Eco-friendly and good for your hair, learn how to make a non-soap shampoo bar, why to make one, and how to use it.
What is a Shampoo Bar?
A shampoo bar is a solid cleanser that is meant for cleaning the hair. Shampoo bars have been gaining popularity lately because they have no need for plastic packaging, allowing them to be a zero waste type cosmetic product.
Why Use a Shampoo Bar?
There are several benefits to choosing a shampoo bar over a liquid type shampoo.
Because they are a solid-type product, no plastic bottle is needed for storing shampoo bars. When you make them yourself, there is absolutely no need for any sort of packaging whatsoever. Choosing to use a shampoo bar means that you can help reduce waste and eliminate the need for single-use plastics.
With new restrictions on traveling with liquids, shampoo bars are a great TSA friendly alternative for those who want to fly with cosmetics in their carry on luggage.
Can you use a shampoo bar on your body?
Because the surfactants used are nice and gentle and the pH is also skin-friendly, you can use the shampoo bar on your body too. That makes it especially travel-friendly because you really only need to pack one bar for all over cleansing.
While I think you should use a preservative when making this, as a precaution, shampoo bars are really the only type of surfactant based shampoo that you could get away with making without a preservative.
Because it doesn’t have any water-based ingredients in it, it technically doesn’t need a preservative. On the other hand, because you are contaminating the outside with water constantly, it still is a good idea to use one to keep microbes from growing on the surface of your bar.
If you are completely set against using a preservative, though, this is the only type of product where I’d say you could give it a try. If you do go that route, I’d suggest being careful about drying the bar immediately between uses and storing in a very dry environment.
Soap-Based Shampoo Bars vs. Surfactant Based (SYNDET) Shampoo Bars
There are several types of shampoo bars that are available for selling or for making yourself.
Soap-Based shampoo bars
While considered the most “natural,” soap based shampoo bars aren’t the best choice for most of us because of their high pH. Soap based shampoo bars are just that, soaps made with lye and oils just like the other soaps that I have shown you how to make on the blog.
Often times, people try to make soap bars slightly less harsh for hair by slightly lowering pH. That is done in an effort to make them better for hair. The problem is that the pH of soap can only be lowered slightly or you end up ruining it. Soap’s high pH is also what makes it self-preserving, meaning that it doesn’t need a preservative.
While most people’s skin can easily recover from using soap with its high pH, our hair is much more delicate. Most of our hair (other than the part in the follicle) is dead. For that reason, it can’t as easily recover from harsh conditions as our skin can. While you can condition your hair and smooth out the outer portion (the cuticle), making it look shinier and healthier, prolonged use of soap will normally damage hair.
When using a soap-based shampoo bar, you are normally told to do a final rinse with vinegar. The high pH of soap lift up the cuticle of your hair, making it look dry and dull. Because vinegar is acidic, that is meant to help close the cuticle and make your hair look healthier and shinier again.
Why make/choose a surfactant based (SYNDET) shampoo bar?
A synthetic detergent shampoo bar may sound like it would be harsher on your hair, but that isn’t really the case.
Many of us have been told that soap is good and natural and that “detergents” (other non-soap surfactants) are harsh and bad for us.
That misconception probably stems from the fact that most shampoos for sale use sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a popular (yet harsher) anionic surfactant. SLS is often used because it cleans very well and is quite inexpensive, but it also can irritate skin and strip skin and hair of their natural oils. (Yes, it may be cleaning too well, in a sense.) Fortunately for us, there are many types of milder surfactants available. As the demand rises for more natural, safer alternatives, the variety of available surfactants is increasing.
The advantage of using these more natural surfactants is that the pH can be adjusted to better suit our hair and keep it looking healthy. Soap, at the lower pH’s that we’re aiming for in hair care products (between pH=4-6) just isn’t soap anymore. Trying to lower the pH of soap that much would break it down. It’s impossible to make a soap-based shampoo bar in the ideal pH range for our hair.
If you do choose to use a soap-based shampoo bar, remember that it is important to follow it up with an acidic rinse. That can be achieved by rinsing your hair with diluted apple cider vinegar, for example.
How to use a Shampoo bar
Shampoo bars are actually quite simple to use. Using one is just like using a bar of soap. In fact, you can begin the process by lathering up the shampoo bar in your hands just as if you were washing them. Once you’ve worked up a lather, you can then rub your foamy hands over your hair and scalp, rubbing it in to work up a lather.
The other possibility is to take the shampoo bar and rub it over your wet hair until you’ve worked up the desired amount of lather. The only inconvenience to that method is that you are more likely to cover your shampoo bar with stray hairs.
Where to Store a Shampoo Bar
Once you’ve finished lathering up with the shampoo bar, you should rinse it and store it in a place where it can fully dry. Make sure that you don’t store it in a puddle of water or your shampoo bar could easily disintegrate.
I normally stand my shampoo bar up so that it is resting on one of the smaller edges, this allows for the maximum amount of air circulation around it. (It’s also why I prefer making a rectangular bar to a round one like the ones made by Lush.)
If you do plan on storing in a travel tin, make sure that the bar has completely dried before you store your bar or it could melt into a mushy mess.
Watch How Easy it is to Make a Shampoo Bar
How to Make a Shampoo Bar?
- Weigh out the surfactants (the SCI, SLSA, coco glucoside, and coco betaine), the shea butter, and the BTMS in a double boiler insert, or in a bowl that can be heated over a pan of boiling water.
- Begin to slowly heat and melt the ingredients over a double boiler, stirring until the ingredients have fully melted.
- This mixture is very thick and difficult to work with, so it's really impossible to let it cool before mixing in the other ingredients. You'll want to remove the mixture from your heat source and add in the other ingredients, working quickly.
- Do your best to fully incorporate the preservative, vitamins, and essential oils. Immediately press the mixture into a bar mold. I use silicone molds meant for bars of soap.
- You can help smooth the top of your bar by placing a sheet of parchment or wax paper over the mixture in the mold. Carefully rub over the top of the bar to smooth it.
- Optionally test the pH of your shampoo bar by running some water over the finished bar and testing the lather with a pH test strip. Because this is a solid product, it's impossible to otherwise test the pH.
We're looking for the pH of the lather obtained using your shampoo bar in your water (with whatever preservative you chose to use, and whatever optional ingredients you may have added).
This will help us determine if it would be best to adjust the pH of our next batch. The pH can be lowered by adding a few drops of lactic acid. (It's unlikely that you'd want to raise the pH, but that can be done with some NaOH carefully dissolved in water.)
- Once your shampoo bar has cooled, you can remove it from the mold and allow it to dry further. Unlike homemade soap, this shampoo bar can be used immediately. If it's too soft, though, you can let in harden up slightly by leaving it to dry for a few days. (This can occur in regions with high humidity.)
Customizing your homemade shampoo bar
This shampoo bar uses a mixture of liquid and solid surfactants. Depending on the humidity of your region, you may want to adjust the ratio of solid to liquid surfactants in order to obtain a harder or softer shampoo bar.
The solid surfactants
SCI is short for Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate. It’s the first of the solid surfactants used and is also sometimes called “baby foam” because it is a gentle surfactant, mild enough for use in baby products. It’s derived from coconuts. SCI can be tricky to work with, but worth it because it’s such a great surfactant that works well in both soft and hard water. It’s normally sold as a powder or fine granule.
SLSA is short for Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate. It’s an ECOCERT certified surfactant that gives off a lot of foam. Because it can be derived from both coconut and palm oils, it’s a good idea to look for providers that either derive it only from coconut oil, or use sustainably obtained palm oil.
The liquid surfactants
Coco glucoside is one of my favorite mild and natural surfactants. It’s a gentle non-ionic surfactant and I’ve used it already in several recipes, including my DIY micellar water and the liquid clarifying shampoo.
Coco betaine is another coconut oil-derived natural surfactant that is often combined with coco glucoside because they work together well to form a nice foam and together have better cleansing properties.
Even though the surfactants that I have chosen are mild, it’s still a good idea to add some emollients or other conditioning agents. In my bar, I’ve chosen to use shea butter and BTMS. BTMS-25 is the cationic emulsifier that I use in my favorite homemade conditioner. (Soon I’ll be showing you how to make a solid conditioner bar too!) While these are optional ingredients, I think it’s a good idea to use them to help protect your hair.
I chose to use both vitamin E and b-panthenol in my shampoo bar. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that when used at .5-1% of the recipe helps keep other oils from going rancid. B-panthenol is also known as provitamin B5, and it can act as a humectant, helping to attract moisture into our hair, as well as to help nourish it. While these are also optional ingredients, they are a very welcome addition to your shampoo bar. I use both of these vitamins in most of my homemade skin and hair care products.
I’d suggest using a preservative in your shampoo bar because it will be used in a humid environment, and you’ll likely be getting it wet quite often. You’ll want to make sure the pH of your bar is in an effective range for whatever preservative you choose (and you’ll need to use it at the recommended percentage). I’ve been using Sharomix 705, an ECOCERT certified natural preservative which can be used at around 1% of the recipe by weight. For it to be effective, the product needs to have a pH below 5.5.
If you are dead set against using a preservative, do so at your own risk. You’ll need to be very careful about keeping the bar in a very dry environment and making sure you can dry it out fully as quickly as possible.