A modern take on classic two-in-ones that combine shampoo and conditioner, cleansing conditioners, aka co-washes, are popping up everywhere lately thanks to their time-saving, hair-smoothing benefits and sulfate-free formulas. But are they actually more effective? We’ve got the scoop.
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Cleansing conditioners are praised for their ability to gently cleanse hair without the harsh lather that traditional shampoos are known for, which can sometimes strip strands of the natural oils that keep them healthy and hydrated. Ideal for normal to thick hair (many brands are creating new formulas suitable for all hair types), these double-duty products save major time in the shower by combining two steps into one. “They emulsify oils on the scalp without stripping them thanks to the use of mild cleansing ingredients instead of detergents and sulfates. This leaves hair soft, clean and conditioned in one step,” says Elizabeth Archibald, R&D care development lead for Joico, which launched a line of co-washes this year.
Some experts believe cleansing conditioners are used out of convenience rather than as a more effective way to wash hair. “I don’t think the two steps should be combined into one because each person’s hair is different and may need more or less shampoo or conditioner depending on its type,” says New York dermatologist Adebola Dele-Michael, MD. “Oily hair often needs more shampoo to help get rid of excess oil, and dry hair typically requires more conditioner to replenish lost oils.” Celebrity hairstylist Danny Jelaca also prefers separating the two steps. “Cleansing conditioners tend to be heavy and feel thicker on the scalp and harder to wash out. Plus, they’re not suitable for all hair types. They can weigh down fine hair, and those with oily scalps complain that they make their hair oilier, faster.”
The Bottom Line
If your hair type is normal to thick and you aren’t dealing with overly oily or dry hair that may require a specific treatment regimen, a cleansing conditioner could shave a few minutes off your routine and leave you with softer, more manageable hair. But, make sure to choose one that caters to your hair needs so that your hair feels both clean and conditioned rather than greasy or weighed down.
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