Back to Basics: Cleansing Conditioners vs. Co-Wash Conditioners (The Difference)

Cleansing conditioners and co-washing conditioners are very common amongst naturals and those on a healthy hair journey in general. Although the terms cleansing conditioners and co-wash conditioners tend to be used interchangeably, there is a difference.

Cleansing conditioners contain mild surfactants such as cocamidopropyl betaine or other ingredients that act as cleansers such as kaolin clay. The cleansers are less stripping than traditional shampoos. They are truly able to cleanse the hair and remove light to moderate buildup.

Here are a few of my favorite cleansing conditioners:

Curl Junkie Daily Fix Cleansing Conditioner (review here)
Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser (review here)

Co-wash conditioners, on the other hand, are traditional conditioners. They don't necessarily contain any cleansing ingredients. A co-wash is a good way to refresh the hair if you don't require any cleansing or heavy buildup removal. During the process of rinsing, some of the product previously applied will be removed, but not fully. Product can and will buildup if not properly removed. Applying products on top of gunky hair is no fun...and certainly a waste of a good wash day. There have been a couple of times I've had to start over to completely remove products so that my current stylers would be effective.

Here are a few of my favorite co-wash conditioners:

Desert Essence Coconut Conditioner
Tresemme Naturals Nourishing Moisture Conditioner (detailed ingredients of 2nd version here)

I use cleansing conditioners when I don't need an intense shampoo, but still require a cleanser. I typically co-wash if doing multiple washes within one week and using water-soluble products and light sealants. I know that I haven't applied too much product in between washes and won't need anything more than a quick rinse and a little added conditioner to refresh my style.

Knowing ingredients and their function can be crucial to knowing your hair and addressing your hair needs. I might need a co-wash one day and a cleanser the next. Differentiating between the two makes it easier for me to pull a product and know it's going to work.

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Kinks ;-)


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