Wash & Co


Bim Adewunmi on 2014’s biggest beauty movement: Co-washing


Earlier this year, I went to Pak’s beauty supply to pick up a tub of solid shea butter. It is a winter saviour – I whip it in batches with different oils and gels and use it for both my hair and my skin. At the store, the little green price sticker told me the 8oz tub would set me back £3.99, an almost 100% price jump in less than two years. And that’s the precise moment I knew that shea butter had it made out of the cupboards of black girls with natural hair, and into the mainstream.


Palmer__039_s_Olive_Oil_Formula_Co_Wash_Cleansing_Conditioner_473ml_1394530299Another natural black girl staple has made an even bigger leap, into being this year’s most most significant hair trend: co-washing. It’s basically ‘conditioner washing’ ie. eschewing shampoos – which often contain sulfates to give that rich lather, and parabens and silicones – for cleansing the hair with just conditioner. The idea is these common shampoo ingredients tend to be extra-drying on tightly coiled locks (like afro hair) and can result in breakage and other bad news. Cleansing with conditioner is supposed to bypass the buildup of these ‘cones and parabens. I went natural back in 2011, and my already infrequent shampoos mostly went out the window. I have been mostly co-washing ever since – scouring YouTube for recommendations and then popping into Boots and Superdrug for supplies. When I feel I have product buildup (I go through phases of heavy gel usage), I use an apple cider vinegar rinse to clarify my hair and scalp.


But now co-washing has hit the hair brands in a big way, and this year, quite a few are launching specific ‘cleansing conditioners’ for both afro and European hair. I tried out four of them over the period of six weeks, so I know I gave them all a fair chance. Here are my findings.





Products used:

Palmer’s Olive Oil Formula with Vitamin E co-wash cleansing conditioner (£5.99 for 473ml)


Wen by Chaz Dean Fig cleansing conditioner (£26.95 for 480ml)


Ojon Rare Blend moisture-rich cleansing conditioner (£18.50 for 200ml)


O&M Original Mineral Detox conditioner (£24 for 350ml)






First of all, you should know that these all have differences in formulation: the Palmer’s conditioner has glycerin (which my hair appreciates) but the Ojon bottle notes on the bottle that it contains none. The Wen conditioner contains a silicone (amodimethicone), which is bad news for the naturals who like to keep it, you know, natural. All the cleansing conditioners were all sulfate-free, though, which is good for those of us increasingly weary of all that lather. Both the O&M and the Ojon were strictly rinse-out jobs; the other two could also be used as leave-in. And though not listed on the bottles, at some point I used them all as overnight deep conditioners (with added olive oil and honey).


My favourite? Easy – the O&M conditioner. It tingles thanks to the presence of Australian river mint and peppermint, and along with the Wen conditioner, it had the best slip, vital for the necessary evil of detangling afro hair. The Ojon had a more medicinal scent, and the Palmer’s smells a bit synthetic, while the figs in the Wen conditioner made my bathroom and hair smell amazing. Slip was variable: Ojon had the least, and left my hair feeling a little drier, perhaps as noted above, because of the lack of glycerin. As leave-ins, I liked the Palmer’s best (if only it smelled nicer!), as it made my hair feel moisturised.


334-3003474-9333478000274_MHere’s the thing: all of these conditioners were good. I enjoyed using them, and will happily use them all until they run out. The real question is whether or not they felt different to my usual co-washing conditioners – and the answer would have to be not markedly. I can feel the superior content in the bottles, and they do not contain many of the baddies that a lot of us are trying to keep out of our hair. But did they cleanse my hair and scalp any better? Not really. With perhaps the exception of the O&M conditioner, my scalp felt cleaner after my usual fortnightly ACV rinse.


Co-washing in the mainstream is here to stay. Any one of these four cleansing conditioners would do the job for you, no question. But I’m not compelled to chuck out my apple cider vinegar just yet.


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