The Ultimate Wash Day Routine For Natural Hair

Jul 26, 2018

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Having a solid, personalized wash day routine is essential to promote a healthy moisture balance, ensure and encourage length retention, and minimize breakage and shedding.

a GIF of a cartoon black girl having wash day with a content smile on her face

Contrary to popular belief, our wash day routine doesn’t have to take long. If properly executed, you can complete a full wash day in 90 minutes or less.

The Basics of Wash Day 101

Although everyone’s wash day routine looks different, here’s what you should be doing on each wash day:

  • Shampoo: Cleansing your hair and scalp to remove buildup, bacteria and dirt from the
  • Condition: Conditioning the hair to seal the cuticle and prep the hair for products
  • Treat: Use targeted treatments to address your specific concerns – dryness, breakage, shedding, etc
  • Moisturize and style: Applying leave-in stylers to lock in moisture and set your coils until the next wash day

This is a very basic skeleton of a wash day routine. Once you get these steps down, you can add or remove steps to cater to your needs.

What You Should Know Before Creating A Wash Day Routine

Before we get into the wash day routine, keep in mind that you should have a thorough understanding of your natural hair. In particular you should know (not an exhaustive list):

  • Your curl density – do you have a lot of hair on your head (i.e. high density aka thickness) or can you see your scalp?
  • Your curl width – are your individual strands coarse (i.e. you can see them clearly) or are they fine (i.e. your individual strands look invisible)?
  • Your porosity (either low porosity natural hair or high porosity natural hair),

Your porosity is arguably the most important factor when implementing your wash day routine. Simply put, your porosity determines how your hair responds to moisture and products.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

We’ll discuss how to leverage your porosity at each step of your wash day, but be sure to read up on your porosity to learn more about how you can maximize your moisture level.

Overall, the above information about your hair is critical to forming your personal wash day routine.

How Often Should Wash Day Be?

There are contrasting information on the internet regarding how frequently you should wash your natural hair.

In short: you should aim to wash your hair every 7-10 days, regardless of your curl type.

Why? Because moisture cannot penetrate through dirty, unwashed hair.

If your hair remains unwashed, you will also run the risk of potential scalp issues such as dermatitis, follicle irritation, and scalp inflammation. These issues can further lead to hair loss.

Your New Wash Day Routine: A Step-by-Step Guide To Personalizing Your Wash Day

1. Pre-Poo

Pre-poo is the act of applying a treatment prior to shampooing, usually in the form of an oil or conditioner.

Studies have shown that using strategic pre-wash treatments can decrease moisture loss and help with moisture retention.

Coconut oil in particular has been shown to be an excellent pre-wash for those dealing with those dealing with breakage associated with protein-loss as seen with bleached hair.

Source: India, M. (2003). Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. j, Cosmet. Sci54, 175-192.

As you can see from the above, using coconut oil as a pre-poo for bleached hair significantly decreases protein loss. This is due to coconut oil’s inherent morphology – it is highly penetrative and can temporarily fill in cuticle gaps associated with protein loss. If you not dealing with protein issues associated from bleaching, dyeing and relaxing, this does not apply to you.

There are also products that you can use to incorporate into your pre-wash routine.

For example, Olaplex’s No 3 Hair Perfector is formulated with their patented “bond perfector” (bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate) that is chemically equivalent to our hair’s natural protein bonds (disulfide bonds).

It’s also formulated with conditioning fatty alcohols to soften and condition the hair.

The result? Stronger, more defined coils. It’s great for all porosities and curl types!

an image of olaplex no 3 hair perfector

Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector 

Best for all naturals, all porosities

Olaplex’s Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment has a patented agent that is chemically similar to the disulfide protein bonds in our hair. Using it monthly prior to your wash day as a pre-poo will replace broken bonds in your cuticles caused by detangling sun damage, dyes/bleach, heat tools and manipulation. 

2. Let The Water Fall

When you step into the shower, do not immediately shampoo. Instead, allow your hair to fully drench with water.

There is a nasty rumour in the black hair world that black hair is incompatible with water. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Water can be harmful to hair if the hair is left in a wet state for long periods of time. Wet hair is highly fragile – when hair absorbs water, it swells to an enlarged state; when it dries, it immediately shrinks.

This back and forth of swelling-shrinking can create cracks in the cuticle layer, which can impact how well your hair holds onto moisture.

However, to properly shampoo your hair, the hair must be wet to lather the product and allow it to mobilize in the hair.

Let your curls drink up the water for about 3-5 minutes prior to starting your routine. Shampoo is activated on wet hair, so make sure every square inch of your head is drenched before starting your wash day.

3. Shampoo Time!

Remember when we cancelled shampoo from the natural hair community and we only co-washed?

an image of Raven from That's So Raven exclaiming "You Nasty"

Just like other hair types, natural hair accumulates buildup, dirt and grime. To be clear: dirty hair is not healthy hair.

Natural hair professionals recommend shampooing natural hair every 7-10 days. This is to ensure that not only is the scalp and hair free of dirt, buildup and grime, but to also ensure the hair is adequately moisturized. Moisture (in the form of water and products) cannot penetrate through layers of dirt.

The best shampoos for natural hair include moisturizing shampoos and clarifying shampoos. Moisturizing shampoos are best for weekly use. The surfactants in these shampoos are offset by moisturizing, conditioning ingredients that keep the hair soft after using it. These shampoos are also gentle enough to lightly finger detangle!

image of redken all soft shampoo for natural hair

Redken All Soft Shampoo

Best for TYPE 3-4

This shampoo is a go-to for many licenced cosmetologists and stylists. It’s salon quality and highly moisturizing, yet it will clarify your hair thoroughly for efficient moisture absorption. Double cleanse your hair and scalp, smoothing your strands down as you go, for best results.

an image of camille rose sweet ginger rinse

Camille Rose Sweet Ginger Rinse

Best for TYPE 3-4

This shampoo is incredibly gentle and non-stripping, but contains enough surfactants to thoroughly cleanse your hair and remove buildup. Ginger root oil – the second ingredient in the formula – is antiseptic, boosting overall scalp health. A must have shampoo in any natural hair routine!

How To Shampoo Natural Hair

Contrary to popular belief, there is a technique to shampooing natural hair.

To properly shampoo, section your hair in four parts to shampoo in sections. This is incredibly key if you have tightly coiled hair or thick, dense hair.

First, wet your hair and make sure it is soaked. Apply a dime-sized amount of shampoo in the palm of your hair and lather the shampoo in your hands to activate the product.

On each section, apply the lathered shampoo to your scalp and massage into your scalp using your fingertips.

When you are done with your scalp, stretch your section downwards to elongate the hair, and bring the shampoo down the section. This technique will reduce tangles. Smooth the shampoo down your hair to define your coils. Continuously dunk your hair under the water if your hair is starting to dry. 

Rinse out the shampoo with lukewarm water, and repeat this process (i.e. do a double shampoo cleanse).

Next, apply your conditioner to the section (re-wetting the section if needed). Always use ample conditioner with water, and then detangle using a detangling tool.

4. Condition and Detangle

After shampooing, always follow up with a slippery conditioner and detangle using a detangling tool of choice.

Conditioners have multiple benefits but in short, they smooth the hair shaft, improve manageability and prime the hair for leave-in products.

This is also the best time to detangle the hair, as the slip of the conditioner reduces friction between the strands, making detangling a breeze.

an image of redken all soft conditioner for natural hair

Redken All Soft Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3-4

A little goes a long way with this salon-quality conditioner. It has a thick consistency that’s perfect to detangle dense, tangly curls and coils. It’s also pH balancing to help your cuticles lay flat. Natural hair professionals rave about this conditioner for good reason!

How To Condition Natural Hair

In sections, work a generous size amount of conditioner your strands. Apply the conditioner on wet ahir to mobilize the product and provide more slip.

Finger detangle the section before using a detangling tool. Always detangle from your ends to the roots.

an image of pattern beauty shower brush

Pattern Beauty Shower Brush

Best for TYPE 3-4

This shower brush was made for tightly textured coils. The bristles on this brush are sturdy to comb through even the thickest of heads, but is gentle enough to run through your coils like molasses. Use it during your conditioning stage with plenty of water for a smooth, stress-free detangle.

5. Deep Condition and Chill

Deep conditioning is considered a sacred act in the natural hair world. If you have healthy, virgin natural hair, this step should be considered a luxury, not a must-have.

But if you are dealing with specific hair health concerns such as dryness, breakage or shedding, be sure to pick up a deep conditioner that address your specific concerns.

For example, if you’re dealing with dryness, use a protein-free, moisturizing treatment that will target dryness. If you chemically treat your hair (i.e: direct heat, dye, and/or bleach), add a protein-based treatment that is strengthening in nature.

Generally speaking, if you have high porosity hair and/or fine strands, protein works well for your coils. Look for ingredients such as amino acids and keratin in your treatments.

best deep conditioner_camille rose algae renew

Camille Rose Naturals Algae Renew Deep Conditioner

Best for TYPE 4, low porosity

A cult favourite deep conditioner, This deep conditioner contains essential plant-based oils and butters loved by all naturals: manuka honey, mango butter and aloe vera, and also includes innovative ingredients such as hemp seed oil and blue-green algae. And it smells like mint chocolate chip!

an image of mielle babassu and mint deep conditioner

Mielle Organics Babassu & Mint Deep Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3-4, high porosity, fine strands

One of Mielle’s most popular products, the active ingredient in this mask is babassu seed oil, a significant source of Vitamin E and fatty lipids. The protein source in this formula, amino acids, are small enough to penetrate into your hair strands and fortify your cortex. A great light protein boost for low porosity naturals but high porosity naturals can use it as a weekly deep conditioner.

How To Deep Condition Natural Hair

Apply a generous amount to your hair in sections, focusing on the ends. Spritz some water on your hair (if its dried), and slap on a plastic cap. Leave it for 30 mins. To avoid hygral fatigue, do not deep condition overnight or for more than an hour;

For low porosity natural hair, use a hair steamer or hot head to open up those stubborn cuticles. After the allotted time, wash it off with cold water.

If you’re in a rush and don’t have time for a lengthy treatment session, apply your deep conditioner in the shower after you wash out your regular conditioner. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes and allow the steam from your shower to help the product penetrate.

an image showing a hot head thermal cap_best products for fine type 4 natural hair

Hot Head Thermal Cap

Best for TYPE 3c-4, low porosity

This is a must have tool for natural hair, especially for low porosity naturals. Deep conditioning as a low porosity natural is fruitless if you’re not lifting your cuticles to let the product in. And the heat from this product will do just that! A much more effective deep conditioning strategy than the baggy method, and best of all: it’s much more affordable than a steamer. 

6. Moisturize and Style!

Now, after all that hard work putting together your wash day routine, using expensive products, de-tangling and deep conditioning, you want to make sure you trap all that moisture in.

To do this, you should know what style you are going for. Gels are optimal for wash and go’s, while braid outs or twist outs work well with a light styler applied such as mousse or a wrap form.

TGIN Miracle RepaiRx Protective Leave In Conditioner

TGIN Miracle Repairx Leave-in Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3 – 4, all porosities

This light-weight formula is perfect for low porosity naturals looking for moisture without the product buildup. It adds definition while replenishing moisture to curls and coils, resulting in soft, supple and defined hair. 

Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly

Best for TYPE 3-4

A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp!

camille rose spiked honey mousse

Camille Rose Spiked Honey Mousse

Best for TYPE 3-4, all porosities

A lightweight setting mousse infused with conditioning ingredients such as honey, nettle and various emollients. Great for smoothing down curly and coily hair and setting twist outs and braid outs.

How To Style Natural Hair For Utmost Moisture

First, ensure that your hair is damp. Water is nature’s only true hydrator. Use a spray bottle to keep your hair damp.

On sectioned and detangled wet hair, apply your leave-in conditioner. Follow this up with your styler of choice, gel or mousse. The smaller the sections, the better the overall application.

Once your entire head is styled, be sure to set your style under a hooded dryer. A hooded hair dryer will help your products better absorb, properly define your hair and set your style so it remains intact until your next wash day.

In addition to the above, keep the following in mind:

  • Get a trim! Starting a hair regimen on non-split ends will ensure faster results. Trim as much as you are comfortable with. This is imperative before you create a wash day routine for natural hair.
  • Protective style to see fast growth.
  • Use as many organic products as possible.
  • Know what products work well for the seasons. Use these products when you make your wash day routine for natural hair. Generally speaking, use emollients in the spring/summer, when there is more moisture in the air. Examples include honey and glycerin. The emollients in your products will pull the moisture from the air into your curls. In the winter, it’s the opposite!

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important to a natural than moisturized coils. And moisture starts with your wash day routine!

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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WRITTEN BY

Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @tothecurlmarket.

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