Are All-Natural Shampoo Bars Good for You?
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I I I spent the whole year of 2014 trying all kinds of shampoos. As a result, I ruined my hair but also learned a lot. For example, I learned how to read the ingredients for any shampoo and predict accurately how it will work on my hair. I also concluded back then that so-called all-natural shampoo bars don’t work for my hair, because they leave soap residue making my hair greasy.
Thus, even though using an all-natural shampoo bar is the best option from an environmental and health standpoint, I had to go back to conventional shampoos in plastic bottles.
My recent experience with an all-natural shampoo bar
5 years later, I keep hearing from some of you how much you like your all-natural shampoo bars. So, I decided to give it another try. Since we recently installed a whole house water filter (yay!), I was hoping that it would make a difference.
And, I have never used any shampoo on my 6-year-old son. I use regular bar soap on him, and his hair is shiny, light, and non-greasy.
Unfortunately, the same problem occurred, and even worse. After one wash, there was soap residue left in my hair, making it look greasy, dirty, and heavy. My scalp was itching so badly that I could not wait to wash my hair with shampoo.
With this said, all-natural shampoo bars are the healthiest option, because they are made with simple ingredients, the way soaps have been made for centuries. More on this below. Moreover, they do not pollute the environment. Plus, they really do work for a lot of people. So, I am going to tell you more about them. Maybe you will be inspired to try them, and you will love using them as much as many other people do.
What are all-natural shampoo bars?
A shampoo bar looks like a bar of soap. An all-natural shampoo bar is made by the same process of saponification as a soap bar. Saponification is a reaction of plant oil with an alkali — in this case sodium hydroxide. The alkali does not remain in the final product.
The principal difference between a shampoo bar and a bar of soap is that in an all-natural shampoo bar, you will find oils that are beneficial for the health of hair.
Besides saponified oils, an all-natural shampoo bar will normally contain other plant oils that have not gone through the process of saponification. These oils are normally coconut oil or argan oil.
Why use an all-natural shampoo bar?
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’m a big fan of saponified soaps because they are free of animal testing, toxins, and untested chemicals. Saponification is the process used for making soap for hundreds of years.
Recently, there has been a proliferation of synthetic surfactants (cleansers) widely used in shampoos, toothpastes, liquid dish soaps, and laundry detergents, to name a few. While we use them in so many places, most of them have not been studied enough to assure their safety.
Some synthetic surfactants have received bad press, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). Another, Cocamide DEA, has been added to the California Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. Cocamidopropyl Betaine, a very common surfactant in so-called “natural”, “organic”, and “green” shampoos, is known to cause allergic skin reactions in some people. The American Society of Contact Dermatitis lists Cocamidopropyl Betaine as one of the core allergens, even in concentrations as low as 1%. Due to high rates of cases involving allergic reactions, it was named the 2004 Allergen of the Year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Other surfactants might be as bad but have not been widely studied for their impact on human health and the environment.
Since all-natural shampoo bars don’t have these synthetic surfactants, they are potentially much healthier for you. Neither do they have preservatives, which are often a cause for concern. You can read more about preservatives here.
Lastly, by using an all-natural shampoo bar, you avoid using plastic bottles that pollute the environment, and which may leach synthetic estrogen into the shampoo. Also, you won’t be paying for transportation of water in the shampoo (which is heavy and, therefore, costly to transport). And you won’t be buying ingredients that are needed only for liquid shampoo. For more discussion about bar soap versus liquid soap, visit my post here.
How I used an all-natural shampoo bar
- Apply it to the scalp directly and lather by gently massaging your scalp (you do not have to apply it to the ends of the hair)
- Rinse your hair
- Rinse with organic apple cider vinegar solution. I recommend a 1:3 ratio of organic apple cider vinegar to filtered water. With a 1:1 solution, you might get a brassy color in your hair.
Which all-natural shampoo bar to use?
I would suggest trying J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Shampoo Bar. This solid shampoo bar has a ton of positive Amazon reviews. I verified with fakespot.com to make sure that they are not fake. The company gets a rating of A on fakespot.com, which is great.
The all-natural shampoo bar ingredients are as follows:
Saponified Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Castor Oil and Sunflower Oil; Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Argan Oil, Vit. E
– NO FRAGRANCE ADDED –
You can buy this natural shampoo bar on Amazon.
What is next?
I encourage you to try an all-natural shampoo bar that is made with saponified plant oils. If you have tried a shampoo bar and know that it does not work for you, check out the shampoo I am currently using.
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I experienced the same drying effect with bar shampoo. I have only ever tried bar shampoo from Lush and loved them at first but the oil buildup was unbearable. Guess it was my hard water.
I had a similar experience when I tried the Whole Foods 365 liquid shampoo so unfortunately I am also back to more conventional shampoo (although still sulfate and paraben free).
It is good to know. Thank you, Danielle. What shampoo are you using now? Do you like it?
Currently, Moroccan Oil Volumizing shampoo and the conditioner. Previously I used their moisturizing shampoo/conditioner and liked it. I accidentally bought the volumizing this time and don’t like it as much (the shampoo leaves my scalp a bit dry). Even with this expensive shampoo I find myself using cheaper toxic shampoo to combat the buildup. I’ve also tried a few from Aveda but their ingedient list is not much better than brands from the big box stores.
I used Roots deep conditioner from Lush before and it helped combat the scalp dryness and lack of shine some. However, at almost $20 for about 3 treatments I find it not worth the cost. The vinegar rinse did not help me especially since my hair tends to turn brassy. Coconut oil was too much of hassle and I didn’t notice a difference. Same thing with baking soda.
Moroccan Oil does not have ingredients on their website… Sounds like we have been going through the same thing. It is so hard to find a great shampoo. I am hoping to be able to publish a list of shampoos that worked for me and are the cleanest in the industry.
As I commented in your other no-poo post, I switched from baking soda to an organic shampoo bar from Tropical Traditions and have loved it. I have been non-selective about which soap bar I used in the shower. I do buy 100% natural and 100% organic, when available, soap bars, so I am confident that the ingredients are not toxic. I have not noticed a difference between a shampoo bar and a regular soap bar though. My hair is healthier though! 🙂
Do you have hard or soft water?
We have hard water. No issues with lather. I have noticed that there has been some soap build up in the hair. For a long time, I thought it was sebum residue/build up, but after reading this post, I am thinking that it’s soap build up. I don’t keep conventional shampoos in the home anymore, so I will probably try the baking soda method to remove it.
Good for you! Thank you for saying that.
I too heard bar soap in general is more drying than liquid this was regarding body soap. So that makes me nervous. Let me know what you find out I might try bar soap. I was washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar but after a year or two i grew tired of mixing it every time i had to wash my hair (every 2-3 days) and hearing my hubby complain of the vinegar smell. It also seemed to irritate my already dry, dry flaking scalp. Now I have now been using Dr. Bronner’s soap as shampoo for last few months. I noticed a build up and had to use regular shampoo once. Wondering if i’ll have to do that every several weeks. I have thick, curly, dry hair and lots of it; what do you do besides vinegar rinse for a “conditioner”? I have to have conditioner on the ends.
Hi Teresa, it is great to hear from you! I do not think you need to be nervous about bar soap being too drying. I have tried baking soda too and I believe bar soap is not more drying than baking soda. There are other things at play here : diet, general health, whether you have filters in your shower. Have you tried using oils on your dry ends? You might benefit a lot from argan oil. I know what you mean about vinegar. They say it does not smell but it does. Let me know how it goes with Dr.Bronner’s soap. I got a little tired of experimenting on my hair. I never knew if my hair would be clean. And I am so busy – can’t wash my hair all day long. I am trying to find a conventional shampoo now that does not have toxins (to a minimum). And I will post my findings soon. Please keep in touch.
Hi, I have been using Oil of Morrocco shampoo and conditioner and have seen a real (positive) difference in my hair, which has been color-treated for many years and was getting pretty dry and fly-away. However, I’m pretty sure it has toxic ingredients in it because I bought it at Walgreens :(. No sulfates, but otherwise it’s probably full of some kind of crap. My hair is the last frontier for me; since I’ve been coloring it for so long, and don’t want to deal with the growing out just yet, I feel captive to the vagaries of the cosmetics industry. But I most certainly won’t pay the astronomical prices of the salon shampoos anymore, since they are no better and in some cases might be worse.
I know what you mean about hair. When I recommend a non-toxic product, I always make sure that it is effective too. That’s why I could not stick to bar shampoo or baking soda. I do want to look good! 🙂 What I am thinking about doing (like what I did with baby wipes) is to create a list of shampoos that work in the order of least toxic to most toxic. Is the shampoo you are talking about this one? http://www.drugstore.com/marc-anthony-true-professional-oil-of-morocco-argan-oil-shampoo/qxp396770
I’ve been using Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) daily shampoo (every other day) for years and love it. I recall the ingredients list is shorter than conventional shampoos so that’s a start. It’s not tested on animals, hence the name. http://www.beautywithoutcruelty.com/
I’ve also used J.R. Liggett’s bar shampoo for a long time and liked it for it’s ease, minimal packaging and “naturalness” but can’t remember why I stopped. Possibly because of build up. Now I’m living in the Netherlands and have run out of BWC and have tried some German “natural” shampoos. I haven’t found one I like as much yet…
Here is a list of its ingredients: (Aromatherapy Hair Care Daily Benefits Shampoo)
Purified water, sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate, cocoamidopropyl betaine, Aloe
barbadensis (aloe) leaf juice*, Cympobogon flexuosus (lemongrass) oil*, Citrus
aurantium (sweet orange) oil*, Lavandula hybrida (lavandin) oil*, Betula alba
(birch) leaf extract, Betula alba (birch) sap extract, Melilotus officinalis
(clover) blossom extract, Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) extract, Equisetum
arvense (horsetail) extract, Urtica dioica (nettle) extract, Achillea
millefolium (yarrow) extract, Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) extract, Salvia
officinalis (sage) extract, inositol, soy protein, panthenol, hydrolysed soy
protein, niacin, yeast extract, citric acid, phospholipids, sodium benzoate,
potassium sorbate, ethyl hexyl glycerin. *organic 10% Organic Content.
Hi Annette, thank you for sharing. They obviously do a lot of things right. The main concern I have with this product is about foaming/cleaning agents (surfactant). Sodium c14-16 olefin sulfonate is one of the surfactants we know very little about. Cocoamidopropyl betaine is better studied but is associated with contact dermatitis. I try to avoid products with it because of that. It is so hard with shampoos. But we will keep trying. Thank you again for your help! Keep in touch!
I switched over to bar soap about a year ago, and I will never go back to conventional shampoo laced with a bunch of unhealthy chemicals. Years ago doctor told me I had psoriasis on the back of my scalp and that I’d have to live with the incredible itchy and flakey patch. I was paying so much money using top of the line “organic” shampoos to combat this issue. My first week of using a bar soap followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse all of my scalp issues went away. I had to try a few different types of soap and I figure out a better wash/rinse method before I became overjoyed with the results. My water was fine, but the first soap bar left residue, I switched to another type from the same company and started using exfoliating bath gloves to work the soap into a lather and then apply it to my hair. It helped my hair get cleaner and it also makes my soap bar last much longer. Another thing I found out is that you really have to rinse your hair really really well and vigorously, and the gloves helped with that too. Not bad for only having to wash my hair once to twice a week now. It’s amazing, my hair produces less oil, and has more volume (no longer stringy fine hair). I love it. Here’s the family-owed company I buy most from: http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/products/for-the-hair/shampoo-bars. I use the Café Moreno bar, and the company sells trial sized bars to help you find a good fit for your hair. Happy bar shampooing!
Hi Irina – do you have any bar shampoo recommendations that can be purchased from Amazon? Thank you!!!
What do you think about the “Everyday Shea Shampoo” by Fair for Life/Alaffia ?
Hi, Margaret: could you send me a list of ingredients or a link to the product page with the ingredients? Thanks! ~Irina
I love your blog and have found it to be so helpful.
In regards to the natural shampoo bar not working for you, did you do a lemon juice/apple cider diluted in water rinse? (2-3TBspoons in a large water bottle’s worth of water). This was crucial for me, it left my hair lovely and shiny with no soap residue. The acidity counteracts the alkalinity of the soap and prevents build up. You should give it a go (if you are still interested), also it may take time, I know people who had a similar problem even using the rinse, but which went away after 4 weeks of consistent use. Perhaps your hair needed to adjust? I’m not sure, and I know some simply don’t work for people, but I am very happy with mine, although occasionally I use a Lush shampoo bar every now and again.
Hope you find your perfect shampoo! 🙂
Thank you, Erin. I’m so glad you use a soap-based shampoo bar with success. Yes, I used a vinegar rinse. ~Irina
Has anyone tried Acure’s Coconut and Argon Shampoo bar?
I have extremely dry skin and would like to use it as both a shampoo and body wash.
Hi, Irene: I have not. If you have extremely dry skin, soap-based cleansers might not work for you. However, it also depends as to why you have dry skin, to begin with. ~Irina
Noooooo. Nonono. I tried J. R. Liggett once and threw it away because I didn’t want any of my friends (or enemies!) having the same terrible experience. How can hair be both greasy and frizzy at the same time!? But I hate using all those plastic bottles so I recently gave in to the hype and tried the shampoo bar from 100 Senses. It’s great for me – it lathers really well and leaves my hair feeling clean and not weighed down. This is encouraging so next I will try the shampoo bar from Acure, whose other products work well for me.
Hi, Myra: Thank you for sharing! Apparently there is a transition period. Some of my clients report that it took them as long as 4 months to fully transition. ~Irina
Hi! I’ve been (mostly) no-poo since 2014 or so with occasional bouts with shampoo when I have a new baby and haven’t been able to keep up with my regular hair care routine which is usually worth the extra effort, in my opinion. What I did first to transition from shampoo to no shampoo was gradually extend the time between washes and add a vinegar rinse after each shampoo (I use a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar to water. I use white vinegar because it is slightly less acidic than acv and it’s cheaper.) Once I got to the point where I couldn’t go any longer between shampoos (about a week for me), I added a vinegar rinse in the middle. Voila! I could go longer without shampooing. At this point, I just tried to do a vinegar rinse every time my hair started looking greasy and it worked. However, I have a trick to doing this. I use a natural boar bristle brush religiously. I brush 100 strokes (usually in the morning), being sure to go from scalp to ends on every stroke. This distributes the oil and removes dry skin and other stuff that gets in your hair. I think that brushing thoroughly was probably how they went ages between washings in the old days. If I don’t brush this much, or don’t get to every part of my scalp, my head starts itching and my hair starts looking greasy and pretty much my only recourse is to rinse it again with vinegar water (though a vigorous brushing helps!) Using this method, I can go months without using soap in my hair. I do use Kiss My Face Olive Oil soap on my roots about once a month in the summer when I’m sweating or swimming and my hair gets yucky faster. I rinse extra carefully with vinegar water (2 times usually) to be sure to get the soap all out. I might need to do another vinegar rinse mid week if I left some residue, but between the rinses and brushing, I should be back to normal pretty quickly. One final thought: I wasn’t able to do this with much success until I chopped my hair off. I grew it back long doing this and didn’t stop until right after I had my first baby. Then I went back to shampoo for a while and was almost back to a good no-poo routine when I had my second and I went back to shampoo. I’m in the middle of weaning off shampoo again which hopefully won’t take too much longer!
Hi, have you ever tried The Ultimate Body Bar from 100Senses? I switched to this for soap & shampoo attempting to find something healthy and non-plastic and it makes my skin and hair feel great. I never had any issues needing a “transition” period. However, I do use the green tea scent and was wondering if it was healthy. I’ve copied the ingredient information from their website below:
100% Soap-Free. No harsh or drying ingredients for skin, scalp and hair. No Sulfates, Parabens, Phthalates, Silicones, Gluten, Palm Oil, Animal Products or Artificial Dyes. Noncomedogenic, dermatologist approved, ideal for all skin types and safe for color-treated hair. No animal testing, ever. 100% Cruelty Free.
Fragranced Bars: A proprietary and moisturizing blend of sodium cocoyl isethionate (derived from coconut oil), stearic acid (from cocoa butter and shea butter), coconut fatty acid, coco glucoside, water/aqua/eau, argania spinosa (argan) kernel oil, panthenol (pro-vitamin b5), camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf extract (antioxidants), green tea essential oil, citrus aurantium (neroli) essential oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) essential oil, sucrose cocoate, aloe vera, glycerin, sodium PCA, parfum (fragrance blend with natural and essential oils)
Fragrance-Free Bar: A proprietary and moisturizing blend of sodium cocoyl isethionate (derived from coconut oil), stearic acid (from cocoa butter and shea butter), coconut fatty acid, coco glucoside, water/aqua/eau, argania spinosa (argan) kernel oil, panthenol (pro-vitamin b5), camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf extract (antioxidants), sucrose cocoate, aloe vera, glycerin, sodium PCA.
Hi, Laurie! The ingredients mostly look fine, except “parfum.” Please, read my post about natural fragrance: https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/natural-fragrance-safe/