidance of hair cleansers. After the first few co-washes, the hair seems fine and can be softer, more defined, less frizzy. But because there is no cleansing happening, the scalp and hair are actually slowly building up ingredients and particles that are meant to be washed away with a shampoo or equivalent cleanser. For many long-term co-washers, this  lead to irritated scalps, lifeless, weighted down curls, as well as dirt and bacteria that could have been avoided. 

But why does this happen? Why can a silicone-free conditioner not replace any type of cleanser? That answer is a simple scientific one: the chemistry of a cleanser is negatively charged, meaning its job is to take things away from the hair (dirt, product build-up, environmental pollution).

A conditioner is positively charged, meaning its job is to add things to the hair vitamins, softening properties, anti-static, barrier repair). I am telling you this as a literal formulator of shampoos, conditioners and body washes as well as someone who tried the co-washing approach and ditched it after 6 weeks. 

BB Naturals shampoo

If you only used conditioner, you are constantly adding to the hair and scalp without balancing that by taking away some of the unsavoury things building up. 

Using both a sulphate-free shampoo (-) and a conditioner (+) helps you create a neutral, or balanced environment for your scalp and hair. The former is a major key to heaving healthy hair.

Q: What if I don't like shampoo? 

Rhassoul Moroccan cleansing clay

Luckily we have absorbent clays to help us naturally cleanse our scalp and hair. Before science progressed to bring us liquid shampoo, our ancestors used clay and ash to help cleanse the hair. Rhassoul clay, from Morrocco, loosely translates as 'to wash', so it is literally made for cleansing. The powdered clay is easy to mix with water. Place in a bottle with an application tip and apply from the scalp down. 

Q: What if even sulphate-free shampoo dries out my hair?

Cosmetics are an amazing combination of both science and art. There is an art to formulating a shampoo that will be a gentle cleanser, but also not strip the natural moisture out of our curls. Ingredients such as glycerine, coco betaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate, and oils are some of the ingredients listed in our shampoo to mitigate drying effects.

Q: Am I shampooing my hair right? How do I know when it's clean?

No matter how thick or long your hair is, always start with less than you think you need. Those of us with Afro-textured hair can sometimes be heavy-handed with the products! Try shampooing your hair in sections if it medium length or longer. Always begin at the scalp and roots of the hair with shampoo, when the hair is soaking wet. 

Massage with the fingertips or a scalp massager like this one to help cleanse and stimulate the scalp at the same time!

shampoo scalp massager

Bring the foam from the roots down the rest of the shaft before rinsing with warm (not hot) water. Your hair does not need to squeak to be clean. If it still feels a little greasy, then apply a little more shampoo to the part of the hair that needs it. Don't over shampoo your scalp. 

If you're highly visual like I am, here's a short Reel from Instagram showing the ideal way to shampoo curly hair.

What are your thoughts on shampooing?  

Comments (1):

Sue Recchia on

I’ve tried sulphate free shampoo and conditioner but it leaves my hair extremely dry.

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