Here’s a hot little tip for ya: Pre-poo treatments—aka those moisturizing and clarifying formulas you work along your scalp and through your hair before you shampoo—are pretty freakin’ genius for getting soft, shiny-as-hell hair. According to Jasmine “Jazzee” Santiago, a New York City-based hairstylist and texture expert, pre-poos are great for hydrating, clarifying, and protecting your curls and coils before you kick off your styling routine—and they’re super easy to use too.
So if you’ve been thinking about adding a pre-poo to your haircare lineup and you’re not quite sure where to start (or you’re looking for ways to level-up your current pre-poo routine), you’ve officially come to the right place. Ahead, Santiago weighs in on everything you need to know about pre-poos, including the best ones to buy rn, a DIY recipe that works, and a few hacks for getting the most out of your treatment.
Pre-poos are treatments that go on your hair and scalp before you cleanse and condition. They come in a million varieties—think: masks, oils, scrubs, DIYs—and they can do everything from detangling and moisturizing to clarifying and soothing. The main goal of a pre-poo? Keeping your hair protected and hydrated during your cleansing routine, leaving your texture shinier and softer.
According to Santiago, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all when it comes to pre-poos. “You first have to think about why you’re doing a pre-poo,” she says. “Do you want to add moisture to your hair? Do you want to clarify or detox your scalp? You need to figure out your goal before you find the best treatment.” In general, you can think of pre-poos as three separate categories: oils, masks/conditioners, and clarifying treatments. Here’s when you’ll want to look to each:
If the purpose of your pre-poo is to add moisture to your hair, you can’t go wrong with an oil treatment. Any hydrating oil will do the trick here, but coconut, argan, olive, and castor are all great options for moisturizing, soothing, and protecting your hair from drying out during the cleansing process. You’ve got two options when it comes to application: Santiago says you can add a couple drops of oil to your favorite conditioner and smooth it through damp hair or you can massage a teeny bit directly on your scalp and dry hair.
You can leave your oil pre-poo in your hair anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours—and it’s never a bad idea to spend 15 minutes or so of your treatment sitting under a bonnet dryer for extra moisture. As long as you follow with a gentle co-wash, conditioner, and the rest of your styling routine, you can’t really mess it up. Look towards these bbs if you need some product inspo:
Masks and cream-based conditioners are another pre-poo option—especially if you look for a formula that hydrates, detangles, and strengthens your hair. Think about it this way: If your hair is already dry and/or tangled (especially if you’re coming out of braids, says Santiago), you risk the chance of making your hair even drier when you add some shampoo into the mix. That’s why it’s so important to prep your hair with a moisturizing pre-poo before you get started on your wash routine.
Again, pairing your pre-poo mask with a hooded dryer is an excellent way to level up your treatment, and some people even like to keep their formulas in their hair overnight with a silk or satin bonnet. These hydrating pre-poos deserve a spot on your team:
“Pre-poos are great for removing buildup from your hair and scalp, especially since naturals tend to use a lot of heavy cream- or oil-based products,” says Santiago. “And since you always follow your pre-poo with a creamy cleanser and conditioner, you don’t need to worry about drying your hair out,” she adds.
Just keep in mind that clarifying treatments shouldn’t be left in your hair for longer than 20 minutes (the goal is to help break up some of your buildup without stripping your natural oils), and you’ll only want to use ’em once every month or so. These gentle options—including Santiago’s favorite Briogeo Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment—are a great place to start:
Yup! DIY pre-poo treatments are a great method for hydrating and detangling—and most of them are pretty easy to make. One of the most popular recipes? A combination of aloe vera gel (which is loaded with moisturizing and soothing properties) and oils (like castor or olive). The tutorial above from YouTuber Naptural85 is a super easy and effective option—here’s what you’ll do:
Slice open your aloe vera leaf and, working in sections, scrub the gel directly through your scalp and hair. After combining your oils into a bowl, dampen your hair with water and gently massage the mixture from roots to ends until you’ve saturated each section. Finish by two-strand twisting each section and putting on a satin scarf or bonnet while you let the formula do its thing overnight. When you wake up in the morning, follow with your cleansing and conditioning routine.
Santiago says this depends on what type of pre-poo you’re using—clarifying formulas should be limited to once every month, while moisturizing masks and creams can be added to your routine regularly. Play around with the frequency of your treatments until you find the pre-poo routine that’s best for you and your hair.
If you’re looking for an easy way to hydrate, detangle, protect, and even clarify your hair, you can’t go wrong when you add a pre-poo treatment to your lineup. As Santiago says, it’s important to make sure you’re using a pre-poo that addresses your specific concerns—whether that’s moisturizing or clarifying—and try different application methods until you find the best setup.