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Unwash: A Different View of Hair Cleansing

The non-shampoo brand rides the co-washing wave into big time distribution

Unwash believes women shouldn’t be stripping — at least when it comes to hair.

The cowashing brand will bring its philosophy of showering without harsh shampoos that strip natural oils from tresses to all Ulta Beauty doors in May. Its four initial products, priced from $28 to $36 — Bio-Cleansing Conditioner, Anti-Residue Rinse, Hydrating Masque and Dry Cleanser — have largely been available at salons since Unwash started distribution in 2014, and the beauty specialty store chain represents its first major national retail launch.

“The squeaky clean feeling that you get in your hair from shampoo is actually from deposited ingredients you put in your hair. If you want that squeaky clean feeling, you should probably stick with shampoo and conditioner,” said Brandon Schwartz, director of marketing at Unwash. “If you are someone that wears your hair more naturally, and you like that second-day feel and natural oils, you are someone who is a candidate to be a cowasher and use Unwash.”

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Wen, the hair care brand developed by Los Angeles hairstylist Chaz Dean, pioneered the cowashing or “no-poo” movement, and brands have flooded the niche as its popularity has grown. Wen’s rivals have seized upon opportunities to attract customers who are interested in cleansing conditioners that aren’t as thick as Wen’s and are questioning the brand as a result of a class action lawsuit that claims its products cause hair loss.

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Schwartz described Unwash’s Bio-Cleansing Conditioner as “thinner” and “more rinsable” than many cleansing conditioners on the market. “You can use way less of it than you can with some of the competitors where you may have to use 20 or more pumps,” he said. He also emphasized Unwash isn’t completely against the idea behind shampoos: that hair should get a deep clean. Its Anti-Residue Rinse removes buildup like a shampoo, but does so gently and is only meant for occasional use.

Schwartz explained the cowashing concept originally took hold with women of color experimenting with ways to keep their hair, which can be dry and porous, looking healthy. Now, he continued, it’s pervaded the entire hair care consumer base, down to people with very fine hair. “It can work for everyone as long as you are not using heavy styling products,” said Schwartz.

Unwash’s core customer is a woman in her 30s or 40s who’s educated about hair care products and listens to her hairstylists’ recommendations. “Most cowashing products out there are geared toward textured, curly hair. Our product is for the person who wants second-day hair, not necessarily textured hair,” elaborated Schwartz. “It is applicable to more hair types.”

Athena Cosmetics, the Ventura, Calif.-based parent company of RevitaLash, acquired Unwash in 2013 before its salon debut. Around 4,000 U.S. salons currently stock the brand. At Ulta, Schwartz said Unwash is set to reside in the prestige hair-care department along with brands such as Carol’s Daughter and DevaCurl. None of the executives provided sales projections, but industry sources estimate the brand will generate $20 million in retail sales over the next year.

By 2017, Unwash expects to add a Micellar water product for the hair to its merchandise lineup. The brand is working on a brush as well that underscores its positioning as a resource for shampoo alternatives. “I see cowashing growing, and I see the category of shampoo alternatives growing. Cowashing has found its home as a shampoo alternative,” said Schwartz. “People don’t want to go for these augmented [hair] looks as much, and that has de-emphasize the need for shampoo.”