Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Great Shampoo Bar Experiment

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...

I spent the month of January doing The Great Shampoo Bar Experiment, although "great" isn't really the best word to describe it....greasy maybe...flaky...not great.

About a year ago I tried going "No-'Poo". I was already cleaning my house with baking soda and vinegar, why not use baking soda on my hair too? It came in a recyclable cardboard box, and the Apple Cider Vinegar in a recyclable glass jar. Not only would I be able to stop putting chemicals on my hair (and, subsequently, into my body) but I'd stop sending them down the drain and into our ground water -- AND I'd be eliminating the plastic of my shampoo and conditioner bottles. To me it seemed like an important step in treating my body and the planet more kindly.

Until I tried it and hated it.

My hair is long, thick (each strand is thick, but I also just have a LOT of hair), and very curly. I read all the websites and reviews and tinkered with green tea and honey. I gave it a good two weeks and then gave up. Not only did it seem like a hassle, it just left my hair looking crazy. And for a thirty-something mom with all sorts of body parts relocating south, I need to keep one of my better features looking its best. (If ya know what I mean.)

So I compromised (or so it seemed) and started using a shampoo and conditioner in one. My rationalization being it's only one plastic bottle instead of two. Funny what we convince ourselves of when we're not really committed to an idea.

In December, as I sat down to write out my goals for the year, I kept coming back to the environmental impact of my shampoo/conditioner (chemicals + plastic). I decided to give shampoo bars a shot.
The first one I tried was the Burt's Bees Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar because I actually had one in the bathroom from a Burt's Bees kit I'd received eons ago.

Day 1: Not so bad. I don't see what the complaints (reviews) were about.

Day 3: Is this what people meant by "greasy feeling"?

Day 4: I'm sticking with this. They say you have to press past the first week and your hair adjusts.

Day 5: Is that me in the mirror or Amy Winehouse? I'm out.

I returned to their website to see "Good on short to medium length hair." I'm guessing they didn't have me in mind. Lesson learned: read labels.
Next I tried Dr. Bronner's All-One bar soap. I use this in my homemade laundry soap, so I had a bar on hand to test out. I also use Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap to clean my floors. Is this really something I should be using on a bathroom floor, catsup stain and my hair? I'm a little skeptical, but this is the Great Shampoo Bar Experiment!

BTW, Dr. Bronner's bar soaps are vegetable-based, Certified Organic, Certified Fair-Trade, not tested on animals, completely biodegradable, and come wrapped in a recycled paper wrapper than can go in my compost heap. They had a lot of marks in the "Pro" column already.

Day 1: Looks good, feels *very* clean.

Day 2: Feels clean...a little too clean...squeaky I really need some conditioner. I check the website which says, "Can leave a tangly look & feel." Check. They suggest using their conditioner with it which comes in a plastic bottle (100% recycled plastic but still, it's plastic).

Day 3 - 5: I press on.

Day 6: Have I developed dandruff? I'm out.

Day 7: I feel guilty for saying I quit and decide to add an Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) rinse into the routine. It leaves my hair feeling much more manageable and, after a few days, the flakiness goes away.

Day 10: The flakiness may be gone, but the greasiness is not. I wash with my old shampoo and it feels sooooooooooooooo good.

Finally I remember the Wembe Coconut Exfoliating Blend bar I have in my shower. A quick check of their website reveals that it can also be used as a shampoo bar. It, like the Dr. Bronner's, worked well with the ACV rinse the first day or so then went down hill.

I've found that the ACV makes my hair feel less tangled and prevents flakes, but it doesn't seem to do anything for the greasy feeling.

For awhile I tried to tell myself "It's okay. This is what hair is supposed to feel like when it doesn't have nasty chemicals in it." But the truth is, I don't want to look like a grease-ball with a 'fro.

I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel completely, so I'm planning to use my shampoo bar for a few days at a time, then sneak in a day of regular shampoo. That will at least cut down on my chemical use and plastic consumption while I'm scoping out some other types of shampoo bars.

I've heard good things about LUSH, but they seem a bit pricey. I also have my eye on a few etsy sellers.

If you use a bar shampoo that you love, let me know!


Belinda said...

Hi Kelly,

I find the vinegar seems to actually promote a weirdness in hair that could easily be mistaken as being greasy too.

Something that I do that might be worth a try is actually vinegar rinse first. Then I use whatever I am washing my hair with next. That then strips most of the weirdness away and on my hair type it then looks clean as well as feels clean without drying all crunchy and stiff. Personally I am still playing with this but for the last month or so it really has seemed to work for me better than any other regime I have tried.

Kind Regards

thesimplepoppy said...

I used the baking soda and vinegar method when I was pregnant and thought it worked great. Fast forward to NOT being pregnant and apparently it was the hormones that somehow was making my hair less greasy so that when I had my daughter, it didn't work anymore. I'd love to find a shampoo bar that worked well, but I know most of them don't.

knittingwoman said...

This is not a criticism but a genuine question? Why do you need to wash your hair every day? If you wash your hair less frequently and perhaps try and use as little shampoo as possible, that would already reduce the impact your shampoo has on you and on the environment. As well, if using shampoo is something you can't give up, find something else you can:)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Oh the woes of eco friendly shampoo...I guiltily use the Lush shampoo bar and conditioner bat, both of which contain SLS. If you don't mind the SLS, don't be scared off by the price. They last me 3-4 months each, so it's really not as pricey as it sounds.

I have great aspirations to someday try no poo!

DramaMama said...

Everyone's hair is different so what I use may not work for you. At any rate, I have extremely thick, wiry, many-stranded hair, which sounds like yours. I started using this shampoo bar ( when I had a little over shoulder length hair. Since then I have cut it to about chin length. I wrote about my experiences a little on my blog, but basically I went through a weird period and once I got past it, it was fine. I'll have to go back and look, but I think it took around a month. One thing I felt that helped was to use a wood comb on my head, combing it from the center to the tips. When I washed, I used a very small amount of lather on the crown of my head. The tips didn't need shampoo. All of the body's natural oil is at the scalp and once I helped it along, my body found it's own balance. I used to be a huge conditioner and gel freak, especially in these WI winters, since my hair got dry, frizzy and fly away-ish, but not anymore! Seriously, in 30+ years of life, I have not had such easy manageable hair! Good luck w/yours - something I tried before the shampoo bar was buying in bulk - we have some beauty supply stores here and we could get a 2 gal jug, which cut down on the plastic bottles. Just a thought...

DramaMama said...

Oh ps - when you click on the link, the first shampoo bar to pop up is the doggie bar. Scroll down and you will see the human shampoo bars =)

The Raven said...

I have very different hair from you--very straight and baby-fine--but I love JR Liggett's. Usually I use the conditioning bar. My husband--who has very thick curly hair (but short)--uses it as well and it works for him.

Good luck!

Olivia said...

I, too, use the Lush coconut bar. My hair is thick, fine,curly and very dry. I only wash it every 2-3 days so the bar lasts me a long time - I let the bar air dry between washings. No 'poo left my scalp way too dry - I was scratching like a fiend - and my hair looked dull.

Simply Authentic said...

Ha, totally on the same page. I switched to "natural" shampoo a few years back until I looked it up on the Skin Deep data base and realized it really wasn't all that much better for me than the mainstream stuff. Then I switched to Burt's Bees in the bottle which has a better rating and which honesty is pretty much what I've stuck with. I chopped all my hair really short a year ago and my husband and I did start using the shampoo bar (he still uses and loves it but he's in the military and has a buzz cut....). It worked great on my hair...until it got past about 3 inches long and then it got greasy. So back to the bottle it's been......

Elizabeth said...

I sometimes use Bronner's liquid soap to wash my hair, and I use the unscented version, diluted, for my daughter. I don't dilute it when I use it on my own hair and it comes out squeaky clean; I then don't have to wash it the next day, and sometimes not the third day, either, depending on how it looks and where I'm going. I don't know how the Bronner bar soap's strength compares to the liquid, though. But you might try shampooing every other day.

utahlawyer said...

I went no 'poo last August and I am loving it. What has worked well for me is rinsing my hair and scrubing my scalp with my fingertips on the days when I don't wash it. It gets my hair just as clean as if I had washed it. Now, I am going 7-10 days between washings. I wash when my hair starts to feel greasy. Perhaps this method could help you cut down on the shampoo use.

Chile said...

I've tried a few different methods, such as baking soda followed by vinegar rinse and the no-poo. I've never tried the shampoo bars.

Here's what works for my longish straight and fine hair. I do still buy a natural shampoo, but I transfer a small amount to a little squeeze bottle and dilute it by about 8-10 times as much water.

I have a small container in the shower for mixing up hair cleaner. Each time I need to shampoo, I start with 1/4 cup of baking soda. I add enough warm water to make it a little thinner than pancake batter. Then I squirt in a small bit of the highly diluted natural shampoo. Mix this all up with my finger.

I wet my hair thoroughly and pour this slowly over my scalp, using my other hand to work it in gently. When it's all on, I "lather up" for 15-30 seconds. I let this sit on my scalp for a minute or two.

I rinse thoroughly and follow up with an apple cider vinegar rinse (1 part ACV to 8 parts water). After sitting on my hair for a minute, it is rinsed out.

This works great on my naturally oily hair. I shampoo twice a week only. If I omit the dilute shampoo addition, my hair gets gross.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

God help us all, you've now got me wanting to try this. (Not because I disbelieve your results, but because I have very different hair--thick but fine and straight, like SCARY straight. Flat iron straight.) I haven't been happy with what my pseudo-natural shampoo (Nature's Gate Herbal) has been doing with my hair lately and need to try something else. I appreciate the various reviews and recommendations!

I'm also wondering, in terms of the "we do what we can" mentality, if alternating between a bottle and a bar or something might be a way to go?

I would be thrilled to not have to wash my hair every day...unfortunately I have this deal where I can only reasonably go 36 hours or so before it starts looking oogy, so if I'm going to skip a day I have to time it well; it's almost always a day when I don't have to go out that evening (and/or probably won't Get Any that night. ;-) (Not that he would mind, but it'd bug me.)

Who's intrepid enough to try making their own cold- or hot- process soap for shampoo? Anyone? :-)

Sera said...


I'm from NZ, and I use a shampoo bar from a place called 'global soap' in Nelson (I'm sure they would send to you, but don't know what shipping would be). Very cheap and very good. I use the tea tree one as I have some trouble with dry/itchy scalp. I have very thick hair also, but it is straight and I keep it short, but I find that if I use normal shampoo now my hair greases up within a day. I do very occasionally (maybe once a month or two) use a little bit of conditioner on the ends of my hair, but once my bottle is used up I'm going to try vinegar :)

I hope you find something that works for you!

mudnessa said...

I have been no 'poo for about a year using baking soda wash(1tsp to 1 cup water) with apple cider vinegar rinse(use a splash in 1 cup of water with some rosemary essential oil). Wash once a week at most and rinse with water in between washes if I feel like it, sometimes I don't. Even before I would only wash my hair once a week. Works great for my hair but my scalp is just totally horrible and nothing works.

If I use any shampoo, bars, natural, conventional, my hair is UNMANAGABLE. It is very thick, very coarse, very long, and was very frizzy with anything containing sls, even the natural coconut based ones.

The frizz is gone and I can get it's natural wave coming out. I use to NEVER NEVER EVER brush my hair with anything but my fingers because the frizz was just awful, now I can brush it whenever wherever and it's fine.

But my scalp is quite flaky and always has been. It fluctuates a lot with my hormones and stress but I know what the real culprit is, our horribly hard water. If I go an vacation erything is perfect and lovely because of softer water. I don't know what to do. I have a filter on my shower head, live in an apartment so I can't use a whole house softener.

A way to wash my hair without don't think that would be a permanent solution. My struggle shall go on.

daharja said...

I don't use a shampoo bar, but I've been using bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar (both locally produced) for over a year now, and loving the way my hair looks and feels.

It even got commented on out of the blue when a friend touched my hair and said she'd never felt hair so soft! And I'm the chick who always had ratty, dry hair!

I'm never going back to commercial products.

For styling, I use just plain cocoa butter. I rub a little on my hands, then run my fingers through my hair. This copes with even such nasties as straightening irons.

I write in detail how I use bicarb and vinegar in a post here at my blog.

Debra said...

I second knitting woman's question, why shampoo every day? I have been no 'poo for almost a year, now, but prior to that drastic change, I reduced the number of times I washed and conditioned per week. I have thick, bra-strap length hair with a bit of wave. When I decided to try no 'poo, I figured I would give it an 8 week trial, not just a couple of weeks. I did not have any greasy adjustment period, but maybe that was because I had already reduced the number of times I washed my hair, anyway. Experimenting with different products and techniques can take some time. You seem to be okay with trying different products and techniques, but maybe they need to be tried for a longer time period.

Laura said...

I use a shampoo bar from an Etsy shop called DressGreen. I highly recommend her products!! I used to wash my hair every day with shampoo & conditioner. Then, I tried baking soda and vinegar, which was a complete failure. (I have thick, wavy hair. It's short right now though.) When I switched to a shampoo bar handmade by DressGreen, I was able to wash once or twice a week (during the winter--summer remains to be seen) and not use conditioner.

Wonder-ful said...

I just got a shampoo bar from Bath Life (on Etsy). I tried their fragrance, the deoderant bar, have soap samples... now onto shampoo bar. It looks yummy and I can't wait to try it (but it's not shampoo day yet).

Julia said...

I tried using liquid castille soap in my hair. I only wash my hair every other day and I pushed it for about 2 months before calling it quits. the greasiness never went away so i would have to wash it more often which I didn't like. I thought about going no poo but after reading your experience I'm thinking maybe not. If you try Lush be sure to read their ingredients, a lot of their stuff has parabens.

Daisy said...

I have more fine, limp hair. I'm not sure if a shampoo bar would work for me at all. After I use up all the stray bottles of shampoo in the house (all with an inch in the bottom; I have a college daughter) I may give it a try.

Eco Yogini said...

i have yet to find a fantastic shampoo bar or natural version equivalent to my nasty chemical shampoo. i went six months with terrible nasty hair, gave every shampoo bar and natural stuff at least two weeks and finally gave up.

seriously, my hair is annoying.

so- i figured i do a lot of other really fantastic things, like walk to work instead of driving. i also use a MINIMUM amount of shampoo (and yes i wash every day. mostly because everymorning my hair is UBER greasy... but after i wash my hair it's uber dry).
my shampoo bottle should last 6months to a year. this sounds terrible, but until i find another alternative, i am SO done stressing over it....

I applaud your efforts!! you really gave it a GOOD go! I second others, LUSH hides some sketchy chemicals. Personally, since they're expensive and still have chemicals, and smell VERY strong, it bugs me. I don't like companies that wax poetic about being 'green' and still contain chemicals.... :S

April said...

I have curly hair too - although it is not as thick as your hair sounds. I switched to Terressentials all natural "shampoo" which is acutally made out of bentonite clay. If I had the time I could probably figure out how to make the stuff myself because every ingredient could be purchased at a well stocked health food store. It is the only thing I use every few days or so - just a little bit. I absolutely LOVE how my hair feels. I do use some styling products (I hope to quit once my hair gets a little longer than my current chin length) but Terressentials shampoo keeps all of the build up off my hair - no dryness (and I would be prone to extreme dryness) and no conditioner necessary. Good Luck!!

PureMothers said...

I didn't like the Burt's Bees shampoo bar either. My hair is long-ish - but thin. I used LUSH shampoo bars years ago before they came to America (got it in Canada). LOVED it. They had a mango shine bar. AWESOME. But you know, today their products are not that green. Fragrance, SLS, etc. Go to their website and read the ingredient label before purchasing. I'm going to try baking soda and vinegar soon. :-)

Kellie said...

@Belinda~ Thanks, I will give that a try!

@knittingwoman~ Having super curly hair, I unfortunately can't get out of bed in the morning and brush it. It's frizzy and crazy when I wake up, brushing it makes it even worse...quite literally making it look like an afro. So I wash it each morning to let the natural curl come back. I suppose I could wet it down without using a soap on it though.

@dramamama~ Thanks, I will check out the link!

Thanks to everyone for the tips and support. I'm going to keep working on it, yet not stress too much.

Lisa Sharp said...

I've used this bar-

I think I'm going to switch over to it for 100% of the time.

P.S. they are on sale right now. :)

Mel said...

I also use Lush. Currently my hair is shoulder length. I have thick curly hair and the bars usually last me a year. I do not wash my hair daily...I think I read somewhere that is strips your hair of natural oils. I also use their conditioner, soap and lotions. And I have to say, the price seems high but the products last me ages! My conditioner is only now running out and I've had it since August. My shampoo bars normally last me a year, although I do alternate between two different bars.

alpaca said...

Hello! I only started about 2 weeks ago but have already fell in love with Chagrin Valley shampoo bars. I tried a few samples and like two of them the best: Babassu Marshmallow and Carrot Honey and Milk.

I did have a one week of waxies, and was glad that I toughed it out: my hair feels so much softer now! I do not use any other hair product. I used ACV rinse a few times and really liked the result but my hair got greasy faster. My favorite is the Carrot Milk and Honey shampoo soap. It works great on my kids' hair too (they did not have an adjustment period at all!)

alpaca said...

Hello... it's me again. Thought to update you on my own shampoo bar experiement. In the past few days (since I posted) my hair has been softer, shinier, and healthier than it has ever been with SLS shampoos! Particular with the babassu marshmallow shampoo bar which I only use every 2-3 days. It turns out that I've been using too much vinegar in my rinces. I've reduced to about 1 tsp or less in a mug of water. The Herb Garden shampoo works wonderfully too, but I don't really care for the turkey dinner smell...

Good luck! I hope you find something that works with you. At this point, I can't ever imagine using anything else in my hair!

cammie said...

I discovered Ligget's Shampoo Bar in a "manly catalog" but found it locally in a health food store. It's supposed to promote hair growth. My hair looks better than ever, but I have short straight fine hair. No greasy residue and my hair is prone to greasiness if I don't shampoo evey day

Jason said...

I've had the exact probs with shampoo bars you described: waxy build-up that increases with use. The ACV rinse is supposed to rinse out any remaining soap residue (as well as restore a scalp's slightly acidic pH), but it wasn't working for me; the build-up would increase with each washing. This build-up corresponded with shedding, which told me something was wrong. So, if you're having this problem of build-up (waxy feeling), try this: a pre-rinse of diluted baking soda. The purpose is to remove previous build-up (baking soda is a weak base and so it dissolves and rinses out the shampoo residue on the hair, which is also a base -- "like dissolves like" from your chemistry days). Then use the shampoo bar, then the ACV rinse. It's the *only* method that works for me, and I've tried everything.

Beksta said...

If you want to go all-natural, don't use Lush bars, they contain SLS.

As for the greasies, it is quite possible you are using too much ACV as a rinse...I dilute it quite heavily (approx. 1/4" in the bottom on a 600ml coke bottle, top with warm water), and I rinse with water after this rinse - I let it sit about a minute or so, then rinse with regular greasies, but I do get greasy when I use too much ACV :)

Anonymous said...


I'm two months into my own shampoo bar experiment! I've been using Chagrin Valley's extra honey beer bar and their chamomile citrus bar. The first two weeks were wonderful, with soft, clean, nice smelling hair, but then I moved to a place with very hard water. This lead to a very trying two weeks of waxy, greasy looking hair, and I had to start washing my hair every morning (prior to shampoo bars, I had to do the same). But now, I think the adjustment period has passed, and I can say that I LOVE my hair and the CV shampoo bars! My hair is soft, shiny, full of body, and just seems to style itself! Oh, and I can get by with a shampoo every third day. I think this is a win, and I'd definitely recommend Chagrin Valley shampoo bars!

Anonymous said...

If you wash your hair every day, your scalp will become dry. Your scalp will then over compensate for the dryness by secreting excess oil. Excess oil will make your hair oily. The key is to find a shampoo that does not dry your scalp and to shampoo less frequently.

bookyeti said...

I know I'm late commenting on this post, and no one is probably reading anymore, but thought I'd chime in.

I recently started making my own natural shampoo bar soap, using this recipe by Frugally Sustainable:

I have coarse thick shoulder-length naturally wavy hair. I wash my hair every 2 or 3 days using the bar soap and then doing an ACV rinse (1 part ACV to 3 parts water). So far, it's working great!

Unknown said...

I have curly hair too - although it is not as thick as your hair sounds. I switched to Terressentials all natural "shampoo" which is acutally made out of bentonite clay. If I had the time I could probably figure out how to make the stuff myself because every ingredient could be purchased at a well stocked health food store. I wash my hair every 2 or 3 days using the bar soap. Get rid of the problem?


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