What's A Pre-Poo & Why Your Hair Might Need It

In the natural hair community, pre-poo doesn't raise any question marks. But, just outside that healthy hair guru group are those of us who wouldn't click on a title about pre-poo to save our lives (mostly because it sounds disgusting — yes our minds went there, too!). Yet pre-shampooing is a save-all for all hair types and for many hair issues, especially frizz, breakage, and split ends. So, how does it work and why?
Well, let's call out the elephant in the room: Why would you put something on your hair immediately before shampooing? It is just going to get washed out.
True! But not for the reasons you think.
Your wash-day routine (as it is typically known in the natural hair community, though you might just call it shampooing and conditioning) is the number one source for many of your hair woes. The amount of touching, manipulation, finger-combing, rubbing, pulling — you name it — that you do in the shower when it comes to your hair is plain terrible for it. There's really no other way to put it. But, as we all know, washing your hair is a necessity, for reasons that don't need to be called out. Your wash day is often the reason for so much breakage (which may be why your hair isn't growing long), frizz (especially on the back of your head — seriously, turn down the heat of your water!), and split ends (which split because of a loss of protein, moisture, and over-manipulation).
Here is where a pre-poo comes in handy — it will prep your hair for the damage to come and thus, lessen it.
Click through to learn all the basics of this strand-saving move.

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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
Lessening Breakage & Split Ends

A pre-poo is generally an oil or conditioner added to dry hair for 15-20 minutes prior to showering. When putting it on your hair, you also take the opportunity to finger-detangle your hair as well. Brushing pulls at your hair and increases breakage and split ends, which is why finger detangling is a better option. You could try this move in the shower, but it causes more breakage than would occur if you were to finger detangle on dry hair. A pre-poo consisting of a conditioner or oils will add slip to your hair so that you can easily detangle it without causing damage, breakage, or split ends. Once you hop in the shower, your hair is already detangled and you won't need to manipulate it as much when applying shampoo or conditioner. Less manipulation means less split ends.
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Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
Lessening Frizz

A pre-poo adds moisture to your hair by closing the cuticle. This is important for multiple reasons: For starters, it is likely that you are using a shampoo containing sulfates. Not sure? Here's a quick quiz:

Does your shampoo suds up when you use it?
If your answer is yes: You are using a shampoo with sulfates.

What is causing your shampoo to suds is the same stuff they use in car washes and in those body washes that dry out your skin. There are sulfate-free options out there, but they are generally more expensive. Plus, people often report that without the suds, they don't feel as clean. Cool — that's why we pre-poo.

A shampoo containing sulfates, while good at removing oil and dirt from your scalp, severely dries out your hair. And, if your cuticles are open, it will suck all the moisture out of each strand, specifically the natural oils that have moved from your scalp down into your follicles since your last wash. When you condition, some moisture will be added back in, but it isn't natural moisture, nor will it be as much of it. To lock moisture into your hair before you shampoo, you need to close those cuticles the same way that your close a door if you don't want people coming in and stealing your stuff. Same idea, if you get the drift.

A pre-poo that soaks in for 15-20 minutes will sufficiently moisturize the hair and close the cuticles. Yes, you are about to wash out the pre-poo with that sulfate-ridden shampoo. But, that's OK because the pre-poo has already done its job. By keeping natural moisture in your hair, the amount of frizz you experience later will decrease, if not almost entirely disappear.

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Store-Bought Options

Any conditioner or hair mask can be used as a pre-poo, but make sure that it doesn't have any silicones in it and that it is heavy enough to really moisturize your hair within 15-20 minutes. To err on the same side, look at the ingredients and put back any bottle containing an ingredient with the suffix "cone." Some silicones are water soluble, but not all, so it is better to be on the safe side if you don't want to dig too far into knowing your dimethicones from your methicones. Anything with labeling about being a moisturizing conditioner or deep conditioner, like JessiCurl Too Shea! Extra Moisturizing Conditioner (pictured) or As I Am Hydration Elation Conditioner, are good bets.
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Online Options

If you are looking for a pre-poo online, you have a world of options. But, don't just buy any old conditioner or hair mask. Instead, opt for an oil. The most popular oils for pre-poos are olive (for thicker hair) and coconut (for thinner hair). You can also just head on over to popular curly hair e-commerce sites like CurlMart — they carry a full range of ready-made pre-poo options from natural hair brands.
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DIY Options

Your DIY options are seriously endless. There is a whole slew of YouTube videos and natural hair blogs about what to mix and how to mix it to create the best possible pre-poo. To get you started, try this creamy pre-poo recipe:

What you'll need:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil

1 tablespoon raw honey

Mix ingredients well until they form a creamy substance. Apply generously to hair, finger detangling as you go. Leave on your hair for 15-20 minutes. You can cover it with a plastic cap, as well, if you want to avoid getting your apartment dirty as you pre-poo. Rinse and shampoo as normal.
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