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5 Ways to Make a Wash-and-Go Hairstyle Work for Black Hair

Celebrity stylists offer solutions for easy and gorgeous natural hair

spinner image Portrait of small business owner with natural curls
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Many Black women who wear their hair in a natural style have deemed the upcoming summer months the unofficial wash-and-go season. Not only is it a good time to give your strands a break from heat styling, but it’s a chance for you to enjoy your hair’s versatility, volume and va-va-voom. But for some, the wash-and-go technique can be frustrating — even exhausting. And if you’re a newbie, you might’ve tried it once, failed and vowed to never try it again.

“Generally, women who have just begun their natural hair journey or are having challenges with it, historically have been relegated to styles that kept them from water,” says Anthony Dickey, aka “Dickey,” a celebrity hairstylist who’s worked with Jill Scott, Solange Knowles and Alicia Keys. “Years later, they embark upon this natural journey and bring over some of those same ideas about their hair texture — that they can’t get their hair wet.”

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Additionally, as your mane matures, changes in texture and density can pose a challenge in your wash-and-go routine.

“I started to go through menopause early and my hair took a beating,” says Tamika Jones-Smith, 50, from Waldorf, Maryland. “Perming and dying ... had my hair feeling brittle, [but] once I got committed to the natural process, my hair became even thicker and healthier.”

So if you are ready to ditch styling tools (even temporarily!) and show off your natural curls, coils and kinks, here’s what you need to do:

1. Make sure your hair is really wet

Water is the foundation of a flawless wash-and-go. But a few spritzes from your spray bottle won’t suffice. The secret? Stay in the shower to maintain hydration — even after shampooing and conditioning. “Wash-and-go styling is defined as simply incorporating your entire hair-care routine into your shower routine,” Dickey says.

Working with soaking wet hair also ensures even product distribution. Kiyah Wright, a celebrity hairstylist who’s worked with Chaka Khan, Angela Basset and Tyra Banks, suggests squeezing your strands as you apply product to determine whether you have the right water-to-product ratio. If you hear the “squish,” you’re on the road to success.

2. Use enough conditioner

In addition to water, you need a generous amount of conditioner to properly prep for styling and further reveal your gorgeous curl pattern. As Dickey explains it, conditioner provides enough “slip” to simplify the detangling process, all while elongating and silkening your strands. “Generally, the rule of thumb is to use as much conditioner as you have hair on your head, and that makes it much easier to elongate and detangle,” Dickey says.

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Pro tip: Wash-and-go styles typically last for up to three days. Consider co-washing, or conditioner-only washing, midweek to revive your curls before it’s time to shampoo again.

3. Pick the right products for your hair texture

Once the water and conditioner have worked their magic, go in with your styling products. “Styling gels, curl creams, sculpting lotions or setting lotions all fall under the category of styling products or fixatives; they fix the hair to the way that you like it,” Dickey says. 

For courser, kinkier textures that tend to shrink up, a curl cream that also aids in conditioning is the way to go. Think of it as a leave-in conditioner with hold. “It’s kind of a new generation of styling gels,” Dickey says. “Gone are the days of hard-to-touch gels that dry crunchy.” For softer, looser textures, a lightweight curl cream paired with a water-based mousse for added volume usually does the trick, although some heavier products work just as well. “I like a thick, heavy curl cream because I want to add a little weight to the hair,” Wright says. Experiment to see what works for you.

Good to know: Some product pairings like gel and leave-in conditioner can result in a flaky, clumpy mess. Dodge this debacle by simply rubbing the products together in the palm of your hand before applying them to your hair to see how well they blend.

4. Apply the products correctly

Too often, women will use top-tier products but apply them all wrong. “I recommend parting your hair down the middle, dividing it in four sections and taking slices from the ear up,” Wright says, while also reiterating the importance of even product distribution. “Most women want to put all the product right around the edges and they might hit up the back. Then, they do the middle last and [wonder] why their hair is so bushy,” Wright adds.

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And though combs and brushes are styling staples, finger-combing your tresses in the shower when conditioning and applying product can give you the same results. “I don’t use a comb 90 percent of the time because the amount of conditioner in the hair helps your fingers to discover whether you’re going to tangle or not, without breaking the hair,” Dickey says. “I like to whirl the hair around my finger, almost [creating] a curl around my pinky finger,” Wright adds. “If someone has color and their curl pattern is a little compromised, I’ll [use this method] to make their curls a bit more resilient.”

spinner image Gabrielle Union is seen on the set of "Despierta America" at Univision Studios to promote the film "Breaking In" on April 24, 2018 in Miami, Florida.
Gabrielle Union
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5. Don’t skimp on the drying process

To minimize frizz from the blow dryer or avoid using heat altogether, many women prefer to air dry their natural hair. Sure, the waiting process may feel like watching paint dry, but the results are worth it. If you can’t wait, diffusing or sitting under a hooded dryer is still an option, just know that the less you disturb your hair while it’s drying, the better. “The objective is to treat the hair as kind as possible, like your favorite cashmere sweater,” Dickey says.

Once your hair is fully dry, primp as you please. “When you want [more volume], bend over, rub your fingers along the scalp, pull the [roots] up about an inch and move out,” Wright advises.

Pro tip: To preserve your wash-and-go, “pineapple” your tresses at night by tilting your head forward, gathering your hair to the front of your head and gently securing with a large satin scrunchie. Throw on a satin bonnet to keep your curls in place.

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