Well, they’re shampoo soap! I admit, I was skeptical about washing my hair with a shampoo bar. Yes, I know handmade soap is great for the skin, but I didn’t think it would leave my hair soft and shiny. I was mostly motivated to try them because plastic bottles are so unsustainable. So a couple years ago I made a small batch of shampoo bars to give them a try. I haven’t looked back! They’re not just sustainable, I love what they do to my hair! So what are natural shampoo bars, and how do they work?
First, let’s talk about what’s in a typical bottle of shampoo.
Surfactants (compounds that bind to oils and water) such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. These are derived from petroleum or from fatty acids of palm or coconut oil that are hydrogenated and reacted with sulfur-containing acids. Commercial surfactants are pretty harsh cleaners. They strip the oils from your hair and scalp.
Foam boosters (surfactants/emulsifiers) such as cocamidopropyl betaine derived from fatty acids reacted with nitrogen-containing compounds. These make the shampoo foamy.
Conditioners such as silicones or fatty alcohols. After the oils are stripped away, the hair cuticle is exposed and fragile. To compensate, commercial shampoos use synthetic conditioners to coat the cuticle with a protective coating. Over time, these chemicals build up on the hair and can make it dull and heavy. Silicones can also accumulate and persist for years in the environment.
Other stuff, such as thickeners, fragrances and preservatives.
What is a natural shampoo bar?
Shampoo bars contain:
Soap! In technical terms, soaps are the salts of fatty acids from the soapmaking oils. One end of the molecule attaches to oil, and the other attaches to water. That’s how soap molecules package up oils and carry them down the drain.
Glycerin: Glycerin (also called glycerol) is produced during soapmaking through the chemical reaction of fats and lye (sodium hydroxide). It’s a humectant, meaning it attracts water to itself or to whatever it is attached to (skin, the hair shaft). Glycerin helps keep hair from drying out, except in super-arid environments.
Conditioning oils: We superfat our soaps and shampoo bars, which means we add more oils than will react with the lye, leaving a small amount of free oil in the finished soap. This oil conditions the skin and hair.
Essential oils: These plant-based aroma compounds provide a lovely natural scent.
What are the benefits of natural shampoo bars?
Shampoo bars are:
Great for hair and scalp. They cleanse without stripping away all our natural oils. Some people with dandruff find the problem goes away when they switch to natural shampoo bars.
Conditioning. Bars made for dryer hair contain more free oils, and those made for oilier hair contain less. All shampoo bars are formulated to leave hair soft but not greasy or weighed down. Many people don’t need a separate conditioner when using shampoo bars.
Great lather. Cleansing and conditioning coconut and castor oils give shampoo bars a luxurious thick lather.
Great for beards. Men love using natural shampoo bars to keep their beards soft and clean!
Environmentally friendly. Shampoo bars don’t need packaging! There are no plastic bottles to clutter your shower and our overburdened environment. Shampoo bars are free from synthetic chemicals, so they’re healthier for humans and the environment.
Cost-effective. Commercial shampoos are up to 80% water. With shampoo bars, you get the concentrated cleanser, and you add the water!
Travel-friendly. The TSA won’t take your shampoo bar away!