Shampoo bars are becoming increasingly popular, but most people have never heard of them. However, we get the reason for the hype. Read on to learn what a shampoo bar is and why we think you should use one.
Considering a Shampoo Bar?
Shampoo bars are becoming all the rage. We’re not talking about a bar where stylists shampoo your hair and massage your scalp while bartenders bring you your favorite libations (though we’d definitely be regulars here). We’re talking about eco-friendly shampoo bars made with concentrated-yet-gentle shampoo ingredients.
These plastic-free pucks look like bars of soap, but instead of using them on your bod, you use them on your hair. Simple, right? Many people have switched over to shampoo bars instead of using traditional liquid shampoo because of the benefits they’ve heard about.
Some of those benefits include:
- More environmentally friendly
- Gentle, often natural cleansing ingredients
- Easy to use
- Small, compact size
- Perfect for traveling
- Last longer than traditional shampoo
But before you switch to a shampoo bar, there are a few things you should know. We’ll cover it all in this guide, including shampoo bar pros and cons, the four types of shampoo bars, how to use them properly, and what you should expect if you switch.
We’re even including a list of our favorite bar shampoos so you can pick from the best (not all bars are made equally)! Let’s start with the basics: What is a shampoo bar, exactly?
What Is a Shampoo Bar?
A shampoo bar is a solid form of shampoo used to cleanse hair. These small, soap-like pucks or bars typically don’t contain the harsh shampoo ingredients conscious consumers want to avoid (like sodium lauryl sulfate).
Shampoo bars use much less packaging than their liquid counterparts, create zero waste, and are generally longer-lasting than liquid shampoo. Many people who have switched to these bars rave about the health and improved condition of their hair.
- One Redditor who switched to shampoo bars had promising results: “My hair has never felt more smooth and alive. It’s stopped overproducing sebum and I only have to wash once a week.”
- Another noticed switching to a bar fixed her issue with flakes and dandruff: “I had bad dandruff due to the stress of a new job and nothing helped but her shampoo bar. Washed it two times and no more dandruff.”
But keeping expectations in check is important here. What shampoo bars don’t do is create a super-sudsy lather like many consumers are used to. That’s because many don’t contain suds-boosting sulfates and opt for gentler alternatives instead. You should know that some bar shampoos contain natural alkaline ingredients with a high pH that damages hair.
So it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re buying the right kind of shampoo bar. Let’s look at the four general types of shampoo bars below.
The 4 Types of Shampoo Bars
There are four different types of shampoo bars based on the kind of cleanser or surfactant they use. Choosing the one that will be the best fit for your hair depends on how sensitive your scalp and skin are and how your hair typically responds to sulfates in shampoo.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Bars
Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) are powerful surfactant cleansers you’ll find in certain brands of shampoo bars like Lush. These sulfates are known to be harsh, and many people purposely avoid them because they can be drying and strip the hair of natural oils.
Look for a bar containing SLS if you want a powerful clean similar to liquid shampoo. This is typically not a good option for women with curly or coily hair.
Sodium Coco Sulfate Bars
Sodium coco sulfate (SCS) is a medium-strength surfactant cleanser that isn’t as harsh as SLS, but still provides a good deep clean. You’ll find SCS as a key ingredient in Ethique shampoo bars and a few Lush bars.
It won’t strip your hair of natural oils and leave it dry, but it can wreak havoc on super curly or coily hair. Choose a bar containing SCS if SLS is too harsh for your hair, but you still want a good lather.
Isethionate or Methosulfate Bars
Get ready for a mouthful, because sodium cocoyl isethionate and behentrimonium methosulfate are the next surfactants you’ll find in shampoo bars. These are weak sulfate-free cleansers that won’t give you a super-deep clean, but will remove surface dirt and oil from your hair.
These are great if you’re working on improving your scalp health or want to use a more gentle option on your hair. Hibar and Love Beauty Planet make shampoo bars with these sulfate-free cleansers. Any bar containing these ingredients is good for curly or coily hair.
Read Next: Top Sulfate Free Shampoo Picks
Natural Soap-Based Bars
Many surfactant and cleansing ingredients, like saponified oils, natural soapnuts, and glucosides, fall under this umbrella. They are generally weak cleansers that require a soft water supply to work properly.
Many people have success using these gentle bars in combination with a low-pH apple cider vinegar rinse afterward. This helps you avoid leaving any soapy, waxy, or oily residue on the hair. Women with curly and coily hair can definitely use this type of bar.
Shampoo Bar Pros and Cons
You’ve been using traditional liquid shampoo your whole life – switching to a bar form is a big deal! Before you do, it helps to list all the benefits and drawbacks you can expect. Check out the pros and cons of using a shampoo bar below.
Pros of Shampoo Bars
Here are the benefits you can expect to see when you switch to a shampoo bar.
- Less packaging and waste: This is a big one! Most people initially make the switch to cut out all the plastic and packaging that comes along with traditional liquid shampoo. Shampoo bars use zero plastic (so less ends up in the landfill) and way less packaging, so it’s a more environmentally friendly way to buy and use shampoo.
- Gentle alternative to shampoo: Traditional shampoo is often loaded with harsh cleansing ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and salts that can irritate the scalp and lead to a range of hair and scalp problems. Since most shampoo bars are made with gentler, natural ingredients, it’s a great alternative to harsh shampoo.
- Convenient size and form: These bars are much smaller than bottles of shampoo and really easy to carry with you when you travel. No more measuring shampoo into travel-size bottles to get through airport security! They also won’t take up shower real estate like big bottles of shampoo.
- Naturally effective ingredients: Bars of shampoo typically contain natural ingredients that cleanse your hair without stripping it of protective natural oils. You’ll find blends of plant extracts, essential oils, vegetable oils, and natural surfactants to help create a gently cleansing light lather.
- Make hair healthier: When you stop dousing your hair in chemicals with each shampoo sesh and switch to a bar shampoo, you’ll likely see the results in the form of healthier hair with less frizz, fewer split ends, reduced breakage, more shine, and improved strength.
- Lasts longer than liquid shampoo: Traditional shampoo is easy to run through, especially if you have long hair or like to use large amounts for each wash. Bars of shampoo last longer (around 80 washes) because they’re made with concentrated ingredients.
Cons of Shampoo Bars
Here are the drawbacks you might experience if you switch to a shampoo bar.
- Most are high pH, which can damage hair: Soap-based shampoo bars are almost always alkaline with a much higher pH than our hair and scalp. The result is a swollen cuticle layer that leaves the hair frizzy, easily tangled, and prone to breakage. Luckily, you can follow any high pH shampoo bar with a low pH conditioner or acidic ACV rinse to bring the pH back down.
- It will become a PITA as it gets smaller: You know how annoying those little slivers of soap are to use? The same thing happens with bars of shampoo. It can be a pain to try and thoroughly wash your hair with only a pathetic sliver left, so be aware that you’ll either be struggling to hold onto it near the end or end up throwing it away sooner than you’d like.
- Gentler doesn’t always mean gentle: These bars aren’t as harsh on hair as the liquid versions, but don’t assume every shampoo bar is gentle. High alkalinity and the use of “substitute” sulfates can still be harsh on your hair if not used properly or if the wrong type of bar is chosen.
- Hard water is a hangup: Hard water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium. Those minerals bind to the soap molecules in most shampoo bars, making them harder to dissolve and rinse away with water. The result is a waxy or greasy film left on the hair that can feel like product buildup. If you have hard water, you can rinse with ACV to help remove the film, but for many, this is a hangup they can’t get past.
- You may have a transition period: Even major shampoo bar manufacturers say there’s a transition period – a few days to a month – when you switch from liquid to bar shampoo. During this period, your hair might “fight back” against the change, feeling extra greasy, heavy, or flat. If you persist with the bar, it should end within a month.
Try One of These Top-Rated Shampoo Bars
Think you’re ready to make the switch but not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. The bars that made our list are highly rated by customers and contain the best ingredients to leave your hair clean, nourished, and healthy. Check out some of the best options we’ve found!
1. Ethique Sweet and Spicy Volumizing Shampoo Bar
- Minimal plastic
- Smells VERY good
- Mostly natural ingredients
- Not sulfate free
- Using it takes a bit of learning
- Breaks if dropped
One of the top picks among bar shampoos is Ethique Sweet and Spicy Volumizing Shampoo Bar. This cleansing and volumizing shampoo is an unexpected scent sensation with hints of a spicy, cinnamon-y citrus ginger.
But where it really shines is how it cleans your hair. Powerful and effective yet gentle ingredients like salt, cocoa butter, and coconut oil naturally scrub away impurities and nourish the hair for a healthy shine. It’s best for normal to oily hair – it can be a little drying on chronically dry scalps.
It doesn’t contain the harsh sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) that many try to avoid in shampoo, but it does contain slightly gentler sulfates like sodium coco sulfate (SCS), magnesium sulfate (epsom salt), and behentrimonium methosulfate (a canola oil derivative).
2. J.R. Liggett’s Tea Tree & Hemp Oil All-Natural Shampoo Bar
Looking for a truly all-natural shampoo bar with no nasties, no sulfates, and no added fragrance? Then check out J.R. Liggett’s Tea Tree & Hemp Oil All-Natural Shampoo Bar. This bar is designed to balance even the itchiest, oiliest, or flakiest scalp. It’s great for anyone with psoriasis, too!
The only ingredients in this natural bar are saponified olive oil (a gentle but effective surfactant), coconut oil, castor oil, tea tree oil, hemp oil, and almond oil. How can a bar made only with natural oils clean your hair? It’s the saponification process they use on the olive oil.
Saponification converts the fat in oil into a soap that clings to dirt and oil and lets it be washed away with water. So this bar is chock-full of hair-nourishing oils, but it will not make your hair oily. Definitely grab this one if you’re dealing with any type of scalp dermatological issue.
3. Acure Coconut and Argan Shampoo Bar
Check out the Acure Coconut & Argan Shampoo Bar for a powerful clean that leaves your hair lightly scented with a natural coconut aroma. This vegan, cruelty-free bar is also free from sulfates, petrolatum, parabens, and mineral oil. The ingredients are natural and nourishing for all hair types.
You’ll find goodies like coconut oil, argan oil, Brazilian cupuacu seed butter, and goji fruit extract in this powerhouse bar shampoo. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is used in the saponification process along with coconut oil, but zero lye remains in the finished product.
Customers who’ve used this sulfate-free shampoo bar raved about how incredibly clean and soft it left their hair. It’s great if you want to remove weeks or even months of product or mineral buildup from your hair and scalp.
4. Rice Water Shampoo and Conditioner Unscented Solid Shampoo Bar
If you’ve heard of or thought about using rice water for hair health, this is the bar for you! The Rice Water Shampoo and Conditioner Unscented Solid Shampoo Bar contains all the goodness and nutrients of fermented rice water with none of the mess.
Rice water has been shown to “wake up” dormant hair follicles and prompt them to grow new hair. Another study found that rice water’s ferulic acid stimulates hair growth and shine. All these benefits are packed into this convenient shampoo bar.
Two things you should know: It’s unscented. This is great for sensitive scalps or anyone that has a negative reaction to strong fragrances. And the cleansing surfactants in this bar are sodium cocoyl sulfate (SCS) and sodium cocoyl isethionate.
Both are much gentler than SLS on your scalp, but won’t work if you’re pledging to go 100% sulfate-free. Overall, if you’re looking to boost your hair growth or want to try a 2-in-1 bar, this is a great option. Just be aware it’s not truly sulfate-free.
5. The Right To Shower Joy Shampoo Bar
This is a purchase you can really feel good about. The Right To Shower Joy Shampoo Bar not only smells like tangerines and honeysuckle, but is also 100% vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free, and never tested on animals. The bar is packaged in 100% recycled paper.
This bar is formulated for normal to oily hair and can be a little drying on curly or coily hair. Follow up with a conditioner or use a separate conditioner bar to combat that. It has the added benefit of being multipurpose – you can also use this bar on your body and face because it’s so gentle.
Each purchase benefits The Right to Shower’s mission to convert trucks into mobile shower and hygiene stations for homeless and underprivileged people. So you can feel good about trying this shampoo bar!
Shampoo Bar Tips and Tricks
Switching to a shampoo bar isn’t always easy, and the unexpected changes that may happen to your hair can cause you to give up on a bar before the magic happens. Here are our best tips and tricks for getting the most out of your new bar shampoo.
- Use the edge, not the flat sides. Most people use the wide, flat sides of bar shampoo because they have the most surface area. But using it this way erodes the bar in the middle, making it thin and easy to break after a few uses. Instead, turn the bar and use the edges instead. This way, the bar wears down more evenly and doesn’t get so thin that it breaks.
- Soften up. If you have hard water, your bar shampoo may have a hard time lathering properly and require more scrubbing to achieve the same clean. Install a showerhead with a filter or follow your bar with an ACV rinse to boost the effectiveness in hard water.
- Prepare for a transition period. Your hair might instantly love the gentle ingredients in shampoo bars – or it might protest with a few days to a month of being lank, greasy, or generally hard to manage. Removing harsh cleansers and sulfates is great in the long run, but it could take your hair some time to adjust. Expect a transition period and plan some cute hairstyles you can rely on for those bad hair days.
- Lather in your hands, not on your head. Since shampoo bars are new to most people, many don’t realize the proper way to use them. Lather the shampoo bar in your wet hands and apply the lather to your hair in gentle, circular motions. Don’t rub the solid bar directly on your hair.
- Less is more. Shampoo bars don’t contain the same types of ingredients as most liquid shampoos. Since the ingredients in these bars are so concentrated, you really don’t need much to achieve the clean you want. So start by using a little, and don’t expect a huge lather as you’d get with traditional shampoo.
- Follow with an ACV rinse if your hair becomes frizzy. If you’ve tried a shampoo bar a few times and it’s left you with frizzy, easily broken, hard-to-brush hair, there’s an easy fix. Since most shampoo bars have a high pH that can lead to these problems, just follow up with an ACV rinse to bring down the pH.
So, should you switch to a shampoo bar and ditch your liquid shampoo? If you’re looking to cut your waste, start using cleaner, gentler hair products, and boost your hair’s health, a bar shampoo could be just what you need. It’s small, long-lasting, and better for your hair and the environment.
Not everyone will stick with bar shampoo after trying it – some just prefer the sensation and results of traditional liquid shampoo. But many people find themselves wondering how they ever got along without it. Choose one of the shampoo bars on our list to try and see what it does for your hair!