The Pros and Cons of Switching to Shampoo Bars

Are you concerned about your shampoo and conditioner bottles polluting the environment? How about the effect that chemicals in these products may have on your body? If so, it may be time to consider trying a shampoo bar.

What is a Shampoo Bar?

There are two basic types of shampoo bars: conventional shampoo in solid form and soap-based.

The former generally include SLS, the common acronym for sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureate sulfate. These ingredients are surfactants, which simply means that they create bubbles to "lift" dirt and oil from your hair and scalp. Because SLS in all its forms is a detergent, it rinses from your hair easily, without leaving any residue.

The safety of SLS, for consumers and for the environment, has been widely debated in the media, chat rooms and social media. But a 2015 scientific article published by Environ Health Insights concludes that SLS generally isn't harmful to humans or the environment when directions on commercial formulations, like shampoo, are followed. Basically, the concentration of SLS in these products is low and consumers rinse them off almost immediately.

Soap-based shampoo bars, on the other hand, are SLS free. They are made of saponified oils such as coconut, olive or palm. They often include essential oils like rosemary or peppermint to enhance their fragrance while providing purported hair and scalp benefits.

The Benefits of Using a Shampoo Bar

Both types of shampoo bars are better for the environment in that they aren't packaged in plastic. According to healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, the number of plastic shampoo bottles discarded annually in the U.S. alone could fill almost 1,200 football fields! Most shampoo bars either come "naked" (unwrapped) or in a simple cardboard box or brown paper bag.

Shampoo bars are extremely economical and convenient. A single SLS-based shampoo bar can last up to 80 uses. You can use the same soap-based shampoo bar to cleanse your hair and your body. And because both SLS-based and soap-based shampoo bars are solid, you don't have to include them in your liquid product quota when you travel by air.

The Cons of Using a Shampoo Bar

Switching to an SLS-based shampoo bar should be effortless, since they're basically the same commercial shampoo that you're used to, without the liquid. Simply wet your hair, gently glide the shampoo bar over your head a few times, lather and rinse.

On the other hand, there is a learning curve to using soap-based shampoo bars. Because they are simply a super-fatted soap, they may leave a soapy residue in your hair. Also, your hair may feel heavy and waxy and have less "slip" than when you use a conventional shampoo. This is because soap-based shampoo bars are alkaline, and gently raise the cuticles of your hair.

The solution to all of these issues is to use an acid-based rinse to smooth the hair's cuticles. After shampooing, rinse well with copious amounts of water. You should rinse at least twice as long as when you use a conventional shampoo. Then apply a mixture of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water to your hair.

The amount of acid, in this case, ACV, that you need will vary based on the hardness of your water (how concentrated the minerals are). Start with a tablespoon in eight ounces of water and titrate the amount of ACV up until you find a ratio that works for you.

In addition to removing soap residue, an acid rinse will make detangling easier and make your hair super shiny. You can leave the acid rinse in or rinse it out.

Many people report that ACV's smell dissipates shortly after a wash, but others claim that it lingers. If the fragrance bothers you, try adding a few drops of your favorite essential oils to the vinegar bottle. You may also choose to use another acid entirely. The smell of white vinegar isn't as strong as ACV. And lemon or lime juice will work as well.

You may find that you don't need to use conditioner after using a soap-based shampoo bar and an acid rinse. If you do, try adding a dollop of conditioner into your acid rinse, then rinse it out. This will facilitate detangling without weighing your hair down.

It's important to note that some people experience a transition period when they switch from conventional shampoo and conditioner to soap-based shampoo bars. Most people report that their hair adapts within a month.

Despite their best efforts, some people never get soap-based shampoo bars to work for them. They report that their hair feels stiff and dry like "doll's hair," the baby hairs on their crowns are unruly or the waxiness never goes away. If this happens to you, don't despair. Simply switch to an SLS-based shampoo bar.


SLS and soap-based shampoo bars are great ways to reduce plastic waste. They are economical and convenient, especially for travelers. While there may be a transition period and a learning curve for soap-based shampoo bars, their SLS-based counterparts are simply solid versions of the same conventional shampoo that you're probably using today. Why not give them both a try and decide which one's for you?

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