This is the first of a series of eco-friendly product reviews, looking at what they are, how they are used, what they are made of and what makes them eco-friendly. Knowing more about the product should help you find the one that works best for you. For the first review, I am taking a closer look at shampoo bars. What stands out is that there is two different types of bars: natural bars that are more soap like and surfactant-based bars that work similar to liquid shampoo.
What are they?
Shampoo bars / solid shampoos are a concentrated version of liquid shampoo that comes without the water and therefore doesn’t need to be contained in a plastic bottle. Therefore, using shampoo bars is a great and simple way of reducing the use of plastic in the bathroom.
How do they work?
It’s best to rub the bar in your hands to create some lather and apply the lather to your hair with your hands. It is not recommended to rub the bar directly in your hair as you will likely use too much product. Shampoo bars are more concentrated than the liquid version, so you don’t need to use very much. The general rule here is: Less is more. Rinse out with water and possibly an acid rinse, depending on which type of shampoo you use and whether or not you live in a hard water area.
What are they made of?
There are two types of shampoo bars on the market: natural shampoo bars and solid shampoos. Here, natural shampoo bars refer to soap-like bars made from natural ingredients, whilst solid shampoo refers to bars that contain surfactants and are more similar to liquid shampoo.
I have taken this differentiation from one of my favourite brands (Zero Waste Path Shop) for the purpose of describing what they are made of. Generally, the terms shampoo bar and solid shampoo are used interchangeable. So always check the ingredients. If the main ingredients are oils, the bar is more like a soap, but if it contains Sodium and sulfate compounds, the bar contains surfactants.
Natural Shampoo Bars
Natural shampoo bars are made using the same process as soap. They often contain very similar ingredients to soap and feel like soap, but the proportion of the ingredients varies.
Some people go through a transitioning period when first switching to natural shampoo bars, a process which makes your hair feel a little oily. Conventional shampoos often strip the scalp of natural oils and so the scalp may need some time to adjust to the natural product. In addition, the residue left by conventional shampoos is more difficult to remove with natural, more gentle, products.
To speed up the transition process, a one-off baking soda rinse using 1 tbsp of baking soda in 1 litre of warm water can remove any built-up product residue, such as silicones. Alternatively, an acid rinse after use (1tbsp of vinegar diluted in 500ml of warm water) works like a conditioner by balancing the pH and removing any product residue. Just mix the ingredients in a spray bottle and keep it in the shower.
I hope this lengthy description hasn’t put you off trying it out. It’s much easier than it sounds!
If the above sounds like too much of a faff, solid shampoo may be better for you. The bars contain surfactants just like liquid shampoo, which help to break down any dirt and residue in your hair. The bars are pH-balanced and don’t need an acid rinse. They can also be used for coloured hair.
What are the pros and cons?
The benefits of using shampoo bars is that you only need very little product, so they should last you longer than bottled shampoo. They also take up less space and can easily fit into your cosmetic bag.
The disadvantage is that it can take some time to find the right one, but once you’ve found it, I am sure that you will love your new hair routine. As with anything new, it’s just a matter of creating a new habit.
Natural shampoo bars can be more difficult to use in hard water areas. The reason for this is that the minerals in hard water combine with the soap, which can leave a residue in your hair. Doing a baking soda and acid rinse can help, but it all depends on your skin and hair type. When using natural shampoo bars, I often struggle with residue in my hair, but my husband doesn’t at all (argh!).
What makes them eco-friendly?
The fact that they don’t require a plastic bottle makes them much more eco-friendly than liquid shampoo. The main ingredient in liquid shampoo is water anyway, which we have plenty of in the shower.
Many shampoo bars are made from natural ingredients, so you are also avoiding the use of synthetic ingredients. For example, they don’t contain harsh detergents and surfactants such as Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS), which is either derived from petroleum oil or palm kernel oil.
Zero Waste Path Shop use Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) as a surfactant in their solid shampoos, which is derived from coconut oil. SCI produces as soft lather and is gentle on the skin.
Who makes them?
As with many other zero-waste products, shampoo bars are often made by small, independent businesses, but some of the bigger brands have started making them too.
I have tried many different ones and found my favourite products in the ones made by Zero Waste Path Shop; therefore, I sell them in my shop (my sister also told me the other day that their new solid shampoos are the best ones she has tried 🙂 ).
There are plenty of small businesses out there making shampoo bars and soaps, so maybe see if you can find one near you and try their products. Local to me are both Primal Suds (from Southampton) and Proud Mary Soaps (from Alton). Alternatively, bigger brands that can easily be found on the High Street include Friendly Soap, ALTER/NATIVE by Suma, Faith in Nature and ethique.