How co-washing can cause hair loss

How co-washing can cause hair loss


Every naturalista wants the perfect head of healthy, cascading coils. To achieve our #hairgoals, we often try any popular method that seems to yield beneficial results. One well-known method in the natural hair community is co-washing.

What is co-washing? It’s short for “conditioner-only washing.” When cleansing the hair, this method skips shampooing all together. Some say this way of washing avoids the harmful stripping agents found in shampoos. Depending on hair type and cleansing frequency, co-washing can result in anything from cleaner, more moisturized hair to a clogged scalp with dirty hair strands merely coated with conditioner.  

Abena Palmore is a professional, licensed cosmetologist who specializes in natural hair care in New York City. In a video on her YouTube Channel, Embrace Natural Beauty, Palmore gives her two cents on why naturals should avoid co-washing to prevent hair loss.  

“This conditioner-washing, co-washing, and the use of sulfate free shampoos, it’s a red flag to me,” said hair professional Abena Palmore. “You want to use a shampoo that has sulfates in it, surface acting agents that are designed to cleanse the hair. [Sulfate shampoos] remove any dirt, debris, dust, and even oil from the hair and from the scalp, in order to give you a clean slate.”

Palmore also mentions the risk of folliculitis that comes with co-washing. In this instance, hair molecules get so clogged with buildup that they shrink in size. This causes thinning of the hair and ultimately hair loss.

According to research, hair loss is already prominent among black women. In a 2016 study by the American Academy of Dermatology, doctors concluded black women are prone to hair loss. They surveyed African American women about their experiences with the issue. Out of the 5,594 surveyed so far, 47.6 percent reported hair loss on the crown or top of the scalp.

According to researchers, the number one cause of hair loss among black women is a condition called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA)–a disorder in which inflammation and destruction of hair follicles causes scarring and permanent hair loss. Black women are also prone to traction alopecia, a type of hair loss caused by styles that pull the hair too tight. Chronic use of styles like braids, weaves, and chemical relaxers increase the risk of hair loss.

Fortunately, there is no research indicating that co-washing causes alopecia. In theory, co-washing is a brilliant concept. It is important not to strip the hair of essential nutrients and oils to maintain overall health. So, co-washing a few times out of the month doesn’t hurt. For some, however, only co-washing can lead to more harm than good–especially if you’re using the wrong conditioner.

Typical conditioners do not act as cleansers. As we all know, this is the job of shampoo. While shampoo cleanses the hair, conditioner provides compounds that coat the hair, leaving it protected and beautified.

If the scalp and hair are dirty, using a normal conditioner is only coating the dirt on the hair and scalp, not removing it. For this reason, hair brands offer co-wash conditioners with cleansing qualities.

CAUTION: Even cleansing co-washes can cause serious damage.

Popular hair brand Wen was created by celebrity LA Stylist Chaz Dean back in 1993.

“What sets Wen apart is its cleansing conditioner, a single-step process that cleanses and conditions the hair simultaneously,” the brand’s website says. “The cleansers include a perfect blend of special ingredients, including natural botanicals and herbs, and do not contain sodium laurel sulfate or harsh chemicals.”

According to a BuzzFeed article, this same conditioner has women saying they are going bald. As a result of this terrible side effect, Wen is currently tied up in a class-action lawsuit.

By this point, you are probably wondering what are some alternatives besides shampooing or co-washing. We got you.

Clay cleansers are a great option. They are natural, potent, and mineral-rich to clean, detoxify, and condition the hair and skin. Wonder Curl’s Detoxifying Clay Cleanser is is a gentle cleanser that detangles and conditions hair in one process, while removing impurities to refresh the scalp.

Some of its main ingredients include:

  • Kaolin Clay: Revitalizes dry and damaged hair.
  • Shea Butter: Soothes dry itchy scalp.
  • Avocado Butter: Fortifies hair from the inside.
  • Olive Oil: Contains antioxidants, which remove harmful free radicals from the surface of the hair and scalp.

And for a deeper cleaning, our Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo Bar, removes buildup from the hair and scalp using activated charcoal. 

Other clays like Dead Sea can be helpful in preventing hair loss. According to Livestrong, Dead Sea mud contains manganese, which is a mineral that increases blood flow. To improve the health of the scalp, simply massage Dead Sea clay or mud into the scalp and let sit for 10 minutes.

Check out our Co-wash guide here.

Are you co-washing exclusively? Will you be changing your regimen? What are your experiences?

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This article is very good and accurate!!! I so appreciate you taking the time to GIVE US REAL FACTS!

Ebony C
As a master license cosmetologist of 10 years I disagree with the whole co wash movement. The hair follicle cannot breathe at its best with build up on the scalp and as a result this actually can cause hair loss as well as bacteria and maybe even fungus. There is no shortcut to healthy hair care. Stick to what really works. If you are concerned of your natural oils you use a mild shampoo. I often see clients with build up in their scalp and their hair even has a musky smell at times. Invest in rhydrating products that really work Or even a steam machine to enhance your natural oil’s.

Chronic use of styles like braids, weaves, and chemical relaxers increase the risk of hair loss. Fortunately, there is no research indicating that co-washing causes alopecia. In theory, co-washing is a brilliant concept. It is important not to strip the hair of essential nutrients and oils to maintain overall health.

lisa boyce

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