Here’s How a Pre-Wash Treatment Can Restore Your Dry and Damaged Hair
Experts explain why it's the missing powerhouse step from your hair care routine.
Despite playing around with an arsenal of different creams, serums, and treatments over the years, I’ve never managed to win my fight against dry and damaged hair. There are so many constant stressors like heat, weather, knotting, and wet brushing that have made this battle such a challenge. So when the buzz of a pre-wash, aka pre-poo, treatment came onto the scene, I viewed it as a potential game-changing hair solution worth investigating.
To find out more about what pre-wash treatments are and if they’re really worth the hype, I picked the minds of a leading Harley Street trichologist, as well as a hair stylist and educator. Together, they helped me untangle the most commonly asked questions when it comes to pre-pooing hair.
What actually is a pre-wash treatment?
Mark Blake, internationally recognized Harley Street trichologist, describes pre-pooing as like a “poly-filler” for hair. “Essentially, the idea of a pre-wash treatment is to prepare your hair,” he explains. “When you condition your hair, it feels great, yet the moment you step out of the shower it tangles. This is because your hair is full of tiny gaps that get filled with water. When the water evaporates, it causes your hair to feel rigid.”
Pre-pooing fills up those gaps with conditioning treatment, instead of water, which will make your hair more flexible and nourished. Some options for pre-pooing include a scalp scrub, oil treatment, or detox treatment.
What are the benefits of a pre-wash treatment?
“Pre-wash treatments give an extra layer of moisture and can also aid in detoxifying your hair,” says Jessica Scott Santo, professional hair stylist and balayage educator. She adds that it can also be great in removing excess styling products and oil buildup on your scalp.
However, Blake points out that you should take caution with moisturizing products. “We often make the mistake in thinking that conditioner is moisture, when in fact water is the enemy,” he says. Filling the gaps in your hair with pre-pooing products does indeed hydrate your hair, but “you want to hydrate it with conditioner rather than water, so your hair doesn’t become brittle and snap,” he notes.
How should you use a pre-wash treatment?
According to Blake, 20 minutes is the ideal length of time to use a pre-wash treatment, but it depends on the type of product. “If it’s a modern product, it won’t do much to your hair after 20 minutes, but if you’re using natural ingredients, it can almost take overnight to soak in,” he notes.
As for how to actually put in the treatment, “make sure you apply section by section,” says Santo, “starting at the ends and working your way up so that each strand is fully coated.”
But should you apply a pre-wash treatment to dry or wet hair? Both Blake and Santo recommend applying the product to slightly damp hair, which will open the hair cuticle, allowing it to seep in. While you can apply the treatment to dry hair, towel drying will penetrate the strands deeper.
What hair types benefit most from a pre-wash treatment?
Santo says that everyone can benefit from a pre-wash treatment, as with different hair comes different needs. “Most people’s hair is in need of conditioning, especially from seasonal changes,” she explains. “Everything from heat, humidity, salt, wind, water, and city pollutants.”
She adds that if you have particularly coarse, damaged or color-treated hair, pre-poo treatments are your savior. “Coarse hair has the largest diameter, meaning it needs more heat to style. Damaged hair has lost moisture and elasticity, so your hair is more likely to snap. Colored hair has been stripped of its shine. These hair types are more likely to be dry and rough so pre-poo treatments are great in softening and replacing moisture,” says Santo.
How often should you use a pre-wash treatment?
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Despite what your mom and grandma have told you, washing your hair every other day is not as bad as you think, according to Blake. “You can wash your hair as often as you want. There is no hard rule, but people tend to wash their hair every other day. If you did a pre-wash treatment twice a week that would be fine,” he says.
He explains that most modern-day shampoos contain a substance called “humectants” which take moisture out of the air and puts it into your hair, allowing you to wash more frequently. However, take note—while pre-wash treatments are packed with nourishing properties, pre-washing your hair too often can cause it to become greasy and lose its natural oils. “Usually, a protein mask can have negative effects if you overuse. The proteins can expand the hair cuticle and if used too often, your hair can actually break off,” says Santo.
What natural ingredients can be used in pre-wash treatments?
“I would recommend using ingredients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, or avocado oil,” says Blake. Santo adds that there are also many household ingredients that can be used, such as apple cider vinegar, which will level out the PH of your hair and remove residue. Eggs, too, can work, due to their high levels of saturated fats, biotin, and vitamins.
No matter what you use, remember that caring for your hair starts at the basic level of simply nourishing your body. “When you’re trying to grow your hair, you can only grow the good stuff from what you eat. Your hair is made up of around 85% protein, so it doesn’t take a genius to know what you have to eat,” says Blake. “That’s why conditioning your hair should start from the inside out. It’s a two-pronged attack.”