Conditioner Only Washing (No Shampoo) | Crunchy Beauty Tips

Facebook fans: You spoke and I listened! Here is the first in our series of crunchy (read: natural or low-effort) beauty tips. I don’t pretend to be a beauty expert, but I know what makes me feel good. And if it makes ME feel good, maybe it’ll make some of you feel good, too! If you don’t like this series you should probably become a Facebook fan so you can shout me down when I float these hair-brained (HAIR BRAINED, GET IT?) schemes of mine. xo Rebecca

How I gave up shampoo and made my hair better!

What’s blogging without a giant confession, right? I have one. But first, I have to say, I can’t even believe I’m doing a Beauty Tips post. I’m no Audrey Hepburn or Audrey Tatou or any other Audrey for that matter. I’m a stay-at-home mom of five boys. BOYS. I ask them to brush their hair and they run screaming from me like I’m brandishing a hot poker at them instead of a hairbrush. I grab for a warm washcloth to fix a pudding smeared face and the screams might make you think I’m wiping them down with acid. I suggest that perhaps they might want to change the shirt they’ve been wearing for a week solid and it’s greeted with a befuddled look, shrugged shoulders and a “NothankyoumomI’mcomfy.”

In short? I’m pretty much on my own here. I don’t even have a frame of reference for what is trendy or hip or even socially acceptable any more, so honestly, I don’t know how many people are going to get squeamish over what I’m about to say.

…Which is this…

I haven’t used shampoo in two and a half years. Yes. That is my beauty tip. No shampoo. (I can hear you now, “…And you’re surprised your boys are gross?”)  Obviously there’s a bit more to it or everybody would be doin’ it, right?

Here’s a little history. After I had my youngest son a little over nine years ago, I felt perpetually rumpled. I had just given birth to my fifth child in eight years. Translation: I was lumpy and hormonal. Translation of the translation: out of shape, shedding hair like mad and had spotty skin. The hair that remained attached to my head was scarcely behaving better than the stuff that fell out in handfuls in the shower/on my pillow/standing still. It was cottony looking, dry and my scalp itched like mad. (Boy, do I sound like I was a looker or WHAT?!?)

I embarked on a path that seemed like a good idea to clear up my lumpybumpy body, skin and hair problems. I started buying expensive creams and shampoos from the salon. And that? Well, it didn’t work and it left me with bottles and pots and jars and squeeze tubes of things that were disgustingly expensive and useless. Then I tried all-natural shampoos/conditioners/beauty products. That didn’t work at all either. And the blue aloe mud bug organic herbal tinctures and shampoos and salves and whatnot were even more expensive than the professional products.

About five and a half years ago, my bathroom closet was overflowing with what amounted to more than a car payment’s worth of things I’d never use again. As a last ditch effort, I turned to the internet and googled a string of keywords that sounded like the punchline in a fairy tale:

“Straw, Hair, Pimples, Balding, Magic Shampoo, Smooth, HELP”

Rumpelstiltskin didn’t show up, but I got a list of websites that said, “No Poo”. “But I’m not constipated, my hair just looks like cotton balls!” thought I, until I read a little further. These blogs were all talking about giving up shampoo and solving their hair problems. “Er, okay. Whatever.” But I was desperate enough at that point to keep reading.

Over the next couple of weeks, I tried the baking soda/vinegar solution that many no-poo-ers recommended. That worked for a while, but left my hair feeling sticky. My husband had sniffed my hair when I got out of the shower and told me I smelled like a pickle. (From him, that’s a compliment. Hubby loves pickles.) I, on the other hand, missed the pretty smells of shampoo.

I tried Wen by Chaz Dean because I saw the commercial on television and any guy who can toss his hair like the Breck girl seems like a pretty solid authority on silky hair. The problem there was that it was insanely expensive and I had long hair. I knew it wasn’t a tenable long term solution and I was only feeling so-so about the results so it was tough to justify the cost.

I turned back to the omniscient interwebs for help and discovered yet another no-shampoo group who was less intestinally know as the co-only (short for conditioner only) crowd. The long and short of co-only is that you only wash your hair with conditioner. Again, there’s a little more to it. You can’t just pick any old conditioner; it must be a silicone-free conditioner to keep from weighing your hair down. There’s good news, though. ANYTHING in the Suave Naturals line is silicone free. In other words, one of the cheapest conditioners out there is perfect for the job, and it’s a good thing, too, because co-only washing consists of massaging palms-ful of conditioner in your hair and scalp and letting it stay there (preferably under a shower cap) while you complete the rest of your shower then rinsing it out.

In October of 2010, I tried it. I didn’t really have any great expectations. I figured I’d get out of the shower and find my hair lank and greasy and my scalp itchy. “This is it,” I told myself, “If this doesn’t work, I’ll just cut my hair short and go back to using shampoo.” I was shocked to find it was the opposite. My hair felt as smooth as silk and not weighed down in the least bit. For the first time in almost a decade, my scalp didn’t itch to the point where I felt like clawing it off. And ladies? When I tell you my hair looked good, I mean it looked goooooooooooood. As in it behaved and did what I wanted it to when I wanted it to do it with little effort and almost no product and smelled pretty to boot.

The next time I went to my hairdresser, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and confessed what I was doing. She said, “Wow! Are you kidding? Your hair looks great. I’ll have to tell some of my other clients about this.” I haven’t looked back from that point on and I’ve been conditioner only washing for four and a half years now. IMPORTANT UPDATE: My hairdresser has gone on to recommend this to many of her clients and they have reported back with great results.

How I gave up shampoo and made my hair better!

I wouldn’t yank your leg on this, folks. It truly has been the holy grail for me. When I gave up shampoo, it didn’t just clear up my hair problems, it eliminated my skin problems completely. The pimples and acne that I had been blaming on my poor choice in beauty products and/or hormones went away almost overnight.

What I learned AFTER finding what worked for me was that shampoo was stripping the natural, protective oils from my hair and scalp and face (by virtue of its proximity to my hair- thank heavens). In order to make my skin and hair behave after doing that, I had to replace what I could with conditioner in my hair and lotions on my face. For whatever reasons, my fish-belly pale skin was too sensitive for this routine. Eliminating the shampoo/conditioner cycle did the job for me.

Is this a solution for everyone? Maybe, maybe not. Some people have reported an adjustment period where their hair  and skin acted like a petulant, oily child for a week or a month or so before becoming bouncin’ and behavin’. I had zero funky down time with my hair when I switched to conditioner only. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never in life been a wash-my-hair-every-day kind of girl. The only time I’ve washed my hair two days in a row is after exceptionally sweaty gardening excursions or after a child threw up in it or used my hair as a napkin or -worse- a hanky. Oh, come on… you KNOW it’s bound to happen with five kids, right?

How I gave up shampoo and made my hair better!

Here’s my point. It’s worth a try if you’re frustrated with how your hair is treating you or horrified by the amount of money you have to spend to make your hair do what you want it to do. Let me break down the specifics on how I conditioner only wash my hair.

How to Conditioner-Only Wash Hair:

  1. Wet your hair thoroughly in the shower, massaging your scalp.
  2. Squirt a palmful of silicone-free conditioner into your hand and massage it into your scalp and the hair near it.
  3. Squirt another palmful of silicone-free conditioner into your hand and massage it into the rest of your hair. Repeat this until all of your hair is saturated with the conditioner. If your hair is thick and lower-mid back length like mine, you’ll need about 4 palms-ful to coat your hair and scalp.
  4. Pile your hair on your head to keep it out of the shower stream. If you have one, put a cheap-o shower cap on to keep the conditioner from rinsing away.
  5. Complete whatever else you need to in the shower; wash your bod, shave, whatever.
  6. Add a splash of water to your hair and scrub your scalp again, then rinse your hair fully.
  7. Dry/Style/Whatever your hair as usual. For me, most often this means blow-drying my bangs so they don’t lay funny and letting the rest of my hair do whatever it wants. This is what works best for me!
  8. Do this two to three times a week. Unless you’re working out HARD daily or having someone wipe boogers in your hair, this should be sufficient.


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How I gave up shampoo and made my hair better!

I’m feeling a little sheepish about even bringing this up here, so help a gal out. What do you think? Am I nuts? Would you ever try it? Do you want to sniff my hair to verify I don’t smell like a fryolator before giving it a shot or is this just completely off the table for you? Talk to me!

How I gave up shampoo and made my hair better!

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Update: This post was originally published February 15th, 2013. Because it has been more than two years since publication and because I am still going co-washing strong, I wanted to bring it back to the front for the benefit of those who may not have seen it yet. The number of people for whom this has made a huge difference -as evidenced by the comments below- is pretty awesome.


  1. says

    seriously, people, rebecca has the best hair EVAR. (yes, valley girl style). sadly, i learned about this whole co-only business after two years of wanting to pet her hair (only a little), and right after i bought a gallon each of fancy shampoo and conditioner. when that stuff’s gone, i’m going to co-opt the co-only.

    real-life friend

  2. Jeanene says

    Great post! I have been no-pooing for a while, the baking soda and vinegar routine, and haven’t had many problems. I might have to get some conditioner and give this a try though! I do tend to have an itchy scalp, but it’s much better since I gave up shampoo.

  3. says

    I used to be a wash EVERYDAY kind of girl but as I have let my hair grow out I have noticed it looks better to wash every other day. I still am dealing with very oily hair and skin though….I just might try this.

  4. Kym says

    I’ve been conditioner only for about the same period of time, and my naturally curly hair is AMAZING. The best, healthiest hair I’ve ever had. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

    Ps: I just found your blog a few weeks ago and ohmygodiloveitandimahugefangirl…. Ahem. Thanks. We wnt speak of this again.

  5. emily W. says

    Sooo… I’ve been an Aveda girl for several years now, but after my husband realized how much the stuff cost he decided I need to find something else. Poop. I was thinking about asking for shampoo and conditioner for my upcoming birthday (uh, hello lame), but then he went all awesome on me and sprung for tickets to Cirque’s Quidam, of which it has been a (nearly) lifelong dream of mine to see live. Anywho. Point being…
    This post could not have come at a better time as I a) am about to run out of my Aveda, b) was interested in but rather skeptical about the vinegar methord and c) happen to have an abundance of Suave natural shampoo/conditioner sitting under a cabinet taking up space. So…seriously, thanks. I’ll have to try this. After church on Sunday, though. I can wear at a hat to the gym. Not so much to church.
    P.S. Is it creepy that I think we’d be buds in real life? Do you get that a lot? Except I’m way behind on Dr. Who. As in never seen it. But all my good friends have.
    P.P.S. Looking out for more crunchy tips…

  6. says

    I remember you telling me about this a year ago. I never tried it because I exercise so vigorously every day, I couldn’t imagine not washing my hair. But maybe… I don’t know. You know how Orphan Annie curly I am. I willing to bet it wouldn’t work on my nest :( I’d kill for your hair.

  7. Alexis S says

    I feel like I’m right at that stage where you were trying all sorts of expensive products. None of them really work! The price of my hair and face products increases with each child I have! haha! It’s getting ridiculous and I’m running out of options (that don’t make me feel super guilty for buying). I’m DEFINITELY giving this a shot!!! Thank you :-)

  8. Marian says

    I have fine hair and I’m in my late, God help me, 50’s. It’s also oily, so I wash every single day and I do not use conditioner. Ever. I let my hair air dry. I don’t have any problem with not rinsing until I’m done with the shower because that’s my routine. I’m having a major c-spine surgery real soon and showering and washing my hair could get to be an issue so I’m game to try this. I use Suave anyway. My hair has been falling out from pain meds or something, maybe stress. I’ve wanted great hair since I was a kid. Am I going to come out with a great neck (after 4 tries) and great hair? Finally?

    • says

      I hope your surgery goes smoothly, Marian! I’ll say a prayer for you. And please let me know if you try out the co-washing! It really did make the difference to me.

  9. wenders says

    Thank you for this post. I seem to be ok with the shampoo/conditioner I use, and I switch it up to what’s on sale at Costco. But…I have been wanting to try the all natural, no shampoo business, because it’s way cheaper, and the shampoo ingredients are all foreign….I’ve been just too scared and lazy to try. However, I have never heard of the conditioner-only method. And to use Suave too boo! Funny thing is, I’ve been avoiding Suave shampoo because it seems to strip the oils from my skin/scalp. I used it in college and gave me the itchy skin. But…. the Suave conditioner is actually helpful? That is news to me….so for that alone, I thank you for this post!

    My pre-teen daughter seems to have itchy, dry scalp even right after she showers….I’m inclined to have her give this a try. And my aging MIL, whom I help wash her hair, seems to be shedding a lot of her hair when I wash it, which has been concerning, and we were just using V05 shampoo-only. And well, she just ran out of shampoo yesterday and I need to get her more. Perhaps I shall try it on her too, and skip the shampoo altogether and just use conditioner!

    Other than Suave, what other silicon-free conditioners are out there, and does the conditioner out right state that it is silicon free or that the words “silicon” is listed in the ingredients? We get V05 when it’s on sale, will that work?

    Thanks again for your willingness to post this, I have certainly learned a lot!

  10. BornInaZoo says

    I’ve been conditioner only for 7 years. The last time I went in to get a trim there was a new stylist at the salon. When she saw that my stylist didn’t wash my hair before conditioning she said, “I think you missed a step.” All of the other stylists told her that I don’t wash my hair. (They know me well.) By the look of shock on her face, you’d think she was about the get run over by a Mack truck.

  11. Rie says

    My sister-in-law has become a devotee of the Big-name (read: expensive) no shampoo stuff. I am going to pass this along to her. I think I will give this a try myself when I run out of my shampoo. Thanks for sharing!!!! Please continue to post “stuff” like this as I don’t have a face book account (I know…….please don’t think me crazy). So enjoy your blog. Have made several recipes and planning on doing the clarifed butter today/tomorrow. Wish I had your Amish neighbors as suppliers….You are a lucky girl….

  12. says

    Yes! Yes!!! No-poo is a big thing in the curly world. We NEED those scalp oils to help our curls look pretty. I use a LOT of product to tame this mane, so when it starts getting gunky, I mix a paste of baking soda and water and scrub out all of the build-up….then follow with a good deep conditioner.

    It’s funny, whenever I get my hair cut, when they ask what products I’m using and I say, “no shampoo,” they quietly say, “good job…keep doing that!” I guess they don’t want the salon managers to hear them NOT selling product.

    You DO have the prettiest hair, Rebecca!

    • says

      Aw thanks, Bridget! I envy your gorgeous curls and I think it’s funny that we’ve spent this much time together without divulging our mutual no-poo status. :-)

  13. says

    Read this post this morning before I showered…so…conditioner only!! – Hair looks great today and my scalp feels very good. Early days but I have very high hopes.

    For the record: I have fine, oily hair – my skin no longer oily – I’m 57. I have rosacea which got to the “pimply” stage the last 2 years and I hoped it was just m-pause but I’m done with all but the occasional hot flash and the rosacea continued. Finally got the rosacea under control with an intense course of anti-biotics and a follow up very spendy cream at which point it retreated to my scalp. My latest try at the scalp part vs another round of anti-biotics is a black seed cumin shampoo and conditioner which seemed to help. Also taking the cumin oil internally.

    Brings me to this morning and I used the cumin oil conditioner only so will see how it goes. Co-only makes a lot of sense to me. It may be that with my oily hair, I need to use a bit of ‘poo every couple of days or once a week. But bottom line, thank you for the post and good luck to all who try it. Itchy head is no fun!

    • says

      It has been a week and a half and I am still on conditioner-only (every day) – a good water rinse, then conditioner. I am using EO Rosemary-Mint instead of the cumin stuff.

      Had my hair trimmed yesterday and my stylist was amazed and is going to try it for her own hair. She has one other client, a man, who does this.

      My mom, 77, started also. Her hair is dry and she normally shampoos every other day…no co only and experiencing a more comfortable scalp and more manageble hair.


  14. Terri Betz says

    Def trying this! My hair is as long as yours and I’m still using shampoo n condioner. But… more! Tonight I will use just my ceapo Suave natural conditioner! Awesomeness! Wish me luck! So jazzed about trying this! Thanks!

  15. MomToOne says

    I’ve tried this once for a few days, I liked it…. But I have lots of expensive shampoo and conditioner I wanted to use. As someone who has never cut or trimmed her hair its important to me to take very good care of it. The past couple years I’ve been using the expensive salon products because they work so much better, but once I’m out of shampoo I’m giving this a shot again. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never been a wash everyday person either, hair does better if you give it time for the natural oils to redistribute. On a funny note did anyone else think of Weasley Wizard Wheezes when they read no-poo? Worrying about you-know-who, you should be worrying about u-no-poo!

  16. Amber R says

    I have been experiencing some hair loss and an EXTREMELY itchy scalp since my early twenties…I am 33 now. I have tried all kind of shampoos (OTC and prescribed) to battle the itchiness and every doctor has been baffled by my hair loss. I am so trying this! Thanks so much for posting this tip, I look forward to more in this category (I am a new subscriber to your blog and I love it!)

  17. says

    Well I’ve never had trouble with my hair or scalp, but I do have trouble with itchy, blotchy skin, esp. in the winter. So I use olive oil on my skin. It’s supposed to get rid of acne as well — oil cleans oil. I would guess that’s how the conditioner part works as well. I’m definitely going to remember this though. Thanks for such a great post!

  18. Anita says

    I tried Wen about a year ago when a friend gave it to me for Christmas – I bought one more bottle after that (on Amazon) but it was just too expensive for me, though it worked really well. I then tried the Sally Beauty Supply brand which was decent, but not as good and now I’m onto DevaCurl (also bought on Amazon). Since I started Wen, I only wash 2-3 times a week, even when I exercise (I often rinse out afterwards) and my hair is so much more vibrant and curly than before – I’m not quite orphan Annie curly, but close. I now get compliments all the time on my hair and I find that it’s easier to manage. I can’t wait to try the Suave method after I finish this bottle of DevaCurl – so much cheaper! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Jen says

    I heard someone talking about no-pooing at work and then I see your blog and now I’m definitely curious! I have medium-length hair that use to be thick and wavy, and in the last few years I’ve developed an autoimmune disorder that has dried my skin and hair our something fierce! I shampoo every day and condition every few days and never felt like that worked… My question is: does the conditioner really clean the hair? I often use hair products to set whatever style I have for the day and am concerned that using just conditioner wouldn’t get the product out and it would start to build up…

  20. says

    This is almost exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. I believe this is pretty similar to the curly girl method (at least my understanding of it). I have incredibly thick, naturally curly hair and it’s been slow progress for me, but I actually wore my hair down and curly the other night, which is a huge step for me! The no-poo didn’t really work for me when I tried it.

    Glad to know this works with straight hair as well. Your hair looks great and keep those crunchy posts comin’!

  21. tammie says

    I use Suave Naturals conditioner as shampoo, also. My scalp started itching around 2010, and I started trying to research it and fix it. Hadn’t heard about the shower cap and letting the conditioner sit, I will have to try that. The vinegar rinse made my hair sticky, but after a while of using the conditioner, the baking soda rinse works as a shampoo for me. I also started using California Baby as shampoo/body wash…. its expensive, great when I’m late and in a hurry but my hair is better when I don’t use it. I wanted to try Wen, but same as you I have long hair, and no sells it where I live. I was really glad you wrote a review of the product. I’ve tried the coconut milk and Dr. Bonner’s… lol I’m not sure making homemade laurel sulfate (sp) is any different for your hair than buying it, but of course I had to try it. :) Still like the co-only or baking soda rinse followed by suave conditioner better. As someone who has found relief and better hair through co-only, I wanted to say hey, I do that too! Also because I never know what to say when people ask me what products I use in my hair. lol I just say baby shampoo, I’m too squeamish to say I only use baking soda sometimes and mostly just conditioner. I also started using Aloe Gel for my hair gel, just to minimize the chemicals going near my scalp and because my hair is curly/frizzy/a pain so it needs something to calm it down. Glad you spoke out, thanks for the post and I can’t wait to get a shower cap (haha never thought I’d say that!!) and try leaving the conditioner in longer. :)

  22. Jen says

    I haven’t used shampoo either for over 3 years and I love it. I have naturally curly hair and it has never been healthier. I’m impressed that you can do it with you long straight hair. And your hair is beautiful!

  23. Wendy says

    I think this DEF is worth trying! You researched a long time and it’s been working for you awhile, so I say KUDOS!

    Will let you know my results and thanks!!! Best, Wen

  24. Dixie G says

    I’ve been no-poo, conditioner-only for going on 7 years now and it’s the best! Not only is my hair manageable, but I can go for 4 or 5 days between washes if I want, I have next to no split ends, and my hair is always shiny and never frizzy. It’s the bomb-diggity!

  25. Jennifer says

    Thank you for sharing! You mentioned that not using shampoo has also helped your face. So, I guess I’m already asking for another crunchy beauty tip…what do you use to wash your face? Face moisturizer, or is that necessary for you? I’m 35 and a mother to three boys. I feel like it’s time to have a little more of a beauty routine, but I’m not willing to break the financial or time bank. Take care. :)

  26. says

    LOVE THIS. I use WEN right now and I find that when, I men wen I do, it’s softer than when I use normal shampoo. But I have some other conditioner I’m going to try once WEN is out. Cuz that ish ain’t cheap!

  27. Courtelizab says

    I haven’t been able to get my hair to grow since I pixie cut it after the wedding..It just keeps breaking and they have to cut it off again! I’ve been thinking about this non stop since I read it. I think I’ll give it a shot.

  28. Karen B says

    I will give this a try….I was told by a stylist don’t “poo” every day just rinse a couple of times a week. I tried that but my hair seemed dull. I have very fine naturally curly hair and not a lot of it. Your hair is beautiful and thanks for sharing this with us. Just because they sell it and we use it doesn’t make it good for us.

  29. Kelley {mountain mama cooks} says

    I’ve been on the no shampoo thing for years. I thought it was a curly thing but obviously it’s working it’s magic on you too! I don’t do the conditioner thing more than 1 or 2 a week. I’m below low maintenance……

  30. says

    I went conditioner only a little over a year ago now and haven’t had any problems. It’s great! I look for sulfate and paraben free conditioners and Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Conditioner is great (and budget friendly).

  31. Michelle says

    This is great! I will try it tomorrow! I have super dry skin/hair and since having kids and getting into my 40s, plus well water, my curly hair has been the bane for me! I’ve done the expensive shampoo/conditioner thing, masques, nothing seems to work! This might be the ticket, thanks so much! Also, love your site!!

    • says

      You’re awfully sweet.. Honestly, I wash mine between two and three times a week with the conditioner. When I don’t have to go anywhere, and I’m feeling particularly lazy, I only wash between one and two times. I just keep sounding better and better, right? At that point, my hair is a bit greasy, but that’s my fault, not the fault of the conditioner. :-)

  32. says

    Yesss!! While I don’t have kids, I have particularly dry hair and the solution I found is a combination of not washing my hair every day, using only conditioner (as you described) most of the time, and using a sulfate-free shampoo max twice a week. I find my hair gets a bit stinky w/o the shampoo (I do a lot of physical activity) and the reduced number of uses has proved the solution for me. I use ‘Yes to Carrots’ shampoo & conditioner.

  33. Kirsie says

    I have a quick question. When you say to do the process 3-4 day a week. what do you do on the otheres? just wet it and leave it? or do a tiny amount of conditioner?

    • says

      On the others, I do nothing, honestly… I have very dry hair and skin, so it’s okay. I’d imagine if you had oily hair or skin you’d probably want to rinse well with hot water.

  34. Karn B says

    Ok Rebecca I was a little unsure about all of this but I went out and bought Sauve conditioner. I got up a little early this morning and gave it a try. Well I am so impressed…..I thought my hair would be greasy looking and I would have to wash the conditioner out but I didn’t. It looks great and this is only day 1!!!! I have very fine naturally curly hair which I wear curly and it looks and feels fantastic. I can’t wait to see what my hair is like after a week or a month of doing this. Thank you so much for sharing….I love your blog and I can’t wait to make Grandma’s cookies with my Granddaughter. :)

  35. Amy says

    Two questions. 1) I looked at my conditioner and it doens’t have silicone in the ingredients… but I wondered if this is something specific to look for on the label. And 2) Does this really work on one try? Or does it take time for your hair to adjust?


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