Are you tired of all of the plastic waste left over from bottle after bottle of shampoo and are looking to reduce your plastic waste? Thankfully, there's a relatively new innovation that means you no longer have to add to the growing problem of petroleum-based plastics. Shampoo bars not only help to lessen your carbon footprint, but they're also often packed with natural ingredients and are extremely convenient to travel with.
We've researched shampoo bars and chose Ethique's Eco-Friendly Solid Shampoo Bar as our favorite. It's an all-purpose bar that is suitable for use with virtually every type of hair and has zero plastic packaging. If you're looking for something specialized, check out our 10 best list for more recommendations and read our buying guide, reviewed by a licensed dermatologist, below.
Dr. Levy is a board certified dermatologist practicing in NYC and Westport, Connecticut. She has expertise in treating inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. She has an interest in skincare and takes a personalized approach to all of her patients.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
Table of Contents
Shampoo bars have a lot of advantages over their liquid soap peers. For starters, they produce a lot less plastic waste since they don't need a plastic dispenser, and are often packaged in recyclable materials. Loaded with natural ingredients, they provide another bonus in that they're better for your hair and the environment.
Shampoo bars are also travel-friendly. Not only is there no need to worry about the airport's pesky three-ounce rule, it's more compact than a bulky bottle, and there's no risk that it'll leak all over your things. On top of that, many people find that as long as they're kept somewhere dry, bars tend to last longer than liquid shampoos.
Given how many shampoo bars are on the market right now, it can be difficult to decide which is best for you. That's why we've prepared a guide to help you understand the different types of shampoo bars as well as the many ingredients you'll find on the label.
There are three different types of shampoo bars on the market: cold process, glycerin-based, and solid surfactant. Each has its own pros and cons, so you’ll have to consider what you’re looking for in a shampoo bar before deciding which type would best suit your needs.
Glycerin-based shampoo bars get their soapy, cleaning properties from glycerin, which comes from plant-based oils. These bars have a more balanced pH than cold process bars, and as such won’t need a vinegar rinse.
Though it often won’t produce as satisfying a lather as the other two, this type of bar tends to offer a more gentle clean and won’t strip your hair and scalp of its natural oils. This is especially important if you tend to have a dry, flaky scalp or brittle, damaged hair.
Unfortunately, glycerin-based bars are more likely to contain palm oil often obtained through clear-cutting and putting endangered species at risk. Cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and stearic acid are other ingredients commonly found on these labels; though they can come from many different sources, they're often derived from palm oil.
If the bar contains such ingredients and is not RSPO-certified, or is not explicitly stated to come from a non-palm oil source like coconut oil, there’s a good chance that it isn’t ethically sourced.
Choose a glycerin-based bar if you have dry or processed hair. Glycerin not only can leave your hair and scalp feeling squeaky clean without drying out the hair, but it will also seal the cuticle of the hair which will help prevent frizz.
Solid surfactant bars give a good, deep clean that will work well for those whose hair or scalp tends to be oily. This is because they are more likely to contain sulfates. Sulfates help the shampoo mix with water and are responsible for the way shampoo foams as you rub it into your hair. They also work to amplify the effects of your shampoo and make it more effective at cleaning oil and dirt from your hair and skin.
Sulfates can be a difficult balancing act, however. Although they do make shampoo better at removing oil from your hair, they can sometimes work too well and strip away the naturally occurring oil and proteins that you need. This is why shampoo with sulfates is recommended for those with naturally oily hair. If your hair is already dry, surfactant bars will only make the dryness worse.
If you like having a deeper clean or just prefer the lather of a solid surfactant bar, then look for a bar that uses sodium cocoyl isethionate rather than one of the many sulfate-related ingredients (SLS, ammonium lauryl sulfate, disodium laureth sulfoccinate, etc.). Sodium cocoyl isethionate is much gentler while still offering a decent cleaning.
A cold process shampoo bar is made from sodium hydroxide and natural oils. Add some water, and the hydroxide reacts with the oils to both cleanse and condition your hair. It's free of artificial chemicals but is more similar to soap than shampoo.
The main downside is that it has a high pH that will leave your hair feeling dull and dingy. You’ll need to rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar in order to bring the pH to a more natural state. This will in turn seal up the hair cuticle and leave your hair feeling silky smooth.
Keep in mind that the mineral content of your water makes a huge difference. People whose shower uses hard water often find that a cold process bar will often leave a soap scum residue in their hair. It may be possible to avoid this by attaching a filter to your showerhead, as those using soft water don't seem to have the same issues.
Many people have also reported a transition period when switching from liquid shampoo to a cold process bar, where the hair will feel greasy for four to eight weeks. It's not clear how much of this is due to hard water or "detoxing" from artificial chemicals - but if you'd rather not go through the trouble, you may want to avoid a cold process bar entirely.
The biggest complaint with cold process bars is the residue they leave behind. It will be very noticeable with oily hair, and the hair may be weighed down. With dry hair, leaving the product behind can further dry out the hair. Make sure to really rinse out the product and then follow it up with a hydrating conditioner if you have dry hair.
Once you’ve decided what type of shampoo bar you’re looking for, you’ll need to consider what type of shampoo will best suit your needs.
Keep in mind that the suggested ingredients below probably won’t be the only ones you see on a label; you’ll also want components that cleanse (or "saponify") and prevent bacterial growth. Things that get wet on a regular basis are a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, and your hair won’t get very clean if you’re scrubbing it with germs!
One thing that thin, dry, and damaged hair all has in common is that a good moisturizer is a godsend - and thankfully, there are many compounds that can help hydrate your hair. Some of the most common are various kinds of butter, such as mango, cocoa, and shea butter, and oils such as argan, jojoba, coconut, neem, and horsetail. Honey is another good option.
In addition, hydrolyzed proteins such as keratin, collagen, or other plant proteins, dimethicone, and guar gum, which is also known as guar hydroxylpropyltrimonium chloride, help repair and seal the cuticle to make your hair feel silky smooth.
Though it's great for moisturizing and for many people can even improve scalp health, for some, argan oil can cause a buildup of dandruff. If you find this happening to you, your best bet is to find a shampoo without argan oil, or only lather the bar in the ends of your hair.
You’ll also want to be sure to avoid sulfates, as these can damage your hair and make it even dryer. Instead, try a sulfate-free shampoo bar if dryness is already a concern.
Dry hair or processed hair (color or excessive heat) can benefit from oils or deeply hydrating butters to help restore moisture. However, many times, these products can leave a residue resulting in an inflamed, itchy scalp and hair that feels waxy or greasy. Bars are a great way to control how much product is used to prevent build-up yet still give a hydrating effect.
Like dry and damaged hair, curly hair also needs a lot of moisturizing, and many of the ingredients noted above will help curly hair looking healthy. Hydrolyzed proteins will also play a big role in strengthening the cuticle and keeping curls defined.
In addition, anything that is highly conditioning will be a huge boon for a head full of curls. Some ingredients that are great for this include olive oil, grapeseed oil, and hempseed oil.
Though the dry-haired crowd will want to shun sulfates at all costs, their ability to clean out excess oil and dirt from oily hair will give a greasy scalp a fresh, clean feeling. In order to avoid drying out your hair too much, use anywhere from every other day to once a month while using a gentler shampoo for more regular use.
Some non-sulfate options include salicylic acid and hazelnut oil to break down dirt, and nettle oil to help regulate your scalp’s natural oils. You may also want to avoid shampoos with coconut oil, as it can clog pores and make an oily scalp worse for some people.
Note that for some, it may not be all of the hair that becomes oily. Many people only have an oily scalp, while the majority of their hair remains perfectly normal. For such cases, you’ll want a good cleanser applied only to the scalp, while any hair growing beyond your neck should be treated with an all-purpose shampoo and conditioner.
Salicylic acid is a good ingredient to look for in your shampoo bar if you have scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), or scalp folliculitis (basically, acne of the scalp). This ingredient can help remove scale, crust, dirt, and oil from the scalp. It definitely can be drying for your hair, so try to only treat the scalp, and then use a hydrating or moisturizing shampoo for your hair.
Having a sensitive, dry, or itchy scalp can be anything from a minor annoyance to a serious medical condition. Fortunately, there are certain things that can help soothe problems such as dandruff. Tea tree oil has been shown to soothe irritation, even working to treat dandruff and psoriasis in some cases.
You’ll also want to look for other essential oils, as they’re good for hydrating the skin. Rosemary, cedar, and cypress especially help to revitalize the scalp and aid in the production of its natural oils.
Avoid essential oils if you have sensitive skin or a history of contact dermatitis. They are a common cause of contact dermatitis in my practice. This can lead to a red, itchy, and scaly scalp or neck.
If you suffer from dandruff or high risk for exposure to lice or fungus (ringworm) - like a teacher, camp counselor, or parent of school-aged children - consider using a bar with tea tree oil. This ingredient can act as a natural antifungal and help prevent lice.
One ingredient you may commonly find in shampoo bars is palm oil. This comes from the fruit of oil palm trees which were native to Africa, but are now common in South-East Asia. In fact, over 85 percent of palm oil production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is very versatile and efficient to harvest and this is why it is so prevalent in a wide range of products, from shampoo to pizza.
However, there are many environmental and ethical concerns around the use of palm oil. The cultivation of palm oil trees is leading to widespread deforestation and this is threatening the habitat of many endangered species. The farming process is also a great producer of greenhouse gases and is contributing to climate change.
This is why many consumers are opting to choose products that do not have palm oil. Also, as we mentioned earlier, it is possible to produce palm oil in an ethical and sustainable way and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will certify any companies and products that are able to do so.
One final consideration before you choose a shampoo bar is what fragrance it has. Whatever scent the bar has is likely to linger in your hair so it is important that it is a scent that you like. If you have allergies, it will be best to choose shampoo bars with no added or artificial fragrances.
Some of the most common fragrances you will find are those produced by natural flowers and herbs, such as lavender and rosemary. These are typically safe scents to choose from as they're so common in beauty products that the fragrances will already be familiar to you.
It can be difficult to assess whether you will like a scent or not when you buy something online. We would recommend looking at reviews from previous purchasers to see if the scent is too overpowering or artificial-smelling.
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Wombar Solid Shampoo for Normal Hair
Best for Normal Hair
Solid Shampoo Bar And Conditioner Effect Hair Soap
Best for Oily Hair
Old-Fashioned Shampoo Bar
Best for a Dry, Itchy Scalp
Argan Oil Shampoo Bar
Best for Controlling Frizz
Aspen Kay Naturals
Solid Shampoo Bar
Best for a Quick Transition
Best for Promoting Hair Growth
100% Natural Shampoo Bar for Hair
Best for Damaged or Dyed Hair
Reef Safe Shampoo Bar
Best for Thin and Fine Hair
Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bar
Best All in One Men's Bar
Voodoo Bamboo Charcoal Shampoo Bar
Best for Weak Hair
If your hair isn't particularly dry or oily, this shampoo bar is a good choice for you. It is made with cocoa butter and betaine to keep your hair balanced and your scalp free of any irritations. Plus, with every purchase of this special edition of Ethique's shampoo bar, a donation is made to the Irwin's Wildlife Warriors Foundation.
Some reviewers did struggle to get adequate lather from the bar, but others had more success lathering it in their hands first. Reviewers loved how clean and soft it made their hair without leaving any oily residue. They also praise how shiny it made their hair.
This bar is formulated for oily hair. Although it does contain sulfates, much of the stripping effect is counterbalanced by natural oils and butters to help moisturize the cuticles and keep your hair soft. The packaging is 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable and the bar has not been tested on animals.
Users of this bar say it may be too drying for some hair types. Reviewers who normally had a problem with oil buildup, however, noticed that it took much longer for their hair to become oily after washing, leaving their hair smooth and soft.
This all-natural shampoo bar can help with itchy and flaky scalps and can even help to treat dandruff. It's formulated with tea tree and hemp oil, which are both ingredients proven to help soothe irritations.
Some reviewers report that the bar can leave behind a waxy buildup, especially when used in hard water areas. For most other reviewers, however, it made their hair feel soft and light. It also helped soothe dandruff and itchy scalp conditions.
If you're looking for a shampoo bar to help you fight back frizzy hair, this argan oil bar may be just the thing. As a glycerin-based soap packed with shea butter and coconut oil, this bar creates a gentle lather that will help moisturize your cuticles and keep your hair healthy and smooth.
Reviewers with curly hair report this bar turned their curls into waves and could leave a residue behind. However, most other reviewers say it makes their hair soft and sleek without completely stripping it of its natural oils. It can also make frizzy hair more manageable.
There is no plastic included in the packaging of this bar and as a solid surfactant bar, it won't leave behind any residue or waxy build-up in your hair. The combination of natural oils and extracts ensures a nice clean while still being gentle on your scalp.
One common criticism of this bar is that it falls apart quite quickly, making it difficult to use after a few washes. Reviewers were impressed with how it lathers and smells, however, and confirm it didn't need a transition period. They love how it cleanses their hair and leaves it feeling soft.
This shampoo bar is made with Longsheng rice water which is farmed by the Red Yao tribe in China. Five percent of profits from sales of these bars go back to the tribe. The combination of rice, shea butter, and cocoa butter works to strengthen and rejuvenate your hair to promote hair growth.
If your hair is already dry, this bar can make the situation worse, according to some reviewers. Some also found it resulted in breakages and more shedding than usual. However, many reviewers report it promoted fresh hair growth and left their hair feeling very soft.
These cold process bars are available in five different varieties and we've chosen the marigold and bamboo charcoal set. These bars won't strip the dye from color-treated hair and can give damaged hair some much needed strength.
Some reviewers with skin concerns such as dandruff or psoriasis found that these bars made the conditions worse. However, reviewers do praise the bars for how they lather and how soft it makes their hair feel. They especially recommend it for damaged or overly processed hair.
This shampoo is environmentally friendly as it has recyclable packaging, is 100 percent vegan, and one percent of net sales are donated to the Ocean Cleanup Foundation. Argan oil prevents breakage, green clay cleanses, and broccoli seed oil moisturizes, making this ideal for thin hair.
For some reviewers, this shampoo bar was too drying. They reported that their scalp became itchy after a few uses. Most reviewers praise the bar, however, saying it is especially good for thin hair. They like that the bar doesn't leave their hair feeling heavy or coated in residue.
If you're looking to replace several soaps and cleaning products in one go, then this bar may be the one for you. It is formulated with ingredients such as shea butter to keep both your hair and your skin moisturized. It lathers well and is suitable for a variety of skin conditions.
Due to the black color of the soap, some reviewers report that the bar left black residue behind in the bath and shower. Some also found that the bar broke down quickly. Overall though, the majority of users agree that it is effective at cleaning and moisturizing and is also effective as a four in one bar.
This shampoo bar from Garnier is made from 94 percent plant-based material and is packaged in fully recyclable cardboard. The active ingredients are ginger and almond oil and these work to strengthen and revitalize weak hair without striping it of essential oils.
Although many reviewers liked the fragrance of the bar, it was too overpowering for some. It might also further dry out already dry hair. However, many reviewers praise the bar for how it lathers and that it doesn't leave their scalp itchy. They also say it helps their weak hair and doesn't promote breakage.
Shampoo and conditioner bars are not only eco-friendly, but they're also easy to travel with. That's why sustainability and travel advocate Julia Miller has some more bars to recommend.
First off, these come in minimal, completely plastic-free packaging, which I love. They smell amazing and actually work! The shampoo foams up like normal and the conditioner makes my hair so soft.
They come in a great shape which makes it easy to angle into your hair and are just super cute. They last longer than regular shampoo and conditioner, and you'll feel great that you're not contributing to plastic waste.
They also have different kinds of bars for different hair types, which I feel is pretty rare for shampoo and conditioner bars.
We've answered some of the most commonly asked questions about shampoo bars.
There are several effective ways to store a shampoo bar once it has been opened and used, and you can choose whichever suits you the most. One of the most common ways is with a soap or shampoo bag. These are very convenient because they can be hung on the wall and you can even crochet your own.
Another option for saving space is a draining rack. These can also be attached to the wall and can either have a soap rest inside or you can simply put the bar straight on the rack. Dishes have long been a popular way to store soap and they can also be used for shampoo bars. You should look for dishes that have good drainage and as little contact with the bar as possible.
A final option is a soap rest. These can be used on their own or inside a rack or dish. They're made from absorbent materials such as coconut fibers or natural loofah and are just as eco-friendly as your shampoo bar.
When you transition from using shampoos that have synthetic detergents to a more natural shampoo bar, it can take some adjustment. The chemicals in these shampoos can build up on your hair and will need to be stripped away. This is why you may find that your hair feels heavy or waxy. Unfortunately, this adjustment period can last weeks or even months.
There are a few tips you can try to make the adjustment period progress more smoothly, however. Make sure you don't overwash your hair or go back to your old shampoo. Instead, persevere with your shampoo bar and try to comb your hair through at least a couple of times a day to spread your natural oils through your hair.
As shampoo bars are generally more alkaline than traditional shampoos, you can use an apple cider vinegar rinse to adjust the pH level of your hair. Mix one part apple cider vinegar to three parts water and use it after shampooing and rinsing your hair. You may also want to try lathering the shampoo bar in your hands instead of directly onto your head. Once it is lathered in your hands, you can then rub the bubbles through your hair.
If you're looking for more eco-friendly alternatives to fill up your bathroom closet, we've got you covered! Check out some of our other pages for more all-natural products so you can lead your best, sustainable lifestyle.
If you're still unsure which shampoo bar is best for you, then check out the best-selling handmade shampoos on Amazon.
No. 1: Ethique｜Wombar Solid Shampoo for Normal Hair
No. 2: BAMBOEARTH｜Solid Shampoo Bar And Conditioner Effect Hair Soap
No. 3: J·R·LIGGETT'S｜Old-Fashioned Shampoo Bar
No. 4: Soapbox｜Argan Oil Shampoo Bar
No. 5: Aspen Kay Naturals｜Solid Shampoo Bar
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The descriptions of each product are referenced from content available on manufacturer, brand, and e-commerce sites.
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