Science behind co-washing part 1

 Before you read this post, I advise that you bring out your shampoos and conditioners. While you read, look out for the ingredients and compounds I’ll be talking about.


Co-washing is basically a short form of the term, Conditioner Washing. There are at least 2 benefits of co-washing:

  1. Using conditioners to ‘wash’ your hair is beneficial because it does not strip hair of its oil and moisture. Conditioners contain compounds called surfactants which give them the ability to lift off dirt and oil to a certain extent. If you want to completely cleanse your hair and scalp, conditioners might not be effective enough. However, if you want light cleansing, conditioners can be used. 
  2. Co-washing is also a way to keep your hair soft moisturized in-between shampooing. If you are stretching between your relaxers, frequent co-washing will help to keep your new growth soft.
Although co-washing is good, it carries certain risks:
  1. Additional manipulation of your hair. You would probably comb and detangle your hair. This frequent manipulation can cause potential damage.
  2. Wetting your hair frequently can cause something known as hygral damage fatigue.
I will talk in a future post on how you can reduce potential damage from co-washing.

Surfactants are needed to get rid of the oils, products and dirt in your hair. In simple terms, surfactants are a group of compounds that help a liquid (or solid) dissolve in another liquid.

There are 4 types of surfactants:

  • anionic surfactants;
  • zwitteronic surfactants; 
  • nonionic surfactants; and
  • cationic surfactants.

Anionic surfactants contain sulfates, sulfonates, phosphates, and carboxylates. They are usually found in shampoos and are the most effective surfactants.

Common examples of sulfates include: ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate (also known as sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES)), sodium myreth sulfate, etc

Examples of carboxylates include: sodium stearate, sodium lauroyl sarcosinate,etc

Zwitteronic surfactants can be found in some sulfate-free shampoos and cleansing conditioners. Examples include: cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, Betaines (e.g., cocamidopropyl betaine), etc

Examples of nonionic surfactants  include cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, and cetostearyl alcohol, decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside,etc

Cationic (Positive) surfactants, in addition to their conditioning properties, help to lift oil and dirt from hair by forming micelles with oil.  Common examples of positive surfactants include:

  • Stearalkonium chloride
  • Cetrimonium chloride
  • Cetrimonium bromide
  • Behentrimonium methosulfate
  • Behentrimonium chloride
  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride
  • Cocotrimonium chloride
  • Dicetyldimonium chloride
  • Behenamidopropyl dimethylamine
  • Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine
If your conditioner contains any of these surfactants, you can use it to co-wash.

…To be continued

Dr Fomsky


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About the author
Dr Fomsky

Nigerian-born Dr Fomsky is a God-lover, a wife, a mom of three, a medical doctor by day. Plus she owns a Nigerian-based online hair product store called Sizzelle.
Dr Fomsky is very passionate about hair, skin and weight management. Since she's had her babies, she's been struggling to keep her weight and her tummy down!
At night, she likes to read books, write blog posts and leave comments on other blogs. She lives in Alberta, Canada and is also the author of Solving your relaxed hair breakage book .
LAST RELAXER DAY: December 15th, 2016
BIG CHOP: January 14th, 2017
Natural Hair, Unknown Porosity, Fine Hair strands, Low to Moderate Density

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12 Comments to Science behind co-washing part 1

  1. Wonder says:

    Hygral damage! I’m suspecting that thing o. How do I know I have that and how can hair recover?

  2. Beata says:

    Thanks for the info, I rarely co-wash, maybe as my hair grows longer the need will arise. Regards

  3. Joie says:

    i am yet to add co-washing into my hair regimen…….pls i can’t read co-washing part 2, showing error messages

  4. […] Science behind co-washing part 1 | Sizzling mommy […]

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  6. […] hair’s moisture levels in-between.To keep my hair supple, I’m also considering midweek co-washing. If I do midweek co-washing, I might not need to moisturize […]

  7. […] hair’s moisture levels in-between.To keep my hair supple, I’m also considering midweek co-washing. If I do midweek co-washing, I might not need to moisturize […]

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