Have you dumped out your shampoos? If you haven’t, you might soon. Cleansing conditioners are the fastest growing type of conditioner at salons, according to research firm Kline. That means plenty of people are jumping on the no-poo or co-washing bandwagon. (Co-washing undoubtedly sounds sexier.) Almost 15 years ago, the sans-shampoo bandwagon was a very lonely place, but hairstylist Chaz Dean, founder of cleansing conditioner brand WEN, forged ahead as its driver in the shampoo-filled wilderness. He explained to the Huffington Post, “I used to literally mix concoctions for my clients. I told them they are never going to use lather shampoo again; they are going to cleanse their hair with conditioner. They thought, that doesn’t make sense — conditioner weighs my hair down. I explained it’s a whole new way of looking at it.” Today, Dean’s whole new way of washing hair isn’t so new, and it’s been embraced by a slew of brands, including Ouidad, L’Oreal, As I Am, DevaCurl, Carol’s Daughter, Shea Moisture, Herbal Essences, Pureology and more. For the first post in a sometimes series on Beauty By The Ages testing classic products and their progeny, I’ve sampled one of the latest co-wash entrants – Unwash Bio-Cleansing Conditioner – to compare it to its ancestor, WEN Cleansing Conditioner.
When I first tried WEN many years ago, it was a revelation. I have frizzy, coarse, often dry hair. I hate it. It can be unruly. It’s mostly a disjointed mess with parts extremely curly, other parts wavy and still other parts sort of straight. As I get older, it’s thinning, and that only makes matters worse. Now, I have an uncontainable, barely-there situation going on. I’ve experimented with tons of treatments and products to control my mop. (I was initially wowed by the Keratin smoothing treatments until they made virtually all my strands break.) WEN was and is the antidote to harsh treatments. A pioneer of ridding sulfates from hair products, WEN is gentle. It contains surfactants and emulsifiers designed not to eliminate hairs’ natural oils. My early encounters with WEN produced a soft, well-behaved, coherent mane. I didn’t stick with WEN, though. I was worried it would create build-up in my hair – especially in their thinner state, residue easily clogs my curls – and, as a beauty editor, I was excited to trial different hair care products that shoved WEN aside.
Returning to WEN for this post was like inviting an old friend into my home. The intoxicating smell – I used the Sweet Almond Mint variety, although I remember loving the Lavender scent as well – was familiar and wonderful, and the results didn’t waver from my previous rounds with the product. My hair was left supple and manageable. I didn’t feel that tempted to try the Unwash Cleansing Conditioner after my revisit with WEN. However, I glanced at the product’s ingredient deck and thought that my experience with WEN might be repeated with Unwash. The two cleansing conditioners share several ingredients, including the basic building blocks of water, the humectant glycerin, and the emulsifier Cetearyl alcohol. I talked to Brandon Schwartz, director of marketing for Unwash, to get a better understanding of the brand’s cleansing conditioner, and he indicated it was an upgrade to, not a total departure from, WEN. “We tried to make it as universal as possible. Something that you will notice is that it is a lot thinner because we wanted it to have a broader appeal. The product is more runny, and you don’t need to use as much of it,” he said.
Indeed, per Schwartz’s description, Unwash is a runnier kind of cleansing conditioner. Schwartz estimated an ounce of product works for a single shower session. WEN’s instructions dictate ten to 16 pumps of product for short hair, 16 to 24 for medium-length hair and 24 to 32 pumps for long hair. I’m not sure exactly what those pumps amount to, but I’d guess they’re over an ounce. WEN does require a lot of product be distributed throughout the hair. A chief complaint about WEN, that it leads to greasy hair, could be the outcome of so much product. The heavy nature of WEN is definitely great for people with thick, textured hair, but might turn off people with finer hair. I’m in the finer hair camp. I do worry about WEN weighing down my hair. Unwash doesn’t carry the same weight, literally and figuratively. It also generates similar results to WEN: Unwash created a friendlier version of my hair.
Unwash’s approach is attractive. It doesn’t decree that cleansing conditioners are the be-all and end-all. With its Anti-Residue Rinse, it offers breaks from its cleansing conditioner. Co-wash products “are depositing conditioning agents. There is a need to clarify your hair because there is build-up over time, around 45 days,” explained Schwartz. I am partial to the idea of having options: WEN for the days I need a powerful solution, Unwash’s cleansing conditioner for the days I need a slightly milder choice, and the brand’s rinse for the days I’m feeling the need to be set free from co-washing. Whether I select the new cool or the old school cleansing conditioner, I’m pretty hopeful I can tame my mane.