Shampoo Bars: Eco-Friendly Hair Care
At home, we talk a lot about the environment and how we can improve the way we live to protect nature. Understandably, plastic is a big concern of ours – from Earth Day activities for teens to Mother’s Day beach clean-ups, we are quite passionate about getting rid of ocean plastics. This year, we decided to cut down on single-use plastics as much as possible. Hence came the idea to use shampoo bars that work for the whole family rather than liquid shampoo in plastic bottles.
Shampoo bars make a lot of sense and thanks to increased consumer demand, they’ve also made great progress. I know because I’ve used shampoo bars for the past 5 years but only when traveling. I had not implemented shampoo bars as a home staple. Now that I have, here is a selection of shampoo bars we’ve tried, how effective they are and environmental notes.
Why are Shampoo Bars Better for the Environment?
Read the Small Print
This is an easy test. Just turn around your shampoo bottle at home and read the first ingredient on the list. In Europe, ingredients are listed in order of weight in the product. The first ingredient is the one that’s the heaviest, the second ingredient is second heaviest, etc. The first ingredient of any liquid soap or shampoo will read Aqua (water). It’s just water. Most cosmetics are diluted with water therefore, you’re paying for mostly water. And you can guess the crazy side-effect — packaging increases with product size and with it, plastic use. When you think about it, what you buy when you buy liquid shampoo is mostly water and plastic.
With a dry product, you can significantly cut down on your plastic use and depending on the cosmetics ingredients, help the planet too.
Environmental Impact of Shampoo
The major environmental risk involving shampoo is the release of chemicals into the water supply through the drain. Most chemicals in shampoo are harmful to the environment in one way or another.
A commonly-used shampoo ingredient, due to its propensity to foam, is sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), or its milder form sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). It contains a potential carcinogen (1,4-dioxine) that does not easily degrade, stays a long time in the environment and can be toxic to aquatic animals.
Other common ingredients include parabens (hormone disruptors) or microbeads (tiny plastic beads that are very harmful to marine life due to their capacity to absorb toxins).
What’s in an Eco-friendly Shampoo Bar?
Many shampoo bars are crafted with environmental concepts in mind, whether it’s by
- using organic ingredients,
- avoiding certain ingredients with detrimental environmental effects, or
- making packaging eco-friendly.
That is why shampoo bars are really worth a try. These are shampoo bars we’ve used at home.
The British cosmetics retailer is famous for its bath bombs but if you step into any of their stores, chances are you’ll come out with something else. Their products are very well made, appealing to the eye, to the nose and to the touch. They often sell products with a fun seasonal touch, from Easter carrot soaps to Halloween pumpkin bath bombs. Their selection of shampoo bars is crazy and gets more varied every year.
We’ve used Lush shampoo bars since 2014 and I offered one to my father who always packs it on his travels. We bought round metal tins to carry these shampoo bars more easily and though they are great, they are on the tight side. Sometimes I’ve had issues opening the tins with wet hands under the shower but it’s no big deal. These shampoo bars foam immediately and generously, which means that you don’t need a lot to wash your hair. The fragrance stays for a long time too, which is great. Overall, we love Lush shampoo bars.
Lush products are 100% vegetarian, and 80% of the products are also vegan. They often contain fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit juice, vanilla beans, aloe vera, avocado butter, rosemary oil, fresh papaya, and coconut. However, some products contain lanolin, eggs, honey, palm oil and/or beeswax. Parabens are used to preserve a number of the products.
Ethique, a beauty brand started by a Brianne West, biologist from New Zealand, makes popular (and surprisingly mainstream) solid shampoos, conditioners, lotions, face washes, and even a fan-favorite sunless-tanning bar. They are also on the high end of price when it comes to shampoo bars but the quality is awesome. All products come packaged minimally in carton that’s compostable – apparently you can bury it in your garden and watch it disappear. I first heard of Ethique in the US but it is now distributed in the UK by natural store Holland & Barrett so it’s easy to get hold of. On a side note, I’m surprised that WholeFoods doesn’t carry them – it makes so much commercial sense.
Anyhow. I tried the Guardian Conditioner Bar and my teenage daughter loved the Pincalicious Shampoo Bar and Bliss Bar Face Cleanser. Surprisingly light and compact, the conditioner bar is very easy to use and I used it after a swimming session at my local pool. It lathered well and I didn’t have to use much to cover all my hair. Once dry, my hair was soft and untangled, a big plus from my usual shampoo bar routine, and it didn’t smell like chlorine! Yay for coconut-based cosmetics with natural fragrances.
As for the shampoo bar, my daughter uses it in the shower at home as well as when we travel.
You can’t fault Ethique, really. They’re on top of environmental friendliness. Their shampoo bars are chemical-free and all ingredients score low on the EWG database. They are vegan, palm oil free, and the startup itself is certified climate-neutral, cruelty-free, and B-Corp. They also donate 2% of revenue or 20% of profit (whichever is highest) to charity. Honestly, they’re cool.
Headquartered in New Hampshire, JR Ligget is one of the big contenders to the global zero waste shampoo bar market, with a cool backstory to boot. History has it that J.R. Liggett was first introduced to making soap at the tender age of five when his great-aunt Ann, who lived in Denman, Nebraska, had him help her make her yearly batch of soap. From Ann’s utilitarian soap to today’s all natural shampoo bars, J R Liggett’s has grown into a large company with nature in mind. At home, I use the Bar Shampoo, Tea Tree Oil, 3.5 Oz, and like that it lathers well and quickly. It rinses off quickly too but if I was thorough, I would probably need to use a hair conditioner too as my hair can come out “clumpy” after each wash. The fragrance is pleasant and subtle. Overall, a good shampoo bar and I love that it comes wrapped in paper.
In the environmental department, J R Liggett is a heavyweight.
- No SLS
- No palm oil
- No Animal Products
- No Preservatives
- No Artificial Colorants
- No Synthetic Fragrances
- Gluten Free
The Scottish Fine Soaps
The Men’s Grooming Vetiver & Sandalwood Shampoo Bar is one of the few shampoo bars marketed to a male audience and true enough, the design is pretty retro Barber smooth. With a square tin in dark tones and green fine letters, the shampoo bar is ready to use out of the box and is more generously sized than most shampoo bars. It has a faint (not overpowering) scent of vetiver and lathers well. My husband has been using it at the swimming pool and likes it.
According to the manufacturer, products are made with quality, naturally derived ingredients and contain no parabens or microbeads. They do use palm oil derivatives sourced from certified roundtable suppliers and they do use SLES but they are working on a SLES-free range so that’s good news.
The Shine Bar is a luxury shampoo bar that, unusually, was developed by a hairdresser in Brighton to deliver professional hair care results with the convenience of a user-friendly bar. I received one of these bars to review and really liked it. It comes in a generously-sized tin box (easy to open with wet hands), lathers very well and rinses off well too. It’s also partly conditioning, which is rare in shampoo bars (a lot of shampoo bars have drying effects). The citrus fragrance is too faint to be noticed which is a shame but no deal-breaker. I was so satisfied with this shampoo bar that I gave my PR sample to friends of ours during dinner in a move to convert them to shampoo bars.
Vegan-friendly, the shampoo bar uses 99% natural products (interestingly hydrolyzed quinoa and a derivative of guar gum as conditioning agent) but it also uses SLS. That’s why it lathers so well! If they could come up with an SLS-free formula, power to them. In the mean time, it’s a fine shampoo bar and I love the fact that it was developed by a member of the hairdressing industry – an industry too often blind to environmental concerns.
China-based Oyotric makes a travel-size Seaweed Shampoo Bar and Conditioner that uses essential oils. I couldn’t find any information on the company so can’t say anything about their values or history. I bought their 100% Natural Handmade Organic seaweed Soap Bar and used it this summer on a backpacking trip. It lathered exceptionally well, rinsed very well in cold mountain water and left our hair nice and smooth. No complaints except the electric blue color (is this needed for a product that claims to be natural?), the packaging that screams cheap industrial product and the fact that inside the tin box, the shampoo bar was wrapped in a thin film of plastic. That’s not eco-friendly at all. Other than that, a good shampoo bar.
My youngest daughter (age 14) loves this shampoo bar so much that she’s decided to use it exclusively (no other plastic bottles of liquid shampoo) and when she has swim class at school, she uses it both as shampoo and soap. Win-win!
With ingredients listed in Chinese, I had to rely on an Amazon review for product information. If they are right, this shampoo bar uses SLS, glycerin and a bunch of essential oils. I’m guessing they also use artificial coloring as no seaweed product comes out neon blue naturally. I’m also not sure what type of seaweed nor even where the seaweed is in the list of ingredients, which is perhaps more concerning.
Swiss-based Forêt Bleue is a start-up that promotes organic ingredients and environmental sustainability. They make two different shampoo bars – a citrus shampoo bar for normal to greasy hair and a monoi shampoo bar for dry hair. I bought both shampoo bars at the Geneva airport in the duty-free shops and came home very excited. Airports rarely sell eco-friendly products and this was great! Except … I don’t like these shampoo bars at all. I’ve tried both of them on several occasions and I’m not convinced at all. They take a very long time to lather which means that I have to stay under the shower to cover all my hair in shampoo and they leave my hair in big clumps. Because I hate waste, I’ll use them completely but I won’t be buying them again unless they improve the formula.
They do really well on most fronts. Eco-friendly minimal paper packaging, no SLS or SLES, organic plant ingredients and essential oils. Honestly, they have so much going for them and I love to encourage mom and pop operations that it’s really too bad this shampoo bar is not doing it for me.
NOTE: I’ll be adding more shampoo bar reviews as I try new products from both sides of the Atlantic. Make sure to come back regularly for updates.