The benefits of shampoo bars and how to spot the “fakes”

Rebecca Bennett, Director, The Solid Bar Company, discusses why bar style shampoos can be good for the planet, as well as your hair

To better look after our locks and the planet, more of us are moving away from traditional liquid shampoos housed in plastic-heavy packaging towards more eco-friendly bar-style products. In fact, according to Google, nearly 15,000 of us are now searching for a shampoo bar online every month.

Shampoo bars can also give you more bang for your buck than a liquid shampoo. They’re packed full of ingredients (rather than being 90 percent water), can last as long as 5 bottles of liquid shampoo, and travel leak-free.

But not all shampoo bars are created equal, leaving you at risk of less-than-impressive results.

So, if you’re ready to clean up your haircare routine and make the switch to a shampoo bar, Rebecca Bennett, Director of vegan personal care manufacturer The Solid Bar Company, gives her top tips on what you should look out for and definitely avoid…

What is a shampoo bar?

A shampoo bar is exactly what you might think: a shampoo in solid bar form.

Shampoo bars hold their form throughout their lifecycle, meaning no planet-polluting plastic packaging or wastage once you’ve finished it.

You may think you’ve found the perfect shampoo bar for you, but you may have been tricked by clever marketing, pungent aromas and eye-catching colours.

In fact, most shampoo bars aren’t shampoos at all because they’re made using soap ingredients. Unlike the body, soap is far too alkaline for hair and causes weakness and permanent fibre breakage. Your hair will also become less responsive to conditioning ingredients, leaving it dull with a greasy film (particularly in hard water areas).

Other popular shampoo bars use surfactants rather than soap but tend to only have one or two of these with little or no salon quality ingredients. These will often have high pH level, contain palm oil derived ingredients and rely on synthetic fragrances, resulting in a harsher and less effective bar.

Steer clear of “saponification”

If a shampoo bar sings the praises of familiar natural oils like olive, castor or coconut in its marketing, always check the ingredients list on the back of the label.

When “fake” shampoo bars with a cheaper lye base are made, they often contain a significant number of oils to create a hardened bar. These fatty oils are mixed with the highly alkaline lye in a process called “saponification”, used in the production of soap not shampoo.

This saponification process is easy to spot on the back of the label but only if you know what you’re looking for. Some examples include:

  • castor oil = Sodium Castorate or Sodium Ricinoleat
  • coconut oil = Cocoate
  • palm oil = Sodium Palmate
  • olive oil = Sodium Olivate
  • shea butter = Sodium Sheabutterate
  • sunflower oil = Sodium Sunflowerate

Praise plant-based silicones

Despite some bad press, silicones have specific qualities which locks love. But there are environmental downsides to the ones traditionally used in haircare products.

Dimethicone and Cyclomethicone are inexpensive and popular in the hair care industry as they improve wet and dry combing, increase shine, reduce static, and help your hair retain all the beneficial ingredients added into your shampoo.

This is all well and good, but the big downside is silicones aren’t biodegradable, harming the aquatic environment.

But all is not lost. Plant-based silicone alternatives are becoming more popular and widely available, offering the same benefits while also being fully biodegradable and marine-friendly.

Other hair-loving, plant-based ingredients such as vegetable keratins, proteins and pro-vitamin B5 can also be found in high quality, luxury shampoo bars.

No need for vinegar rinses

If your shampoo bar requires you to follow each wash with a vinegar rinse, it’s likely to be a soap bar.

The acidity in the vinegar is used to try and counteract the soap alkalinity (its high pH level) but it still cannot repair the damage a soap bar will do to your hair.

It also has no conditioning properties, so it won’t reduce static and friction, nor enable the hair cuticle to lay flat. This means no lustrous shine or silk feel. Oh, and it smells awful!

Be scent-savvy

Part of a shampoo’s allure is its scent. But chances are, if you see “fragrance”, “perfume” or “parfum” on the label, it contains synthetic compounds.

The full long-term effects of these chemicals are unknown, but synthetic fragrances are considered the most common cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis. Fake scents can also exacerbate sensitive skin, allergies and respiratory conditions like asthma.

Natural essential oils, on the other hand, are the true essence of a plant that give herbs and spices their specific scent, flowers and fruit their perfume, and provide prized therapeutic and healing benefits.

Shampoo bars using natural essential oils like Lavender, Geranium, OrangeRosemary, Bergamot and Eucalyptus will be much better for you and the environment and give you that all-important spa feeling.