What is a shampoo bar?


A green heart shaped shampoo bar in a white cup.

Are you wonder what a shampoo bar is? or wondering about making the switch from regular shampoo and want to find out more? The TL;DR is, yes they can be good for your hair, and yes they can be an easy way to green up your bathroom cabinet!

A green heart shaped shampoo bar in a white cup.
What is a shampoo bar?

All about shampoo bars

You have probably heard someone mention something about shampoo bars recently. They are the (not so) new beauty buzz product that everyone is talking about in 2018, and essential if you are planning on making your bathroom a waste free or plastic free zone. They are also super easy to travel with – they are much more compact and lighter than regular shampoo, they can go in your hand luggage due to not being a liquid, and you will never open your luggage at your destination to find that your shampoo bar has exploded all over your holiday wardrobe. The same goes for your gym bag.

Are you thinking about making the switch from regular liquid shampoo to shampoo bars, but not sure whether it is worth it or if it will be too much of a sacrifice? Read on my friend – we give you the low-down on everything you need to know before you start using shampoo bars.

What are shampoo bars?

Shampoo in the form of a bar (the clue’s in the name) often made with more natural ingredients. There are basically three types:

Firstly, solid surfactant shampoo bars – these are the closest to regular liquid shampoo. Check out the ingredients of a regular bottle of shampoo – water is right up there at the top right? So take that out, and what you are left with is a solid bar of this type of shampoo. They are often pH balanced, they lather up well, and will give similar results to using regular shampoo, though some users find they can be a bit drying. They contain surfactants (the ingredient that makes it foamy), such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).

Secondly, cold-pressed shampoo bars – these are traditional soap-type shampoo bars. They are often rich in natural oils and nourishing fats which help condition your hair, and they are often SLS-free. However, because of the oils and butters,these bars may cause build-up in your hair, so users often use an apple cider vinegar rinse (or other clarifying product) to prevent this.

Lastly, glycerin-based shampoo bars – another soap-type shampoo bar, though these are usually more gentle on your hair and pH balanced. However, they might not be as good at cleansing as other shampoos, as they are not as foamy.

Is a shampoo bar better for my hair than regular liquid shampoo?

All shampoo bars are not created equal. Some are the same as a regular shampoo sans water, so they still contain sulfates or other chemicals that some people find dry their hair out. If your hair is sensitive to any ingredients in regular shampoo, be sure to read the label carefully before you purchase a shampoo bar, and shop around, because there are many many different types of shampoo bar out there.

Some users find that glycerin-based shampoo bars are less inclined to strip the natural oils from their hair and scalp, and some don’t even need to use conditioner afterwards. However, others find that the lack of detergents makes it very hard for them to get their hair properly clean. It all comes down to hair type and personal preference.

We know that preservatives used in beauty products find their way into our bodies, and that can’t be a good thing. The majority of preservatives used are needed because products contain water, and water harbors bacteria, so preservatives are needed to prevent bacteria growing on the product (this is why a lot of natural beauty products need to be refrigerated, and/or have a limited shelf life). When you remove the water, you remove the need for preservatives. This means that shampoo bars usually contain much lower levels of preservatives compared to regular liquid shampoos.

In terms of other chemicals used in shampoo bars, again, it comes down to the particular type and brand that you choose, cold-pressed and glycerin-based shampoo bars generally contain fewer nasties than the surfactant-type, so read labels carefully before you buy if this is a major decider for you.

Are shampoo bars better for the environment?

Using shampoo bars means no more shampoo bottles. Whether you recycle or not, using less plastic packaging in the first place is a massive win for the environment. A lot of shampoo bars come packaged in paper or cardboard packaging which is much easier to recycle and better for the environment.

Also, remember that point above about not needing preservatives because they don’t contain water? Well fewer chemicals used, and fewer chemicals down the drain is also a massive win for the environment. This means that even making the easy switch to surfactant-based shampoo bars is going to have benefits for the environment vs. liquid shampoos in single-use plastic bottles.

However, again some shampoo bars perform much better in this area that others. Shampoo bars are often created without harsh chemicals and damaging additives or preservatives, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re 100% good for the environment. Some still contain palm oil or palm derivatives for texture, so please read labels carefully before you buy.

So what is the best type of shampoo bar for me?

Choose a cold-pressed shampoo bar if you want to go as green as you can (whilst still keeping your hair clean). Purchase a handmade cold-pressed shampoo bar from a crafter at your local farmers market, and you will earn your self a big green tick.

…or choose a surfactant based shampoo bar (and a conditioner bar) if you would like to get the single-use plastic out of your bathroom, but don’t want to change your hair care routine too drastically (yet). You will still earn a green tick, just a slightly smaller one.