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GOING NATURAL: What’s The Difference Between Shampoo & Cowash

What's The Differnce Between Shampoo & Cowash

So many naturals have questions about these two products. What is co-wash? Is is something I really need to use or purchase? Why must I give up shampoo? Which shampoos are best for natural hair? What’s the difference between the two products? We will try our best to answer these questions and many more. 


I’ve discussed when to use either but that was really for veteran naturals and not for the newly natural just trying to figure this natural hair thang. Here’s a straight-forward version on what shampoo and cowash (cleansing conditioner) are, and why they are great for natural hair.


We’re pretty sure that you are familiar with shampoo. You’ve probably used shampoo your entire life, but do you really know what shampoo is all about. Shampoos are designed to clean the hair by ridding it of all oil, dirt and build-up. In order to do this, many commercial shampoos contain detergents and cleaning agents, such as sodium laureth sulfate. These agents are very harsh and drying, especially to kinky, curly textured hair and as a result, many naturals have ditched them. 

Not ready to ditch the shampoo? Try one of these popular shampoos for natural hair:

Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
Creme of Nature Moisture & Shine Shampoo with Argan Oil
Organix Shampoo, Nourishing Coconut Milk
Cantu Shea Butter For Natural Hair

Shampoos will still have a place in your haircare regimen even if you cowash more often like clarifying shampoos, sulfate-free shampoos or moisturizing shampoos. Here’s a list of my favorite:

Clarifying shampoo: Design Essentials® Oat Protein Henna Deep Cleansing Shampoo 
Sulfate-free Shampoo: Kinky-Curly Come Clean Shampoo 
Moisturizing Shampoo: Design Essentials® Honey Crème Moisture Retention Shampoo

CO-WASH (Cleansing Conditioner)

Co-wash is short for “conditioner wash.” This simply means washing the hair with a cleansing conditioner or a botanical conditioner.  In recent years, beauty companies have begun creating products labeled “co-wash” that are designed to clean and condition the hair. These commercial co-wash products may contain cleansing agents, but they are usually far less harsh than those found in shampoo. 

Interested in trying co-wash? Here is a list of several popular co-washes that you should try:

As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner
Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner
SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser

I ditched shampoos early on in my Curly Girl Method but found my hair still needed a shampoo from time to time. I still LOVE cowashes and here is a list of my faves.

As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner
Aveda ‘be curly™’ Co-Wash


Should you continue using shampoo or give it up and simply co-wash? The answer to this depends on your hair type, lifestyle and personal preferences. If you frequently use products with silicones or have a very oily scalp, then you may find it necessary to use shampoo.


Some women simply prefer shampoo because they don’t feel that co-washing gets their hair clean enough. This is perfectly fine, however you may want to stick with sulfate-free shampoos to prevent dryness and scalp irritation. There is nothing wrong with using both but know there is not right or wrong answer on which route to take. Try both, see which works best for your tresses and allow your hair to guide you.

Which do you prefer? 




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