The Wrap

Jan 14 2016


  • Author: Alyssa Grossman

What You Need to Know About Pre-Shampoo

Pop quiz: What’s pre-poo? If you know the answer, give yourself a gold star for being a bona fide beauty insider. And if you don’t, well, listen up — this is one silly-sounding trend that’s worth paying attention to.

Pre-pooing is short for pre-shampooing, which essentially means applying a protective treatment to your hair before you lather up. Pre-shampoo products, typically oils or butters, are applied to dry hair anywhere from half an hour to a full day before washing. The point: locking in moisture before your strands get parched from your shower routine.

Now you’re probably thinking, “my conditioner moisturizes just fine. Why do I need anything else?” Here’s the thing: conditioner helps lessen the effects of damage to your hair’s surface layers but doesn’t prevent it. Pre-poo favorites (like coconut oil), in contrast, get absorbed by the proteins inside your hair—sealing that fragile inner layer and making it less prone to swelling up with water. No swelling, of course, means healthier, stronger hair.

The practice inspires both devotion (and debate) from those who’ve tried it, so we had to take a deeper look at this moisturize-before-washing trend. After sorting through the studies, we’re convinced there’s scientific evidence backing up the benefits of pre-shampoo. So we pored over products and approaches to bring you an easy breakdown of what you need to know to find a method that works for you.

Do I need a Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

First things first, how do you know if you need a pre-shampoo treatment? Surefire signs include hair that won’t hold its curl, unmanageable frizz, frayed ends and longer-than-normal dry times. But you don’t need to see visible signs of damage to pull out the pre-poo. Its water-blocking capabilities can reduce shower- time wear and tear and lock in moisture for any type of hair.

What Product Should I Use?

Step two is figuring out which pre-poo to use. Do a Web search, and you’ll be bombarded by products promising a deep-moisture treatment—but it’s often oils that get the most praise from hair care pros. The star of the pre-poo oil category? Coconut oil. It penetrates hair more effectively than other oils such as mineral (which isn’t attracted to your hair’s proteins) and jojoba (its chemical bonds have proven in lab tests to be too bulky to get inside your hair).

Still, coconut oil may not be the best choice for every hair type. Our advice? Since coconut packs the biggest moisturizing punch, it’s wise to start there. If you feel like this option is too heavy for the damage level of your hair or leaves it feeling overly greasy and heavy, work your way back toward lighter options like pre-shampoo butters.

Check out this in-depth chart breaking down the properties of many popular pre-poo options to find the best fit for your hair (and be prepared for a period of trial and error).

How Long Do I Leave it In?

The easy answer is “as long as possible”—if your scalp isn’t irritated by the marathon oil-wearing session, that is. If you see results after a half-hour treatment, great! But if you can stand rocking a pre-shampooed ponytail all day, then washing at night could be the way to go. You’re not going to do any damage by leaving oil in your hair too long.

Figuring out when to pre-shampoo, what to use, when to use it and how long to leave it in may take some testing, but softer, healthier strands will be a clear sign of a successful pre-poo mission.


Have you found a pre-shampoo that works for you? We’d love to hear about it! Join the discussion on our Facebook page.



  • Science-y Hair Blog, Managing Elasticity and Porosity in Hair, March 2014
  • Science-y Hair Blog, Oils – Which Ones Soak In vs. Coat the Hair, June 2013
  • A.S. Rele, R.B. Mohile, Effect of Mineral Oil, Sunflower Oil, and Coconut Oil on Prevention of Hair Damage, Journal of Cosmetic Science, Vol. 44(2), 175-192, Mar/April, 2003.