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Shampoo Bars: What They Are, How They Work And Why We Need Them

·5-min read
(Photo: HiBar)
(Photo: HiBar)

If you think you’re already doing your part to reduce plastic use, take a quick peek inside your shower stall. See those plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner? No judgment, but ahem.

The good news is there’s another, more eco-friendly way to cleanse that magnificent mane of yours. The growing category of shampoo bars is gaining in popularity with folks who want to do the right thing, but who also want their hair to look its absolute best at all times (so, pretty much everybody).

One shampoo bar = Three plastic shampoo bottles

Shampoo bars are a small but significant step in our quest to reduce plastic proliferation. The makers of these bars say their products are essentially all the good parts of shampoo (the stuff that gets your hair clean and beautiful) without a bunch of non-essential water added — and with no plastic bottle required.

“Liquid shampoo contains 80 to 90% water,” Superzero founder and co-CEO Conny Wittke told HuffPost. “The amount of plastic used in the beauty industry is significant, creating 120 billion units of plastic packaging waste every year globally. In the United States, 552 million plastic shampoo bottles are sold every year. But overall, less than 10% of the plastic we create gets recycled.”

Removing the water from shampoo formulations leaves consumers with one small bar that can contain the equivalent of up to three bottles of shampoo, enough for up to 80 washes, depending on the brand. Then there’s the issue of what it takes to get that bottle transported from a factory to your shower stall. “Because you get more product for less weight and volume with shampoo bars, there are fewer greenhouse gases generated during shipping,” Wittke said.

How significant is that impact? “One of our shampoo bars has just 8% of the carbon footprint of the equivalent liquid product,”said Brianne West, founder and CEO of Ethique. Allison Teasdale, the chief operating officer ofUnwrapped Life, noted: “We’ve diverted more than 4.5 million plastic bottles from entering our oceans, and we’re committed to preventing more than 20 million plastic bottles by 2025.”

Is there a shampoo bar in your future? It seems likely. “Everyone who uses shampoo eventually will use them,” said HiBar co-founder Dion Hughes. “I foresee a time when using shampoo from plastic bottles is as uncool as lighting a cigarette in a restaurant.”

You’ve got to let go of the ‘theater of lather’

You’ll need to manage your expectations with your first few bar uses, starting with the volume of lather you’re likely to see. There’s a “theater of lather” that we’ve come to expect from our cleansing products, but the additives that provide a rich lather aren’t necessarily proof of super-deep cleaning. “Lather is not so much a cleansing effect as a reassuring effect,” Hughes said.

“You’ll notice that your shampoo bar will suds up, but it’s not like the kind of foam you see in a beer commercial, more just a creamy lather,” Shambar founder Jeffrey Qaiyum told HuffPost. “If you’re getting that much foam from a shampoo bar, frankly, you’re using a bar of soap with the word ‘shampoo’ slapped on the label.”

It might take some getting used to

How that small, hard bar will translate into a good shampoo might seem confusing at first, but after a few tries, you’ll get the hang of it. “Just swoosh the entire bar around on your head,” said Erica Vega, brand and product expert for Lush Cosmetics USA . “If your hair is prone to tangles, rub it in your hands first, then rub the lather in, the way you would do with a liquid shampoo.”

After rinsing and drying, your hair might look a little different than the way it does after a traditional shampoo, at least at first. Shampoo bars tend to be gentler than shampoo, so you’ll need to let your hair adjust to that milder cleansing, or you might eventually need to switch up the timing and frequency of your shampoos. “For some people, it takes two to three weeks to ‘break in’ and let the hair become normalized after years of having natural oils stripped away by shampoos,” said James R. Liggett, president and founder of J. R. Liggett’s.

What about conditioner?

Whether you’ll need a conditioner bar is a matter of your particular hair type. Someone with short hair might be just fine, but those with thicker, longer or curlier hair might want to use one.

“Many people with curly hair choose not to use shampoo in favor of co-washing, which is washing with conditioner,” West said. She noted that those products also have eco-benefits. “One of our conditioner bars is equivalent to five bottles of liquid conditioner,” she added.

Travel, shave and even wash the dog with your shampoo bar

Because of their compact size, shampoo bars make sense for travel. They eliminate worries about Transportation Security Administration requirements because — ta-da! — you’ve ditched the liquid altogether. Whether you’re staying at a luxury hotel or at a campsite, you’ll also find that a shampoo bar is a good in-a-pinch way to care for hand-washable clothing when you’re on the road.

People can use the bars on their entire bodies, or as a replacement for shaving cream. And you can break them out when it’s time to wash pets, too. No matter what you’re doing with your own particular bar, “They’re absolutely gentle enough to use every day,” Qaiyum said.

Shampoo bars to try

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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