Shampoo is a cleansing agent. It contains ingredients called surfactants and detergents that help remove oil, sweat, dirt, product buildup, and environmental pollutants from your hair.
Conditioners, on the other hand, contain natural oils, proteins, and botanical extracts that help keep hair soft, shiny, and smooth. They leave a thin film on your hair once rinsed to protect it.
Most people apply shampoo to their hair, scrub, and rinse before applying conditioner. Shampooing removes dirt and oil from the hair, but it can leave the hair rough, frizzy, and unmanageable. Using conditioner after cleansing with shampoo is thought to help this issue.
However, is shampooing before conditioning the only way to wash your hair?
A new way to wash hair called reverse shampooing or pre-wash conditioning proposes that you apply conditioner before applying shampoo. There’s also a new trend known as co-washing that skips the shampoo altogether.
So, which method is best? While the traditional shampoo-first routine is still necessary most of the time, depending on your hair type and preferences, you may find it beneficial to try another method every once in a while.
The general recommendation is to use shampoo to cleanse the hair before conditioner. Follow these steps for best results:
- Completely saturate your hair with warm, not hot, water.
- Squirt a small amount of shampoo into the palm of your hand.
- Apply it to your scalp and massage until it lathers.
- Work the shampoo through your hair, but pay the most attention to the scalp.
- Rinse your hair and scalp completely.
- Squirt a small amount of conditioner into your hand.
- Massage it into the length of your hair, avoiding the scalp.
- Leave the conditioner in for about 3 minutes.
- Rinse your hair completely.
- After leaving the shower, gently blot a towel on your hair to remove moisture.
How often you wash and condition your hair is up to you. People with hair that’s prone to becoming oily may want to wash more frequently than people whose hair tends to be dry.
Regular cleansing with a mild shampoo won’t damage the hair. A mild shampoo contains gentler cleansing agents as well as added conditioning agents.
If your hair is oily or dirty, you should still use a stronger clarifying shampoo once a week.
Difference between shampoo and conditioner
The main difference between shampoos and conditioners is that shampoos contain cleansing agents (detergents and surfactants), while conditioners do not.
While conditioners don’t have any cleansing agents, certain types of shampoos (mild shampoos) also include conditioning agents similar to the ones seen in conditioners. These may be in the form of natural oils, silicones, or proteins.
There’s no scientific data to support the safety and effectiveness of the reverse hair washing or co-washing methods and how often they should be used.
If you find that your hair feels weighed down, flat, or greasy after conditioning, you may benefit from using conditioner before shampoo. This method is known as reverse hair washing or pre-wash conditioning. If you think that either method may work for you, there doesn’t seem to be any harm to giving it a try.
With reverse hair washing, you don’t rinse out the conditioner before you shampoo. You:
- Massage conditioner into your hair, and let it sit for a few minutes.
- Then, without rinsing out the conditioner, apply shampoo to your hair and lather.
- Rinse out the shampoo and conditioner at the same time.
Proponents of the reverse hair washing method claim that your hair won’t feel greasy or weighed down afterward and that the conditioner:
- acts as a primer before washing
- allows the shampoo to be distributed evenly
- protects the hair strand so that the shampoo won’t strip the hair of its natural oils
Hairstylists generally agree that reverse washing should only be used once a week and that regular shampooing (shampoo first) is done the majority of the time.
Infrequent reverse hair washing is recommended for people with hair that’s:
Co-washing (washing the hair with conditioner only and skipping the shampoo) is recommended for people with:
- very dry hair
- hair that’s prone to breakage, such as chemically treated hair
- people with curly or textured hair
Co-washing will leave a lot of excess product on the hair since it doesn’t adequately cleanse the scalp of dirt and product buildup, especially products containing silicones.
If you wash with conditioner only, be sure to avoid any hair products with silicone, as they may leave your hair feeling weighed down, dull, and lifeless.
Avoid products containing ingredients like cyclomethicone, dimethicone, and amodimethicone, as these are some of the most commonly used silicones. If you do use conditioners with these ingredients, you may need to use a clarifying shampoo every 2 weeks to clear buildup.
If you have very coarse or curly hair, you can also try a condition-shampoo-condition regimen, as coarse hair tends to lose moisture very quickly.
Traditionally, shampoos are used before conditioners to ensure that enough dirt and oil are removed from the hair. While there are no scientific studies to support reverse hair washing, some stylists recommend it for people with very dry or fine hair who still want the hydrating benefits of conditioners without the added weight and excess moisture.
Still, it’s usually a good idea to only use these methods once or twice a week and to shampoo regularly the rest of the time. You’ll still need to cleanse with shampoo to effectively remove dirt, sweat, and product buildup.
The dirtier your hair gets and the more oil you produce, the more often you have to wash your hair with shampoo first. On days you use a mild or clarifying shampoo, follow with a conditioner.