'I tried shampoo bars and I’m never going back'

Image: 123RF/Alexei Logvinovich

Shampoo bars aren’t exactly new. In fact, it was fairly common to wash your hair with a bar of soap — up until the 1940s (roughly) when liquid shampoo was introduced.

Around five years ago shampoo bars were reintroduced — this time as a more natural and environmentally friendly alternative to their bottled counterparts.  

I only learned about them recently when I was browsing through the website of a company making all-natural, vegan body products. When I started shopping around I was quite surprised to discover a total of 14 local brands available in SA. They’re not yet very mainstream, but not hard to find either.

I immediately wanted to try them for two reasons. One, I’ve been trying to treat my hair naturally. I haven’t coloured my hair in exactly a year and I’ve become very aware of the chemical-heavy products available on the market. My hair is naturally very oily and it seemed counter-productive to me to use shampoos that are manufactured with synthetic ingredients, preservatives, and all sorts of nasties that end up stripping your hair of its natural oils and exacerbate the problem of oily hair. I wanted a more natural alternative.

Two — and this is the biggest selling point for most people — shampoo bars have a smaller environmental impact, simply by cutting down on the use of plastic bottles.

Pros

The thing I love most about using a shampoo bar is the rich lather it builds up in your hair. All you have to do is rub the bar over your wet hair, occasionally adding some water, and soon enough a rich, soapy consistency will build up. It feels lovely to use.

I used two kinds of bars on my hair — one brand sells only the shampoo bar and the other sells conditioner bars as well. The former worked nicely but lacked that extra touch to soften my hair. For this, the conditioner bar works great. It doesn’t soap up as much as the shampoo bar but it leaves your hair feeling great. Some bars are even made for specific hair types — dry, oily, and so on.

They are also smaller and lighter to travel with — just remember to pack a container to store them in if they haven’t had time to dry.

Con

The biggest con for me is the price. The average size for a shampoo bar seems to be 100g. For a single bar you’re looking at paying around R130. After my initial purchase I found other bars that cost much less and others that cost more. If you’re buying a conditioner bar as well, the price obviously doubles. I wasn’t buying the cheapest shampoo bottles on the shelf pre-shampoo bars, but the price does seem a bit steep for me.

I do, however, think that they will last reasonably long, especially if you leave a few days between washes. Some brands claim that a single shampoo bar can last up to 80 washes but I haven’t been able to verify that yet.

A word of caution

The bars are fairly soft and you have to be careful to let them dry between uses and not to let them lie in excess water to avoid them becoming mushy. I had to dry out one of my bars for two days after it almost completely melted because I had unwittingly left it lying in water. It was nearly too late to save it, but luckily I could.

Because these bars are made using mostly natural ingredients, they do not contain synthetic fragrances. While they don’t smell bad (some smell rather lovely), don’t expect the pungent fragrance many shampoos give off. It’s simply different.

Verdict

As for the results, my hair looks every bit as clean as it would have looked had I used liquid shampoo, and it feels shinier and healthier.

You’ll have to shop around and read the labels. Some brands seem to use more natural ingredients than others and others use only tissue paper without any cardboard packaging — making it an even greener alternative. It’s all about finding what works for you. I’d like to shop around some more and try different brands, purely out of curiosity. Right now, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to liquid shampoo in plastic bottles.

Where to find shampoo bars

Most shampoo and conditioner bars can be found on online shops that sell environmentally friendly and natural products such as Lush, Faithful to Nature or the Re-Store. Takealot also stocks a few varieties. But if you’re looking to do your homework, a quick Google search will reveal quite a few brands and options. 

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