November 16th 2018
Shampoo bars – better than your regular bottle of hair wash?
May 26th 2020 / 0 comment
Eco and travel-friendly, solid shampoos offer a range of benefits, but how do they scrub up? We put them to the test
We've been making all kinds of bathroom swaps in the name of plastic-free beauty, from switching to reusable cotton pads to using mouthwash in a metal bottle, but one of the easiest of all is switching from bottled shampoo to shampoo bars. Compact and convenient, this fast-growing beauty category is one to watch with environmental concerns increasingly playing on our minds.
As well as plastic packaging-free, other common qualities include a more natural focus when it comes to their ingredient lists and greater longevity when compared to liquid counterparts, (in fact, one claims to last 80-100 washes and do the job of three 250ml bottles). Furthermore, because of their smaller size, more can fit into the lorries that transport them to reduce your carbon footprint even further. Some can also be used on body and hair and they’re refreshingly affordable too.
According to Lush, the number of shampoo bars sold globally in the last financial year is equivalent to 500 million hair washes - washes that didn’t come from a plastic bottle; since 2007, Lush has sold over 38 million naked shampoo bars globally, saving over 90 million plastic shampoo bottles from being used at all (based on the idea that one shampoo bar is equal to two point four bottles of liquid shampoo). "Shampoo bars have a hugely positive impact on the environment," says Lush co-founder Mark Constantine. "We’re extremely proud of them because they’re long-lasting and totally unpackaged."
When shampoo bars first arrived on the scene they didn't address different hair concerns in the same way liquid shampoos do, but this is slowly changing. Lush has 15 different shampoos bars now with each promising different results from a refreshing cleanse, volume, shine to a bar for fine hair, while Biovene has a bounty of 12 different shampoo bars to hydrate, nourish and prevent damage control.
Certain to appeal to natural beauty fans and the eco and space-conscious, does quality lose out to size and cost? I found out.
How do you use a shampoo bar?
With an open mind. The change in application takes a little getting used to. Some brands recommend rubbing the bar between your hands first while others advise applying it directly to the scalp instead. They lather surprisingly well (even those without SLS) but require thorough washing through to keep residue to a minimum.
Do you use a conditioner after a shampoo bar?
Yes - in this way it's no different to bottled shampoo. If using conditioner in a plastic bottle feels counterintuitive, Lush has a selection of conditions bars too.
How do you look after a shampoo bar?
In much the same way you look after a bar of soap - keep it out of the way of direct water, ideally on a dish or a wrack where the water can run out of it to allow it to dry easily.
Who is a shampoo bar for?
Having given them a try, I’d say they’re best for those who frequently wash their hair to eliminate daily grime rather than a build-up of grease. They also work well for those looking to subtract some kgs off their luggage if travelling. There are some clear pros and cons to them.
1. They’re lightweight - their compact size makes for a more travel-friendly alternative to bulky bottles.
2. They’re long-lasting - and they hold their shape well (no crumbly Dove soap situations happening here).
3. They’re more eco-friendly – wrapped in paper or card, they help reduce the industry’s problem with over-packaging.
1. They can leave your hair feeling greasy – if not used correctly. Application is key and only a little is needed. If too much is used, your hair will feel pretty waxy when dry.
2. They can take a while to wash out – linked to the above, this all boils down to application. Use a little at first and then build up to more if your hair needs it.
Although providing some impressive benefits from packaging and practicality perspectives, I’d find it hard to swap my bottle for a bar when it comes to performance. Applying a little seems to be the secret to keeping post-wash residue to a minimum but I found it tricky to find the right balance – too little and my thick and long (and greasy) hair didn’t feel clean, too much and my hair felt weighed down and waxy. While the additional grit was useful for keeping my hair in an updo, leaving it loose was an option that was off the table entirely.
However, if you’re looking for a long-lasting option that addresses frequent cleansing of daily grime, they could have a place in your regime (they’re more for day 2, less for day 3 or 4). Just make sure to use only a little and if you’re using a SLS-free variation, be wary that it could take a couple of weeks for your hair to adapt to the formula.
If you’re interested in giving one a try, here are the ones team GTG rate.
User reviews say this is so good that there's no need for a conditioner afterwards because the hair is left so soft and frizz-free. It's free-from parabens and SLS plus it's made from 100 per cent natural fragrance; it leaves the hair a bit sticky-feeling when it's still wet, but once dry it feels silky smooth. The brand also does a Dragonfruit fragrance and a Lavender and Geranium scent too. GTG's digital designer Jemma tried this bar out and was pleasantly surprised with how nourished her afro hair felt and impressed that it didn’t leave her with the squeaky clean soap feeling often associated with bars.
If you like your beauty products chic, this is the bar for you. Housed in a pretty marble and gold (fully-biodegradable) box it's definitely the most stylish of the bars and can be used on both skin and hair. Designed for all hair types, this vegan bar uses natural ingredients rich in elements such as magnesium, vitamin E, omega fatty acids and antioxidants to gently cleanse and exfoliate; almond and avocado oils moisturise while the bar has a soap-free acidic balance to protect against the roughening of the cuticle, dullness of the hair and drying of the skin.
A combination of coconut oil, macadamia oil, keratin, beeswax and shea butter work together in this purple shampoo bar to rescue damaged, dull-looking hair. Reconstructive keratin revives and strengthens your locks while promoting healthy length and density. The collection also features an argan oil and mint bar to combat hair fall, a biotin and apple cider shampoo bar for moisture and volume, a citrus shampoo bar to clarify and a nourishing bar to smooth and soften hair.
Of all the shampoo bars we tested out, this one smelt the most like the soaps we have in our soap dishes but that's not to say it didn't perform well. It's enriched with citrus, coconut and grapeseed oils for smooth, glossy hair along with shea butter. Balade en Provence's bars are handmade by French artisans using the cold process which preserves the natural nutrients and properties of the ingredients, so this bar along with the lavender bar to strengthen fine hair is a high performer.
This high-end shampoo bar is named after the number of million plastic shampoo bottles destined for landfill every year. This bar claims to be good for all hair types, blending together cupuacu butter, coconut oil, castor oil to dissolve product build-up and nourish the hair so it feels extra silky and not sticky at all.
Plastic-free, vegan and organic, these cubes are a handy edition if you are looking for a plastic bottle alternative that won't go soggy in the shower. Take one cube each time you're washing your hair and crumble, add water to make a paste and smooth it onto hair. It will lather a treat and leave hair seriously shiny and soft.
Friendly Soap Lavender and Geranium Shampoo Bar, £2.75
SLS-free, one bar claims to offer the equivalent cleansing life of three bottles of conventional shampoo. Made with castor oil and scented with lavender and geranium essential oils, it can be used on both body and hair for occasions when time and space are sparse.
Lush Seanik Shampoo Bar, £8
Formulated with volume in mind, this bright blue hair soap contains seaweed to soften, lemon oil to cleanse and fine sea salt for texture. Lush was way ahead of its time when it came to shampoo bars and as we said, now sells a plethora of them for different needs; New is specially formulated for thin or fine hair, while Soak and Float can help to treat sore, dry or irritated scalps. Other additions to the range include Montalbano, which is loaded with popping candy for the ultimate morning pick-me-up and Jason and The Argan Oil, which contains 23 per cent less SLS to help prevent fade on colour-treated hair.
Christophe Robin Hydrating Shampoo Bar with Aloe Vera, £16
One of the priciers bars in the bunch, this vegan and silicone and SLS-free option has been created to suit both hair and body. Formulated with aloe vera, natural glycerin and castor oil, it offers gentle cleansing for particularly dry hair types.