How to Wash Your Hair Backwards. Have You Ever Tried It?

Yesterday I accidentally washed my hair backwards. I was in the shower, scrubbing and singing like I always do, and before I knew it, I’d filled my left hand with a pile of conditioner. Huh. I could have rinsed it down the drain and gone for the shampoo, but I didn’t. Instead, I remembered a sidebar we have in the book about washing your hair backwards, which is exactly what it sounds like: Conditioner first, then a little shampoo.

It resulted in the best hair day I’ve had in months.

Funny story: After the book came out and we were doing interviews, this little sidebar, barely a page long, came up in more conversations than we could count. (The other thing that always came up was our recipe for vodka hairspray, which makes sense.) But the truth was, neither of us was that into it. We’d tried it, and liked it fine, but it definitely wasn’t what we did every morning in the tub. And when we’d get asked about it, it was always a little awkward. “Um… We don’t actually really… I mean… You know what? You should totally try it.” That kind of thing.

The technique was introduced to us by Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Intelligent Nutrients (and, originally, of Aveda) and we included it because we thought it made sense—conditioner has the right pH to seal the cuticle, making it sleeker, and the oils and aloe make your hair soft; shampoo just gets rids of the excess.

Here’s what he told us:

“When you wash your hair, try using your conditioner first. If you want to go all the way, put oils on your scalp, give yourself a nice massage, and then comb it through. Next, wet it down, put conditioner all over your hair and then also all over your body. Wash yourself with the conditioner, then rinse it all off. Then, you use shampoo. Rinse it off as well, and you won’t need conditioner again. If your hair is tangly, put a little oil on your hands and then comb it through—that’s it. You will feel very pure.”

I’m not sure I felt very pure, but my hair looked and felt terrific. Who knew?

Have you ever washed your hair backwards? Would you?

Amazing old ad via

48 Responses to “How to Wash Your Hair Backwards. Have You Ever Tried It?”
  1. Mae says:

    I started doing this when I switched back from no-poo to ctonics, and I love it! I massage my scalp with a little neem oil to start, which is both great for my scalp and keeps the smell from lingering after the wash.

  2. jessica says:

    Funny, I tried this just a couple days ago! I actually did coconut oil, then condish, then shampoo. My hair was really tangled while wet, but once it dried and the initial chaos had calmed down, my hair was (and still is) soft, soft soft! The twice-weekly wash seems to be holding up better and there’s generally more volume. Don’t forget to mainly wash scalp and bangs area, and leave a little conditioner on the tips. For shorter hair than mine (so, above bra-strap length), I think this is a good technique.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Most hair washing days I do the traditional shampoo first. But when I use coconut oil it’s the “backwards” technique. Coconut oil sits on for a while first, then a little shampoo mainly at the roots. It’s awesome. Some days I don’t do shampoo at all, just conditioner. I never feel pure, though. ; )

  4. Kristen says:

    I TOTALLY did this after reading the book. It worked great when I had longer hair, but now I have a shorter layered look, my hair looks too greasy day two. I try and wash every few days, so I now condition second. But for long hair, conditioning first is the best!

  5. April says:

    I started doing this when I read the book and it stuck. I love it. Especially on days that I do abhyanga and my hair is coated in sesame oil.

  6. Amanda says:

    Sounds interesting, I’m going to try it out! Funny though I didn’t wash my hair backwards but the other day I accidently rubbed conditioner thinking it was my fash wash on my face!!! Hahah totally out of it!

  7. Can’t say that I have ever done this – but I’m going to try it tomorrow! :)

  8. Dawn says:

    I’ve tried it, and it definitely makes my wavy hair dry in a more predictable, well-behaved fashion. However, I’ve found that if I don’t wash my hair the next day, it just feels heavy and greasy. I want to like it, but I don’t always wash my hair every day and I like the second-day feeling of a conventional wash-condition better, so the jury’s still out on it for me. (I have chin-length super-fine hair.)

  9. Martha says:

    I do this all the time. I have short hair and it’s too soft for the “edgy” look that I’m going for. Washing backwards some of the softness out that I get from conditioner.

  10. Martha says:

    Washing backwards *cuts* some of the softness out that I get from conditioner, I meant :)

  11. Alyssa says:

    I’ve been washing backwards ever since reading your book! It’s an awesome “tool” especially in the winter! Thanks girls!

  12. K says:

    My scalp is really dry and flaky (even after using sulphate free shampoos for months, first Avalon organics, then Giovanni) but I recently started washing “backwards” and for some reason it makes my scalp more moisturized. I’ve also tried using oils in my scalp first, then conditioned and then finish off with shampoo just like suggested in the book! And my scalp stayed flake AND itch free until I washed it again after two days!

  13. Rachel G says:

    I have done this before, but I was never really a fan. I have light brown, fine, wavy/curly hair, and when I would use shampoo second, the hair on the top of my head did not seem as glossy as normal, was fuzzier, and even seemed to be a lighter color than normal. So, I tend to shampoo first with a ton of conditioner second or just a conditioner only wash, both of which I may do every third day. Every once in a while I’ll do a water only wash, which seems to work just fine. My hair isn’t as curly after, but I can live with that. I would just go completely water only, but I work in a very visible position and I’m worried about looking like an oil slick during the transition period.

  14. OMG, I am so glad you reminded me about this! I’ve been having some oil-slick issues (top of my head going greasy/in need of a wash before the rest of my hair) and I’m wondering if Reverse Hair Washing could nip it in the bud, by getting out the excess … Off to shower! Excited!

  15. zimt-peppermint says:

    Of course I would. But I’m using Ghassoul at the moment, which is basically some kind of mud. It cleans my hair and you can put oils in the mixture to make it more fun. But I don’t know if I want to use a conditioner before or after I clean my hair with Ghassoul. It feels like everything else just couldn’t be as natural.

  16. M says:

    I do this when I feel my hair needs some clarifying. Works great!

  17. Alyssa M says:

    I do this sometimes and it definitely gives my hair more bounce. I’ve been having trouble lately though – I feel like my scalp never gets clean because my hair is so long/thick and it’s hard to really get to my scalp when washing. Anyone have any tips for that???

  18. Naydja says:

    I have really long hair, like past my butt, almost to my knees long. (some history/context: I usually wash my hair about 1x week, which works for me as I don’t put a ton of junk in it (clean or dirty), and it’s usually in a bun, so not terribly exposed to the dirt of day-to-day ) I wash my hair backwards when I feel like my scalp needs some real love, on average every 6 weeks, but more frequently in the winter. (really helped restore my hair after 4-day family wedding). I’m a clean baking soda/ACV user and I’ll use coconut, argan, tea tree and neem oils when I go backwards – heavy on the coconut, with any/no combination of the others depending on how I feel.
    I add coconut oil with a bit of jasmine or lavender essence added in while hair is damp to give some added conditioning before I brush it.

    A useful note for those afraid of the “oil-slick” get a wooden brush or comb (like those by Widu, LOVE LOVE LOVE’em). The wood helps absorb/spread the oil around better than traditional plastics – whether the oil is au natural or added.

    @Alyssa – Before I wash my hair, I give my scalp a good brush/massage and when I wash my hair, I don’t focus on the parts below my shoulders too much. I focus on my scalp and the immediate hair, especially when massaging and rinsing. When I’m rinsing I squeeze from top to bottom giving the bottom part of my hair a good rub and rinse. I find that my scalp is what needs the love when I wash. Then, when it’s still damp before I brush my hair, I add a bit of argan oil to my scalp (the dropper is so convenient) and a bit of coconut oil to my ends.

  19. Brooke says:

    Just did think today with Acure shampoo and conditioner. AMAZING. Trying again next time I wash!

  20. Melissa says:

    I’ve been conditioning first for about 6 months since I read your book, and I love it. I have really super ultra fine hair, and stuff builds up on it really fast. Washing off the excess instead of just rinsing it off totally works. I use Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and Conditioner.

    BTW, has Aveda become really unnatural without its founder? I’ve been going to an aveda salon, because it was the greenest I could find, but I’m not sure how much to trust their products.

  21. Jams says:

    That sounds pretty interesting. I’m going to have to try this.

  22. Ang says:

    I tried this over the weekend and loved it! I have very fine hair, and I loved the way it felt smooth (but not too heavy) afterward.

  23. Emily says:

    Sometimes I do this! When I “deep” condition my hair, I’ll put oil on it before I take a shower-coconut, grape seed, whatever I have on hand-and then let that sit for 20-30 min. Then when I take a shower, I use a little shampoo to get the rest of the oil out, but then that’s it, I don’t put on extra conditioner. I do this 2-3x a month, and man, those are some of the best hair days I have :)

  24. Sydney says:

    This is a great idea and very similar to “Co-washing” which I discovered about a year ago. I have extremely thick super curly hair. My usual routine is: every time I “wash” (with shampoo or not) my hair I do a coconut oil treatment first. (Load my hair up with the oil- slap a plastic cap on-and either sit under a hood dryer for 30 min or do errands around my home for 1hour). Rinse this with lukewarm water and then light shampoo (only scalp) or use conditioner as if it was shampoo (focus on scalp agitation) and rinse. I follow this up with a heavy application of my conditioner (detangle during this stage) rinse and do a deep conditioning treatment with Miss Jessie’s rapid recovery (most likely not “clean”). The results are soft and nicely moisturized tresses.

  25. Dunnea Rae says:

    My hair is just like those Long & Silky girl’s. Guess you could say I’m stuck in the ’70’s – BTW, where can I find those sandals the girl in the middle is wearing? I wore out 3 pair when they were all the rage. Since then, I’ve seen variations, but never the identical smooth leather top/suede leather covered platform, or the identical color :-(
    Next to Mia clogs, these were my fave shoes of the 70’s.

    I will try the backwards shampoo. I just bought a batch of new shampoos and conditioners, because my hair hasn’t been looking or feeling happy. I do use coconut oil on my skin, so I will do the oil massage, condition and shampoo. This might be what my droopy, static riddled hair needs. Thanks!

  26. Hannah says:

    I just tried this, and so far I love it! It felt really good to condition the roots of my hair, which I never do because I thought it made my hair too flat and oily. But with shampoo after conditioner, I don’t have to worry about weighing down the roots. Genius!

  27. yoning says:

    I tried it yesterday and i liked it a lot – I use California Baby’s shampoo and Intelligent Nutrients organic conditioner. I first massage my scalp briefly with argan oil (not sure if it was a good choice but it was the only oil i had on me), and then conditioned my hair, and did shampoo last. And it felt good! My hair tangles easily because I have damaged ends but my hair was easy to manage without any tangles. Which is really interesting because when I used conventional shampoo (which is no more!) i had to use really expensive hair treatment and use argan oil on top of it to control the tangle. I recently started switching my personal care products to clean or cleaner versions and after a few weeks, my hair actually feels and looks nicer(more shine!)

  28. mangomadness says:

    I “wash my hair backwards” every single time I wash my hair. The technique is perfect for my tightly coiled, Afro-textured hair. I’ve been doing it for about 3 years and I won’t go back to “conventional” hair washing any time soon.

    Before shampooing I…
    –section my hair
    –coat each section in coconut oil and/or a natural deep conditioner [Shea Moisture Purification Mask or DIY Aloe-Castor Hair Mask (Lilly of the Dessert aloe vera gel and castor oil)] while detangling my hair with my fingers
    –let the mixture sit for 10-15minutes under a plastic conditioning cap

    Then, I wash my hair with a natural shampoo focusing on my scalp. After that, I rinse, apply a leave-in conditioner and style.

  29. Liling says:

    Hello, this seems cool but I was wondering if it works for hair treatment masks too? Because quite some time ago, my hairdresser told me to stop using conditioner because it strips off the outer layer of the hair to make it smooth. So now I only use hair masks, and I use it like, 5 times a week. When I saw this, I am thinking whether I can also deep condition before using shampoo.


  30. Gabby says:

    Omg! So glad I found this I washed my hair and had already had conditioner on so I washed that off and then I was gonna go through the normal ‘shampoo then conditioner’ wash again but the shower started getting cold so I only had time to shampoo, therefore I’ve washed my hair backwards and since I’m 13 I was worrying about what’s its going to be like tomorrow for school and I’m sat with a towel on my head now, but I feel better after reading all these comments! Xx

  31. Klara says:

    Hi Girls, I have hit this website by coincidence and read this \Wash Your Hair Backwards\ article. And yes, I have tried it as well and now I need to comment on it.

    I’ve got mid-long hair (and quite lots of it) with oily scalp and sometimes oily dandruff. I have to wash my hair every other day. I tried this reverse procedure and have to say that my scalp was not that impure and oily as I expected to be but the feeling afterwards was definitely anything BUT PURE. And, as a result, my hair lost its shine, which never happens when using the conditioner as LAST thing.

    To be honest, I cannot agree with Siobhan or whoever posted this article. This procedure makes NO sense. Except for putting the oil in your hair before washing, of course (especially for dry or brittle hair)… But the right pH needs to be restored at the end of the whole process, not at the beginning! By using water and shampoo (alkaline pH) the hair’s structure opens and you need to close it (seal it back) by using the conditioner (acidic pH). Think about it. If you revert the process, what do you get? Frizzy, rough, dull and shineless hair. That’s cause you leave the hair’s structure open. Which also makes them more fragile and you can destroy them easily by combing and blow-drying afterwards.

    Try and have a think about it. Or read some expert’s articles.

    Look after to you hair with love and don’t destroy it!

    Regards from the Czech Republic,


  32. Jessie says:

    Never thought of this! Such a great idea!

  33. Janet Diaz says:

    Nice post. That is true, washing hair backwards can help you in less hair loss and it improves the blood circulation to the scalp.

  34. priya says:

    Yes.. it works great. I put coconut oil first.. left it almost 20 mins. Then wet haor and applied a conditioner with keratin. Let it sit for 15 mins as nd rinsed off with shampoo. Blow dried with some leave in natural hair cream and wow… now my hair looks like i had keratin treatment…. awesome…. so shiny and silky than never before

  35. erica says:

    I wash my hair everyday. I know that’s supposed to be bad. I started using the Shielo Hydrate Shampoo, my hair looks and feels so healthy. I barely need to use any shampoo, a quarter-size only, and I have a ton of hair. Typically I’ve had to rinse and repeat , but with Shielo – I use just the quarter-size and its perfect. Feels soooo good and its super hydrating.

    I would recommend this to any gal with thick hair prone to getting dry.

  36. Sarah says:

    I’m definitely going to try this! I’ve been having some super bad hair days recently and I need to do something spontaneous like to to shake it up a little :)

  37. Girly says:

    Stop. Please read this…

    Wet hair. Put conditioner on hair from roots to ends. Leave on 5 minutes. Comb hair in shower. DO NOT RINSE. Wet hair a little, then put shampoo on top of conditioner. Rinse out both conditioner and shampoo at same time. Air or blow dry, then style.

  38. Caroline says:

    I have a question not a comment. I was hoping you could help me out. I always have lots of hair conditioner left long after the shampoo is used up. It is such a waste of money just to throw it away. Is there anything else hair conditioner can be used for?
    Thank you.

  39. That’s interesting. Rule #1 for me has always been to BRUSH my hair thoroughly BEFORE it gets wet—getting all of the oils going and brushing through the hair from the scalp. THEN, I wash and condition as I usually do.

    The result? CLEAN hair, NO tangles to deal with after, soft bouncy healthy hair. This is a GREAT trick! Also, for 2nd day hair (which is a lot more manageable)—I use just a little of my dry shampoo organic powder with essential oils for a nice clean fragrance—massage it into my scalp and through hair to the ends—Ta da!! Great 2nd dair hair that looks and feels and smells CLEAN.

    CLEAR SKIN Minerals
    Organic Makeup & Skin Care Products for Acne and Aging

  40. Joana says:

    Great tips for hair.

  41. LisaBeth says:

    My hair gets very tangly and the ONLY product that works for me is the Shielo Smoothing Conditioner – works very effectively to smooth and untangle my thin, color treated hair. Doesnt fade my hair color at all! Couldn’t ask for a better conditioner!

  42. jane t says:

    I did not like Jose Marin Argan’s oil – its was too oily ! The Somaluxe Argan Oil has improved the appearance of my thick coarse hair and has made it feel really soft and tamed my wavy/curly hair. What I like most about it is that it does not leave my hair with a greasy residue the way Jose Marin Argan Oil does.

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