I’ve got one of those heads of hair that you hate in the summer (when it adds pounds of weight and heat to your head) and love in the winter (when it adds so much insulation that you don’t need a hat). I cut my hair when I get tangled up in it trying to sit down, and HATE split ends, frizzy fly-aways… and used to dread washing it. About 15 years ago I started using “natural” shampoos thinking that I was avoiding chemicals, but once I started making my own handmade soap I quickly learned that commercial shampoos are nothing more than detergents (i.e. chemicals).
I researched natural alternatives to shampoo, tried the no-poo method (quite successfully for a year or two) and then a light when off. Why can’t I wash my hair with my handmade soap?
Well, technically you can wash your hair with any soap, but it’s not always the best thing for your locks. One year of research and formulation later… enter my shampoo bars. Let’s dive in and learn why you would want to use a shampoo bar, what exactly one is, and (more importantly) how to use one so you can have lovely, chemical free, locks of hair.
What the heck is a shampoo bar?
Shampoo bars are simply a bar of soap specifically formulated for hair. All additives are aimed at nourishing your hair and the bar is formulated for extra thick lather to help you wash out dirt and oils. And as an added bonus, a shampoo bar does not require plastic bottles that could end up in a landfill.
Why not just use traditional shampoo?
I’m sure 99.9% of you grew up with a bottle of shampoo and conditioner alongside a bar of soap in the shower, so why change? Well… traditional shampoos are pretty scary stuff once you look at what’s in them (at least to me). This article from I Read Labels for You lists the following six dangers lurking in shampoos, and I think sums it up pretty well. Here’s a quick rundown, but I highly recommend that you read the full article:
- Commercial Shampoos can have Carcinogens (you know, those little things that can cause cancer). Even worse, some of them are derived from coconut oil, and can be listed as derived from coconut oil on the label, but it’s not our friendly coconut oil by the time it’s in the product.
- They can contain preservatives. Whenever you put water in a product, you must must MUST add a preservative to avoid bacterial growth. There’s no way around it. With a shampoo bar, no additional water is added, so we don’t need preservatives which may lead to other health issues and end up going down the drain just to show up in our drinking water, crops, fish, and more.
- Synthetic cleansing and foaming agents anyone? Apart from them being synthetic, they strip your hair of natural oils. This weakens your hair in the long-term and can even lead to greasy hair (from your hair shafts over-producing oils to replace the ones you stripped out).
- Conditioning agents (to “fix” the stripping from the foaming agents). In addition to the chemical based detergent, more chemicals added to try to repair the harm the shampoo did. Yes, these do leave your hair LOOKING shiny, glossy, silky, and smooth, but only because your hair is actually coated in synthetic chemicals that cover up the weak strands (and might even lead to hair loss down the road).
- Artificial fragrances. This one always bothered me… I don’t want my hair to smell like strawberries. And, if it does, that’s a sure sign that your hair is full of chemicals. And, did you know that “fragrance” listed on a label can be ANYTHING? In the US, companies are not required to disclose ingredients added to make their products smell nice (or to mask the bad scents).
- Artificial and potentially toxic dyes. Shampoo (or any soap for that matter), isn’t pink, neon orange, or bright green without the addition of an artificial colorant. Even FDA approved dyes commonly found in foods are associated with hyperactive kids.
WOW, all of that just to wash your hair? Now, you understand why I looked for an alternative.
Washing (and conditioning) your hair with a natural shampoo bar.
Washing hair with a “bar” of soap may seem a bit odd to some, but once the bar lathers up you’ll love it! A nice lather will come from a balanced blend of the right oils, and friction. Lucky for you, your hair makes for great friction (and my shampoo bars are formulated for lather).
Step 1: Cleanse
Lather up your bar of shampoo just like any bar of soap, relish in the mounds of chemical-free bubbles, and scrub away! I also keep the bar in the palm of my hand while I scrub with my fingers, but if you don’t have a much hair as I do (lucky you!) you can probably put is back on the soap dish.
Rinse out all of the shampoo being careful not to get any in your eyes, or your kids eyes. It’s not a horrible burn but it is soap and not the chemical tear-free soap in a bottle of baby shampoo. So, just keep it out of your eyes.
Step 2: Clarify
A clarifying rinse of apple cider vinegar will help rinse away all of the grime and help tame frizz. An acidic rinse will smooth the hair shaft down after the alkaline soap (your shampoo bar) raised the scales to get everything clean. You can use lemon juice, vinegar (white or apple cider, I use apple cider), or even kombucha.
My recipe is 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water. I mix up 4 cups of the rinse in a large bowl and take it into the shower with me. Then after the first rinse, I dip my hair into it, squish the mounds of hair around, pour the rest over my head and rinse it all out.
Step 3: Condition
On a normal day, I don’t do anything to my hair other than wash and rinse. As long as I smooth down the shafts of my hair, and keep a healthy diet, my hair follicles produce enough oils to keep my hair happy and healthy. But with such long hair, it sometimes needs some extra moisturizing (which is what conditioners too).
- Once a week I use a conditioner bar. Similar to a shampoo bar, the conditioner bar is a natural alternative to traditional conditioners (and uses a lot less packaging). To use, you just glide the bar over your hair, massage in, then rinse after a few minutes.
- About once every 4-6 weeks, I treat my locks with a hair-loving deep conditioning treatment. Using some shavings from the conditioner bar, I make a creamy hair treatment to leave on for about 20-30 minutes before washing out.
- If you have extra dry or damaged hair, the conditioner bar can be applied to the damp hair as a leave-in conditioner too.
The Breaking in Period
Yes, there is a “breaking in” period. You see, you’ve been damaging your hair all of these years with chemicals and commercial shampoos that cover up the damage and cover your hair shaft with silicon. Depending on the condition of your hair, it could take 2-6 weeks (or more) to have a truly healthy head of hair. And, you could end up with a few weeks of “oh my, I need a hat!”. But, in my experience (and others —see below!), this hasn’t been the case.
If you want to wash out the synthetic covering in one go, first wash your hair with baking soda. Just mix up a paste, and wash your hair with it. Follow up with a wash with the shampoo bar and Apple Cider Vinegar rinse.
If your hair is damaged, give it a deep conditioning treatment with a conditioner bar. If you find it hard to wash out, whisk up an egg and give your hair an egg wash to break up and rinse out the oils.
Handmade Shampoo Bars—they really do work!
And now for the fun part… I asked my soapy friends in SNIF (Soap-making with Natural Ingredients Forum) on Facebook to share their lovely bars of handmade shampoo, and their experiences with them. I wanted to give you some insight as to how people use them and how different hair types react to them. These bars are similar to mine, but not the same. We were all inspired by the wonderful Liz Arlady’s shampoo bar shampoo bar and I must give credit where credit is due! Her insight and original recipe saved me months of formulation! I only kept two of the oils that Liz used and altered the formula quite a bit, but it’s a gem!
I don’t follow with anything afterward anymore! I tried everything from ACV to every ‘natural’ conditioner under the sun, even a whipped balm with tallow in it for a while (that really worked kind of nice but that’s a story for another day lol) I finally gave it all up when my husband (who was just using the bar alone) had the softest, most lovely hair ever! I stopped doing anything but washing and just leaving it ALONE after a shower and I couldn’t be happier!! ~ Cassie
Made Liz recipe all organic with some substitutions. My rinse is infused ACV with hibiscus peppermint rosemary nettle oat straw horsetail…2 TBL of ACV 2 TBL of aloe juice 1 cup of water in spray bottle used in a week…Fine loose curls oily…but no longer and has become thicker and grays are glittery LOL color stays longer also (henna). ~ Sam
The members of my family have very different hair. From thin to strong and from curly to straight. I made Lizardlady’s shampoo bar and everybody loves it. …We do not rinse our hair after washing, it feels simply good. We use normal bars in the shower and take smaller ones with us when we do sport. ~Anne
This one has henna powder and rosemary essential oil. I don’t use a rinse, but do find if I take a hairbrush into the shower and use it while rinsing, it helps separate the strands and you can rinse better. I have fine, very thick, long hair. ~ Lisa
My HP ACV shampoo bars aren’t pretty, but I really like how they leave my curly hair. I use a diluted vinegar rinse although not always. It seems my henna color lasts longer, my hair is not as frizzy as before and it’s even more relaxed and manageable. ~ Ceci
I have very fine and thin hair and my husband has very thick hair. I have also passed some out to friends and family and they all love it. We all use an ACV rice after because we have very very hard water. ~Jordan
We have been using the ACV shampoo bars for a couple months now. 3 different hair types…..very thick and long colored hair, a 3-year-old with fine hair and long loose curls, and a 4-year-old who looks like a mini Tina Turner. We have tried not using anything as a rinse. Worked ok, then tried an ACV rinse. Worked great as a conditioner and made it much easier to comb through all 3 hair types, but have now switched to a white vinegar and water rinse with the same results as the ACV rinse, but no stink like the ACV rinse had. We definitely won’t be going back to commercial shampoo or conditioner in this house! ~Kate
I’ve only started using acv shampoo bars. I have thick curly long hair and I rinse once a week with ACV. My hair has never felt better and my whole extended family is using it too. ~Caroline
So there you have it! Everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t want to know) about shampoo!
You can grab one of my shampoo bars and conditioner bars to start growing your lovely locks today or try your hand at making your own shampoo with the famous Liz Arlady recipe. Either way, you’ll soon have a healthy head of chemical-free hair! And… be sure to post your results in the comments below!