Shampoo bars have been popping up everywhere in the past few years, transforming from a little curiosity in Lush to the forefront of the eco alternative product revolution. Even big brands like Garnier are now jumping on the bandwagon, which can only be a good thing.
However, with physical grooming etiquette so ingrained into our collective subconscious, it can be difficult to break the hair-washing habits we’ve had all our lives and leave behind the products we know. Hair is a precious thing for many, with greasy hair as socially taboo as unshaven legs or period stains (in that they’re all natural things and shouldn’t be taboo, but here we are), and I’ll be the first to admit that the thought of showing up at work looking like I’d rubbed butter in my hair was a bit anxiety-spiking.
I’d heard from a few people that shampoo bars could make your hair greasy, especially during the ‘transition period’ from liquid shampoo. In this sense, lockdown did me a solid – with a work-from-home job and no webcam required, I was free to tackle any potential slickness without having to leave the house. So here’s what I learned.
- Why make the switch?
- The transition period
- Getting to grips with shampoo bars
Why switch to shampoo bars?
Plastic reduction and cost
If you have long hair like me, you’ll have noticed just how quickly you get through plastic shampoo bottles. I was probably getting through one a month, if not more. Now I’m using one bar with no plastic waste every three or four months.
According to The Independent, the UK throws away 520 million shampoo bottles each year. Imagine how much plastic could be prevented if shampoo bars were the norm worldwide!
They can save you money too. Middle of the range liquid shampoos like Herbal Essences and TRESemmé cost around £2-3 per bottle, whereas each of the shampoo bars I tried cost £5-8. As the shampoo bars last me three times as long, it’s reasonable that they can cost three times as much. In some cases, they’re more cost-effective. You’re no longer paying for all the water pumped into shampoo (as much as 75-85% of the bottle!), but buying shampoo in an almost raw form.
Some people even forgo conditioner after using shampoo bars, saving money there too.
No ‘nasty chemicals’
As well as the environmental and monetary benefits, switching to shampoo bars may even be better for your health. Several mainstream shampoos have some undesirable ingredients in them, such as silicones, parabens and sulphates. Sulphates are the lathering agent in many big brand shampoos, but can strip our scalps of natural oil and moisture. If you suffer from skin irritation, sulphates will probably make it worse.
You’ve probably already heard that parabens are bad. Parabens are used to extend the shelf life of products, but are easily absorbed into the scalp and can not only cause dryness, but build up within skin tissue. According to this Elle article, they have been linked to breast cancer, as they can disrupt hormone function, leading to increased breast cell division and growth of tumours. Parabens from our drainage systems have also been found in marine life, which obviously isn’t great.
Silicones are used in shampoos to soften hair and make it silky. Silicones are great for people like me whose hair expands at even the mention of the word humidity. However, over time silicone builds up and leaves hair dull and brittle.
All of these ingredients have been slathered on our heads for years, and us poor too-busy-to-read-the-ingredients-label people probably don’t even know it.
Shampoo bars, on the other hand, are usually made with all natural oils and other natural ingredients that will cleanse your hair without stripping away its natural moisture. The companies making them are also usually transparent about the ingredients used, but always be wary of greenwashing.
The transition period
After researching, I learned it’s natural for hair that’s used to chemicals from mass market liquid shampoos to look and feel greasy after using a natural shampoo bar for the first time. This is your scalp adjusting to the bar and trying to re-balance its oil production. Our scalps produce natural oils and moisture that keep hair healthy, so technically this isn’t a bad thing.
However, not everyone goes through a transition period in this process. I only experienced greasiness with my first shampoo bar, and after returning for a little while to liquid shampoo, the next bar I tried gave me no trouble. However, if you do have a transition period, there are other ways to haul yourself through it, like an apple cider vinegar rinse, but that never really appealed to me…
It’s worth sticking to a shampoo bar through the first few weeks to allow time for your hair to adjust. Don’t give up if it still makes your hair greasy though! Try a different brand. Like skin, everyone’s hair is different and needs different types of care.
Getting to grips with shampoo bars
Below are some tips for using shampoo bars. It’s really not difficult, but there are some things I learned the hard way that can help you adjust easier:
- Try not to leave it anywhere that water or heat will reach (even in a tin), as this will melt the bar or use it up. I accidentally let the shower run over one once and wondered why there were so many bubbles around my feet. This is even worse with a colourful shampoo bar – my shower turned highlighter green.
- Get a shampoo bar tin or sealable holder for the reason stated above. It will stick to whatever surface you leave it on – including the tin, but this is preferable.
- Don’t spend too long rubbing the bar in one spot. Rubbing the bar directly on your head can result in using too much. Instead, rub it between wet hands as you would with soap, then run your hands through your hair as with normal shampoo. I found this method provided a more even wash anyway.
- Don’t give up on them entirely if the first one doesn’t work for you.
Shampoo bar reviews
This is a living blog post, so it will be updated as and when I try more. If there are any particular brands you want me to try, drop them in the comments below.
Remember when reading these reviews that shampoo bars will react differently with different hair types, and several of these brands offer a range of bars to cater for that. My hair is long, dry, and brittle with a natural mess of straight, wavy and curly all at the same time. I often torture it with a hair dryer and over-straightening, or plaiting overnight. I continued using liquid conditioner during this research so I could see the impact the shampoo bars had.
I am not in any way endorsed by the below brands – all views and findings are my own and are likely to be different for you.
Scents and types
£6.50 for a massive bar (their website states approximately 110g, but varies as these are cut by hand). Shop Zero sells them in smaller sizes if you want a trial run.
I’m passionate about our local indies and really want them to succeed, but unfortunately this shampoo bar almost put me off them completely.
At first it surprised me with how well it lathered. I wasn’t keen on the scent, though – it smells nothing like coffee, and as a coffee fiend that was part of the reason for buying. The essential oils completely overpower it and linger even when your hair is dry.
This was the first shampoo bar I tried and it left my hair quite greasy after the first wash. I continued using it over three weeks to ensure this wasn’t just a transition period, but the greasiness never went away. If anything, it got worse until my hair looked like fresh kelp (thank you, work from home), so I went back to liquid shampoo for a while. After a couple of weeks I tried a different shampoo bar, which caused no greasiness at all. I’ve not touched this bar since, but it’s a pale and sad version of its former self after water got into my tupperware.
The size of the bar becomes a bit of a hindrance for holding and for storage, although with hindsight I could have cut it into smaller pieces that would fit in an airtight container.
However, as I said in the reviews intro, experiences with these shampoo bars will vary person to person, so please don’t discount the Soapbox shampoo bar. And even if you do, their soaps are still brilliant and totally recommended.
- No 'chemical nasties' - Vegan-friendly - Plastic free - Handmade - Local (to me) / made in the UK
- Sodium Cocoate – coconut oil. Rich in vitamins and iron. Good for dry scalps or brittle hair
- Sodium Palmate – palm oil. For creating the ‘hardness’ of the soap bar.
- Sodium Castorate – castor oil, lathering agent.
- Sodium Rapeseedate – rapeseed oil
- Aqua – water
- Glycerine – compound with antimicrobial properties
- Sodium Avocadoate – avocado oil
- Sodium Arganate – argan oil
- Butyrospermum Parkii – shea butter
- Coffea Arabica – coffee plant, ‘promotes healthy hair growth’.
- Essential oils: Lavandula Angustifolia Oil (lavender essential oil), Rosmarinus Officinalis Oil (rosemary essential oil), Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil (lemongrass essential oil), Tocopherol (vitamin E oil), Linalool (by-product of essential oil), Limonene, Citral, Geraniol.
I realised when writing this blog that Nottingham Soapbox products contain palm oil, which their About page (not ingredients page) states is sustainably sourced from an RSPO-certified (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) supplier. Although this is good, it would be better if a substitute ingredient was found – other soap and shampoo bar brands get on fine without it. You can read more about palm oil on the WWF website.
Beautifully packaged with nothing but hemp, string and a label, Soapbox bars are lovely and simplistic, and look almost fudge-like and good enough to eat. Each bar gives a really unique and handcrafted feel, which is lovely.
Available from Grüum only.
Scents and types
- Nourishing: Coconut
- Brightening: Lemon and Almond
- Revitalising: Cocoa Butter
- Colour Protect: Henna and Juniper.
Each bar costs £8 as a one-time purchase, which is a little expensive compared to other options, but is the same price as Lush. However, you only have to pay delivery charge on a trial bar via their ‘free’ shampoo offer page. Delivery is £3.95, or you can subscribe over one, two, or three months and pay £5 for the shampoo bar with no delivery charge.
This bar lasted approximately four months for two to three washes per week. The Grüum website states ‘up to sixty washes per bar’.
I tried the Nourishing bar and was pretty impressed. The packaging looked nice and minimalist, all made from cardboard, and the bar itself looked like a perfect white marble that smelled faintly of coconut.
This was my first shampoo bar back after being burned by Soapbox. As with the Nottingham Soapbox bar, I was surprised at the ease of lathering. Grüum’s is a lightweight bar, easy to rub on your head or flip in your hands like the resurrection stone from Harry Potter. And just like that, shampoo bars were resurrected from my doubts.
After conditioning and drying, my hair was just like normal – not remotely greasy! I had no transition period, no sudden bout of lank hair in the full four months or so of use. Yes!
My hair didn’t remotely smell like coconut after washing, though, which I was kinda sad about.
- 'No chemical nasties' - Cruelty free - Vegan friendly (some) - Made in the UK - Plastic free
Ingredients (Nourishing bar)
- Sodium Coco Sulphate – the foaming agent that binds the water and oil together. This can contain palm oil, but it’s not clear if this shampoo bar does.
- Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) oil – rich in vitamins and iron. Good for dry scalps or brittle hair.
- Aqua – water
- Parfum – several substances for making the shampoo fragrant.
- Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone – used as a fragrance ingredient.
Ingredients vary depending on the shampoo bar you choose. I looked into the ingredients for some of the other options. The ‘Revitalising’ cocoa butter bar uses lanolin, so it’s not suitable for vegans.
The ‘Brightening’ lemon bar and the ‘Shine Boost’ henna & juniper bar both contain an ingredient called Cocamide DEA, which although non-toxic, has been classed by the Californian Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a ‘known carcinogen’. This ingredient is still in several products in the UK, but is considered to have ‘a high irritation potential’, so I would avoid these two bars if you have sensitive skin.
I love the simplistic packaging and IKEA-esque vibe of Grüum, and this ethos of simplicity extends into their products and their branding. The packaging is just cardboard, with a grey, white and red block colour palette. They really sell it as a full brand, which entices me to try more of their products to make the most of their subscription services.
The outer packaging seemed a little on the big side, though, and on the flip side, this IKEA-ness also makes the brand feel more corporate and less personable.
Available from My Little Eco Shop only.
Scents and types
This brand offers 31 different shampoo bars. Seriously. Good luck choosing!
This list includes green tea, seaweed, coconut, and some funkier scents like pina colada, candyland and rose quartz. The bars for specific hair types include dandruff and itchy scalps, frizzy hair taming, greasy hair, and more.
The 65g bars are £5.99, or buy two get one free with the code FREEBAR. Delivery is £2.99 or free over £20, but the store sells all sorts of other eco goods. They claim a bar lasts 65-85 washes, which I think is probably accurate.
I bought the green tea bar, and it looked like something I wanted to bite into, like the chocolate part of a Fab lolly with sprinkles. This one didn’t lather quite as well as the Grüum bar, but felt pretty similar in every other way, other than taking both my hands and my shower (but not my hair) into Princess Fiona territory.
Strangely, when I used this bar intermittently it worked just as well as Grüum’s, however when I started using it regularly, the back of my scalp started to get greasy. This continued for a few weeks, and although a manageable amount compared to the Soapbox bar, it was still pretty unwelcome. I’ve not used this full bar yet, so time will tell if this gets worse.
Several bars on the website do say ‘Made in France’, which My Little Eco Shop states is sustainably so, but this means transportation energy use should be taken into account when purchasing this product.
Since writing the above paragraph, some of the shampoo bars now say ‘made in Devon’, which makes me sceptical (why would some be made in France and others in the UK?), but check the bottom of the website product description for where it’s made.
If you’re doubtful about things like this, you can always email the company. Usually, indie places are more than happy to respond – bigger places (looking at you Body Shop!) probably won’t answer unless you ask them publicly on social media.
- 'No chemical nasties'
- Vegan (some)
- Cruelty free
- Plastic free
Ingredients (Green Tea bar)
- Sodium Coco Sulfate – the foaming agent that binds the water and oil together. This can contain palm oil, but it’s not clear if this shampoo bar does.
- Theobroma Cocoa Seed Butter
- Butyrospermum Parkii – Shea butter
- Olive Oil
- Camellia Sinensis – Green tea oil
- Lemon Essential Oil
- Peppermint Essential Oil
- Mica – a mineral probably used to get the bright green colour.
Like some of the Grüum bars, the ‘Hair Chill’ shampoo bar also contains Cocamide DEA, but generally My Little Eco Shop’s bars seem to be made of butters and essential oils.
Aesthetic and packaging
I’m not a fan of the packaging for these shampoo bars, if I’m honest. Some of you may find the branding has a fun personality, but I think the stickers look a little cheap, and are just going to wash away if you store your shampoo bar in the shower.
The tins are versatile, though, and free! (You can say no to the tin if you don’t want it).
The My Little Eco Shop website has a nice and clean aesthetic that doesn’t really mesh with the shampoo bar vibes. It also has the biggest and most overwhelming menu you’ve ever seen.
Scents and types
Standard shampoo bars:
- Rosemary Mint
- Aloe Vera
- Coconut Milk
2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner bars:
- Dry and curly hair
- Oily and fine hair
- Itch scalp
- All hair types
Standard shampoo bars are £5 everywhere, whereas the 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner bars are £7.50. The website claims the 2-in-1 bar lasts up to 40 washes.
The bar itself has an unusual smooth chalk texture and looks almost like a floor mosaic tile. I bought the 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner bar as the stockist I bought from didn’t have the standard shampoo bars. Instead, I tried using the 2-in-1 as a regular shampoo using liquid conditioner afterwards, and also tried it out without liquid conditioner.
Using the bar without conditioner was definitely better than I thought it would be, however it made my hair quite lightweight and airy, which wasn’t great for styling. Using it as just a shampoo bar seemed fine. It lathers fairly well and has a pretty neutral scent. No grease so far!
The Zero Waste Path website states that due to the natural, palm-oil free surfactant base of their 2-in-1 bars, first-timers shouldn’t experience greasiness. However, their base shampoo bars will ‘require an acid rinse and may have a transition period’. Their shampoo bar guide explains how to use their products and avoid greasy hair.
- Made in Cambridge, UK
- Zero waste / plastic free
- 100% recycled, unbleached cardboard packaging
- Palm oil free
- Cruelty free
- Made with 100% renewable energy
Ingredients (2-in-1 all hair types bar)
- Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) – coconut-based surfactant, creates the lather
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB) – coconut-based co-surfactant that makes the bar harder and last longer
- Hydrolysed Quinoa Protein – helps with colour retention and softness
- Organic Argan Oil – moisturises hair
- Organic Jojoba Oil – moisturises hair
- Vitamin Pro B5 – hydrates hair
- Eco preservative (Benzyl Alcohol, Dehydroacetic acid) – extends the shelf life of acid and neutral-PH products
Aesthetic and packaging
Zero Waste Path’s simple packaging works well with the good values they promote. Their website homepage instantly tells you what they’re about – making sustainable products with zero waste. The cardboard they use is 100% recycled, and even small things like how snug the bar fits into its packaging suits the ethos of zero waste.
ZWP’s branding is understated and clean when compared to the likes of My Little Eco Shop, although you could argue that the box isn’t really reusable once you start using the bar, so in some ways Nottingham Soapbox’s lack of packaging takes the crown on that.
From their website alone and the emphasis on their values, Zero Waste Path is probably my favourite company from this list. It genuinely feels like they care.
Shampoo bar comparison table
|Nottingham Soapbox||Grüum||My Little Eco Shop||Zero Waste Path|
|Price||£6.50||£8 (£5 on subscription)||£5.99||£5 / £7.50 2-in-1|
|Tin included?||No||Extra £2.50||Yes||No|
|Contains palm oil||Yes||Maybe||Maybe||No|
|Packaging||String and label||Cardboard||Reusable tin, stickers |
|Size||110g||50g||65g||100g / 70g 2-in-1|
|Claims to last||No information||Up to 60 washes||65-85 washes||No information /|
up to 40 washes
|Made in the UK?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Range of scents||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bars for multiple |
My personal favourite shampoo bar so far is made by Grüum. Their coconut bar was the superior latherer, is made in the UK, and didn’t make my hair remotely greasy. I will be emailing them to learn whether they use any palm oil in their shampoo bars, before ordering again though. Watch this space.
My favourite brand, however, is Zero Waste Path – their core values really shine through all of their products and marketing and they generally feel more open and trustworthy in their sustainability.
Future shampoo bar brands for this review include:
- Bain & Savon
- Soul and Soap
- Garnier Ultimate Blends
Have you tried one of the shampoo bars in this review? How did you get on? Or perhaps you’ve tried a different one and haven’t looked back? Drop a comment below if there are any you want me to add to this review.
Thanks for reading!