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Before we dive in, let's get one thing clear—no, this is not a story about your bathroom habits.
Pre-poo is short for pre-shampoo, or the process of prepping your hair before a shampoo. This could come in a ton of varieties—masks, oils, scrubs, treatments—but ultimately, it's a moisturizing and/or clarifying formula you work along your scalp and hair. While it might seem counterintuitive to apply something to your hair before washing it, the extra step can make a huge difference in the overall texture of your hair, simplify your styling routine, and even help with hair loss.
If you're not quite sure where to start (or you're looking for ways to level up your current pre-poo regimen), keep reading for everything you need to know about pre-poos—and how to get the most out of your pre-poo treatment.
What are the benefits of pre-pooing?
Though we all want our hair to be clean, "squeaky clean" is too much. The main goal of a pre-poo is to keep your hair protected and hydrated during your cleansing routine. "This is especially beneficial for those with kinky, curly, damaged, or unruly hair," says celebrity hairstylist Ryan Richman. "Shampooing can strip your hair of all its natural oils, leaving it dry and brittle. Pre-pooing acts as a base or protective barrier against over-cleansing."
By sealing and protecting the hair, your pre-pooing treatment can help prevent excess breakage (read: hair loss) in the shower. Richman also notes that it will detangle your hair before shampooing so you don't have to aggressively brush your hair post-shower.
Another plus? The extra step can make styling 10 times easier. Overstripping of natural oils leaves the hair follicles exposed and frizzy, but by preserving these oils, your hair can maintain hair texture, shape, and sheen.
How do you pre-poo?
This answer will depend on your individual hair goals, but ultimately, Richman says that pre-pooing can be broken down into two categories: clarifying and hydrating.
If you want to refresh your scalp, a clarifying treatment, i.e. scalp scrub, detoxifying hair serum, or ACV rinse, can help. This will remove buildup from your hair, especially beneficial since shampoos and conditioners tend to use a lot of heavy cream- or oil-based products.
If your main objective is to add hydration, plant oils (like hot oil treatments) and hair masks are your biggest ally. Richman recommends coconut, argan, olive, and castor, all of which will protect your hair from drying out during the cleansing process.
As for the duration of treatment, Richman suggests leaving a clarifying pre-poo treatment on for no longer than 20 minutes, and moisturizing formulas for half an hour. "To really reap the benefits of a pre-poo, I suggest applying your pre-poo product on dry hair before entering the shower," he says. "After distributing the product throughout your hair, wrap your hair in a shower cap. The heat and steam from the shower combined with the shower cap will help it seep into your hair follicles and accelerate the absorption process, and you can go about washing your body in the meantime."
How often should you pre-poo?
This number largely depends on your hair type and what pre-poo treatment you're using. Clarifying formulas should be limited to once every month, but moisturizing masks and creams can be added to your routine as frequently as you desire. However, Richman warns that you can over-moisturize your hair. "People with fine to medium hair will probably find that everyday pre-pooing is not needed as it can drag down volume. Only very dry or curly textures should be pre-pooing every time they shower. Finer hair should stick with every other wash."
Is there anything you shouldn't do?
When pre-pooing, Richman recommends not using the same type of treatment as your shampoo. In other words, if you're using a clarifying shampoo, you probably shouldn't double up with a clarifying pre-poo treatment. And if you're using a super moisturizing shampoo buffed with silicones, avoid the creamy hair mask.
Like skincare, the beauty of pre-pooing is its customization—you can experiment with different application methods until you find the best setup. If you're looking for some recommendations, shop some of our favorite pre-poo treatments below.
Best Pre-Poo for Fine Hair: Ouai Treatment Masque
If your hair resists styling, get it under control with this restoring mask. Artichoke leaf extract seals the cuticle for less frizz, more shine, and maximum protection against aggressors like heat and color. Tamarind seed extract delivers major hydration and creates a barrier to prevent further damage.
Best Pre-Poo for Dandruff: SheaMoisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub
African black soap (also known as black soap) is a traditional skin cleanser used for its cleansing and natural clarifying properties. Although it has great skin benefits, it's also very compatible with all hair types. This SheaMoisture formula also comes with charcoal particles to lift clogging impurities, excess oil, and flaky build up, making it especially great for dandruff-prone scalps.
Best Pre-Poo for Curly Hair: Moroccanoil Treatment
Even the thickest of curls are tamed with just one application of Moroccanoil's cult-famous treatment, and yet it won't weigh down hair that's finer in texture (thanks to its water-like consistency).
Best Pre-Poo for Dull Hair: Aveeno Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar In-Shower Hair Rinse
Infused with a farm-fresh inspired blend of apple cider vinegar, we're all about this Aveeno rinse that clarifies your tresses to enhance your hair's natural shine.
Best Pre-Poo for Damaged Hair: Olaplex No. 7 Bonding Oil
If you deal with a lot of flyaways and split ends, turn to this bonding oil for smoothing down strays and strengthening your ends. The formula is inspired by Korean fermented ingredients to help with absorption, and is rich in anti-aging compounds, like beta-carotene, vitamins D, C, E, and essential fatty acids, to protect and nourish hair.
Best Custom Pre-Poo: Prose Soothe & Balance Pre-Shampoo Scalp Mask
Want the best of both pre-pooing worlds? Prose lets you customize your formula to your unique hair needs with a curated selection of sustainable and natural active ingredients. These include eucalyptus oil, jojoba beads, kombucha tea, and kale extract, and absolutely no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or GMOs.