Tame tangles by “washing” hair with conditioner

Amazon: Deva Curl Conditioner Last week I sent out a call for your best kids' haircare hacks, and the response has been FABULOUS! Thank you for all the emails, tweets, and Facebook comments.

To kick off our extravaganza of kids' haircare hacks, I'll begin with one that came up repeatedly: stop shampooing your kid's hair every time she takes a bath or shower. Instead, do a conditioner-only rise for fewer tangles and more managability.

Here's Maggie's story:

One of the hacks I use on my daughter's hair is to "wash" it with conditioner only. She is 4 and does not have the patience for shampoo + conditioner, and the 2-in-1 products still leave her hair too dry and flyaway. I checked the ingredients in shampoo and conditioner, and many are the same, so I just use conditioner on her hair to get it clean.

Another advantage is that it does not drip or run like shampoo, so there's much less trouble with it getting in her eyes. Since her skin doesn't get oily and she doesn't use any styling products, there's no greasiness, and the conditioner gets out the food and art supplies that seem to solidify in her hair!

Bonnie's take, which also answers the "but won't their hair get greasy?" question:

What most parents don't know is that almost all shampoos are too powerful for young hair (and grownup hair for that matter) and it strips it, making it tangle more easily and get dirty/greasy faster. Use a good-quality conditioner only. Conditioners have a small amount of cleanser in them so they rinse clean and the creaminess makes getting food/paste/paint messes out much easier than shampoo, and it doesn't hurt as badly when it gets in their eyes. It will take about a week of transition for their hair to stop producing so much grease, but after that it will be MUCH easier to manage. (For the really nasty messes, vinegar works well.)

This is a great hack for adults, too. I haven't used shampoo in months, I'm conditioner-only, and I've never gotten so many compliments on how great my hair looks! Better for little ones, better for fashion, and better for the pocketbook. Hacks don't get much better than that!

Indeed. I'm going to give this one a try myself. I like the idea of fewer bottles in the shower, and fewer chemicals down the drain.

On the Parent Hacks Facebook page, XXina recommends sticking with high-quality conditioner. She likes Neutrogena, but also suggested grapeseed oil as an inexpensive natural alternative. My dad, who grew up in India, swears by coconut oil as a hair and scalp conditioner. But I'd imagine you'd have to rinse the oil out. Right?

What's your favorite hair conditioner? Is expensive conditioner really better than the cheap stuff?


  1. Rebecca says

    I use conditioner on my daughter’s hair in the bath but also as an inexpensive de-tangler. My hairdresser suggesting mixing a tablespoon or two of conditioner into a spray bottle with warm water. It is MUCH less expensive than a store-bought conditioner and we refer to it as magic spray.

  2. Bonnie says

    I bounce between the really nice and the super cheap. For daily rinses Costo’s kirkland brand is fine, but once or twice a week I’ll use something nicer, like Biolage deep conditioner. They’re great, but don’t need to be used daily. That’s just too expensive.

  3. says

    I used to use an expensive Aveda intensive-treatment hair conditioner that was discontinued. Recently Dove came out with a similarly-named product that works exactly the same. It doesn’t smell nearly as delicious as the Aveda stuff, but it feels and works identically.

  4. Jenna says

    After graduation and any time I had a fancy hair do, my hairdresser suggested washing with conditioner first to get out the tangles and backcombing. So, this sounds like a good extenion of that advice.

  5. Deviya says

    I put coconut hair in my daughter’s hair. She is 4.5 and has never had a haircut. it’s well below her buttocks. I wash and shampoo every 3-4 days. I massage her hair with coconut oil, atleast once a week) and leave it in for 24-48 hours at the very least. Sure it’s a bit greasy but it’s great for her hair quality. My parents were also raised in India and so my mother pushed the coconut oil remedy. I will definitely try the conditioner only hack too!! Thanks :)

  6. jillian says

    I quit washing my kid’s hair about 2 years ago. You would never know. It get rinsed every day and conditioned maybe once a month, and it doesn’t look greasy at all, although obviously this wouldn’t work for everyone. There’s lots of individual variation.

    Regarding conditioner-only (“co-washing”) — there’s a lot on this out there on the internet but I’ll sum up what I know. This absolutely works for a lot of people but you will want to avoid conditioners with dimethicone (which is most of them). Dimethicone is a great product (it’s a silicone) but it doesn’t rinse out with just water, so if you’re not washing it out with a shampoo it’s going to build up. Fortunately the conditioners without dimethicone tend to be the cheapest of the cheapest. :)

  7. Georgia says

    Found your blog via Say 100 — congratulations!

    Recently read the Curly Girl book which advocates no shampoo – or if you must, sulfate free shampoo – and silicone free conditioner for scalp cleansing and hair conditioning. I starting my first week of this regimen.

  8. N M says

    I just now started this too. Make sure there are no “cone”s in there for instance dimethicone. We use suave tropical coconut for washing and then I use the burt’s bees conditioner, grapefruit. I thought for sure I would have to get back in there and rewash it but it works so well and is so soft!

  9. nospam@no.org says

    I just wanted to add that I have NOT had good luck with the natural conditioner pictured here, Deva. It left my hair sticky, oily and generally gross, and I ended up switching to using it as shaving cream! Obviously, YMMV, but I’ll stand with the people here who suggest just using cheap or homemade options.

  10. says

    I’ve tried going no-poo (using baking soda and ACV routine) a few times and it just doesn’t jive with my hair.

    I’ve been very happy with Burt’s Bees products, and have found for my younger daughter who has fine, curly hair, conditioner only is the DEFINITELY the way to go! Again, I just use Burt’s Bees.

  11. barrettandsophie@hotmail.com says

    the product that I found that has ABSOLUTELY been worth the money is called “It’s a Ten” and comes in a mask, spray, or daily conditioner. It is the only product that tamed my daughter’s tangles and, consequently, our morning fights before school…Worth every penny!!

  12. says

    Another great trick, especially if you have very curly hair is to shampoo and condition, but don’t rinse out all of the conditioner. I learned this through trial and error as my daughter has very curly hair that tends to tangle if not treated right.

    Just leave half of it in when rinsing, then comb out. Works like a charm, hair combs through easily and there really are “no more tears!”

  13. Jeannie says

    Give Neutrogena Triple Moisture Silk Touch Leave in Cream a try. I’ve tried every product I can find and this is the one that seems to do the best. My daughter has a ton of very fine twisty hair and is beautiful but a nightmare to comb. This product is even better than “it’s a 10″, although it comes in second place.

  14. says

    My hair growing up wouldn’t have survived without making the magic spray! It does work great & is super cheap :)