How To Make Shampoo Bars Work For You

Image: LUSH

Ditching plastic packaging for solid shampoo and conditioner alternatives is a great way to cut down on your household waste. But how do you find a bar that’s as good for your hair as it is for the planet? Our team share their experiences from some of the most popular tried and tested products. 

It’s one of the most common and (seemingly) simple swaps you can make to cut down on plastic waste – and fortunately, there are plenty of other benefits to using shampoo and conditioner bars too. Lightweight, easy to carry and lasting up to three times as long as bottled alternatives, they have become my washbag essential for everything from weekends away to longer backpacking trips – but it wasn’t love at first wash. 

My first shampoo bar crumbled after a couple of goes; my second melted into a pool of yellow syrup. I’ve had colourful gunk leak from the dented tins I carry them in, and times when it’s seemed as though my hair has come out no cleaner and a second wash has been necessary.

Although it hasn’t always been a smooth ride, it’s one I refuse to give up on. With research revealing that 5.5 billion plastic bottles still head to landfil from household recycling collections ever year, brands are stepping up to the challenge and diversifying their eco-offerings. I put a few questions to some wannabe experts who have tried and tested some of the market’s best options to bring you top quality tips for naturally luscious locks. Here’s what I learnt.

Get to know your ingredients

This article is the closest I’ve come to a chemistry lesson for a while, so it’s safe to say you don’t need to be an expert to identify which ingredients you might want to avoid when purchasing. The big one to be aware of is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a surfactant that creates a fabulous but non eco-friendly foam. Unsurprisingly, it’s commonly used in shampoos. If you’re aiming for all-natural hair care, look for sulfate-free products with a gentler surfactant or blend of different ones; these will perform almost as well.

Image: Glasshouse Salon

When it comes to scent, do your research to check that the essential oils or other fragrances used are natural and responsibly sourced. If you’re not sure, ask; a lot of brands have extensive information about ingredient sourcing and production methods on their websites, so take time to read around the subject and don’t just buy the first you find.

How to make them work for you

In my experience, the key has been to persist with patience. I started by alternating between bars and bottled options, and depending on the season I still find this helps. In summer, shampoo bars see me through – in winter, my hair has needed a little extra boost, so I mix it up. Don’t treat bars as an all-or-nothing alternative, and find a routine that works for you. It’s progress, not perfection after all. 

So how do you make the journey a little smoother? Eco-Age’s sustainability consultant Fiona’s top tip: “Try out different options. My boyfriend tried a couple before finding the right one for his hair type, and he’s now also hooked.” She adds “don’t let the bar sit in water, and allow it to dry out sometimes otherwise it goes mushy.” I wish someone had told me this when I first started out.

“I sometimes wash my hair twice with shampoo bars because most are free from chemical surfactants (basically, chemicals that make water “wetter”) and this seems to build up more of a lather,” says sustainable fashion and texiles assistant Philippa, who agreed that drying your bar after use is essential.

If you’re unsure about where to start, speak to a hair care expert to decide which product will be best for you. London’s Glasshouse salon offers reduced-waste services, including the option to 

The first time I tried one, I quizzed the sales assistant until I was sufficiently reassured that no, she wasn’t lying and yes, she really did believe even I could make it work (look how that turned out…) London’s Glasshouse Salon has also recently introduced reduced-waste services including shampoo and conditioner bars too; “It has always been my highest priority to provide services that are as environmentally friendly as possible,” says founder Olivia Crighton.

 Here are some of the brands our team has tried and tested, and have continued to come back to over the years.

Beauty Kubes, from £9.50

Not quite a ‘bar’, Beauty Kubes‘ award-winning formula is a great plastic-free option. The Kubes are free from palm oil and palm derivatives, and use organic ingredients that are not tested on animals. Simply crumble one Kube before adding a little water to form a paste that can be rubbed through your hair. There are 27 Kubes in a box, and there are sulphate and silicon-free options for normal to dry or oily hair too.  

Suneeta, from £4.00

“My sister gave me this shampoo bar for my birthday and I used it for the first time last night,” says Philippa. “It’s from a handmade, natural cosmetics company in Brixton. I opened the plastic-free packaging and it smelled absolutely delicious, I’m obsessed with lemon scented things! Once in the bath, it built up a really nice lather – the best I’ve experienced in my own use of shampoo bars, almost parallel to my bottled chemical-ridden shampoo. I had a look at the accompanying leaflet that showcased the ingredients – I say “showcased” because I think they’re so great they need it – vegan, palm oil-free, handmade and free from all the nasty chemicals that are common in cosmetics.”

Lush, from £8

Fiona is a fan of LUSH’s shampoo selection. “Its products give a great lather and make my hair feel the same as it did from my previous bottled shampoo. I use a metal tin to store it in which is small and great for traveling with too.” Although LUSH is yet to fully move away from using SLS in its products, the brand clearly colour codes its ingredients to highlight which are not natural so you can quickly decide whether or not it’s the product for you. From coconut and lemon to peppermint and nettle, there are lots of combinations so ask for help from one of the lovely team when choosing yours.

Ethique, from $15

After my rocky road with solid shampoos, I was dubious that any could convince me to give plastic-free hair care another go. Ethique completely changed my mind. The equivalent of three bottles of shampoo, I tried the ‘Pinkalicious’ bar with coconut and grapefruit which smelled delicious and left my hair surprisingly soft. Using sodium coco sulfate rather than SLS, it’s a milder option with a palm-free surfactant. Follow this with ‘The Guardian’, a conditioner bar with cocoa butter and lime zest, and you’re on for a wash that will keep your hair fresh and fruity. 

Faith in Nature, £5.79

Sophie and Bea are fans of Faith in Nature’s refillable options, but the shampoo bar is one to try that won’t break the budget. Made with natural fragrance, the bars are free from parabens, suitable for vegans and made using organic certified ingredients to make sure that your shower will be as kind on your hair as it is on the planet. The small bar is ideal for travel or for starting off on your dry hair care adventure – particularly if you’ve used the bottled options before.

Bottega Zero Waste, £8

Favoured by the sustainably minded Glasshouse Salon, Bottega Zero Waste’s bar is sulphate-free and packed with vitamins. Using ingredients like nettle leaf powder, lemongrass and cleansing clays, the forumals are designed to make your hair shine naturally. Each bar is handmade and unique, and comes in compostable tissue paper too.