Are Pre-Shampoo Treatments Really All That? We Put 5 To The Test

We totally get the hesitation about using a product with "pre-'poo" in the name. We don't want our hair associated with any of that business... But poor name choice aside, these treatments are strand saviors and if you haven't tried them yet, you should definitely get privy.

Pre-'poo, or pre-shampoo, treatments are oils, butters, conditioners, masks, and more that are applied to wet hair before cleansing. You typically slather one on your mane, let it sit for up to 30 minutes, and shampoo and condition as usual. The result? Shinier, more hydrated tresses.

Women with curly or textured hair have been keen on these moisturizing methods for quite a while now, but these products can be save-alls for a variety of hair types. Whether you need to revive damaged hair after being a little heavy-handed with the blowdryer or just want to give your locks a little extra TLC, you might want to consider picking up a pre-'poo.

To help figure out which treatment will work best for you, we asked a few of our staff members to test five different products — from items you might find in your kitchen to luxurious oils. Click through to read the verdicts.

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Who: Ana Colón, shopping editorial assistant
Treatment: Burt's Bees Avocado Butter
Hair Type: "Relatively thick, wavy on a good day"

"My relationship with hair care is complicated — actually, it's not complicated at all. I can't really tell you what type of hair I have (it's relatively thick, wavy on a good day, and disappointingly flat the rest of the time). I wash my hair every other day or every two days, because I read once that that's what Jennifer Aniston does. I like to pretend to know about products, to scrutinize my hair's texture and type, and to attempt to decipher the magic formula to get that #IWokeUpLikeDis look. But as soon as I figure out the what, why, and how, my laziness gets the best of me. So my routine goes as follows: shampoo, conditioner, and maybe a spritz of leave-in conditioner if I remember, because a stylist who once cut my hair told me I should do that. I air-dry because, again, laziness — but I do blowdry my bangs because of an unfortunately placed cowlick (is that the technical term?).

"When Taylor approached me with an opportunity to actually try a product (instead of just loiter around CVS thinking about trying the latest hair-care phenom), I couldn't say no. My product was Burt's Bees Avocado Butter Pre-Shampoo Treatment. My first thought was: Avocado, really? Is there anything we can't put avocado in? My second thought: I love avocado, so why not? You apply it onto wet hair and leave it in for 15 minutes before the usual shampoo-and-conditioner ritual. This step made me feel a tad weary, since it requires more planning than I usually put into my routine. But it was for journalism!"
"Because I air-dry, I only really saw the effects of the product the next day. (Yes, I commit the grave sin of going to bed with damp hair. Don't tell my grandmother.) But it was actually worth the wait. Usually, my hair has a nice bounce to it the morning after I wash it, but falls flat by late afternoon. After I used the pre-'poo product, my waves stuck well into the night, giving my locks a nice volume I don't usually get to enjoy for very long after a wash. Was this the intended effect of the product? I'm not sure, but it happened and I liked it.

"I probably won't use the product every time I wash my hair, because of the whole 'having to wet my hair to add product, then waiting 15 minutes, only to jump in the shower' thing. (Have I mentioned that I'm really lazy?) But it may become a once-a-week thing, to get a step closer to actually #WakingUpLikeDis."
Burt's Bees® Avocado Butter Pre-Shampoo Hair Treatment, $9.00 Buy
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Who: Zooey Purdy, content product manager
Treatment: Philip Kingsley Geranium & Neroli Elasticizer
Hair Type: Curly

"I was honestly pretty nervous to try this treatment as the first product in my shower regimen, because my hair gets seriously tangled. I normally select conditioners based on how much they aid in the detangling process. If this treatment wasn’t up to the task of detangling my super-curly locks, it was going to be very difficult to spread evenly throughout my hair without having to use another conditioner first — not to mention painful.

"I scooped out a major glob with my hand and started to work it through my damp hair, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it detangled all on its own! (In the curly-hair world, the ability for a product to aid in detangling is called its “slip.”) After combing it through with my fingers, I clipped my hair on top of my head with a big claw clip and then put on the shower cap that conveniently came in the package. Then I left the shower, and lounged around my apartment looking super-fab in my shower cap and towel for about half an hour. After I returned to the shower and rinsed, my hair felt incredibly soft. I was honestly hesitant to shampoo afterwards because I was worried it would strip my hair of all the goodness the treatment had just imparted, but I followed the directions, shampooed, and followed up with my normal conditioner."
“I’m not totally sure what 'elasticizer' means, but my hair definitely feels more moisturized after this treatment, which is critical for curly hair. I don’t normally even use shampoo, so I want to try this treatment again as just a one-step process in the shower without the additional shampoo and conditioner after it. The process of having to shower twice with a weird 30-minute break in-between was a bit of a hassle (and time-suck), so I wouldn’t do this too frequently — but I’m definitely impressed with the results.”
Philip Kingsley Geranium & Neroli Elasticizer, $52.00 Buy
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Who: Wendy Steiner, associate social media editor
Treatment: Leonor Greyl Pre-Shampoo Oil Treatment
Hair Type: "Naturally wavy"

"I have naturally wavy hair, but not in the effortlessly cool, boho way. More like in a frizzy, damaged-but-getting-okay-with-it way. I blowdry and straighten most days. And sometimes, I get lazy and straighten before my hair is 100% dry because I'm starting to think 100% dry doesn't exist.

"I'd never heard of pre-'poo; I would have guessed it was a way of communicating peeing. But I hear oils are having a big moment. And I'm 'oil' about it!"
"The Leonor Greyl oil I used smelled mega-floral, which is something I normally would not have picked for myself, but it grew on me. I may have initially used too much, as I felt it didn't wash out as much as I would have liked and made the ends of my hair feel noticeably oily without any particular benefits, at least that I could tell. After more uses and smaller portions at a time, I think it did make my ends a bit less unruly. I think I'll continue to use it, in hopes that there's magic happening that I am not seeing and because it makes me feel fancy."
Leonor Greyl Pre-Shampoo Oil Treatment, $59.00 Buy
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Who: Taylor Bryant, beauty news editor
Treatment: Motions Enhance & Define Pre-Wash Detangling Butter
Hair Type: Natural and textured

"My hair-care routine used to be basically nonexistent. No, not in the sense that I never washed my hair — ya nasty — but in that I always went to the salon and got it done. I'd go every couple of weeks, like clockwork, and sit back while someone did the cleansing, conditioning, and styling for me. The only finger-lifting required of me was turning the pages of magazines — spoiled, yes, I know.

"Now in my post-perm days, I've had to basically relearn (or, just learn) how to do all the things (wash, condition, deep-condition, detangle, style, the list goes on). I've gotten into more or less of a groove with my routine now — washing and deep-conditioning at least once a week — but there's one step that I have yet to really get the hang of, which is detangling.

"Unlike the other test subjects, I've actually had experience with pre-'poo treatments before. I'd heard great things about coconut oil as an aid in the detangling process prior to washing. But I personally found it to be a little too messy and laborious to deal with (sorry, coco-lovers)."
"The treatment I tried, which promises 'instant tangle release,' is formulated specifically for those with naturally textured hair and includes star ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil. My first hesitation came after reading the opening sentence in the instructions: Massage onto dry hair, and then detangle? This went against everything I had been told about the detangling process. But, echoing Ana's sentiments, it was for journalism!

"I swiped on some product section-by-section, giving the most love to the top and longest portion of my hair. Next, I proceeded to finger-detangle, after which I can't really say I noticed any miraculous changes. I encountered the same number of snags and snarls as I normally come across when I detangle post-wash (and just as much shedding), although I did love the creamy texture (and delectable smell!) of the butter. I left on the product for about 20 minutes, and then proceeded to wash it out — following with my typical cleansing routine.

"It wasn't until I finished my full routine that I noticed a real difference. My hair was noticeably more moisturized and soft to the touch, something that I haven't come across since choosing to go natural. While I'd like to test this out again while my hair is damp to see if the finger detangling process becomes a wee bit easier, overall, I'd give this jar of butter two thumbs up."
Motions Enhance & Define Pre-Wash Detangling Butter, $6.69 Buy
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Who: Mi-Anne Chan, beauty editorial assistant
Treatment: Olive oil
Hair Type: "Normal to thick"

"I have normal to thick hair that gets oily relatively quickly, even though it's prone to dryness and breakage at times. It's pretty straight, but it definitely has some texture.

"I am addicted to shampooing every day, even though I know I probably shouldn't. I've been washing my hair with Wen's Summer Coconut Lime Verbena Cleansing Conditioner most days, and then washing it with Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo when I want a deeper clean. I air-dry after washing — and that's really all I do."
"I'd heard of pre-'poo treatments before, but never really knew what they were. For this experiment, I used extra-virgin olive oil, which was really easy because I had some right in my kitchen. The first night I tried it, I poured a couple tablespoons of it into my hand, massaged it into my hair from roots to ends, and let it sit for 30 minutes before washing it out. I realized once I was in the shower that I had used way too much, and I had to wash my hair three times to get the oil out. Once my hair dried, it felt slightly smoother but I didn't notice any major difference in its texture. In retrospect, I shouldn't have applied the oil to my roots, so I kept that in mind for next time. When I tried it again later in the week, I just applied a teaspoon or so and liked that a lot more — it made my hair less frizzy once it dried.

"Although it was a nice and budget-friendly pre-shampoo hair mask, it's a little too much work when it comes to my hair-care routine. I'm used to just jumping in the shower and getting on with my night (save for a little after-shower hair oil if my strands are feeling particularly dry). Doling out teaspoons of olive oil into the palms of my hands and then slathering that into my tresses isn't exactly something I want to do on the reg. I think I'll save olive oil for cooking from now on, but it's nice to know that if my hair is in distress I can turn to my kitchen cabinet for a quick-fix."
Bragg Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $11.99 Buy
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
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