On most Saturday afternoons of my childhood and teenage years, I wandered about the Tanjong Pagar salon in Singapore that my mother visits unfailingly. Run by Malaysian immigrant mothers, the place was constantly abuzz with Cantonese imperatives and chitchat, Sandy Lam crooning from a bulky hi-fi set, and a Mandarin soap opera playing on a tiny TV, turned down low with Chinese subtitles on. The place wasn’t large, but there were enough leather swivel chairs, extendable shower wands, and hairstyling paraphernalia to keep me somewhat occupied, while Mom got her shampoo, blow dry, perm, and news about the latest fiasco her stylist’s son had gotten himself into.
On the occasions when I got a haircut – a #2 buzzcut, exclusively, till I was 10 or so – the common refrain from my Mom’s stylist was this: wow, his hair is just like wire! It stands straight up at any length! My Mom concurred heartily, quite impressed as she watched my hair fall off my head, perhaps at how she birthed my supernatural hair, perhaps at how the electric clipper hasn’t yet shorted.
I feel you, Paddington bear. All the time.
In my late teens, when vanity urged me to more upscale salons in posher malls, I received the same compliments (?) about my hair. One stylist, who made the mistake of using scissors and nothing else, confessed how he had to rest a while in between my cut. Did I mention he was 6’ tall and a proper gym rat?
It may begin to sound like I disagreed with these intrepid stylists, but I didn’t. My hair was hard to cut, and even harder to manage. Gel stood no chance, and when wax came around I found it depleting much too quickly for my pocket money to catch up. I tried relaxing it once, chemically, but after one shampooing – days after, as prescribed – it straightened out, like nothing had happened.
Too, much, conditionerrrr.
Before social events like weddings, I found myself conditioning, even masking my hair, in a bid to soften it hours before. Even then, getting my hair to look the way I wanted it to look was often an exasperating task that left me, literally, pulling my hair out. In college I simply waxed my hair into a Johnny Bravo pompadour, since the only way my hair would go was up, up, up.
The Benefits of Co-Washing
Things have changed since I discovered co-washing. I shower twice a day at least, and I used to shampoo every time I shower. For a few months now, I only shampoo my hair after I’ve been to the gym. For all the other times I shower, I use a cleansing conditioner for my hair. Doing this has left my hair less bristly, easier to manipulate, and dare I say, more lustrous. How does it work?
Being around salons a lot of my life, I’ve often heard hairstylists say – it’s so much easier to style your hair when it’s not squeaky clean. Hairstylists have encouraged me repeatedly to wash my hair less. Shampooing too often, which I was clearly doing, strips the hair of the oils your scalp produces, causing more static friction to occur between strands. That makes your hair frizzy and unmanageable. If you’ve used a “volumizing” shampoo from a drugstore brand, you’d know how squeaky your hair becomes while you’re rinsing it off – because the drier your hairs are, the more static is formed, and the “poofier” your hair gets when it dries.
If volumizing shampoo had a video label… this would be it.
For me, showering without shampooing is murder. To feel like a clean, presentable person, I need to do both every time. I’ve tried using “gentle” shampoos – sulfate-free, oil-infused, even $30 a bottle brands – and none of them are quite gentle enough. Conditioning might help, you say, but it either all gets washed down the drain without effect, or leaves my hair palpably greasy and my scalp itchy. Also, it’s a little like putting a salve on after you’ve skinned your knee. How about not skinning your knee in the first place?
With a cleansing conditioner, I get the best of both worlds. My neurosis isn’t aggravated (nor is my scalp) since I feel like I’ve cleansed my hair truly and gently. My hair remains healthy, not greasy, and not stripped either. Even on days when I style my hair with wax, the cleansing conditioner is capable of washing it out. So, for guys who routinely style their hair with products, co-washing is still an option.
The Chemistry Behind Cleansing Conditioners
Cleansing conditioners make use of very mild surfactants, mainly behentrimonium chloride or cetrimonium chloride, to gently remove impurities. They’re also packed with nourishing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, argan oil, and other emollients that double as lubricants to help lift styling products off the hair and scalp, so they can be rinsed off.
You may find that you need to “massage” the cleansing conditioner through your hair more thoroughly for it to achieve the clean you want. After all, they’re extremely gentle. Take the time to enjoy the nice fragrance, and imagine the nutrients getting absorbed into your hair! You’re paying for this, you know?
Enjoy the experience. Learn from Sumo-san.
If you intend to try co-washing, look out for the words “co-wash” or “cleansing conditioner” on the label. They’re usually placed in the shampoo or conditioning aisle. They mostly come in pump or squeeze bottles, but do also pay attention to ones in jars. The ones I like are As I Am Coconut Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner, and ApotheCARE Essentials The Replenisher Cleansing Conditioner. If you use lots of styling product, or have issues with excessive oil-production (just make sure it’s not caused by excessive shampooing), you’d prefer As I Am, or one which lists behentrimonium chloride or cetrimonium chloride near the top of the ingredients list.
See how it works for you. Start by replacing your shampoo with cleansing conditioner every other time you wash your hair. Or, if you’re like me (see: neurosis), only use shampoo when you find your head’s quite gross, like after the gym, or a run for example. The point is – shampooing less is better for your hair. If you need to wash it somehow without shampooing, using a cleansing conditioner could be the answer!