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We’re Obsessed with Pre-Shampoo Treatments—Here’s Why

Photo by Persians/Getty Images

As much as we’d like to reduce our hair care routine to a few quick minutes in the shower, we must admit—when you love your hair, it loves you back. And sometimes, that means giving your strands a little extra TLC with a pre-shampoo treatment. 

Pre-shampoo treatments aren’t just for upselling you at the hair salon, even though we always say yes. Even at-home “pre-poos” can help you achieve stronger, shinier, and overall healthier strands. And while we doubt that you’re eager to add another step to your wash-day routine, the right pre-shampoo treatment might be worth your time. We spoke with licensed cosmetology instructor Shawnta S. Agnew, who says, “Pre-shampoo treatments can be used as desired depending on the goal of the client—whether it’s to treat a condition or to obtain a new texture, new color, or to rebalance from all the above.” Long story short, it’s time to start pre-pooing.

Keep reading to learn more about pre-poos and how you can use them to get the hair of your dreams.

About the Expert:
Shawnta S. Agnew is a licensed cosmetology instructor and cosmetologist in both Michigan and Georgia.

What Is a Pre-Shampoo Treatment? 

Pre-wash treatments have been a recent craze on social media, but they are far from new. Many at-home pre-poos first grabbed our attention during the natural hair movement circa 2012. These ranged from store-bought treatments to home remedies that included everything from honey and olive oil to eggs and avocados (you had to be there!). Thankfully, we’re keeping the groceries in the fridge and opting for higher-quality pre-shampoo treatments these days.

Agnew says, “As we evolve in the world of cosmetology, so do the products and services we have to offer our clients. One of the best treatments currently introduced is the pre-shampoo treatment. a pre-shampoo treatment is just as its name indicates, a step before the shampoo process.” It can come in the form of a mask, scrub, hair butter, or hair oil packed with ingredients to help you achieve healthier hair. 

What Are the Benefits of a Pre-Poo? 

Just like deep conditioners, there are a host of different pre-washes, each targeting different concerns. While deep conditioners are targeted treatments applied after washing hair, think of pre-poos as a hair-prep step that gives your strands the specific care it needs before your shampoo. Agnew says, “Many clients have challenges they face with their hair, and the treatment can be customized to address those concerns.” Let’s run through the common benefits of pre-shampoo treatments below.

1. Detangling 

For those with thick curly or kinky hair, detangling your textured hair after a shampoo can result in knots and breakage. By taking the time to slow down and apply a pre-shampoo before you wash your hair, you can have a smoother detangling process with less shedding. Look for a treatment that infuses your hair with nourishing oils and provides lots of slip for easy detangling.

2. Scalp Health

Agnew recommends pre-shampoos to her clients that struggle with dandruff, stating “I most commonly use ‘pre-poo’ for dandruff (dry/flaky skin on the scalp) and as a clarifying process to remove an extensive amount of products.” Whether you struggle with dandruff or experience a lot of product buildup, using a clarifying treatment to promote a healthy scalp is always a good idea. 

3. Strengthening

If your strands are feeling weak or brittle, adding a strengthening pre-treatment can promote hair that is stronger and less prone to breakage, resulting in more length retention

4. Damage Repair & Prevention

If you color, relax, or otherwise chemically alter your hair, Agnew recommends a protective pre-wash. She explains, “Pre-shampooing can act as a protectant before chemical treatments such as texture changing or hair coloring to prevent chemicals from reaching inside the strand, and can rebalance the scalp's pH level to ensure amazing luminous results.”  

5. Color Maintenance

Pre-shampoo treatments can be a great way to protect your hair color to help it last longer and look more vibrant.

6. Frizz Reduction

If you have frizzy hair that seems to have a mind of its own, a pre-wash treatment could be just what you need for sleeker, more manageable hair. 

Who Are Pre-Shampoo Treatments For? 

People with all hair types and textures can benefit from the targeted care of pre-shampoo treatments. However, if any of the following qualities apply to you, you might notice immediate relief with a pre-poo.

  • Low porosity hair: Agnew says that those with “low porosity hair can benefit from a moisturizing pre-shampoo treatment that allows moisture to get into, instead of onto, the hair shaft.”

  • Excessive dry scalp: Pre-shampoo treatments can allow you to clarify the hair without drying out the hair and scalp, ensuring the shampoo doesn’t increase dryness and lead to breakage.

  • Those who wear long-lasting styles: If you wear braids, dreadlocks, extensions, or styles containing petroleum and wax products, Shawnta recommends a pre-shampoo treatment to remove product buildup and refresh the hair.

  • Oily hair: If your hair is still feeling oily shortly after your shampoo, a clarifying pre-shampoo could be a great reset for your scalp and hair.

  • Dry hair: It may seem like there’s no solution for your dry hair, but a deeply hydrating pre-shampoo treatment can give your hair the moisture it needs.

How to Use Pre-Shampoo Treatments

There’s one thing we can guarantee about the use of your pre-shampoo treatment: It will be applied before your shampoo. Besides that, the specific use of your pre-poo will vary depending on your needs. For example, when using a scalp detox treatment you’ll want to pay close attention to your scalp and roots, while a hydrating or repairing treatment will require more attention to the ends of the hair. Most pre-shampoo treatments require leaving them on the hair for 10 to 20 minutes. Many hydrating or clarifying pre-poos can be used for every wash, while protein treatments and bond repairs are recommended every three or four washes. 

To get the most out of your pre-wash, a professional consultation about your hair needs will always yield results that are more effective. Agnew says, “I suggest booking a licensed professional to let a client know exactly what their particular hair and scalp may need and their desired hair goals. Once educated, I suggest using professional products as indicated by myself or anyone within the industry who cares mostly about the health of hair. There are no downsides to properly using the correct pre-shampoo treatment designed for your needs.” 

The Best Pre-Shampoo Treatments:

1. Best for Detangling: MIELLE ORGANICS Pre-Shampoo Treatment with Mongongo Oil

MIELLE ORGANICS Pre-Shampoo Treatment with Mongongo Oil

If the detangling process makes you dread washing your hair, this nourishing pre-poo is for you. It softens the hair and provides lots of slip to quickly and safely get rid of knots. We love that it infuses your hair with almond, sacha inchi, and mongongo oils to stimulate and condition the scalp while aiding in detangling for more manageable hair—all without breaking the bank. 

2. Best Anti-Dandruff Pre-Shampoo Treatment: ACT + ACRE Cold Pressed Scalp Detox Oil

ACT + ACRE Cold Pressed Scalp Detox Oil
Courtesy of ACT+ACRE

Dry, flaky, itchy scalp? This is relief in a bottle. It removes product buildup while soothing and balancing the scalp to reduce irritation. It also restores your scalp’s moisture barrier and supports its microbiome to alleviate sensitivity.

3. Best Strengthening Pre-Shampoo Treatment: INALA Reset Rinse 

INALA Reset Rinse
Courtesy of INALA

Here’s your weekly reset for hair that is stronger and shinier. This reset rinse contains rice water, which is an ingredient known for strengthening and increasing hair growth. It also contains glycolic and lactic acids to remove product buildup for a healthy scalp and aloe vera for added shine.

4. Best Pre-Shampoo Treatment for Textured Hair: CURLSMITH Bond Curl Rehab Salve 

CURLSMITH Bond Curl Rehab Salve
Courtesy of CURLSMITH

Chemical treatments, styling, and environmental factors can lead to hair damage, and this rehab salve is here to restore your hair’s strength. It’s a great solution for all curl types (even straight hair!) to repair your hair from the inside out while increasing shine and reducing frizz. This is a prime option for those who have experienced heat damage and want to revive their hair’s texture.

5. Best Pre-Shampoo for Color-Treated Hair: VOIR Perfecting Prism Color Protecting Pre-Shampoo Treatment 

VOIR Perfecting Prism Color Protecting Pre-Shampoo Treatment

There’s nothing worse than watching your hair dye fade before its time. Keep your hair color brighter and more vibrant for longer with this protective pre-wash. It’s formulated with Canadian Black Spruce Extract that shields and protects hair color to help prevent it from fading. It also rebuilds hair’s natural protective layer to help keep your color-treated hair healthy.

6. Best Pre-Shampoo for Damaged Hair: KÉRASTASE Concentré Décalcifiant Ultra-Réparateur Repairing Pre-Shampoo Treatment

KÉRASTASE Concentré Décalcifiant Ultra-Réparateur Repairing Pre-Shampoo Treatment

Avoiding hair damage is nearly impossible, and this powerful system removes buildup and reinforces weak hair bonds to return your hair to its original strength. Users rave that in just a  few uses, hair is shinier, stronger, and less prone to damage.

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About the author
Kindra Moné
Kindra Moné is a writer and content creator who works with brands and magazines to create culturally relevant fashion and beauty content. She is also the founder of The Moné Edit: a community and podcast at the intersection of style and wellness.
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Article Last Updated June 25, 2024 12:00 AM