What Is a Shampoo Bar?

If you’ve been buying liquid shampoo for a long time, you’re most likely familiar with the phrase, “lather, rinse and repeat.”

public goods shampoo bar, box

You actually don’t need to repeat those first two steps. Liquid shampoo brands created that slogan to encourage consumers to more rapidly deplete their products, meaning people would need to buy more at a faster rate.

Popularized during the 1940s, liquid shampoo marked the beginning of an era where personal care products became wasteful and environmentally harmful. Before that time, however, it was common for shampoo to be dried out and crafted into a bar. Today, in part because consumers are demanding more sustainable products, shampoo bars are making a comeback.

What Is a Shampoo Bar?

As the name describes, a shampoo bar is the bar form of the liquid shampoo we are accustomed to. Manufacturers produce shampoo bars by concentrating cleansing and conditioning agents into bars, then removing all the water that allowed the ingredients to maintain their liquid form.

Solid shampoo bars are usually manufactured by small companies that focus on a limited line of all-natural goods. These businesses tend to incorporate cleaner ingredients and uphold higher ethical standards than huge brands that mass produce a wide range of skincare and hair care products.

How to Use a Shampoo Bar

Like a regular body bar of soap, a solid bar shampoo will begin to foam when you rinse it in the shower or bathtub. Take this lather from the shampoo bar and gently massage it into your scalp and wet hair, just like you would with liquid shampoo. Or, depending on your preference, you can rub the wet bar directly on your hair.

If you want more detailed instructions, read our full post on how to use a shampoo bar.

Benefits of Using a Shampoo Bar

Whether you’re about saving money or saving the environment, there are plenty of benefits to using a shampoo bar. See which one of these sells you on the product.

No Shampoo Bottles

The biggest environmental benefit of a shampoo bar is that you’re not buying shampoo bottles anymore. These containers are usually made of plastic supplied by the destructive petroleum and fossil fuel industry.

Roughly 91% of plastic is not successfully recycled. Most plastic bottles wind up in the ocean and landfills.

Shampoo bars, on the other hand, are typically packaged in paper boxes that are easily recyclable and biodegradable. In 2017 U.S. paper had a recycling rate of 67.9%, a far cry from plastic’s 9%.

Longer Lasting

Because shampoo bars are more concentrated than liquid versions, one bar can outlast two to three bottles. Instead of including water in the product, shampoo bars are pure shampoo, and then it’s on you to supply the water. Not a bad deal.

Cleaner Ingredients on Average

Most shampoo bars leave hair lush and shiny with more volume because they don’t contain chemicals that can damage hair or strip out essential oils. Compare that effect to detergent shampoo brands that include controversial, harsh ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate [SLS].

Good for Most Types of Hair

Shampoo bars work on most types, including oily, thin, fine and dry hair. Nonetheless, you should experiment with a few products to see which shampoo bar is best for you.

Travel-Friendly

The TSA won’t give you a hard time about bar soap, and it’s the same deal with a shampoo bar. Instead of worrying about travel sizes and special containers, all you have to do is grab the bar and go.

One Bar for Everything

Some shampoo bars can double as body wash and bar soap. If you want to be really economical, you can rely on a shampoo bar for almost everything.

Cons of Using a Shampoo Bar

Shampoo bars aren’t perfect. Consider these cons before you make the switch.

Waxy Feeling Afterward

Because shampoo in bar form has such a thick concentration of cleanser, some products carry a small risk of leaving your hair a bit waxy. If you experience this mildly annoying side effect and can’t wash it out, try removing the wax with a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse.

Not Always the Best for Very Curly or Long Hair

If you have very curly or long hair, a shampoo bar might not be your best option. Unfortunately the product can cause frizz and tangles for these hair types.

Types of Shampoo Bars

Here’s a breakdown of the three primary types of shampoo bars:

Glycerin-Based

This type is pH-balanced and gentle, and it doesn’t produce as much lather as other forms.
Glycerin tends to attract water and melt, so don’t leave glycerin-based bars soaking once you’re done with them.

Cold-Processed

Typically produced by people at home or small businesses, these shampoo bars have high pH and contain lots of natural oils. These ingredients are great for conditioning, but they are likely to contribute to a waxy buildup.

Solid Surfactant

A surfactant is a chemical compound that lowers the surface tension between two substances, allowing them to more easily spread or become wet. In shampoo bars surfactants help balance pH and produce lots of lather.

Solid surfactant shampoo tends to be very clarifying, meaning it removes buildup such as excess oil or chlorine. Because of this quality, this type of shampoo is especially suited to showers that spray hard water (water that looks cloudy because of a high amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium).

What’s In a Natural Shampoo Bar?

The vast majority of shampoos in bar form contain all-natural ingredients such as rosemary extract and aloe vera. Many of these products are 100% organic and vegan.

Some of the most common ingredients for moisturizing and nourishing are castor oil, palm oil (preferably certified sustainable), avocado oil, cocoa butter and coconut oil. Manufacturers also use herbs, botanicals or natural fragrances to enhance the texture and experience of the product. Unlike detergents, alcohol and synthetic additives, these all-natural ingredients make shampoo bars gentle and better for your hair.

Picking the Right Shampoo Bar for You

If you’re interested in trying a shampoo bar, here are a few of the best choices (and obviously we also recommend our own Public Goods shampoo bar manufactured by Vermont Soap):

Feel free to suggest brands to add to this list. We would especially love to find more shampoo bars that are gentle enough for children and babies.

Also, remember that shampoo bars are versatile. Some people use them for moisturizing, conditioning and body wash. How will you enjoy your new shampoo bar?

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