Should You Try Cleansing Conditioners?

Find out how they work and who they're best for.

Reviewed by Mohiba Tareen, MD on September 01, 2015

Just as hybrids make headway in the automotive world, shampoo-and-conditioner 2-in-1s called cleansing conditioners occupy more shelf space at the drugstore. They claim to combine the best of both products in one bottle. Before you give them a test drive, here's what the experts have to say.

"Cleansing conditioners are designed to condition hair first, then, after massaging and activating with water, they morph into a gentle cleanser," says Gretta Monahan, author of Style and the Successful Girl: Transform Your Look, Transform Your Life. They're intended to replace a shampoo-and-conditioner routine while still providing conditioning benefits and mild cleansing, she says.

"Cleansing conditioners are essentially rinse-off conditioners with different marketing," says Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist in Chicago. "The cleansing agents aren't as effective, but they are effective conditioners -- and the cleansing process is less damaging to hair."

So you will remove some dirt and oil, but you don't get as thorough a clean as you would with two separate products.

The mild detergents make cleansing conditioners an option for people with fragile hair or dry, coarse texture, Monahan says. Detergents can be harsh on damaged hair and maybe drying on brittle textures, she says. "Those with dry hair or a dry scalp really benefit from added conditioning because they don't tend to need to cleanse as often, and moisture is more important to them."

The added conditioners and hydrating benefits can also help tame frizz, Romanowski says. And using a cleansing conditioner can help preserve color-treated hair.

The products aren't right for everyone, though. Avoid them "if you have an oily scalp and fine hair or tend to have product buildup," Monahan says. Without the potent cleansers, you could end up with flat hair rather than the "squeaky clean" feel you get from traditional shampooing, she says.

Even if this one-step solution is right for you, Monahan suggests that you still use separate shampoo and conditioner products on your locks once in a while. "You should still take a break a few times a month and cleanse separately to ensure you remove any dirt and oil that can build up on the scalp."

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

Show Sources


Gretta Monahan, celebrity stylist; author, Style and the Successful Girl.

Perry Romanowski, independent cosmetic chemist in Chicago; co-founder,

Matt Fugate, celebrity stylist, Sally Hershberger Downtown Salon, New York.

© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info