4 of the Best (and Cheapest!) Conditioners for Co-Washing

By Christina of The Mane Objective

As far as common natural hair practices go, co-washing is one of the most common. Every natural has their favorite go-to product, ranging from Aussie Moist ($6 for 29.2oz) to Aveda Be Curly ($79 for 33.8oz), and everything in between. With the burgeoning natural product market, it’s all to easy for a transitioner or natural to find themselves slipping into product junkieism — especially when it comes to conditioners.

In the quest for the perfect conditioner that will make hair shine, stronger, feel buttery smooth and spring-loaded, it’s difficult to not let curiosity get the best of you — and break the bank in the process. Keep reading to discover some of the most desired properties in a co-washing conditioner, the active ingredients, and affordable products that get the job done.

Note: This list by no means guarantees that each product works for you. If you have a tried and true co-washing conditioner then by all means, stick with it. Different products work different ways for different people. As with all things natural — do what works best for you and your hair!

Conditioner Property #1: Slip — Tresemme Split Remedy (pictured above)

When it comes to conditioning properties, slip is a must. Whether you’re looking to finger detangle with conditioner, or just cleanse, the product must be workable and able to be distributed smoothly throughout the hair. Emollients in hair conditioners do the best job at creating slip — coating the strands and allowing them to glide past each other. Some of the best emollient ingredients in conditioner are dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetaryl alcohol, and oils like coconut, jojoba, and olive.

Luckily, the silicones, fatty alcohols, and oils listed above are base ingredients in most conditioners. The more of them that you find in the top five, the better off you’ll be. By far, the slipperiest conditioner I’ve encountered is Tresemme Split Remedy — around $5 for a 25oz bottle. 

Conditioner Property #2: Cleansing — Aussie Moist Conditioner

Thanks to Chaz Dean and a slew of others, there are plenty of folks running around believing that in order to effectively co-wash, they have to buy a cleansing conditioner (which tends to be more expensive than your run-of-the-mill conditioners). Now, as with all things natural — do what works for you. But don’t be duped into believing that the word “cleansing” before conditioner makes it more effective. Conditioners clean in two ways — through cationic (positively charged) surfectants and oil solubility. Some examples of these gentle surfectants areStearalkonium chloride, cetrimonium chloride, dicetyldimonium chloride, behentrimonium methosulfate, behentrimonium chloride, and stearamidopropyl dimethylamine. In terms of oil-solubility, the fatty alcohol crew (cetyl, cetaryl, stearyl) makes another appearance. Each of the ingredients is capable of breaking down sebum and other oils on the hair. An added bonus cleanser present in some conditioners is EDTA — a chelating ingredient that lifts mineral deposits on the hair. If you live in an area with hard water (hello, Los Angeles), a conditioner with EDTA can help lift those dry, damaging hard water mineral deposits.

Again, most conditioners contain any of the cationic surfectants and fatty alcohols above. My favorite fatty alcohol + cationic combo (and it even has EDTA!) is present in Aussie Moist, ringing at the register for around $6 for a 29.2oz bottle.

Conditioner Property #3: Moisturizing — Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner

In Natural Hair 101, we learned that true moisture comes from water. Obviously, plenty of conditioners (but not all) are water-based — but this isn’t a necessity for co-washing, because your hair is soaked in water anyway. The moisture most naturals look for from co-washing takes place after the conditioner is rinsed away. This is where penetrating oils like Coconut, Olive, sealing oils like Shea or even Jojoba (which is the oil closest to our own skin’s sebum) and humectants like glycerin or glutamic acid come in handy.

My favorite moisturizing conditioner that contains a number of awesome oils and glycerin is Shea Moisture’s Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner, around $10 for a 12oz bottle. You can also aid your hair in the moisture retention process by pre-pooing with a penetrating oil, like Coconut.

Conditioner Property #4: A Positive Charge — Trader Joe’s Nourish Spa Conditioner and Giovanni Brazilian Keratin & Argan Oil Ultra-Sleek Conditioner

Hair generally carries a negative charge. This negative charge is exacerbated with chemical, environmental, and heat damage. Even if you don’t have any of the above, a conditioner that carries a positive charge and deposits onto the hair (and in some cases, fills in the gaps in the shaft) is instrumental in creating that soft and smooth feel we all love. Ingredients that get the job done are again, those fantastic fatty alcohols, cationic surfectants (go back to #2), and polyquaternums.

In this area, I have two favorites — Trader Joe’s Nourish Spa Conditioner ($2.99 for 16.9oz of almost completely organic ingredients…can’t beat that!) and Giovanni Brazilian Keratin & Argan Oil Ultra Sleek Conditioner, around $9 for an 8.5oz bottle.

This is by no means a comprehensive ingredient list. I definitely encourage everyone to check out their conditioner ingredient labels.

What are your favorite co-wash conditioners?

Christina Patrice

Christina Patrice

Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.


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72 thoughts on “4 of the Best (and Cheapest!) Conditioners for Co-Washing

  1. I can not believe that As I Am is not on this list. I have that super difficult (doesn’t work with any popular product) hair and that is my saving grace! Expecially with the moisture butter.

    • As I am may not have existed (if you’re talking about their co wash specific product) long enough to gain popularity before this article was published in 2012.

  2. pantene relaxed and natural conditioner is awesome and defines curls…u use to co wash with it and NOT COMB MY HAIR, and that allowed the curls to clump

  3. I had an old HUGE bottle of really cheap Tresemme conditioner and I added EVOO to it. It is now perfection. ^_^

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, especially the breakdown of certain/particular ingredients and the purpose that they serve! Along this natural healthy hair journey of mines,in the quest for the perfect product, I’ve wasted a lot of money unnecessarily on exorbitantly priced products…foolishly believing that they contained and possessed superior quality & ingredients, as opposed to just sticking to what is tried & true and I know works.

    I’m still trying to decipher cones and determine which ones are good (allows moisture to penetrate) and which ones are detrimental (blocks moisture from entering) to the health of natural hair…if at all possible would you please be so kind and write an article/list of such!!!

    • from my own research id know that dimethicone is the heaviest cone which cannot be removed from the hair without surfactant based shampoos i.e. lauryl sulfate etc. there was another cone i cant remember..

  5. I was very dissapointed to learn that the traderjoes formula now contains dimethicone. Bad news bears,especially for cone-free and low porosity naturals.
    I would not recommend the new Nourish and Spa Conditioner.

  6. Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us
    so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

    Outstanding blog and wonderful style and design.

  7. I really like the rwsults I get from prepooing with Herbal Essence moisture conditioner then using Suave almond and shea butter conditioner followed by Aussie 3 minute Miracle Moist and finishing with Hollywood Beauty olive oil cholesterol with a few drops of olive oil and Jamaican black castor oil added to it right before applying. My hair is strong and soft and well moisturized. If I suspect build up then I use apple cider vinegar with honey to wash it.

  8. My hair does not like any of the Shea moisture line. I Finally tried the herbal essence hello hydration. I am in love!!!! Instant moisture and detangling. My days of being a product junkie are over!

  9. Pingback: Natural Hair 101, Getting Started | Un-ruly

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