advice, hair, skin, and other elements of physical appearance, how-to

21 Days of CO-Washing Ultra Fine Hair

Dealing with ultra fine hair is a nightmare. It tangles if you look at it wrong, it refuses to play nice unless you use exactly the right products, and it never grows because it breaks off so easily. But I’ve wanted long hair my entire life, and dammit, I’m going to get it. So I looked up how to help hair grow, and CO-washing is one of the first things that popped up.

CO-washing is conditioner only washing, where you cut out shampoo completely in order to protect your hair’s natural oils. There are all kinds of benefits to reducing your shampoo usage, but the one that caught my eye is increased hair growth. Most shampoos contain harsh chemicals that strip your hair of its natural oils, which causes increased damage and breakage. When ends break and split, you have to go get them chopped off and any added length you’ve gotten since your last haircut is rendered null and void. This has been my pattern for my entire life, so I figured hey, let’s try cutting out the shampoo.

My Old Products

Here’s what I was using before: Herbal Essences Color Me Happy shampoo, and Pantene Pro-V In the Shower Foam Conditioner. I don’t know why Herbal Essences thinks they can sell this as a color-safe shampoo, because it contains sulfates and all kinds of other very color-unfriendly ingredients, but it smells nice so I’ve used it for years. The Pantene is the best conditioner I’ve ever used, bar none. My hairdresser will kill me if she sees that I used it because she says Pantene is basically like depositing plastic directly onto your hair, but this particular conditioner is the lightest and most pleasant one I’ve ever tried, and when you have fine hair, that can take years to find. But I gave it up in order to dive into the world of CO-washing.

Regular shampoo and conditioner
Herbal Essences Color Me Happy: $5
Pantene Pro-V In the Shower Foam Conditioner: $6

My CO-Washing Products

If you know me, you know I’m eager to try any and everything when it comes to my hair, so even though conditioner and fine hair rarely mix well, I immediately went out and bought everything I would need to switch to CO-washing.

Okay, actually, not immediately. That’s what 2013 Megan would have done. 2019 Megan has made enough impulsive hair mistakes (hopefully) to know that a little research would make this whole process go a lot more smoothly. I found 97% of my information from this amazing Reddit thread on CO-washing and based on what I learned, I went out and bought 7 products: an everyday conditioner, a clarifying shampoo, a dry shampoo, raw honey, unrefined coconut oil, a wide-tooth comb, and prenatal vitamins. I chose these specific products because of various ingredients they did or did not contain, but also because of their price. Everything pictured above cost me $46. That comes out to a little over $6 per product, which is not bad at all.

** P.S. This is not an affiliate post. I get no money by
recommending these products, I’m just letting you know what
I really used and how they actually worked. **

My Conditioner

Because I have fine, thin hair, I need to look out for weightiness. I’m sure this has a more technical term, but basically I wanted to avoid ingredients that might weigh down my hair. My hair already struggles to maintain enough volume to keep me from looking like a drowned rat, the last thing I need are heavy ingredients tugging my hair even closer to my scalp. I ended up choosing Mane ‘n Tail Conditioner because it had the right ingredients at the right price. It contains glycerin, a great moisturizing ingredient, hydrolyzed collagen, which is just collagen your hair can actually absorb and turn into volume, and various natural oils to help protect my hair. Together, I thought these ingredients could condition my hair without dragging it down, and I’m happy to say I was right. I love Mane ‘n Tail. It’s smooth, rinses out well, and my ends have been far less fuzzy since I started using it.

Mane 'n tail conditioner CO-washing fine hair
Target: $6.19

My Shampoo

Okay, I know the whole point of CO-washing is to not shampoo your hair, but most people still shampoo anywhere from once a week to once every two months. But I didn’t want to shampoo my hair with the sulfate-ridden Herbal Essences, so I just bought the clarifying shampoo the Reddit thread recommended: Malibu C Scalp Wellness shampoo. I liked it because it contains a surfactant that helps remove oil and product buildup without damaging the hair. Surfactants are used in all kinds of personal hygiene products because their main job is to cling to particles and remove them by foaming up (think of the nice lather you get with any good hand soap, shaving cream, or toothpaste). Some surfactants, like the ones in the Malibu Scalp Wellness shampoo, are gentle and remove the oil and product particles without damaging the hair, but many other surfactants, like sulfates, strip the particles in a way that leaves the hair vulnerable and/or damaged. I wasn’t sure I would like the Malibu shampoo when I first used it because it didn’t foam up the way I was used to, but it got my hair amazingly clean, and it has a fresh, almost Vicks-like smell to it.

Malibu Scalp Wellness Shampoo for CO-washing fine hair
Amazon: $16

My Deep Conditioner

Even though CO-washing involves conditioning your hair far more often than normal, people still recommended adding a deep condition routine every two weeks or so. I am a big believer in the power of honey, so when I saw some people making their own deep conditioner out of raw honey and unrefined coconut oil, I hopped on the bandwagon. Because of my acne writing job, I knew a thing or two about what honey and coconut oil can and cannot do, and I recognized them both as great conditioning ingredients. Honey has such effective healing properties that many hospitals now use specialized honey-soaked dressings to help heal wounds more quickly, so it stands to reason that honey could help repair damaged hair as well. Coconut oil should never be used for acne (it WILL clog your pores, stay away) but I can totally see why it would help your hair. It contains tons of lauric acid, which has been proven to reduce breakage caused by combing in all kinds of hair types. Combined, I thought these would make a great DIY deep conditioner for CO-washing. I only used it once in the 21 day experiment, but I’d do it again, though with less coconut oil. It definitely took some work to wash out because it was so oily and sticky, but my hair felt and smelled amazing the next two days.

Honey for deep conditioning in CO-washing fine hair
Aldi: $4.89
Coconut oil for deep conditioning in CO-washing
Aldi: $4.49

My Dry Shampoo

When it came to dry shampoo, I really didn’t know what I was looking for. I just figured I didn’t want anything that would cause too much product buildup, since I wouldn’t be shampooing regularly, and of course I didn’t want the infamous powdery dry shampoo look. I was wandering Target, getting in the way of literally every employee there I believe, and finally found this Dove Care Between Washes Foam Dry Shampoo. Because the Pantene foaming conditioner worked so well for me, I thought maybe the foam dry shampoo would be a good pick too. In general, I wasn’t super impressed. It definitely made my hair feel less greasy, but I don’t feel like it made it look any better. Then again, I’m very new to dry shampoo because I usually wash my hair every day, so I might just be doing it wrong.

Dove foam dry shampoo
Target: $4.89

My Combs

Okay, those are all of the products that officially relate to CO-washing, but this whole CO-washing adventure was part of my quest toward hair that will actually grow, and one way to make that happen was to avoid brushing wet hair. As I said before, fine hair tangles very very easily, so it makes sense that ripping through all those wet tangles wouldn’t exactly protect your hair from growth-reducing damage. I figured a comb is a comb, so I didn’t do anything fancy here. This pack of combs, including a wide-tooth comb, a fine tooth comb, and a pick, cost me exactly $1 at Dollar Tree. They’re ugly, but they’ve held up great and do what I need them to do.

Combs for hair growth
Dollar Tree: $1

My Vitamins

One of the other hair growth tips I saw a lot online was taking prenatal vitamins. They contain a lot of biotin, the B vitamin most commonly associated with healthier hair, skin, and nails, but they also contain all kinds of other vitamins and minerals that some people may not get enough of in their daily diet. Vitamins don’t do any good if you already get enough of them, but if you’re deficient, getting the proper amount can improve all kinds of minor health concerns, like crazy thin, fine hair (I hope). So far I can’t tell a huge difference in my hair length or thickness, so I can’t say for sure that they do or don’t work. But they taste good and I haven’t noticed any adverse effects.

Prenatal vitamins for hair growth
Target: $8.69

21 Days of CO-Washing

When I went online to see if other people with extremely fine hair like me had tried CO-washing before, everything I found were articles about people who had tried it for 5 days or so, and from everything I’d read, that just wasn’t enough time to know if it worked for your hair. When you’ve used shampoo every day (or nearly every day) for years and you suddenly stop and start only washing with conditioner, it takes your hair a week or two to adjust. So I set out to do 30 days of CO-washing.

You may have noticed that this article is not called 30 days of CO-washing. It’s just 21 days, and that’s because I decided it was definitely not for me. I gave my hair three weeks to adjust, and it was still a stiff, greasy mess, so I finally caved and went to get my hair professionally shampooed. Still, just because it didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, which is why I tried to document this whole process as precisely as possible. Each day I took a picture in the same spot with natural lighting and no makeup, and I did nothing to my hair except comb it and let it air-dry. That way the differences you see from day to day can be traced to which products I used, not how good my makeup looks or how much time I had to blow dry my hair. Here’s how it played out day-by-day.

Week One

Week one was a roller coaster. On days 1 and 2, my hair felt pretty normal and I was completely sure that I had found the perfect hair routine and I would finally have the long luscious locks I’ve always wanted. But by day 3, my hair had that awful stiff, greasy feeling and I lost my confidence. Throughout the rest of the week, I went back and forth between knowing this was going to work, and knowing I couldn’t stand it one day longer.

I took my prenatal vitamin every day, used my Malibu C shampoo on days 1 and 5, applied Mane ‘n Tail conditioner on days 1, 3, 5, and 7, and I used the Dove foam dry shampoo on day 4 and day 6 (which isn’t pictured here, I know, sorry, I completely forgot to take a picture that day).

Week Two

Week two was a bit better…maybe. I really liked how my hair looked on days 8 and 11, but as you can see from the picture, some other days looked a bit rough. Some days, like day 10 or day 12, actually looked pretty nice, but I had to take the picture while it was still a little wet because I had places to go and needed to get some makeup on my face.

I took the prenatal vitamins every day, shampooed only on day 12, used the Mane n’ Tail conditioner on days 8, 10, 11, and 12, and applied dry shampoo on days 9 and 14. On day 12, I also deep conditioned my hair using one tablespoon of melted coconut oil and a large squeeze of honey (sorry, didn’t measure). I applied to my ends first, then worked it toward my scalp, and let it set for a little over half an hour, and then I rinsed, shampooed, and conditioned my ends again with Mane n’ Tail. It felt amazing, but I definitely used a little too much coconut oil for my fine, wispy hair.

Week Three

This was the last week of CO-washing for me. Looking at these pictures, my hair actually doesn’t look too terrible (except maybe day 19), but the pictures don’t show how it feels. I kept a careful record each day of this project, tracking exactly which products I used and what my hair texture felt like, and almost every day this week, no matter which products I used, I wrote “stiff with grease.” Based on everything I’d read about CO-washing, this heavy greasiness should have subsided by week two, at the latest by week three. But by the end of week three, my hair was stiff, greasy, and absolutely untouchable.

I took the prenatal vitamins every day, I didn’t use the Malibu C at all during this last week, I used the Mane ‘n Tail on days 15, 16, 18, 19, and 21, and I used the Dove dry shampoo on day 20. By day 21, it was clear to me that this wasn’t working. My hair felt heavy and gross, and the next day I went to the salon and got a nice, thorough shampooing.

My conclusion is that CO-washing is not the best method for those of us with extremely fine hair. I have fine-haired friends who swear by the CO-washing technique, but if I really think about it, their hair lacks the fur-like fineness mine has. If your hair is so fine, people tell you it reminds them of their dog, then shampoo may be the only way to keep your hair from getting too weighed down and greasy.

What Did I Keep?

Even though CO-washing didn’t work out for my hair, I didn’t totally ditch these products or routines. It’s been a week or so since I quit CO-washing, and I still take the prenatal vitamins and comb my hair in the shower, and I still haven’t gone back to blow drying my hair. I use the Malibu C shampoo and Mane ‘n Tail conditioner every time I wash my hair, but I try to make that every other day instead of every day. I can’t say I use the dry shampoo much because I just didn’t feel like it made my hair look any better, but I do plan on making my own honey/coconut oil deep conditioner again soon.

Stay tuned for more hair growth adventures! I am determined to have long hair some time before I die, so I’m going to keep testing out all kinds of different hair routines. More posts to come!

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