Can Co-Washing Actually Damage Your Hair?

Ditching shampoo and washing with conditioner is said to produce smoother and softer hair. But can it be bad for you?

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When you've had a laborious day at work or just got home after an intense workout at the gym, there's nothing quite like jumping in the shower to rinse your hair in a fruity-smelling shampoo and silky smooth conditioner.

But, in recent years, some women have become champions of the 'no-shampoo' movement which involves 'co-washing' – otherwise known as 'conditioner washing' – using a cleansing conditioner to wash hair, leaving it feeling softer, easier to manage and healthier.

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We originally talked about it back in 2014:

'Washing your hair without shampoo? Surely that's like Ant without Dec. Mac without Cheese. Gin without tonic?' I hear you cry.

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We all know that frequent washing and using harsh sulfates, detergents, or some of the chemicals frequently found in shampoo can strip the hair of its natural oils.

However, the 'no shampoo method' involves using conditioner free from silicones, such as dimethicone, which leaves the hair and scalp feeling clean and extra moisturised – not heavy and oily, as commonly thought.

Sam Mcknight
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However, though co-washing has been around for a while and has accrued a loyal fan base, recent reports could throw a spanner in the works.

A federal judge in Los Angeles has just given preliminary approval for a £21.1 million settlement for a law suit against Gwyneth Paltrow and Alyssa Milano's celebrity hair stylist Chaz Dean's product range, Wen (and its distributor Guthy-Renker). The case comes after 200 women across 40 states in the US launched legal action, alleging the stylist's cleansing conditioner had resulted in side effects including hair loss, hair breakage, rashes and scalp irritation.

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As a result, if approved by a US district judge, those who have reportedly suffered side effects from Wen products could be in line to receive up to £16,000 in damages.

Attorney Amy Davis told CBS: 'From what we understand about the product and how it causes hair loss is it contains virtually no cleanser. It's like using lotion to wash your hair. So instead of removing the product when you rinse it off, it just becomes impacted in your hair follicle.'

So, is cleansing conditioner bad for you?

Well, maybe not.

According to dermatologists working on the court case, they can't quite make out why exactly the women suffered such horrific side effects. Specifically, dermatologists have taken issue with the idea that the product affected the hair 'follicle.'

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Dermatologist Debra Jaliman told Xovain: 'Since hair grows from the hair follicle—which is under the skin—and not from the surface, I couldn't really make sense of this lawsuit.'

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Besides, if the product was found to contain 'virtually no cleanser', the worst side effect would result in oily hair – not hair loss or breakage – according to Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre.

I know what you're thinking. 'Well, Wen's products must have some weird depilatory ingredient that is making women's hair fall out?'

Not according to the experts.

'If there were a specific depilatory ingredient in these products, it would affect more women,' says Dr. Mercurio.

'There are many causes of hair loss. It's possible that some of these women are sustaining hair loss from a separate issue,' she added.

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It seems that choosing to 'poo or not 'poo (shampoo, people) is a completely individual choice, just as it is for how often you wash your hair. 'It really depends on scalp's oil production, which differs from person to person,' says Mercurio.

So, if you want to try out co-washing, there doesn't seem to be any problem currently with doing so but, as with all beauty and health experiments, monitor how you feel and keep tabs on any negative side effects.

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