We Used Cleansing Conditioners For A Week, Here's What Happened

Photographed by ali Gavillet.
Cleansing conditioners: You've probably heard of them at one point or another, as they've gained mass popularity over the past couple of years. What started as a process mainly embraced by those with curly or textured hair is expanding to a wider range of strand types.
But, what is a cleansing conditioner, exactly? Well, as Ms. Spears might say, it's not a shampoo, not yet a conditioner. It's made for cleansing (obviously), just like shampoo, but without the harsh sulfates, detergents, or chemicals typically found in one. It's formulated in a way that leaves the hair and scalp feeling clean, but not stripped, and with an added moisturizing element.
As fascinating as it may seem, this new method causes some pause for those with hair on the straight and fine side, and understandably so. According to Howard McLaren, cofounder and creative director of R+Co, the main hesitation comes from the idea that it'll leave hair feeling greasy and heavy. This makes sense when you consider that cleansing conditioners are typically formulated for thick, curly, or natural hair — types that need more moisture than others. Those with fine or oil-prone strands run the risk of looking like their manes are dirtier due to the heavy moisturizing agents.
That's what the new batch of co-washing products is here to combat — like, R+Co's new Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner, which has a lighter formula, making it ideal for both coarse and fine strands. But, can these products convert even the most dedicated of shampooers? And, are they truly good for all hair types?
We enlisted four staff members with different hair types and levels of co-washing experience (from virgins to seasoned pros) to ditch their shampoos and test-drive some of the best and newest cleansing conditioners on the market. Read their reviews, and find out if these no-lather wonders really live up to the hype.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Jessica Roska, Senior Brand Experiences Editor
Hair Type: Fine
Cleansing Method: R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner

Family, friendships, and S.O. aside, there are few things in life that I have an unwavering loyalty to, besides Silk almond milk and my brow girl in Soho. Whether it’s my daily coffee run or my next-season denim splurge, chances are I’m hitting up a new spot and brand every time. But, when it comes to beauty products, I’m the most fickle consumer you’ll ever meet. No, seriously: I’ve never bought the same eye cream, shampoo, or face wash twice. As soon as a product runs out, I’ve already moved on to a newer and shinier replacement. So, when I was approached for this experiment — which required me to switch up my hair-washing routine — I was almost totally down.

My hesitation was that I had tried co-washing before. (Remember, I never try the same thing twice.) I had read about it a year ago, and was immediately convinced that I had been washing my hair wrong my entire life. So, in my typical compulsive manner, I rushed to the nearest Sephora, picked up a cleansing conditioner, and swore never to shampoo again. Fast-forward two months later, way past the epiphanic honeymoon stage, and my hair felt like a heavy, greasy mess.

But, this product was different. I was asked to try R+Co’s Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner for one week. I was already intrigued by the shape of the bottle and dispenser — it looked exactly like a can of mousse — not to mention the texture was light and fluffy, also like mousse. And, it smelled delicious. Game on.

The first wash was magical. It may sound strange, but the texture felt like putting shaving cream on my hair, which was new to me — but I loved it. It went on smooth like butter; I could feel my hair getting more velvety by the second. You see, my hair is complicated: It’s very fine, but I have a lot of it; it’s dry and easily damaged (due to coloring and hot tools), but my scalp is on the oilier side; it tends to lay flat and lack volume, but it’s naturally curly. So, when I find products that are moisturizing but not heavy, and can tame all my mane’s unflattering quirks, I (and my split ends) rejoice.

Recently, I had been using a drug-store brand, “all-natural, argan oil” shampoo and conditioner — clearly, the packaging had lured me in once again. But, I wasn’t unhappy with it. It worked for me, and so did the price. However, seeing how delighted I was with the first wash using the cleansing conditioner, I thought I could be convinced to commit to no shampoo once again. Until I tried to style my hair, and shit hit the fan.
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Photographed by ali Gavillet.
Once I blowdried my hair, I was disappointed to see that my roots looked and felt greasy. I actually had to use dry shampoo after I had just washed my hair to remove the excess oil. Maybe I was doing it wrong? Maybe I used too much? Or, maybe I needed to rinse five times?

After the second wash, I let my hair air-dry instead to see what would happen. It acted true to character, slowly expanding into an unkempt wad of frizz and kinky waves. While the product didn’t necessarily revamp my hair, it didn’t seem to be changing it for the worse. This time when I styled it, the roots were a little less oily (success!), but the texture felt different. It was thicker, almost like it was coated, which made it harder to wield into a smooth half-up/top-knot 'do (my typical Friday hairstyle, when styling my entire head of hair seems equivalent in effort to running a marathon).

I held off on washing my hair through the weekend, mainly because I went skiing and wore a beanie for 48 hours straight. Come Monday, I was excited to try the cleansing conditioner again — I was convinced I could make this work. But, Monday presented the same styling challenges as the week before, and so did Tuesday and Wednesday. My hair seemed to be getting continually thicker in texture, and the greasy roots returned. By the time of the photo shoot, I felt like I couldn’t style my hair in the way I normally would if I were to wear it down, in smooth, beachy waves. Instead, my hair wouldn’t wave or curl at all. So, I ended up with flat-ironed, straight-ish strands, with an assortment of oddly placed bends here and there and a whole lotta dry shampoo.

I went back to my normal shampoo-and-conditioner routine the day after the shoot, and I was starting to feel like myself again. I’m not opposed to giving this cleansing conditioner another chance. After all, I hear that it can take your hair a few weeks to “even out” and adjust to the new regimen. But, knowing me, in a few weeks I will have already moved on to something else.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Samantha Yu, Editorial Assistant
Hair Type: Normal
Cleansing Method: Unwash Bio-Cleansing Conditioner

I love switching things up when it comes to my shampoo and conditioner. Right now, I’m using Herbal Essences Drama Clean shampoo and conditioner, before that I was using Le Labo Rose 31, and before that OGX Coconut Milk. But, this was my first time trying a cleansing conditioner. I’d heard of two-in-one shampoos-conditioners before, but had never heard of co-washing or cleansing conditioners. The preliminary research I did — of course, I turned to R29 first and reread our no-shampoo experiment story — gave me the understanding that two-in-one shampoos were mostly shampoos, with a little bit of conditioner, and cleansing conditioners were the opposite.

Before I even started using the product, I fell in love with the smell. It was like a fresh load of laundry, but for my hair. In the shower, my brain went whoa for a moment when I squeezed a little bit of it onto my hand. I wasn't used to seeing a shampoo-sized amount of (cleansing) conditioner, but then I remembered that I was supposed to "apply a generous amount." Going on, it didn't feel that different from applying conditioner, and I immediately felt like I had a lighter head of hair.

By day two my hair felt super-soft, and I think it looked even shinier than usual! My hair didn’t show any signs of oil until the end of day three (I didn't use products on day two, but I did use them on day three), so I washed my hair that night for the second go-around. Over the next couple of days, the softness stayed, which was great, and the oiliness and texture change were slightly more noticeable, but not overwhelming. And, I have to say, skipping an extra step in the shower when you're rushing from place to place is a definite timesaver.

My mom came to town during the experiment, and I thought if anyone is going to notice a difference, it will be her. But, she didn't say anything! (Am I mad? Or, is that good? I don't know!) On the second-to-last day, I wore my hair up in a ponytail and I really liked how it looked. I thought my ponytail (which wasn't anything special, I promise) looked pretty. I think it was because of the changed texture.
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Photographed by ali Gavillet.
On the last day of the experiment (and the day of our “after” shots), our photographer and photo editor said that they noticed a difference! They described my hair as "piecey-er" and more textured than before — that there seemed to be more separation between the strands, and more volume and angles than in my "before" photos. My reaction? "I'm down with that!" It definitely feels like there is product in my hair still, but I'm not 100% sure I mind it yet. I'm excited to keep trying this out for an additional few days (weeks?) to see how it feels later on. I'm also curious: Is what I'm feeling now what I really should be feeling? Or, is what I'm feeling now dirty? And, even if what I'm feeling now is dirty, is it healthy? AH!

I haven't gone back to using my shampoo and conditioner just yet. I'm into this, and think I'm going to keep it going for a while. My hair feels soft and has a new kind of texture that I'm really enjoying. I promise to report back in the comments in another week — and, perhaps, again after that.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Alex McGinn, Sales Marketing Manager
Hair Type: Curly
Cleansing Method: DevaCurl No-Poo

I’m not loyal to any one shampoo or conditioner — to be honest, I usually just use whatever I’ve picked up at the most recent R29 beauty sale. Prior to the experiment, I had Pureology Curl Complete shampoo and conditioner on rotation in my shower caddy. That said, when I have to go in-store to purchase, my go-to combo is Klorane shampoo and conditioner with pomegranate. I love the light scent they leave, and they never feel super-abrasive the way certain shampoo-and-conditioner combinations can feel.

Working at Refinery, you always hear rumblings about the next big style, beauty, xyz, thing; consequently, I had heard people talking about co-washing in lieu of shampooing around the office, but I hadn’t formed any sort of opinion on it. I imagine not washing your hair with shampoo may sound a little gross to some people, but as someone who shampoos maybe three times a week, I’m not one to judge.

My hair is pretty thick and wavy, and can get very unmanageable and dry. And, it takes several hours for it to air-dry — something I try to practice as regularly as possible. Air-drying is my (very passive) way of minimizing heat damage from a blowdryer, since I use a curling iron to style almost every morning. So, washing it daily is pretty much out of the question. On the days I do shampoo, it’s often very much needed.
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Photographed by ali Gavillet.
I was a little concerned that just using DevaCurl would shorten the window of time I had between washes, and my suspicions were right. While my hair felt more manageable right after using the cleansing conditioner, it didn’t feel clean for as long as shampooing and conditioning left it feeling.

I will also say that the sensation of applying a product to wet hair without any sort of lather was extremely weird. On top of that, I have a lot of hair, so feeling like I covered all of it required using a lot of DevaCurl. After only a week and three cleanses, I’m already halfway through the bottle. When it comes to shampooing, a little can go a long way because of the lather, so I will probably stick to my normal routine for economic reasons alone.

Co-washing didn’t leave my hair feeling that different from my normal routine. The biggest difference was the length of time I felt I could go without having to wet it again.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Ryen Williams, Associate PM/Producer
Hair Type: Textured/Natural
Cleansing Method: As I Am Coconut CoWash Cleansing Conditioner

Co-washing is great for African-American hair texture, because it doesn't strip it of the natural oils we need. I don't know many Black women who don't already participate in, or at least know about, co-washing — it's really popular in the natural hair community. My hair texture is naturally curly, with tight coils, and varies from dry to normal, depending on the day. It typically sucks up moisture like a sponge, so I have to moisturize every day. I learned about the co-washing phenomenon when I first cut off all my hair back in 2012, and have been doing it ever since (about once a week). I still shampoo my hair maybe once every month, because I like to see suds and it just gives me that clean feeling.

Typically, I use SheaMoisture Products (Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo and Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Conditioner) for my hair, but I’ve recently run out. It's not the greatest, but someone recommended it to me as a good product for natural hair, so I picked it up. I've seen the As I Am brand before, but this was my first time trying it out.
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Photographed by ali Gavillet.
Although it didn't create a sudsy-type situation, I noticed that it did cleanse my hair after each wash. I honestly didn't really notice a difference, as I've already been co-washing. Have you ever used a conditioner that felt almost like water and easily rinsed right off? That's how this was. I was like, What's the point? I did, however, see dirt rinsing out after washing, so it at least did that much. I tend to find myself separating knots every now and again, so I wish it did a better job in the detangling department.

I'll continue to use it, since I recently ran out of my last cleansing product. I like to see suds, so I won't be completely taking shampoo out of my routine, but I'll do the full wash maybe once a month. I have yet to find THE perfect shampoo/conditioner for my hair, but this will do for now!
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