Are Shampoo Bars Better? Here Are Our Picks For Different Hair Needs

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Ever had a bad hair day? Right before an important meeting or event? Oh, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Having lush, bouncy hair gives instant confidence. That’s why many of us consider hair care as an essential part of our everyday routines.

But like everything we do, the very act of taking care of our hair impacts our environment.

Is it better to use a shampoo bar?

Shampoos and conditioners seem harmless. But we in this zero waste journey know that when it comes to these products, there are things that aren’t so great for the environment.

There are the surfactants and additives – you know, those ingredients that only chemists would know? They could contaminate water systems once the suds wash off into the drain.

But surfactants are not the main problem; it’s actually the unsustainable packaging. Plastic containers are still all too common for hair products.

Johnson & Johnson reports that around 552 million shampoo bottles end up in U.S. landfills. And only 1 in 5 people put recycling bins in their bathroom (there’s an idea!).

Sadly, even when plastic packaging is recycled, the process will still use energy, and the quality of plastic degrades once it’s recycled. It will still turn into microplastic that will pollute the environment.

Environmental impact studies also report that the weight of packaging also contributes to a product’s impact. The lower the amount of material used (i.e. solidified or concentrated form instead of liquids), the lower the production and transport requirements as well.

Making the switch

We’re so used to liquid shampoos and conditioners. But the truth is, traditional options just don’t cut it anymore.

Thankfully, there are many zero waste shampoo and conditioners now in the market. We’ve rounded up the best ones depending on your needs.

But first, let’s answer a few common questions you may have about switching to sustainable hair products:

Which common shampoo ingredients are harmful?

If you’re weirded out by the ingredients written on your shampoo bottle, you better be.

These ingredients aren’t good for yours and the earth’s health. They include: parabens (linked to growth of tumors), phthalates (linked to liver, kidney, lungs, and reproductive damage, among others), and fragrances (irritants), formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals (can cause skin sensitization, headaches, rash, etc.) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (can cause irritation or chemical burns).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS is usually lumped along these harmful chemicals, but so far research hasn’t confirmed that it really causes irritation and skin cancer. Of course, if you want less harsh ingredients in your shampoo then by all means choose sulfate-free.

Aside from these ingredients, check if a hair product contains palm oil. While it’s a natural ingredient, the palm oil industry is wrought with issues like deforestation, endangerment of species, contributing to climate change, and exploitative labor practices.

We prefer palm-oil free products. Oh, and don’t believe those ‘sustainable palm oil’ labels. Greenpeace reports that even the third party RSPO certification doesn’t ensure sustainable practices in the industry.

What will happen if I switch to shampoo and conditioner bars?

Well first, your hair will have some getting used to.

Whether you switch to sustainable liquid formulations or zero waste shampoo bars, these options tend to feel different than the shampoos we’ve known.

For example, cold-processed shampoo bars, made with natural oils, are free of sulfates and other additives. They will help condition your hair, but may also feel waxy, and can build up in your hair.

Why? Because soap, which is saponified oils and alkali, forms soap scum when used with water.

Experts suggest that rinsing with apple cider vinegar every so often will help eliminate the buildup.

There are also glycerin-based shampoo bars, like what Lush has here. These are formulated to be gentler and more pH balanced than soap-based bars. The downside is that they may not feel as clarifying as other shampoos. And you won’t have that fluffy lather with these bars.

The third option is the solid surfactant shampoo bar. This type could lather more while being pH balanced. But, it can be a bit too “clean” and clarifying for some hair types.

There’s no golden rule really, except to avoid the additives aforementioned. But since every body’s hair is different, you may want to try a few different kinds until you find what works best for your hair.

Our picks for sustainable shampoo and conditioner bars

These are our top picks for hair care that’s right for you and the environment:

Ethique

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You can’t miss out on Ethique if you’re looking to switch to shampoo bars. The New Zealand-based brand offers some of the best alternatives to commercial shampoos.

Ethique is a certified sustainable company. Even before their commitment to Amazon’s Climate Pledge – they have already built a name in manufacturing products that reduce waste and diminish carbon footprint.

They are especially working towards cutting on plastic packaging. To date, the brand has already curbed production of 9 million plastic bottles. And their goal is to reach 50 million by 2025.

Now about their products: Their Pinkalicious shampoo bar (for normal hair) gives a pretty good lather. We love the clarified feeling afterwards.

Their Guardian conditioner bar, meanwhile, feels a whole lot different than the typical creams, because it doesn’t give that coated feeling. You’ll have to rub the bar a couple of times especially if you have long, thick hair. But you definitely get the hydrated feeling after washing.

We personally love their sampler, as it readily gives you different hair products in one set: Frizz Wrangler, Heali Kiwi, Saint Clements, the Guardian, and the Wonderbar. You’ll definitely have one or two favorites after trying the sampler.

  • Recyclable packaging
  • Certified vegan
  • Palm oil free
  • Cruelty free
  • Fair trade
  • Carbon-neutral (one tree planted for every online order)
  • Pledges 20% of profits to charity

 Shop Ethique at Amazon.

Beauty and the Bees

Beauty and the Bees is a zero waste brand that sources premium natural ingredients from Tasmania, Australia.

The brand is 25 years old and has committed to using pure and natural ingredients and processes – long before ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ became fashionable.

You can find curious ingredients like organic olive oil, biodynamic Tasmanian herbs, Tasmanian hop, and unpasteurized Leatherwood honey, unique to the island.

No plastics, hardeners, petrochemicals and synthetic additives, and animal products.

One of their crowd favorites is the Tasmanian Real Beer shampoo and conditioner. These have that rich formula ideal for dry hair.

The shampoo leaves a thorough clean, while the conditioner moisturizes and detangles well. But be careful not to overdo it (and it’s pretty easy to do) as it is a concentrated bar. Less is more!

But in case you do, a good apple cider vinegar rinse will do the trick.

  • Handmade
  • Certified vegan (for selected products)
  • Palm oil free
  • Cruelty free
  • Ethically sourced ingredients
  • Recyclable packaging

Shop Beauty and the Bees at Amazon.

Andreas Organic Market

Andreas Organic Market is an Oklahoma-based, zero waste brand. Their shampoo bars are fragrance-free, zero waste, and are made using the cold-pressed method, saving water in the process.

The brand offers over 50 different skincare products, but their shampoo bars have acquired thousands of rave reviews.

What do we like about them? Well, these bars are rich in the good stuff – your hair feels pampered after each use. Some of the ingredients include: olive oil, jojoba oil, unrefined extra virgin coconut oil, all of which are super moisturizing. If you’ve had issues with dry scalp and dandruff, you may want to try their shampoo bars.

As for the brand’s sustainable cred, Andreas Organic Market manufactures all natural, non-toxic products. The company even has its own on-site compost bin. All packaging and shipping materials are biodegradable. While they still use plastic pumps or sprays for their liquid products, they have a refill option with a recyclable cap. And any products that do not pass quality checks are donated to local churches instead of being discarded.

  • Cruelty-free
  • Palm oil free
  • Compostable and recycled packaging
  • Certified vegan
  • Ethically sourced ingredients

You can shop the brand on Etsy.

Upfront Cosmetics

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Upfront Cosmetics is a Canadian brand that specializes in plastic-free, sustainable products. Their shampoo and conditioning bars are 65 grams of concentrated ingredients – without the water weight or plastic packaging added to the environmental footprint.

We tried the Refreshing Shampoo bar, a sulfate- and paraben-free product that cleans your locks and hits you with a refreshing scent of lemon, rosemary and lavender. It lathers nicely and has a balanced pH level.

And if you have colored hair you’ll appreciate their hydrating formulation without the greasy feel.

  • No animal testing
  • Certified vegan
  • Palm oil free
  • No synthetic fragrances and additives
  • Zero waste packaging

Shop Upfront Cosmetics here.

Find what sustainable shampoo and conditioner works for you

Commercial products out there have made us believe that we need strong hair formulas to maintain healthy hair.

But in this zero waste lifestyle, we’re now more knowledgeable.

This is just a big myth!

Not only are sustainable shampoo bars more environmentally sound, they keep your hair healthy without unnecessary substances.

Our brands list shows you’ve got a range of options for whatever your hair needs.

Which sustainable shampoo brand is your favorite and why?

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