What is Reverse Hair Washing, and does it work?

It's not exactly new, but I'm sure a lot of us have yet to try this unique hair washing technique. I've spent the past 2.5 weeks trying out this thing called reverse hair washing, and to compare, I alternated between testing this technique, using just shampoo, and doing the regular shampoo-then-conditioner method. But before I reveal which method actually works best, let's get these questions out of the way:

Image via michaelanthonysalondc.com

Image via michaelanthonysalondc.com

What is reverse hair washing? Put simply, it’s washing your hair the other way around—conditioner first, then shampoo. There isn’t much to it, really.

So, why should you consider it? To understand it better, it helps to know how conditioners work. According to cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller in his Beauty Brains podcast, hair conditioners work by smoothing the cuticle layer.

If you look at human hair under a microscope, cuticles are the small scales that layer the hair shaft. In healthy hair, the cuticles lay flat and create that smooth texture. But when these cuticles are splayed, the hair is considered damaged and would need the smoothing power of conditioners. The conditioner is designed to stick to those damaged spots, coat the hair shaft, and stay on the hair even after rinsing.

Image via nisenet.org

Image via nisenet.org

I guess we can all agree that conditioners are important products to add in our hair care routines, but before I tried reverse hair washing, I didn’t normally use hair conditioners all that much. For reference, I have thick, dense hair and a very oily scalp. Due to this, I find that most conditioners weigh down my hair. When I use conditioner the regular way, my hair looks like an oily, clumpy mess with no volume. It’s as if my hair hasn’t seen the insides of a shower in three days! When I don’t condition however, I will get volume, but my hair will look dry and dull.

So when I heard about reverse hair washing, I thought it might be the perfect solution. After all, you supposedly get the benefits of using a conditioner, but without that heavy and greasy build up. My theory is that some of the conditioner stays on the hair even after shampooing, but the excess goop that makes the hair flat and clumpy is washed off.

How to do reverse hair washing

1. Get your hair soaking wet before applying conditioner, so it will be easier to spread the product on every inch of your hair strands. However, if your scalp is oily like mine, avoid putting too much conditioner on the roots of the hair.

2. Leave the conditioner for as long as it says to on the label. I’m not the most patient person though, so I use this waiting time to cleanse my face and soap the rest of my body.

3. Shampoo your hair. If it's difficult to work up a lather, you can wet your hair a little bit but make sure not to rinse off all the conditioner before you shampoo. The key to get the best results out of reverse washing is to have some conditioner left to coat the hair.

I find that different sets of shampoos and conditioners don’t yield the same results. I did several trial-and-errors to find which combination of products work well with each other, and at what quantity. Reverse hair washing seems to work best with conditioners that are thicker and harder to rinse. My favorite combinations are Head and Shoulders Cool Menthol shampoo and conditioner, and L’Oreal Ever Sleek Shampoo + Pantene 3-Minute Miracle Conditioner.

I also had to tweak the amount of shampoo I use. I had to use less shampoo than normal so as not to totally strip the conditioner off my hair. With thinner conditioners, like most organic ones, I used way less. 

So, does reverse washing work? YES!

My reverse-washed hair is comparable to my second-day hair, but cleaner and nicer-smelling! It also looks shinier and healthier, and has more volume. But it’s not a perfect system. Over time, I felt some product build up. There are days when I feel the need to deep clean my hair with a clarifying shampoo. To get the same second-day hair effect, I shampoo, condition, then shampoo again.

Even then, I would definitely recommend this to women who also have oily hair and struggle with using conditioner. I imagine that this would also work well for fine hair that has a tendency to look flat!

If you’ve already tried reverse hair washing, please share your experiences and tips in the comments. I'd love to know which products you used, too!