The versatility of natural hair is undoubtedly something to behold. It comes in different textures, curl patterns (even on one head of hair), and densities. As someone who’s been natural for almost a decade, I still learn something new about my curls every wash day.
That said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully wash-and-go with natural hair, a technique designed to let your texture shine without unecessary curl manipulation.. Think of it almost like the minimalistic makeup version of hair—it may look simple, but it isn’t effortless. For your wash-and-go hairstyle to look its best, you’ll need lots of product (conditioner in particular), plenty of water, and a bit of patience. If you’re lacking in the patience department or dreading having to figure it out yourself, don’t worry: we’ll show you exactly how it’s done.
Ahead, learn everything you need to know about achieving your best wash-and-go hairstyle, plus discover ten ways to elevate your freshly-washed ‘do.
What is the wash-and-go method?
A wash-and-go hairstyle (or just wash-and-go) is any natural hairstyle created without styling tools (diffusers and hooded dryers are the exception—more on that later), stretching, or braids. Although it’s been around for years, the method took off in the early 2000s during the rise of the natural hair movement. Wash-and-gos allow those with Afro-textured hair to safely embrace their hair without relying on relaxers or protective styles.
Keep in mind that the name can be deceiving, as a successful wash-and-go requires more than just washing and going about your day. Typically, a complete wash-and-go includes shampooing, conditioning, styling, and drying, but the exact steps and products may vary depending on your hair type and texture.
Is wash-and-go good for your hair?
The wash-and-go method is wonderful for encouraging hair growth and improving scalp health. It requires minimal manipulation and tension, douses hair in much-needed moisture, and helps keep curl patterns in shape. Other hairstyles for natural hair, like tight braids or silk presses, can sometimes result in traction alopecia or heat damage. By limiting manual manipulation, and the damage that can result from it, wash-and-go styles can help keep your hair in good condition. One caveat: Avoid washing your curls and coils too frequently, which can backfire and leave them dry, frizzy, or otherwise unruly.
How do you keep a wash-and-go overnight?
Maintaining a wash-and-go while sleeping isn’t as simple as just calling it a night and laying down on your pillow. Here are a few ways to preserve your locks as you catch your beauty rest.
- Sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase. The smooth material prevents friction against your pillowcase, reducing harsh tugging on the hair shaft that can disrupt your texture. Simply let down your hair in the morning, give it a light shake or fluff, and allow it to take shape.
- Try the pineapple method. This involves lightly gathering all of your hair into a loose bun or pony at the top of your head, securing it with a thick scrunchie (preferably silk), and wrapping the perimeter of the hair with a silk scarf.
- Use a silk hair wrap on its own. Our article How to Do a Hair Wrap provides step-by-step instructions on two different hair wrapping techniques.
How to Achieve a Wash-And-Go on Natural Hair
Step One: Shampoo
First, detangle your hair completely before shampooing to prevent possible matting. The most effective way to do so is by saturating the hair with a water-based detangler like Biolage Professional’s Hydra Source Detangling Solution and using a wide-tooth comb to work out any knots or tangles, beginning at the ends of your hair and working your way up.
Afterward, use a hydrating shampoo that won’t completely strip the curls of its natural oils, like Redken’s All Soft Shampoo, to wash your hair. You can also opt for a sulfate-free shampoo, such as Redken’s All Soft Mega Curl Shampoo. While sulfates are effective cleansing agents, they can make certain curly and coily hair types more prone to dryness and frizz, so some naturalistas prefer to avoid them.
Step Two: Condition
With natural hair, the more conditioner, the better. Luckily, conditioners like Pureology’s Hydrate Conditioner come in massive sizes (34 oz. to be exact), made especially for those who need a lot of product to coat their hair. Its ingredients are excellent, too: jojoba to moisturize hair, green tea to support a healthy scalp, and sage to stimulate the hair follicles.
Gather an adequate (or heaping) amount of product and work it into your curls. Then, begin running your fingers throughout your mane to detangle. Using your fingers versus a brush or comb creates a better slip, which results in less obstruction of the curl pattern and ultimately leads to better definition. Allow the conditioner to permeate for five to ten minutes before rinsing with lukewarm to cool water.
Step Three: Style
This is where the true work begins, and the “go” in wash-and-go may seem a bit misleading. The first step is always a leave-in, which should be applied when the hair is still saturated with water—ideally, right after you step out of the shower. Our pick is Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner. The lightweight formula deeply hydrates curls without weighing them down, making it a great base to layer on heavier products. This product also works as your first line of defense against frizz. When styling a wash-and-go for short natural hair, particularly, the leave-in should be worked deep into the roots to guarantee definition throughout your ringlets.
Next, reach for a curl-activating formula like Mizani’s True Textures Curl Define Pudding. It’s a heavier product ideal for wash-and-go hairstyles because it can elongate and define curls while adding a hefty dose of moisture. Additionally, it deeply hydrates even the most porous of textures, which is when hair can’t properly hold onto moisture. Scrunch the pudding throughout your hair, pushing upward rather than raking downward through the hair to avoid disrupting your curl pattern.
Finally, lock in definition and moisture with a holding gel, like Mizani’s True Textures Twist & Coil Jelly. The silicone-, wax-, and petrolatum-free formula hydrates and defines curls without leaving them flaky, stiff, or crunchy.
Step Four: Dry
After your hair has been concentrated with curl-loving products, it’s time to let it dry. While air-drying is the ideal way to round out your wash-and-go routine, we know that’s not always realistic. One way to dry your hair when you’re pressed for time is with a hooded dryer, which comes in the form of an at-home bonnet so you don’t have to head to the salon. Or, you can take a diffuser to finish the job when the hair is about 75 percent air-dried, flipping your hair upside down and lightly working the styling tool atop the roots. Curls will be more voluminous and take on a more defined shape.
If you’re fully committed to air-drying, however, be sure to keep wet hair off surfaces (don’t let that mid-day nap ruin all of your hard work!) while it dries.
Once your hair is completely dry, lightly work in a high-shine hair oil like Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Hair Oil. This formula helps smooth and shine for bouncy, glossy-looking curls.
How do you refresh a wash-and-go?
Depending on your hair type and texture, your wash-and-go hairstyle can last anywhere from a few days to over a week. The further away you get from your wash day, though, the more you may notice your pattern losing its shape. That’s where curl refreshers come in. We recommend L'Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression Curls Reviver, which instantly revives curls and coils for six times more definition and up to 48 hours of protection against frizz. Spray the glycerin and urea-infused formula onto your hair (preferably in the morning), and lightly scrunch it upward with your fingers to activate your curls and restore their bounce.
If you want to style your wash-and-go hair, we’re here to help. Ahead, find a few of Hair.com’s favorite looks to take your wash-and-go hairstyles to the next level.
10 Elevated Wash-and-Go Hairstyles to Try
A padded headband is one of our preferred accessories for quickly upgrading a wash-and-go hairstyle. They’re a simple way to add a glam touch to your look, especially if you choose one in a luxe fabric, like velvet.
Fun yet functional, oversized barrettes work wonders to keep unruly curls out of your face. Slick one side back, as pictured here, or loosely pin the clip to your hair for a more undone feel.
Topped With a Scarf
There’s not much a scarf isn’t good for. Follow Iyda A. Michael Christopher’s lead and work Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Leave-In Cream through your curls before tying a silky scarf around your head.
When you’re nearing your next wash day, you can use an Afro pick to tease or fluff up your hair for more fullness.
The pineapple isn’t only for protecting your curls while you sleep—it’s also great for disguising greasy roots. For a sleek finish, use Redken’s Pliable Paste and a fine-toothed comb to smooth down your edges.
It’s amazing what a quick part switch-up can do. Create a deep side part for a whole new look that’s classic and versatile, no matter the occasion.
Wash-and-gos are all about trial and error. If your mane doesn’t dry how you want it to, a half-up ponytail can help hide imperfections.
Messy Wispy Bun
Whether you want to shield your strands from summer humidity or protect them from wintry winds, a messy bun is always the answer.
Good hair day by @theindiahoward
Space buns, double buns, mini puffs, Afro puffs…whichever name you decide on, there’s no arguing that this easy style lends a playful touch to natural hair looks.
Use a few colorful butterfly clips to strategically pull your wash-and-go away from your face. For more nostalgia, discover more of our must-have ‘90s accessories you may have forgotten about.
Header image credit: @emily_india