All About Shampoo Bars!

All About Shampoo Bars!

Shampoo bars: A solid choice for hair!

Do you cringe when you buy hair-care products in plastic bottles? Do you wonder where the ingredients in your shampoo come from? Well good news! Salon-quality, environmentally responsible shampoo bars are here! We’re here to tell you all about them.

Plastic bottles – ugh! Most plastic never gets recycled, and it’s predicted that there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than fish within 30 years. Image by Memed Nurrohmad on Pixabay

What is a shampoo bar?

Shampoo bars are made from surfactants, like the ones found in liquid shampoo. A true shampoo bar is called a “syndet” bar—short for “synthetic detergent”—because the surfactants are produced “synthetically” by combining plant oils with water-loving molecules such as ammonium or sulfate ions. Surfactants used in syndet shampoo bars include sodium cocoyl isethionate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium coco sulfate, coco glucoside, and others. Surfactants are “surface-active” molecules. They’re what gives handmade soap its cleansing properties too. Surfactants have a fatty end (from the plant oil) that attaches to particles of oil and dirt. Their other end is water-soluble (the charged/ionic end). This oil-capturing blob is called a micelle. When you rinse, the micelles wash away, taking the dirt and oil along with them.


How do surfactants work?

Surfactants are “surface-active” molecules. They’re what gives handmade soap its cleansing properties too. Surfactants have a fatty end (from the plant oil) that attaches to particles of oil and dirt. Their other end is water-soluble (the charged/ionic end), so it attaches to water molecules. This oil & dirt-capturing blob is called a micelle. When you rinse, the micelles wash away, taking the dirt and oil along with them.

Micelle. Image by Jwleung, Wikimedia Commons. The hydrophobic tails of the surfactant attach to oil and dirt. The hydrophilic heads attach to water. The entire micelle washes away, taking the oil with it.

What makes a good-quality shampoo bar?

The quality of a shampoo bar has a lot to do with the mixture of surfactants it contains. Some are more gentle than others. If you’ve tried other shampoo bars and they dried your hair out, they may have been made from sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is an aggressive surfactant (plus most pure SLS is derived from palm oil). Or they might have been made from a single surfactant like sodium coco sulfate (SCS), or their pH could be too high. We believe sodium coco sulfate is a fine surfactant when it’s mixed with other surfactants to increase mildness. If it’s the only surfactant used, the shampoo bar could be drying. This is because SCS contains a variety of surfactant molecules (including SLS) created from the different fatty acids in coconut oil. The surfactants used in One Earth Body Care shampoo bars are derived from coconut oil and corn and they’re formulated to provide gentle cleansing.

Can shampoo bars be conditioning?

Shampoo bars often include conditioning compounds and other additives to add softness, shine and manageability to hair. For example, behentrimonium methosulfate (BTMS) is a common ingredient in shampoo and conditioner bars. BTMS is derived from rapeseed (canola) oil. Its positive charge lets it adhere to the hair shaft, which is negatively charged. BTMS helps to detangle hair and reduce static. One Earth shampoo bars for normal and dry hair contain other protective fats such as mango seed butter and Fair-Trade cocoa butter. We add small amounts of plant-based compounds such as fermented bamboo to improve the shine and manageability of hair.

What else you need to know about shampoo bars

🛁 Shampoo bars are NOT soap!

Why do some shampoo bars look like bar soap?

Some soap makers make soaps that they call “shampoo bars.” We used to make these too. The problem with soap-based shampoo is that the pH is too high for hair. The high pH of soap (pH 9 or higher) makes the hair shaft swell and the cuticle scales open, which leads to static electricity and hair damage. In hard water, calcium and magnesium react with soap and get deposited on hair, just like the soap rings you may find in the tub. This doesn’t happen with low-pH syndet bars because the surfactants used don’t react with the minerals in hard water.

What is the proper pH for hair products?

Hair products should be between about pH 4.5 and 6 to optimize the smoothness and manageability of hair and to protect it from breakage. The pH of syndet shampoo bars can be adjusted with small amounts of a natural acid such as citric acid. Our tests with a calibrated pH meter found a pH range between 3.4 and 8.4 for other companies’ syndet shampoo bars. We formulate our bars to be between pH 4.8 and 5.5, and we test the pH of every batch of shampoo bars we make.

👹 What about palm oil?

How do I know if there are palm oil derivatives in my shampoo bar?

Most liquid shampoos and shampoo bars contain ingredients derived from palm oil. We’ve been digging deep and talking with suppliers to understand the different surfactant options. We’ve ruled out surfactants and emollients (conditioning compounds that coat the hair) that are typically derived from palm oil, including:

🛑 Cetearyl alcohol
🛑  Sodium lauryl sulfate
🛑  Sodium laureth sulfate
🛑  Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate
🛑  Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
🛑  Stearic acid
🛑  Glycerine

Some surfactants and emollients can be made from either palm or coconut oil. We’ve verified that the following ingredients provided by our suppliers are made from coconut or corn, not palm:

🌱 Cetyl alcohol
🌱 Cocamidopropyl betaine
🌱  Decyl glucoside

We continue to explore ingredients and sourcing and will adapt our formulas if needed to ensure they’re palm-oil free.


🎉 Great performance!

How well do shampoo bars work compared to liquid shampoos?

Just like not all liquid shampoos are of equal quality, the same is true for shampoo bars. Our customers tell us that our shampoo bars work as well as or better than the liquid shampoo products they were using before they tried our bars. Here are some features of our shampoo bars that lead to great results for hair:

  • Unlike many liquid shampoos, our shampoo bars don’t contain synthetic silicones. Silicones can build up on the hair, weighing it down and leaving it looking dull.
  • Many liquid shampoos (and some shampoo bars) contain the aggressive surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as the primary cleansing agent. When used alone, SLS can strip away too much of the hair’s natural protective oils. Our bars are gentle yet effective, and they contain varying amounts of conditioning and emollient compounds to protect hair, improve combability and minimize static.
  • We use a mixture of surfactants in every shampoo bar to increase mildness and to make the formulas appropriate for different hair types, whether dry, normal or oily.

🐳 Reducing Plastic Pollution!

Can shampoo bars make a difference to the problem of plastic pollution?

The short answer: Absolutely! Plastic pollution is one of the most serious global environmental problems that we face. We must overcome our addiction to plastic packaging! Our oceans, rivers, soils and roadsides are strewn with waste that won’t break down in any meaningful amount of time. Shampoo bars are one way to get plastic out of our everyday routines and to reduce our dependence on this polluting, toxic product. Shampoo and conditioner bars can be a small but meaningful part of an intentional lifestyle. A lifestyle in which people think carefully about their actions and choices and make the best decisions they can for the well-being of the planet and all life.

💦 Saving water and energy!

How do shampoo bars save energy?

Most liquid shampoos are 70% to 80% water. Shampoo bars are a fraction of the weight of a bottle, so fewer trucks are needed and less oil is used to transport them. They take up less shelf space. One Earth shampoo bars are packaged in 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper boxes rather than plastic. This means much less energy and oil are used in for the packaging. When you’re done with the package, you just compost it rather than sending it to a landfill where it will take millennia at best to decompose.

🚝 Travel friendly!

Are shampoo bars good for travel?

Shampoo bars save lots of room in your suitcase and toiletry bag. Do you like to travel fast & light? TSA-friendly shampoo bars will help you get through check-in without the hassle of liquids. Some people buy them just for travel but then find they like them so much they use them all the time!

☀️ Efficient and cost-effective!

Are shampoo bars a good value?

Because shampoo bars are concentrated, you use a small amount per wash. A 1.9-oz shampoo bar lasts for about 40 to 60 washes, depending on the length of your hair. This is about as long as a 20-oz bottle of liquid shampoo. The lifecycle costs of shampoo bars in terms of impacts on the environment are also lower than the costs of plastic production and disposal. Also, well-made shampoo bars are as effective or even more so than high-end liquid shampoo products.

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  • Posted February 14, 2020 8:59 am

    Good day. We have tried three different shampoo bars and haven’t had good luck. These so far have left our hair greasy, even after staying with them for two months. We would love to find a bar that works to keep our plastic consumption down. We do have hard well water in the farm we live. Any suggestions?

  • annealtor Posted February 16, 2020 3:32 pm

    Hi there! Thank you for your comment and question. Can you share a little info about what types of shampoo bars you’ve tried? (ingredients, varieties, etc?) That will help me assess why you might be experiencing the effects you describe. Thank you!

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