NBC News Select October 20, 2023

NBC News Select


The best co-washes for curly and coily hair, according to experts


These formulas cleanse and condition hair in a single step — and are especially great for those with curly or textured hair.

While a sudsy shampoo followed by a conditioner may be the default when it comes time for ‘wash day,’ certain hair types — specifically curly or textured hair — may benefit from a different routine. Enter: co-washes, (the term is shorthand for “conditioning wash”), which can offer a more appropriate method of cleansing and moisturizing hair. They merge the two-part routine into a single step that leaves hair soft, smooth and moisturized, according to experts. 

To that end, “a co-wash is a hybrid product that combines the properties of both shampoo and conditioner,” says Mark DeBolt, a hair colorist and the co-owner of Mark Ryan Salon in New York City. Unlike the two-in-one formulas of yore, these usually contain more conditioning ingredients; in fact, you can think of them as conditioners with a handful of cleansing agents. Because of their ability to moisturize, co-washes are akin to “a cream cleanser for your face,” says Leigh Hardges, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, IL.

While co-washes can benefit inherently dry hair types, like those with curly and textured hair, they can also offer additional benefits, such as UV protection and frizz control. 

How we picked the best co-washes

Hairstylists told us that co-washes can be an especially great way to moisturize thick, dry hair textures, such as curly and coily hair. When shopping, they recommended considering the following factors:

  • Ingredients: Look for nourishing oils, which not only cleanse hair but can give it added shine and softness. It’s also a good idea to avoid certain ingredients, such as sulfates, which can be overly drying.
  • Foam: You can find foam, low-foam and no-foam co-washes out there; it’s a matter of personal preference, since foam can recreate the sudsy feel of traditional shampoo.

The best co-washes of 2023

A shower routine with a co-wash can offer additional moisture to people who need it most — mainly, those with dry hair textures, who have curls, coils and kinks. Below, we compiled expert-recommended co-washes to help cleanse hair while actively replenishing moisture. Most formulas on our list are also free of sulfates and silicones.

Oribe Cleansing Crème for Moisture & Control

Both DeBolt and Hardges recommend this cream formula from Oribe. “It rinses well and won’t weigh down curls,” says Hardges. It’s infused with a blend of oils, including coconut, watermelon seed, and moringa seed oils, and importantly, is free of sulfates. Plus, it effectively tames frizz and smells delightful, according toDeBolt, who also likes that it offers UV protection.

Dermae 2-in-1 Curl Conditioner Co-Wash

NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin uses this co-wash six days out of every week (the other day she relies on a detox shampoo). “It’s super creamy and gentle, and great at detangling my hair and making it feel smooth,” she says. “It’s also a good budget find since it’s under $20.” Like other formulas on our list, you can use it on its own as a co-wash or as a conditioner on days when you also want to shampoo your hair. 

R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner


DeBolt is also a fan of this co-wash, since it can leave hair “refreshed and revitalized.” It has argan oil, green tea and other botanical extracts to soften hair and control frizz, while the foam texture has a weightless feel, according to the brand. It also has notes of juniper berries, blood orange and violet and is specifically great for those with color-treated, under-hydrated or coarse hair, according to R+Co.

Tea Tree Lavender Mint Moisturizing Cowash

This is just the right co-wash for my wavy hair — not only does it help define and soften my 2C curls, but the tea tree oil also contributes to a tingly sensation that feels refreshing on my scalp. With this, I don’t need extra stylers to control my frizz, and the scent is relaxing without being overpowering. The best part: Since I can get it in a jumbo-sized bottle, I don’t have to constantly restock it.

Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Curl Cleansing Conditioner

This cleansing conditioner doesn’t lather at all; rather, it has a light, milky texture that cleanses, moisturizes, detangles and defrizzes, according to the brand. The sulfate-free formula, which has a 4.4-star average rating from more than 4,600 reviews on Amazon, is best for those with curl types 3B, 3C, 4A, who have very dry hair, according to Carol’s Daughter.

Devacurl No-Poo Decadence

Intended to smooth coarse curls, this cleanser is infused with glycerin, grapeseed oil and vitamin E.  “I get the best curl definition from DevaCurl products in general, but the No Poo is one of my favorites,” says NBC Select SEO editor Nikki Brown. “The smell’s amazing and I find it super easy to detangle my hair after using it.” It won’t create a lather, though, so you do need to thoroughly massage it into the scalp to cleanse it, according to the brand.

As I Am Coconut Cowash

Like an oil cleanser for your scalp, this co-wash deploys several types of oil (including castor and coconut) to gently remove excess sebum and product buildup from the roots, according to the brand. The sulfate-free formula has a 4.6-star average rating across 11,359 reviews on Amazon and is ideal for all curl types and natural hair, according to As I Am. 

BondiBoost Wonder Wash

Suitable for both kids and adults, this formula is a favorite of Mia Santiago, a hairstylist based in New York City and Columbus, OH. “It smells amazing and really hydrates the hair,” she says. It has a blend of jojoba and macadamia oils, which helps smooth hair and make it more manageable, according to the brand. It’s also free of silicones and sulfates, and is safe for color-treated hair.

Ouidad Curl Shaper Double Duty Weightless Cleansing Conditioner

Looking for versatility? Consider this no-lather formula As a conditioner, it detangles, moisturizes and adds volume; and as a co-wash it’ll remove excess buildup, impurities and oil, according to Ouidad. “My hairstylist recommended I use this as a co-wash to help my hair stay moisturized and reduce frizz,” says Malin. “It smells incredible and the large bottle lasts me months. I also think it helps define my curls, making them tighter and keeping their hold once they dry.”

Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Hair Wash

This co-wash pairs non-foaming surfactants (which are cleansing agents) with a blend of oils, including avocado, coconut and sunflower oils, to leave your hair looking shiny and soft, according to the brand. Like many others on our list, it’s free of both sulfates and silicones, and works for all curl types. It has a 4.5-star average rating from 1,504 reviews on Amazon.

Christophe Robin Luscious Curl Conditioning Cleanser

DeBolt also recommends this option for curly hair not only because of its performance, but because “its fragrance is absolutely delightful,” he says. It has a foaming formula that replenishes moisture to hair with a blend of chia seed oil, nigella seed oil and shea butter — which helps manage frizz and impart shine — and can also detangle your hair while you wash, according to the brand. 

Dove Love Those Bold Curls Defined Curls Sulfate-Free Co-Wash

Ideal for curls and coils, this sulfate-free co-wash cleanses the scalp and hair while also adding back in moisture, according to Dove. It uses an emulsion technology that creates a barrier around hair fibers, giving each strand a slippery texture that makes detangling easy, according to the brand. It has an average 4.4-star rating from 207 reviews on Walmart.

Twist Gimme It All 4-in-1 Hydrating Conditioner

This cream conditioner comes recommended by NBC Select editorial operations manager Rebecca Rodriguez, who uses it as a co-wash every couple of days when she needs to remove product buildup. “I love that a little goes a long way, this one bottle has lasted me months,” she says. “It keeps my curls hydrated too, since I only use shampoo about once a week.”

New Wash Original Hair Cleanser

This cleansing formula, which has a 4.1-star average rating from 1,010 reviews on Amazon,was designed to be an alternative to traditional, harsh shampoo detergents — as well as a way to balance the scalp while nourishing strands. It’s lightweight enough for all hair types, helps control frizz and can even preserve hair color too, according to the brand. 

What does a co-wash do?

While shampoo can easily cleanse hair at the roots, it too strips the hair, says Amarilis Badillo, a hairstylist at Tricoci Salon in Chicago, IL. Co-washes take shampoo out of the equation entirely, replacing the cleansing detergents with oils.

For that reason, “you may have heard of [a] co-wash referred to as [a] no-poo, a ‘no-shampoo’ take on cleansing very coarse, curly or frizzy hair,” says Santiago. “Using a conditioner instead of shampoo continues to add moisture to the hair — and oil removes oil, therefore it cleanses the hair and scalp.” Co-washes are formulated to rinse away excess oil, grime and other debris at the scalp, which is what sets them apart from traditional conditioners.

How to shop for co-washes

Start by looking at the ingredient list. When DeBolt looks for a co-wash, he recommends seeking out a formula that has “nourishing oils, such as jojoba oil, wheat bran extract, panthenol, camellia seed oil, argan oil, vitamin E and marula oil.” They’re popular in co-washes because of their ability to condition hair, he says.

Similarly important is what to leave out. Santiago, for instance, looks for formulas that avoid sulfates and don’t have silicones that can create build-up on strands over time. Both of these are ingredients that may be drying on hair (and are most often found in traditional shampoos).

Finally, you might want to consider the level of lather. While shampoo is known for being sudsy — which can feel satisfying in the shower — co-washes tend to be low- or no-lather, since they lack the surfactants that create these bubbles. If you miss them, you can opt for a foam formula. “It’s a personal preference,” says DeBolt, who sticks with a low lather. It shouldn’t impact the results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should use a co-wash?

Since it prioritizes moisture, “a co-wash is particularly beneficial for naturally porous or dry hair,” says DeBolt. Porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb water and moisture; highly porous hair can better absorb these — which sounds like a good thing, however, hair with high porosity doesn’t hold the moisture in, according to Santiago. As a result, she says, more porous hair may be prone to dryness, brittleness and breakage. In addition to dry and porous hair, co-washes can be helpful for people with coiled or tightly curled hair, says Hardges. These hair types tend to be drier, since the scalp’s natural oils can’t easily slide down a curved hair shaft (as is the case with curls). A co-wash is “also an excellent choice for anyone seeking to tame or de-frizz their hair after cleansing,” says DeBolt. Conversely, people with fine hair textures or those who are prone to an oily scalp should avoid co-washes, according to Hardges. That’s because the oils that make them so nourishing may be too heavy for fine hair, weighing it down.

How often should you use a co-wash?

DeBolt recommends incorporating one into your routine every other wash. Then, “on the days in between, opt for a traditional shampoo and conditioner,” he says. “For especially dry hair, employ a regular shampoo followed by a hydrating mask.”

How to apply a co-wash

Apply your co-wash evenly throughout your hair, making sure to spread it from roots to ends, according to Debolt. “Gently massage your scalp with your fingertips as you would with standard shampoo,” he says. “It may not produce a rich lather, but it’s crucial to effectively remove oil and dirt from the scalp.”

Can you use a regular conditioner as a co-wash?

Generally, you can’t substitute a traditional conditioning formula for a co-wash. “Conditioner does not possess any actual cleansing agents, so you will not receive a thorough — or any cleanse — with it,” says DeBolt. Plus, regular conditioners tend to have a heavier texture, so they can potentially weigh down curls. True co-washes are designed to rinse impurities from the scalp while nourishing hair.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest. 

Mark DeBolt is a hair colorist and co-owner of Mark Ryan Salon in New York, NY. He specializes in foil highlighting, balayage and color correction.

Leigh Hardges is a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, IL. She has more than 15 years as a stylist and trained at Vidal Sassoon Academy.

Mia Santiago is a celebrity hairstylist at Sharon Dorram at Sally Hershberger Salon in New York City. Her clients include Mariska Hargitay, Martha Stewart, Dove Cameron and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Amarilis Badillo is a hairstylist at Tricoci Salon & Spa in Chicago, IL. 

Why trust Select?

Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer and editor who has been covering beauty and health for more than a decade, including topics like hair care and sun protection. For this article, Pai spoke to four hairstylists to narrow down the best co-washes to shop, and highlighted their recommendations about what to  consider when shopping.