What is a shampoo bar?
Shampoo bars, simply, are like regular shampoo for your hair but in a solid "bar of soap" form. They are not detergent or hand soap, but shampoo. You might think of them as, more-or-less, like your regular bottled shampoo with all the unnecessary water removed. Like hand or bath soaps, shampoo bars come in different shapes, weights, and price points. Unlike most commercial soaps and liquid shampoos, the ingredients available in solid shampoo are of much greater variety and possibly of greater benefit to the user.
Why use one?
It is convenient, less messy than liquid shampoos to store, TSA-safe for carry-on luggage, and may alleviate some difficulties with shampoos that use strong surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate.
There is nothing to spill and no big bottle to take up room in the shower. Shampoo bars are also very convenient for travel. Since they are a solid, shampoo bars can be taken in carry on luggage without restriction. Further, there's no possibility of something leaking.
While shampoo bars are available at different price points, shampoo bars will last up to two or three months given careful use and storage. In addition, you are not paying for all the water found in every liquid shampoo. Since most shampoo bars do not contain SLS/SLES (see below), many find that after a period of adjustment (see below) they are using hair conditioner less frequently, if at all. Thus, there is additional savings and one less product to keep in stock.
Shampoo bars are available in many different formulations which can contain many different herbal add ins which may be beneficial for your hair and scalp (ex: rosemary, mint, nettle, etc.) or address a particular hair concern such as dandruff, oily hair, or irritated scalp. Some herbal ingredients may even help address hair loss without the use of strong chemicals such as minoxidil.
No artificial surfactantsA word about SLS/SLES: Nearly all commercial soaps and shampoos contain SLS and/or SLES (sodium laurel sulfate / sodium laureth sulfate). These are industrial degreasers which are also used in diluted form by the personal care industry for detergent and lather-making purposes. SLS/SLES can over-dry and irritate the scalp, dry out your hair, and may contribute to hair loss, particularly if you tend to shampoo frequently. One reason that many feel the need to use a hair conditioner regularly is the over-cleaning/stripping of natural scalp oils caused by SLS/SLES. Some also feel that SLS/SLES could be a long-term health hazard. With most shampoo bars, SLS/SLES are not found. As a result, you might not get the same amount of lather as with a commercial shampoo (although the author has not noticed this). However, your hair and scalp will thank you in the long run, particularly if you have "problem" hair or scalp issues. As there are also no sulfates involved and no stripping of the hair of natural scalp oils in products without SLS/SLES, those who color their hair may find themselves needing to color less frequently. You may also find your need for daily hair conditioner to be reduced or eliminated. Those who have oily hair or scalp may also find it helpful to eliminate SLS/SLES from their hair care products. The over-cleaning that can be caused by these chemicals can also cause some scalps to compensate by over producing oil. If SLS/SLES is a concern for you, always check the ingredients list before purchasing as some shampoo bars do contain one or both of these chemicals (notably, many commercial bars such as those from LUSH and others). It is worth noting that when shopping in person, it is often futile to ask a salesperson at a commercial store about SLS/SLES or other ingredients. Many just don't know and some will just tell you what you want to hear. It is advisable to request a printed ingredients list from the store or to look it up on line, if some ingredient is of concern to you. (Small businesses that literally make their own products from scratch are usually very knowledgeable in this area.) One should also be cautious about commercial products billed as "natural" or "organic" or using similar wording. Such labels do not necessarily mean "SLS/SLES-free," and strong surfactants such as sodium cocoyl isethionate can also be "naturally-derived."
Also worth noting: SCS (sodium coco-sulfate), which can be naturally derived, is the same chemical as SLS with a different name. Some manufacturers who claim to be "SLS-free" are not, in fact, SLS-free as they use SCS. The difference between the two chemicals lies only in the source of derivation.
How to use and store your shampoo bar
Wet your hair as you normally would then rub the shampoo bar through your hair a few times. Give the bar a quick rinse if you wish, and put it away. Then, message/lather your hair as you normally would. Rinse your hair thoroughly. You can let the lather sit on your hair for a while if you wish, or rinse immediately. A word of warning: lather in your eyes will sting at least as much (and possibly more) than commercial products, depending on exact formulation. In the event of a problem, flush your eyes with clean water.
For the shampoo bar to last a maximum amount of time, it needs to be kept dry. Ideally, this means keeping it out of the shower and in the type of soap dish which will allow excess water to drain. Allowing the bar to air dry fully between uses is also helpful. Practically speaking, this is inconvenient and not entirely necessary. As long as the bar is allowed to air dry as much as possible between uses, is kept from sitting in water, and is kept out of the spray from the shower or faucet, it should last several months.
Adjustment periodMost people find their hair going through a period of adjustment when first switching to shampoo bars. During this time, which may last a couple of weeks (or until the next haircut), the hair may feel dry, crunchy, brittle, or just not at its best. It may feel as if there is a coating or buildup on your hair. Those who use heavy styling products and/or have long hair may notice this effect (which will subside over time) more than those who use minimal styling products or who have short hair. This effect is caused by styling product build up and by the fact that shampoo bars do not, as a rule, contain SLS/SLES to remove the build up. Shampoo bars also do not contain silicone-based chemicals that smooth the hair. Hard water may produce a similar build-up experience. During the adjustment period it is possible to ease the transition:
- Use a "clarifying" shampoo every few days. This practice will not solve the long-term issue as nearly all of these shampoos contain SLS/SLES
- Get a hair cut, which will physically remove the build-up by removing the hair upon which the build-up sits
- Use a vinegar rinse
To ease the transition, it can also be helpful to perform a "vinegar rinse" after every shampooing, or at least every couple of days. Recipes can be found around the web, but all-in-all, they consist of rinsing your hair with plain vinegar after rinsing out the shampoo. The vinegar is allowed to sit in the hair for a short while and it is then rinsed out with plain water. The vinegar smell evaporates quickly and should not be of concern. The idea behind this is that the acidity of the vinegar (which is acetic acid and water) cuts through the styling product or hard water build up which may remain on your hair. If you regularly use strong styling products (such as "wet look" gel or hair spray), you may find it beneficial to do a vinegar rinse on a regular basis even after the adjustment period. Many styling products are not easily water soluble and so may present something of a challenge for non-SLS/SLES shampoos. In this case, performing a vinegar rinse once a week or every few days, depending on need, is usually sufficient. This will also be useful in the case of having hard water. Others may find a vinegar rinse to be unnecssary.
Final RinseTo help smooth the hair, try a thorough final rinse with cold water. Or you may wish to continue to use your regular conditioner or a conditioner bar (see below). Alternatively, a few drops of jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil, or vitamin E (available at most health-type stores and natural groceries) can be massaged into the hair.
Where to get shampoo barsNo doubt, there are numerous sites that sell shampoo bars or regular soaps that could be used as shampoo. The following are a few that this author and other B&Bers have dealt with.
- Basin White offers several different formulations for many different types of hair. All contain SLS.
- Burt's Bees offers two (?) shampoo bars and the brand is available online and at your local Walmart
- Chagrin Valley: Notable for many different varieties with herbal additives. The site also has information on soap, shampoo, pH, and a guide to "what's best for me"
- Doctor Bronner's solid soaps can be used "all over," but may be drying to your skin; they can be purchased online, at some local health food stores, and at many health/vitamin-type stores
- Dogfish offers a beer-based shampoo bar
- Get Lathered carries both shampoo and conditioner bars in several varieties. The shampoo bars contain SLS under the name of sodium cocosulfate. No surfactants of any kind are found in the conditioner bars.
- Good Planet, a Canadian manufacturer. Offers one shampoo/all over bar.
- Green Mountain Soap makes a tallow-based bath soap as well as an all-veg bath soap which one of the founders uses as his regular shampoo with good results. Green Mountain soaps are particularly targeted to those with skin sensitivities, but are suitable for everyone. Run by the parents of B&Ber soapbox.
- J.R. Liggett comes in a couple of variations and is available on line in various places and possibly at your local Walmart.
- Lush makes several different shampoo bars, all of which contain SLS (although that is not always noted on line). Update: LUSH now advertises that their bars are "SLS-free" and lists "sodium coco sulfate" in place of SLS. However, this is at best, a misleading statement as SLS and SCS are the same chemical. SCS is naturally derived, but it is nonetheless chemically identical to SLS.
- Malaspina Soap Factory offers shampoo bars including a Pine Tar version. These bars do not contain SLS, detergents, parabens or preservatives and are made using Cold Process methods. Canadian website & B&B member.
- MJ's Soap Shop offers, at present, one shampoo bar. Canadian website and B&B member (charles_r).
- Mystic Waters carries one shampoo bar at present (new item). Currently, there is no on line ordering. Phone number and email address are provided on the web page. Also offers pre-mixed vinegar rinses in different scents.
- Not Just Soap Two different shampoo bars are offered.
- Ogallala Bay Rum Offers several different bath soaps which can be used "everywhere," including as shampoo. All scents are based on variations of the bay rum theme. An unscented bar is also available.
- Queen Charlotte Soaps Offers several bath and body bars which can also be used for shampooing. As of March 2011, also offers two additional bars marketed specifically as shampoo bars. Run by B&Ber mretzloff.
- Rose of Sharon Acres has about three shampoo bars to offer. These are notable for added goat's milk (very mild and beneficial for the skin) and added panthenol (pro-Vitamin B).
- The Dirty Moose Offers a goat's milk-based soap which can also be used as shampoo.
- Tulumba offers several soaps from Turkey which are advertised as suitable for shampooing (seaweed and nettle versions among them).
- "Woody's Meat and Potatoes," available on line at various locations, offers an "all over" bar.
The Conditioner BarA conditioner bar is basically the same as a shampoo bar except, as the name implies, it is used for post-shampoo hair conditioning. It is used in the same way as a shampoo bar (rub it through clean wet hair, wait a short while, rinse hair thoroughly) and possesses many of the same benefits as a shampoo bar, especially in regard to travel and herbal additives. Conditioner bars, however, are made up mostly of hair friendly oils, many of them somewhat exotic. Therefore, they should not be exposed to high temperatures or kept in direct sunlight or they will start to separate and melt. If this should happen, the bar can be saved by placing it in the refrigerator for an hour or so. Freezing is not recommended. As with shampoo bars, they should be kept out of water as much as possible. Depending on hair type and styling routine, additional conditioner use may become unnecessary or be greatly reduced after switching from SLS/SLES-based shampoos.
Sources of Conditioner Bars
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