Conditioner Only (CO) washing for hair is a hot n’ heavy trend in the human beauty industry. Also known as the “no poo” movement, I’ve been watching and waiting for this fad to land in our pet grooming playground. It happened last week!
On the Holistic Grooming Facebook group, a groomer posted that she had a client say that her vet had stated that all shampoo is harmful to pets and the pet should be bathed with conditioner only. What? Not the VET! This is so wrong on so many levels that I am compelled to write.
I could have 101 thoughts on this, which can be summed up as "ARGHHH!" CO washing or "no poo" is a huge trend in the human hair marketplace, driven by the hugely successful WEN products by Chaz Dean. The premise that all shampoos are harmful is faulty, and simply untrue. Shampoos are systems, some are better formulated than others, some are harsher than others, and so on. For every shampoo there are some individuals for whom that product does not work well and some for whom there is a negative reaction. Why blame the cleansing agents, the detergent surfactants?
Answer: Because they are the easiest target. It all started with the campaign against Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Then the target was broadened to include all sulfates. Now the target has been extended again to all anionic surfactants. The truth is, however, that most negative effects of shampoos are caused by reactions to perfumes, colorants, preservatives or additives, or the failure to rinse properly. In human hair care, the over stripping and subsequent damage to hair that is blamed on shampoos has come about as shampooing has evolved from a monthly or bi-weekly protocol to a daily practice. And this is the main difference between pet grooming and human grooming; pets are rarely shampooed daily. They may have less styling product build-up in their hair than humans, but they often have more sebum build-up and dirt. News Flash! Sebum is sticky; dirt and bacteria are entrapped by sebum and if we don't remove some of this "natural oil" from the coat, we are leaving behind dirt and bacteria, i.e. not thoroughly cleaning.
Do Cleansing Conditioners Clean? Yes, but not as well as shampoos. Many years ago, when I was still hand bathing, I discovered that the rinse water from the conditioner would sometimes have a trace of dirt. I realized that it was getting out some residual dirt that had been left behind after the shampoo. My trusted resource, The Beauty Brains, has identified five conditioner ingredients that have cleaning ability:
▪ Behentrimonium Methosulfate
▪ Dicetyldimonium Chloride
▪ Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
▪ Cetrimonium Chloride
▪ Stearyalkonium Chloride
What is special about cleansing conditioners? In reviewing several ingredient lists for cleansing conditioners (see Appendix 1), two things appear:
- Conditioning cleansers are specially formulated to amp up the cleaning property of the product. The ingredients are recognizable from ordinary conditioners, but the combinations seem to have extra emulsifiers, solubilizers, and several contain glycerin. Sometimes they even sneak in a minor cleansing surfactant, such as Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate or Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
- Conditioning cleansers require more work to use. Both WEN and Hair One require that you first rinse the hair thoroughly (to get out loose dirt); WEN suggests two washes –rinse, wash, rinse, wash, rinse, and massage thoroughly through the hair and run fingers through to the ends. In other words, you are using your hands to dislodge dirt and to move the product through the hair, work that is usually accomplished by the anionic surfactants (detergents). And you need to use much more conditioner cleanser than you would shampoo.
Are conditioning cleansers more safe than shampoos? Not necessarily. Cationic conditioning agents can be just as damaging to eyes as sulfates in shampoos. Additionally, conditioning agents have the potential to build up, and eventually one will need to use a sulfate cleanser to “clarify” or return the hair to a virgin state.
The extra rubbing and massaging of the hair to clean with a conditioner carries the possibility of damage to the hair cuticle. There are additional downsides for pet grooming: co-washing is likely to overly soften a coat, making it limp and difficult to style, and is also likely to increase drying time.
Is there a place in pet grooming for co-washing? It is not likely that the average groomer is going to be willing to put up with the extra work and expense of co-washing. It might be more appropriate in show grooming, as an option for between shows coat care. However, given the fact that the pet grooming industry almost always follows the path of the beauty industry, I would expect to see conditioner cleansers for pets to pop up. Where there is money to be made, products will appear. Hopefully, we will not see more veterinarians buying into the marketing hype that falsely claims that shampoos are harmful.
A final point: cleansing conditioners are especially formulated to have cleaning ability. Not just any conditioner will effectively co-wash. These products usually contain extra emulsifiers that are attracted to sebum, glycerin (has some cleaning property) and/or amphoteric surfactants like cocoamphodiacetate that are ultra mild cleaners. BTW, there is a line of co-wash products called "Hair One" that is a close knock off of the Wen line. Found at Sally Beauty and Amazon.
Here is the link to some ingredient list for co-wash products, including Wen and Hair One: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fe4qijq967awudo/CLEANSING%20CONDITIONERS%20INGREDIENT%20LISTS.pdf?dl=0