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Should You Be “Reverse Washing" Your Hair? Here’s What the Pros Say

Photo by Torwai/Getty Images

Since you were a kid, your hair-care routine has probably involved two very clear steps: first, shampoo; second, condition. But—and stay with us—the key to healthy hair may be applying conditioner first (even if it feels like it will mess with the space-time continuum to do so). The technique is called reverse washing, and it might just be your new favorite hair-washing method. We turned to the experts to find out why reverse washing is gaining steam (particularly when it comes to dry and damaged hair), how to do it, and more. 

About the Experts:

Alan David is a hairstylist based in New York City. 
Audrey Kunin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, founder of DERMAdoctor, and chief product officer of NovaBay Pharmaceuticals.

What Is Reverse Washing, Anyway?

Simply put, reverse washing flips the hair-washing process on its, well, head. “Reverse hair washing involves conditioning hair prior to shampooing,” explains board-certified dermatologist Audrey Kunin, MD. “It helps deeply condition hair without weighing it down.” It’s similar to co-washing, in which hair is washed only with conditioner (or a specific co-washing cleanser), but has the added step of shampooing the hair after as well. Co-washing is also more commonly used on natural hair types, while reverse washing is better suited to finer hair.

Who Should Be Reverse Washing Their Hair?

Reverse washing is an option for several hair types and conditions. According to NYC-based hair stylist Alan David, those with damaged hair due to color, heat, or dryness can benefit from this method. “It’s a great way to make the hair soft so you can really get the root clean with shampoo,” he says. Kunin adds that those with fine hair or an oily scalp can also benefit from reverse washing.

The Pros and Cons of Reverse Washing

There are several benefits to reverse washing, from detangling strands to preventing flat hair from too much product build-up. “It keeps dry, brittle hair soft so that while you're shampooing, you don’t tangle and knot,” explains David. According to Kunin, reverse washing is gentler on fine and thin hair than traditional washing “and helps remove conditioner residue from scalp.”

And although there are no major side effects to reverse washing, it’s important to note that it may not be the method of choice for all hair textures or types. “Some curls benefit from this, but it’s better to use [no suds] shampoo,” says David, adding that, “Reverse shampooing is really only good for very dry, damaged hair of all hair textures.”

How to Reverse Wash Your Hair

You can use the same hair conditioner for steps one and three, or try using a deep conditioner or hair mask before washing hair, followed by a lightweight conditioner.

1. Condition.

NATURELAB.TOKYO Repair Treatment Masque
Courtesy of NATURELAB.

Apply a conditioner, such as NATURELAB.TOKYO Repair Treatment Masque, to wet hair, avoiding the roots (especially if you have oily hair or an oily scalp). Leave on for up to five minutes, then rinse.

2. Shampoo.

IGK Hot Girls Hydrating Shampoo
Courtesy of IGK

Next, work a moisturizing shampoo, such as IGK Hot Girls Hydrating Shampoo into a rich lather to cleanse hair and remove product build-up without stripping hair of its natural oils.

3. Condition again (maybe).

TRESEMMÉ Pro Pure Damage Recovery Conditioner for Damaged Hair
Courtesy of TRESEMMÉ

If you have dry hair, “It’s important to still condition after you shampoo,” says David. If you’re afraid of weighing down hair, try a lightweight conditioner, such as TRESEMMÉ Pro Pure Damage Recovery Conditioner for Damaged Hair.

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About the author
Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated March 31, 2022 12:00 AM