Question of the Day: Can I Wear Wash and Gos?

Q: Elle, I thought I couldn’t do a wash and go. I don’t like gel and my hair shrinks a lot. I was mostly doing twists and twist outs. I want to give wash and gos another try. I don’t like gel in my hair. that said, can you give some tips for those who thought a wash and go wouldn’t work for them? What I tried today was a leave in conditioner and a pomade product mostly on the ends (for weight). It looked okay when it was still wet but as it dried it shrunk a lot. maybe that’s just the way it is until my hair gets longer. It’s soft but greasy (because of the pomade). do you think wash and gos can work for anybody? Do you think your hair evolves and gets better with time if you keep up a wash and go regimen? Any tips would be appreciated!!

A: This is a perfect example of where autonomy needs to come into play, and why I don’t necessarily believe in natural hair gurus. Your reasons for not being able to where a wash n go aren’t really reasons, those are reasons why you do not “like” how your hair looks in a wash n go. People often come here asking me how to get their hair to not shrink – and honestly, I don’t really know – I let my hair shrink, I love my shrinkage because it allows me to wear my hair out without having to worry about it rubbing on my clothes.

I think people can wear their hair any way they want to – but they may need to do it differently than someone else, and they need to figure out the best way for themselves. When I was having issues with my hair tangling as it got longer, I feared that I was going to have to give up wash and gos. While I was researching information on the Internet, I tweeted that I was doing so and a stylist responded, “Well not everyone can wear a wash and go.” I won’t lie, I gave this woman a major and extreme side eye because she had never even seen my hair in person, and here she was telling me that the style I had been wearing for the past year wasn’t “for” me. Rather than listen to her as a natural hair stylist, I kept on doing my own research and testing out different methods on my hair, and eureka, I found that washing my hair and applying product in sections is a KEY STEP for my thick hair. When I found that out, I shared it with my readers and friends in hopes that it would also help someone else having the same issue.

Now, if you don’t want to use gel and are trying to diminish shrinkage, I can’t really help beyond the information and tips I have shared – I am not a natural hair guru, I have only styled my own head of hair (okay I do know that a lot of people using a blow dryer with a concentrator nozzle once their hair is dry to stretch it – but usually they have used gel in order to keep the hold). Furthermore, one of the main reasons people use gel is to help freeze their wet hair into place and minimize tangles. So if you don’t want shrinkage or gel – you’re really going to have to work at it. Do I think that hair evolves as you keep up a wash and go regimen? Not really – the only thing that I think comes into play with this is curl pattern (for once, lol). If you are constantly manipulating your natural pattern (by combing, brushing, doing twist outs, etc), it is going to take a little bit of time for your hair to settle back in and find itself.

I encourage you to keep perfecting your method, but at the same time – be realistic with your hair and how it looks. If your hair shrinks no matter what, you need to accept that, or stretch your hair.


45 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Can I Wear Wash and Gos?

  1. Dawn Ebanks says:

    I almost agree with the woman who said that not everyone can wear a wash and go. I did one today and it took me at least 2 hours to do it. My hair is very thick and bushy and does not hang much, even when wet. I had to shingle small sections with castor oil and IC Fantasia Gel which worked to bring out my curl pattern. I would still hesitate to call it a wash and go since I washed and stayed.

    • Elle says:

      But that’s not anything being wrong with your wash and go, that is your perception of how you wanted it to look. There is a difference between “I can’t do that.” (as in, it will damage your hair) and “I don’t want it to look like that.” A wash and go does not have to have hang, and it does not have to have curl definition. I understand applying product in sections in order to make sure it is spread evenly throughout the hair (for a little bit I thought I was too cute for sections then dealt with 45 minutes of detangling every week), but I have not seen anyone with hair so thick that they need to do one inch sections all of their whole head. And it’s fine if you don’t want you hair to look like that, but that is my entire point – manage your expectations with your own hair and know what it can do, then frame your regimen around that.

  2. candirain23 says:

    Your tips on putting gel on your hair in sections from root to tip has helped me quite a bit since my hair has gotten longer. I’m a big believer in trial and error. I’ll go on youtube and look at different techniques because I know that one of them is bound to work for me. And when I find something that works….I Stick with it. Thanks for the inspiration:)

  3. PG says:

    Wow, love this question, answer and all the comments. You guys are right, I did spend so much more effort, time, and money on mastering TOs and BOs but gave up after a few days of WnG’s. I’m ready to try WnGs again after scouring your site and vids to give myself more style options and so I am not spending so much time styling my hair. I’m placing an order right now for some of the recommendations on your winter products youtube video since I live in high dew points South Florida and have to fight frizz constantly. I will see if banishing or minimizing glycerin helps, now that I realize so many of my products have glycerin high on the ingredients list. Thank you so much Elle

  4. Rae says:

    Good advice, Elle.
    I remember when I first started transitioning, I was obsessed with showcasing my length, so I stretched my twists & twistouts as much as possible. Looking back at photos of that, my hair looked so terrible, lol. I have very, very fine strands so my hair looked terribly flat. Ever since embracing shrinkage, I’ve loved the way my hair looks. So what if everyone doesn’t don’t know that my hair is actually collarbone length and not chin/mid-neck length? Plus, as you said, Elle, my ends don’t rub against my clothes! Personally, I’m still trying to perfect my wash n gos — something I thought my 4a/4b/4c high-porosity hair “couldn’t do” thanks to a lot of terrible natural hair advice sites — but shrunken twists/twistouts are my staples.

  5. Danielle says:

    It really is a matter of trial and error. I’m a wash and go girl during the summer. My basic formula is leave-in plus styler. I get different results based on the weight of the leave-in and the type of styler plus I live in the Northeast so I have to factor in the weather. If I use a cream styler or mousse (Samy makes a good curl mousse) I have to use a lighter leave-in. If I want to use a gel, I use a heavier leave-in to avoid crunch. Gel works better for me on humid days but I definitely have to wash my hair every day. Cream stylers and mousse I can rinse out.

    Shrinkage is part of the package. I’ve noticed for myself it really depends on the weather. Early summer my hair was close to my head. Now its touching my shower on some days. If I purposely want to stretch, I will band my hair in a puff while its drying.

  6. Mz.Mickee says:

    this was an interesting post to read. I agree with most everybody. you really have to do what works for your hair. I also and a wng 7 months natural and i love my shrinkage 🙂 i also had a dislike for gels..i found that it was the crunchiness that bothered me. i have recently fell in love with long aid activator gel! omg great curl definition good hold and no crunchiness! its glycerin heavy so imma be lost in the winter 😦 but hey its working for the blog Elle..GL Ladies ❤

  7. nucurly says:

    I have jheri curls too and have learned that’s my wet hair. I’ve also learned that since I have fine hair and it ‘s not very dense, I just use less product (conditioner and/or gel). When I do that, my wash n go’s look so soft and natural. My hair is almost BSL and my wash n go shrinks to about neck length. I use to hate it, but i don’t care anymore. As long as my curls are healthy, soft, and natural looking…i’m working it! Also, don’t forget accessories play a big part in your look. Even my “jheri curl” looks bangin’ when I have my makeup tight and the the perfect earring!

    • HB says:

      When my hair was shorter, yes. Now I wet it probably every other day, but if I am testing products I do it daily – doesn’t give me any issues.

  8. Glitter Girl says:

    I am also appreciating shrinkage more as my hair grows (um, depending on the day. Some days it pissed me off. I just look at it and go, “Really? No, REALLY?” Although my shrinkage is the craziest I have ever heard of. It literally shrinks to about 1/10 its length, which is why after 6 years of being natural my hair still looks like a 2-3 inch coily ‘fro. I don’t do stretched styles often, and when I do, I only end up thinking how much better my wash and gos look and feel. I have a hard time keeping moisture in now when I do stretched styles. And I miss my coils! I used to be able to rock a cool twistouts, but now that my hair is longer, I can’t get them to look right. Plus, my hair does better in general without all the constant manipulation of twisting and braiding. But I digress….

    Definitely, keep experimenting with products that works for you, like everyone else is saying. And thanks for the great suggestions, Elle! Smoothing Lotion, Curly Whip, Hair Dew…these are some of my staples. Still want to hook up that Blue Eco, though. 🙂

  9. Anonymous says:

    I like shrinkage for some wash-n-goes, but sometimes I want to show a little more length. For those days I just get out the blowdryer/diffuser to stretch the roots a bit. I’ve discovered that this method works best when I do it on hair that’s only 75 percent dry or (for my fine hair about 45 mins to an hour of air-drying time). If I wait any longer than that the hair is too set to stretch much. And a soft set gel has yielded some of my best wash-n-gos. Thanks for the Eco Styler Blue gel recommendation, Elle, Thx to you and this recommendation I do more wash and gos that look and FEEL great.

  10. DebbieDeb says:

    Amen sisters! Shrinkage gets a bad rap! In my opinion great curls shrink! There are also many different curl products on the market (or make your own flaxseed gel) with varying holds but you have to test them out to see what works with YOUR hair. I’ve personally been a WnG girl since my BC because my schedule doesn’t allow time for twisting/braiding and I love naturally curly hair!!

    I’ve had to try out diff combinations of products to see what provides the best result for my hair – and I’ve learned alot along the way (with Elle’s help as well).

    Regarding mousse, I have just recently tried the Giovanni mousse and my first impression is that its good (decent ingredients also) but I still need to work on how/what to pair it with.

    My 2 cents…keep trying… WnGs are great!!!

  11. Felicia says:

    I put too much leave-in condish in my head last week and my hair shrinking was less than normal but it took longer to dry… i finally had to put my diffuser on it. I realized that day that I like my shrinkage better than elongating my hair.

    • Emme says:

      As my hair is growing, I am beginning to appreciate shrinkage. I had to blow dry (with the cold shot) my back hair today because the wet hair was touching my neck.

  12. luvmylocs says:

    thanks all! this was my question for elle. elle i appreciate your response and all the ladies. i’ve been natural 12 years but 6 yrs in there i had locs. since cutting my locs in dec 05 it’s been a real roller coaster ride. there are a LOT more products and information than when i first went natural and a lot of stuff i didn’t have to deal with because i mastered having lovely locs (that i started and mostly maintained myself). i definitely won’t be going back to a relaxer after 12 years. i buy most of the reputable hair care books, don’t jump on every bandwagon but i’m just really getting to a point where i feel like my hair is sort of stalled out on flourishing as it should. i know it’s growing. i have a little wirey patch in the crown but otherwise it seems fine. i gave up gel as part of the wash and go process because it seemed my hair matted (as i indicated earlier). twisting isnt really a bad thing for me but i just wanted to revisit the concept of a wash and go, minus the tangles and knots for me. i’ll continue to experiment and again, thanks for the good advice and feedback ladies!

  13. Dwaynia says:

    Having shrinkage may just be something you have to choose not to battle. When I first became relaxer free, I wondered about shrinkage for the first month and then was like “whatever” because it was too much of a hassle to worry about something I basically had no control over. Most products that promise a streched curl DO NOT WORK. As for not liking gel, that’s simply a matter of personal preference whether you’re wearing a wash and go or not. I’m a wash and go girl and I don’t really care for using gel because gels, for me, equal a look quite similiar to a jheri curl. What I learned was an option for me, instead of gel, (this occured as a result of much research) was a styler that would both weigh my hair and offer the slighest bit of hold. Two of those stylers are Donna Marie Dream Curling Cream (Thanks Elle!) and Curls Souffle. My hair looks the way I want it to (mostly, lol). Personally, I know that if I tried a leave in/pomade combo for a wash and go, my hair would be a frizzy, dry mess. Now you’ve figured out that doesn’t work for you either so on to the next.

    Soooo, the point of all of this is to say that you don’t have to like gels, but you have to figure out what you hair needs and likes and give that a try for awhile. And I know it sounds cliche when people say “listen to your hair” because when I began I thought that was the craziest mess ever, but as your journey progresses you’ll understand. Your hair will definitely let you know what it needs, likes, and dislikes as you become more familiar with it. Sooooo, if you don’t like gels, ditch them and start over…

    • Emme says:

      I don’t like gels/curling custards/curling puddings because they make my hair look like jheri curls. Without these, my hair already looks like I have jheri curls. I don’t even bother getting offended when people ask me what I did to my hair, because I wonder that myself some mornings. My hair is very spirally and I am learning to love it despite is 80’s look.

      Thankfully, a leave-in with a little moisturizing creme and a little bit of a castor oil based pomade seems to be working well for me. I don’t get frizz and it keeps it shiny, but not greasy/oily. I know people say products stop working, I am praying these don’t. I don’t mind shrinkage per se. I do mind my hair shrinks unevenly, anywhere from 33% in the back to 50% in the front to 67% at the corner sides (yes, I have measured it :)), but I have learned to love and live with it. I am curious to see how it looks when it grows out.

      I may revisit gels, etc when my hair is longer or I need it to shrink more (KCCC seems to help with that).

      Long comment to say, I loved reading your jheri curls comment. It is nice to feel like you belong to a group.

  14. Soleil says:

    Elle you were spot on with your advice and I completely agree with @atribitt.

    There are many persons who frequent natural blogs and forums asking how they’re supposed to do THEIR hair. You aren’t a guru or a psychic so you can’t tell what is best for their hair as you only know what your hair likes and dislikes. I love your blog but if I only used products and methods you used on your hair my hair would be a complete mess. I have fine, highly porous and medium density hair compared to your thick, low porosity hair, but your reviews and attitude when it comes to natural hair is refreshing among the sea of allknowing vloggers. That and I love looking at Izzy 😀

    @atribitt was right to ask why don’t you like gel or shrinkage. Gel can be drying and damaging but like she mentioned you can get a good conditioner and a gel like eco styler or fantasia with a medium hold and it can come out fine. If you still don’t like gels you can try a custard or pudding like KCCC, Queen Helene’s curl creme, or the Shea Moisture smoothie. There are a lot more brands that have curl stylers and you can check them out on Curl Mart or you can even make a cheap pudding by combining a gel and conditioner together to make a softer hold like was mentioned. Shrinkage comes with being natural and you may find that even when your hair is SL when it’s wet or stretched you may still only get NL when it’s dry. My hair has a lot of frizz around my 4a section of hair but I’ve come to accept it and love it. It’s YOUR hair! Experiment with your hair and love it for what it is and not what it’s not and what you want it to be. If you don’t you’ll end up in a bottle of relaxer in no time 😦

  15. atribitt says:

    i think some other questions also need to be asked… WHY don’t you like gel? WHY don’t you like shrinkage?
    I mean, like Elle said, the gel HOLDS the curl pattern in place and helps with clumping. Also, depending on the type you use, it could help weigh the hair down. If it’s the crunch you hate, there are a number of gels out there that have a soft hold, or can be combined with a finisher to soften the hold.
    Shrinkage is great because it shows off your curl. I mean, if your hair stayed stretched, then so would the curl, and you’d just have stringy hair instead of curls.
    After re-evaluating these points, i think the type/brand of product you use will help. I don’t know your hair characteristics, but if you’re experiencing crazy shrinkage, I’ll assume you have type 4 hair. if that’s the case, then a bomb moisturizing conditioner (see Elle for recs), and a gel that won’t leave your hair crunchy (like Eco Styler Blue or KCCC), and you’re all set!
    Elle, spot on – this is definitely an “AUTONOMY IS KEY” teachable moment.

    • luvmylocs says:

      thanks for asking follow up questions to my question to elle! i don’t like gel because it seems to make my hair mat together. i had locs for nearly 6 years. i’ve had situations where my hair literally was matted and had to be pulled apart. this typically happened when i used gels. right now i’m experimenting with the garnier pure and clean gel. it helps with definition on my twist outs but i hadn’t used it yet on a wash and go. i’m real careful about getting knots and matting because it’s lead to me having to cut my hair and my hair isn’t nearly as long as it should be considering i cut my locs almost 5 years ago. as for shrinkage, i don’t care about curl pattern or any of that, i just like my hair with a bit more length. it’s probably because i got used to having waist length locs so being stuck in shorter/shrunken hair just feels less appealing to me.

      • HB says:

        Okay, so this is from a twist out – could it be the shrinkage making your hair mat rather than the gel? This is one of the reasons why I use something with hold – I love how my wngs look with conditioner only but my hair will do its own thing in different directions and get matted.

      • luvmylocs says:

        thanks elle! i’ll experiment again using the garnier gel. i definitely can’t keep twists in too long or make them too small. i don’t know. the other thing for me with wash n gos is that my hair takes a long time to dry so when i’m leaving the house it’s still wet and so conditioner showing. i’ll keep playing around with it.

  16. sarah says:

    It’s always interesting to me that natural will spend time perfecting a twist-out but expect to get a wash and go right the first time or else it’s not right for them.

    Also, I’ve asked Curly Nikki this but got no respond, but why DO we focus on the gels? My mother always preferred mousse but I don’t hear too much about mousse in the curly world. I’ve only seen one natural mention the Paul Mitchell Foaming Pommade and I’ve been wanting to try it as a change up from the gels. But, I know I’ll be back to KCCC 😉

    • HB says:

      I won’t lie – I think that wash and gos are supposed to be easy, and unless the product does not absorb or my hair is weirdly crunchy or something like that, I just wear my hair as is. When my hair was shorter, I really wanted it to look perfect, mainly because when my hair was out of place it was REALLY obvious, but I had to just stop that – my curl pattern isn’t uniform all over my head, and my hair shrinks (not as much as it could, but it does). I’m not sure why people don’t use mousse as much…I have one from Herbal Essences but it seems a little sticky so I’m scared to use it. Also, a lot of mousses contain alcohol and don’t have moisturizing ingredients.

      • sarah says:

        what i meant by easy is in terms of finding the right product combo. i’ve seen whole blogs dedicated to finding the right product combo to get a great twist out, but people just slap some gel or leave-in and let it air dry for a wash and go and expect stellar results without considering finding the right set of products is just as important.

      • HB says:

        Yea, and that is basically what I meant. That’s pretty much what I do – slap some gel in and call it a day. Now I consider the climate, but when I had a twa I wasn’t savvy to that information and pretty much just applied product and however my hair turned out that’s what I wore that day. I really don’t think that hair looks majorly different between products. I can’t even really think of a styler that I’ve disliked lately – there are some I liked more than others, but my hair has been “wearable.” More often than not I give a bleh to a product when my hair feels drier the next day.

      • sarah says:

        oh, well lucky you. i tried about 4 different gels and a few different leave-ins before i got my wash and go to look how i wanted it to. the first one i did was disasterous… i literally slapped some gel in my head, without regard to the leave-in or sealing. now i can do one with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back, but that’s because i worked on it for a few months.

      • HB says:

        Haha – well I think it also has to do with the fact that I did a lot of research before I was fully natural, and when I had a relaxer I ALWAYS used a leave-in. I don’t think I’ve ever just used gel unless now when I’m experimenting to see how it will look – also, the first gel I ever used was KCCC, so it’s not like I was using some drugstore crap.

    • Soleil says:

      I’ve tried a Tresemme mousse but it gave me no hold and left my hair crunchy and dry. It really may be because of the alcohol and that it’s just too light for my hair. If you do try I hope it gives you better results!

      • sarah says:

        i got some free Suave Professionals curl boosting mousse, or whatever, and i really liked it. it wasn’t really drying at all. even when rubbing the mousse between my fingers it felt really… luxurious. i still might try the PM foaming pommade though…

    • Emme says:

      I bought the Paul Mitchell Foaming Pomade, but ended up swapping it away. Amazing shine and great hold, but it has alcohol and more than one sulfate. Maybe there are good sulfates and these were it, I don’t know. I was struggling with dryness at the time and didn’t want to keep using it. My thoughts.

    • naturallyneecy says:

      Hi Sarah,
      I have some of the Paul Mitchell foaming pomade (from my relaxer days, actually) and I have used it a few times since I’ve been natural. My hair is very kinky with minimal to moderate curls, and for me it doesn’t give me any hold at all and leaves my hair feeling very oily/greasy. Not a product review in the least, just thought I’d share my experience with it. 🙂


  17. ReRe says:

    Hey Elle,

    Its me again Rhea. I know you rave about Jessicurl but I hate her other products like the curl ringlets and hair potion, but I like her conditioners. Do you have any thoughts on her other products. They make my hair stiff and dry or maybe I am just not using it correctly. Thanks again

    • HB says:

      Hmmm…I don’t rave about Jessicurl. They have good ingredients and I like the company but the products I have tried are only okay for me. I have a review on the DC, and the Confident Coils had to be used with other products so it was kind of useless for me.

  18. Carla says:

    I love wash-n-gos, but I know I cant wear them all the time. For ME, the key is to switch styles. Buns, wash-n-gos, stretched styles, etc. As your hair gets long (I’m inches from bra strap length) your hair will be more susceptible to tangles. Elle is right, applying products is key. For me, “plopping” also works to dry hair faster while minimizing tangles.

      • Carla says:

        Elle, I use an old cotton t-shirt. I have a lot of old oversized ones that I’ve collected over the years from certain industries I’ve worked in to sporting events. I was going to make rags out of a lot of them (some of them are really old), but they make great plopping materials.

        When my hair is still wet with product, I bend my head down so that my hair is pointing down and put the shirt on over my hair from the bottom up and twist – easy on the edges. Though its cotton, it really does help with frizz and shrinkage a little (that’s important to me because my hair can tangle horribly from shrinkage) while taking most of the excess water out.

  19. Fido says:


    Im traniaitioning 3b/c now trimming the relaxed ends as my hair gets longer. Whenever I WnG, the results are inconsistent whether I use the same products or not. Is this normal? Do u think the results become more consistent as I become more natural?


    • HB says:

      It’s normal – the climate and current state of your hair (how clean it is, moisture/protein balance, etc) can also affect how products act on our hair. For instance, Donna Marie Dream Curling Creme sometimes acts funny on my hair – I’m not sure why but for the most part I love it. Since I’m natural and this happens, I doubt it would become more consistent.

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