Shampoo Bars & Conditioner Eliminate the Need for Plastic Packaging

Last updated on February 17, 2021.

Photo of man with head under shower. Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

Most shampoo and conditioner brands are sold in plastic bottles. Since we know that 91% of plastic isn’t actually recycled, many of us are trying to find ways to not purchase products in plastic.1 Recently, a colleague asked me what to do about shampoo and its plastic packaging.

Did you know you can buy shampoo as a bar?

No way, you say! Or, maybe you’re thinking ugh, what? Either way, stick with me for a bit.

Last fall, I wrote a post on the benefit of bar soap and how it can be purchased practically packaging-free. I use bar soap for showering out of personal preference. I always found that most body wash and liquid soaps washed down the drain rather than cleansed my body. Once I switched to bar soap, I felt like I got a better lather, a better cleanse, and found that I wasted less soap overall. An added bonus is that there are no travel restrictions on bar shampoo, so no need for little plastic travel bottles!

I first discovered shampoo bars on Beth Terry’s site, My Plastic-Free Life.2 I was excited to learn about shampoo bars and switched to them right away. But there have been some issues with various bars, so I’m reviewing those here.

Image of lavender bar soap, towel, and fresh lavender. Image by joe137 from Pixabay
Image by joe137 from Pixabay

“Up to 80 percent of shampoo and 95 percent of conditioner is made of water.” -authors Brigette Allen and Christine Wong3

How to use a Shampoo Bar

This part is easy! You just rub the bar between your hands like you would with regular bar soap, or directly on your hair and scalp as long as you are gentle. It’s only strange the first time. The lather of a bar is really satisfying, and I’ve actually come to prefer shampoo bars.

Plastic-Free often also means Toxin-Free

Most shampoo bars do not contain the perfumes, chemicals, and harsh detergents that are in major brands of bottled shampoo. This means you will not be exposing your body to toxic ingredients that will strip your hair, disrupt your hormones, or cause cancer. Yes, you read that right – many major brands of shampoo and conditioner contain one or more toxic ingredients. Under Additional Resources, I’ve included a link to a list of ingredients you should avoid, and also a link to review brands on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep site.

I will say that this type of shampoo does take getting used to. Most of us are accustomed to shampoos that strip our hair and scalp of their natural oils, so it will take a few shampoos for your scalp to adjust and not feel greasy. But this is normal and once you adjust, you’ll start to feel and see the benefits of shampoo that is not full of harsh ingredients.

Photo of the shampoo aisle at the grocery store.
Most grocery and department stores carry shampoo and conditioner exclusively in plastic bottles. Photo by me

“The number of shampoo bottles thrown out in the United States every year could fill 1,164 football fields.”-authors Brigette Allen and Christine Wong4

The Shampoo Bars

Here is a review of the brands I’ve tried, in order of preference:

J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bar

J.R. Liggett's shampoo bar

This is the first one I ever tried, mainly because I was able to find this locally at Earthfare (also sold at Whole Foods and Amazon). It is packaged in a recyclable paper wrapper. I’ve switched back to it several times after trying many others, and have decided this is my favorite. It lathers really well, the bar does not fall apart over time, and my hair is soft and clean.

There is a bar for every hair type: Original; Moisturizing (for dry, colored or damaged hair); Tea Tree & Hemp (fragrance-free and good for “itchy-flaky scalp”); and several others depending on personal scalp preference.

Sappo Hill

Sappo Hill shampoo bars, next to lavender sprigs

I really like Sappo Hill and it is my husband’s preferred bar soap. I discovered their bar soap when I used to shop at Earthfare, and I love that the bars were package-free except for a bar code sticker. After Earthfare closed all of its stores, I went online and discovered that they sell many more scents and that they also make shampoo bars! Their shampoo bars are mild and cleansing. They run a close second to my favorite (above) and are very well priced. I recommend this brand if you don’t like other shampoo bars.

Aquarian Bath

Shampoo bar from Aquarian Bath on Etsy.

My third favorite is one that I discovered through the website My Plastic-Free Life, called Aquarian Bath.5 This shampoo bar doesn’t break apart and lathers well. These are handmade, vegan, palm oil-free, SLS-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and not tested on animals.

They will ship their products naked, meaning zero waste or no packaging, which is super! There are many scents and bars with ingredients for each hair type, including one for dandruff, so read each description to find the right one for you. They also sell other types of products with the same qualities.

Nourish Natural Bath Products

Shampoo bar from Nourish

Nourish is where I buy the majority of my bar soap for body washing. But in recent years, they’ve come out with shampoo and conditioner bars. I was thrilled about this because I love most of their products! However, while I like the scents and the clean feeling these bars leave in my hair, they have the flaw of crumbling about halfway through the bar’s life. This leaves several small pieces of shampoo bar, and those pieces get smaller and smaller, creating frustration. I’ve tried 3 of these and each bar had this problem. I’m hoping they can improve their binding process.

Lush Cosmetics

Image of Lush shampoo bar

I tried a shampoo bar from Lush Cosmetics and it crumbled halfway through its life as well. I did not enjoy the scent either but I highly respect Lush Cosmetics because of its naked packaging. Their products are handmade, vegan, and cruelty-free. This particular bar just didn’t work for me. However, I like and respect the company so much that I plan to try additional shampoo bars. Here’s why:

“Since 2005, we’ve sold more than 41 million shampoo bars, saving 124 million plastic bottles from ever being produced. That’s approximately 3417 tons of plastic saved, or about the weight of 30 blue whales. Imagine if everyone ditched the bottle in favor of the bar!” -Lush Cosmetics6

The Right To Shower Shampoo Bar & Bar Soap

The Right To Shower Shampoo bar packaging

I found this brand at Whole Foods, and they claim to help bring mobile showers to people living on the streets, which is pretty cool! It’s a large bar for the price and can be used on both the hair and body, which is an added benefit. These bars are vegan, sulfate-free, are made in the US, use Rainforest Alliance Certified palm oil, are cruelty-free and are packaged in 100% recycled carton paper. I love the promise of this product! But it does not keep my hair as cleansed as I’d like – I noticed some build-up on my scalp.

Photo of a woman's blonde hair. Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels
Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

What about Conditioner?

When I first started going plastic-free, I made my own conditioner and continued doing so for about 2 years. There are many recipes on Pinterest and I’ve tried a bunch. Most did not work for me – they were either too greasy (coconut oil-based) or left my hair tangly (shea butter-based). The one I settled on uses a combination of oils and aloe vera gel with guar gum as a thickening agent. Unfortunately, the ingredients are not all available plastic-free in the area where I live. Since the beginning of my journey, some companies have developed conditioner bars. Below are the ones I’ve tried.

by Humankind

White conditioner bar

This company sells all plastic-free/packaging-free products and orders are carbon neutral (meaning the company contributes to forest preservation to offset the carbon created from shipping their product). I tried their grapefruit scented conditioner bar and it is my favorite though most expensive. They are vegan and use all-natural ingredients. Unfortunately, it broke into pieces toward the end of its life. I found it very difficult to use 4 tiny pieces to conditioner my long hair, so this was disappointing. But it left my hair soft, manageable, and shiny! I plan to give it another try, and they also sell shampoo bars that I haven’t yet tried.

Nourish

Nourish conditioner bar, pink

I tried Nourish’s conditioner bars in addition to their shampoo bars. They have great scents and they conditioned my thick mane well, leaving it shiny and manageable. However, they crumbled about halfway through the life of the bar. Even so, this one is my second favorite and they are much more affordable than others. I plan to buy these again. They are vegan and made with natural ingredients. They offer a choice of packaging when you order, either compostable plastic or tissue paper wrapping.

HiBar

HiBar conditioner bar packaging and blue bar

I am still on the fence about this one. It is also a little costly and I don’t like the scent of the blue moisturize bar. But the shape is unique as you can see. The bar is made to hold in your hand while you rub the angled flat part of the bar directly onto your hair. This creates no friction or tugging and allows me to conditioner my hair much more thoroughly. The same goes for washing my son’s hair – I can conditioner it quicker without tugging, which of course makes hair washing better for him! So I do really like the shape but I may need to try a different scent. If I do, I’ll update this post. HiBar Conditioner bars are free of sulfates, phthalates, silicones, or parabens. They also sell shampoo bars. These are sold only in cardboard packaging, no plastic packaging.

Person washing hair in shower
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Let Go of Guilt

I’m not perfect. I’m still figuring it all out too. I got very frustrated once with conditioner bars breaking into small pieces that became unusable and purchased conditioner in a plastic bottle! I did at least buy Pacifica Beauty brand because their products are vegan and cruelty-free, as well as toxin-free. But I’m not giving up! 

Remember, the fact that you’re willing to try another method in order to avoid plastic means a lot. So if your attempts at switching fail, just don’t give up. You will find something that works eventually!

You can do this, and hopefully, this post helps! Thank you for reading, and please subscribe!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote or receive free items for any of the product reviews in this post.

Additional Resources:

Article, 15 Harmful Ingredients In Shampoos And Conditioners That You Should Avoid, Starting Today!” Skinkraft Laboratories, April 21, 2020.

Website, EWG’s Skin Deep, accessed February 16, 2021.

Footnotes:

Black Friday and Why You Don’t Have to Participate

Last updated on February 13, 2021.

black friday scrabble letters, Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay
Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay

What are the best Black Friday deals?

Sorry, I wouldn’t know, that’s not what my blog is about. But I invite you to read on and think through this crazy annual shopping ritual with me.

First, what is Black Friday? Here’s the definition: “The day after Thanksgiving, regarded as the first day of the traditional Christmas shopping season, on which retailers offer special reduced prices.” I’ve linked an article about the history of it in the footnotes.1 Nowadays the best sales extend beyond Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. The 2018 sales are projected to be $717.5 billion! That’s so much money!

“America is back…We are once again spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to give to people we don’t like.” -Stephen Colbert, joking that this was proof that the economy had recovered.

shopping mall, Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash
Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash

But what has Black Friday turned into?

A chaotic mess of stampeding people who act selfishly and just plain mad. I personally have never participated in the madness because I don’t like crowds enough to save a few dollars. It’s just not for me. And I felt that way before the videos of trampling were captured. Here’s a news report featuring the madness I speak of:

The following video from 2010 is one of the worst I found, where people were trampled and injured.

And if you want more, there’s a link to an entire article2 dedicated to the nastiness that has occurred on Black Friday. Of course don’t forget that during the 2008 financial crisis, a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Black Friday. In fact, there’s a whole website called blackfridaydeathcount.com. But I digress.

The Materialism of it All

This year, I’m asking you to rethink this whole extravaganza. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why do we participate in the madness? To save some money? To get another diamond for your spouse? The “hottest” toys for your kids? The newest washer and dryer? It’s mass-marketed materialism at its best. I mean, worst. And it’s just STUFF.

But I know that we all have the desire to see our children squeal with delight when they unwrap their toys or see our spouse tear up over a thoughtful gift. And most of us do need to save money. So I’m not here to shame you or make you feel bad about any of those things. I just want you to think through what you plan to buy. Having a plan will save you from impulsive purchases, stress, and maybe even chaos.

If you’re striving for using less plastic, or zero waste, or minimalism (or all 3!!!), then you’ve really got to think through the whole holiday insanity of gift-giving anyway. Does your wife really need a bigger diamond wedding ring? Or does she cherish the one you gave her when you proposed? Does your child really need the newest plastic toys wrapped in plastic cellophane that then gets wrapped in plastic coated wrapping paper with plastic tape? Will your washer and dryer last a couple more years?

If you really just want to save money, how about just shopping less? Think about the impact you’ll have not only on the environment but also on your own pocketbook. I know I could use more money! Here’s a video from The Story of Stuff Project about Black Friday:

Think outside the box this year.

How about gifting experiences? Think museums, aquariums, hotel packages, airfare, theater tickets, movie tickets, or zip-lining tickets. How about gifting someone a day trip to the spa or a massage package? How about a photography package for your family? Does your son or daughter really want to go to Six Flags next summer? Now’s a good time to buy those tickets.

There are lots of other physical gifts you can give too.

What about a nice plant for your friend who has a garden? Or a cousin who loves houseplants? Does your Mom just love scented bar soaps? You can buy naked soaps (meaning no packaging) in many places these days, including in the Southeastern U.S. Does your brother love Jelly Belly jellybeans? Consumables are always good gifts. People used to give bread as a housewarming gift, why can’t we do that for Christmas? You can even give the gift of beer or wine – I don’t think anyone will want to return those things the day after Christmas.

There are always non-profit gifts, donating to a good cause in someone’s name.

Is there an animal lover in your life? Donate money to their local animal shelter, or to an organization that provides animal therapy to people. Does your Dad really want to help victims of natural disasters? Donate to the appropriate non-profit in his name. Does your neighbor love trees? Plant one in their honor through the Arbor Foundation. Does a friend really want to help people in third world countries? Donate to that cause in their name. (Of course, make sure you are donating to a legitimate organization, it usually just takes a little internet research).

If you’ve got a friend who is into environmentalism or wants to go plastic-free / zero waste / minimalist, how about a book on one of those topics? I’ve got a list that you can start with. There are so many more out there too; those are just the ones I’ve personally read.

Many of those items you can buy from the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas or underwear, while sipping hot cocoa or wine. Whatever makes you happy.

credit card machine, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

What to do if you do get impulsive

You can always return unwanted items. But there are other options if that’s not possible or it’s too much of a hassle.

Use unwanted items for that ridiculous Secret Santa routine your office insists on participating in every year. Bought extra children’s clothing or an extra children’s coat? Donate it to a local charity. In Chattanooga, the Forgotten Child Fund’s Coats for Kids annual drive is around the first week of December. Did you buy too many toys for the grand-kids? How about donating them to Toys for Tots? Churches, thrift stores, homeless shelters, schools, even some daycare centers are always needing items.

Bought too much wine that you intended on gifting? Drink it. Enjoy. Especially if it has a natural cork instead of a plastic one.

Let’s have a peaceful and safe holiday season. Remember, stuff isn’t what’s important. The people in our lives are. Let’s give them the best gift of all this year: our love and company.

Happy Thanksgiving, and as always, thanks for reading.

thanksgiving dinner cartoon, Photo by LillyCantabile on Pixabay
Photo by LillyCantabile on Pixabay

Footnotes:

Bar Soap & Why It’s Better than Liquid Soap

Last updated on December 26, 2020.

Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay
Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay

Bar Soap can be plastic free

Switching to bar soap is one big change you can make right away. Stop buying liquid soap that comes in plastic bottles, even the large refill bottles. Yes, those bottles are recyclable but please know that recycling isn’t what we think it is. If those items make it to the recycling center, they will be down-cycled (the chemical composition of plastic changes when heated) and cannot be a soap bottle again. So the answer is almost always to refuse plastic. Just stay away from it.

Unfortunately, many soaps at the local supermarket are plastic wrapped. Ugh! So you’ll likely need to find a moderately priced soap. You can find one or two brands that are plastic-free at Publix. I usually find bar soaps for our hands at Earthfare or Whole Foods, and again, I only buy the brands that have no plastic packaging. It’s just not necessary. For the rest of my body, I use Nourish brand bar soaps.

There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There's really no need for this. Photo by me.
There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There’s really no need for this. Photo by me.

Microbeads in body wash (liquid soap)

If you are or were using body wash with “exfoliating” features, please know that what you were most likely using to scrub your skin was little, tiny plastic beads. And those beads are now found in the ocean and the Great Lakes. When microbeads go down the drain, they pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and end up in rivers and canals, and eventually the ocean. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was passed in December 2015, and it amended the “Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban the manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017. These bans are delayed by one year for cosmetics that are over-the-counter drugs.” It was a fight to get rid of them, so thank you and congrats to everyone who contributed to that cause!

Is bar soap hygienic?

I have heard that some people believe that bar soap is less hygienic than liquid soap. I also believe that large companies have promoted this myth to consumers in order to make a higher profit. It’s likely cleaner and safer! The fact is, most dispensers, in the places your fingers and hands touch, are not clean. Think about that – do you sanitize your dispensers? If you do, congratulations on being so hygienic! But public restroom soap dispensers are often not sanitary. Have you ever noticed that most hotels provide bar soap and not liquid soap in the rooms? I imagine that has a lot more to do with cost than sanitation, but I’ll give them credit for both! I’ve also read that hotels take the leftover bar soap and melt it down to remake into new soap bars, although I have not verified this myself.

Upon an internet search, I discovered that the question about germs on bar soap is common, but most articles I’ve come upon indicate that the risk is low, perhaps lower than liquid soap in a dispenser. Many articles and posts cite a 1988 study done by the Dial Corporation, which found that bacteria did not spread through washing with bar soap. But sometimes companies drive profit up through fear. Regardless of that study, many companies encouraged the idea that using liquid soap was more hygienic and sanitary – and the idea stuck!

“Liquid soap requires about five times more energy to produce than a bar of soap, and it is almost always sold in a plastic bottle.” –Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond 

Take care of your bar soap

So make the switch, and here’s the advice I’ve found online: First, let your bar soap dry in the open (as opposed to a closed soap dish). Second, if the soap is moist, run the bar under the water for a few seconds to rinse off the outside “slime.” Third, if you are sharing bar soap, you’re likely only sharing it with family members, and you share many microorganisms with them anyway. Last, if you are washing your hands the way you’re supposed to and for the amount of time you’re supposed to, you’re washing any residual germs away anyway.

Image of bar soap, Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash
Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

Cost

Bar soap is significantly less expensive when compared to liquid soap because the amount of uses from bar soap is higher than with liquid soap. Cost analyses on the internet mostly show that bar soap is cheaper. I am no mathematician so I am not going to attempt the figures. But I will tell you that since I switched solely to bar soap in my household, we’ve seen a savings! Even with the moderately priced soaps we use. And it was one more step toward plastic free! Yay!

Safe Ingredients

I will not reinvent the wheel on this part – there is so much written about the ingredients in so many of our products, including liquid soaps. First, always check products through the Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) website. They are a non-profit dedicated to being a consumer advocate, testing and reviewing products so that people can look up and understand what’s really in their products. They have guides to cosmetics, sunscreens, cleaners, food, personal care products, and even tap water!  They’ll be able to show you what’s really in that soap, liquid or bar, for many major products.

Second, Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com wrote about body wash and liquid soap compared with bar soap. She also reviewed some of the problems of liquid soaps including that soaps can contain toxic ingredients. I don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel since her article is so well written and thorough. Please read it!

DIY

You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay
You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay

Although I have not ventured into soap making yet, I likely will one day (and I’ll be sure to blog about it). There are probably hundreds of ideas on the internet for DIY soap. Making your own soap could be a new hobby, a family project, or a challenge among friends to see who makes the best soaps! Get your creativity on with different shapes, scents, and colors. I imagine Pinterest is bursting with ideas on soap-making!

I hope this post has been helpful to you. If you have questions or ideas, I’d love to hear them! Please leave me a comment below! Thank you for reading.

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to recommend certain products.