What to look for when shopping for a shampoo bar?

Since the start of the zero-waste movement, shampoo and conditioner bars have become increasingly popular with eco-conscious consumers. What’s not to love? They are simple, easy to use, free from advertising, great for travel and no more plastic packaging. In addition, one bar is equivalent to 2 bottles of shampoo, which is perfect for those of us who are trying to become more minimalistic! 

We often have people contact us who have had bad experiences with shampoo and conditioner bars in the past. Shampoo bars are extremely tricky to formulate and a solid understanding of chemistry is essential, (yes, pun intended). A good bar will have all the eco-friendly benefits plus leave the hair looking and feeling fabulous, with no greasy residue or long term damage.

What to look for when shopping for a Shampoo Bar 

pH Balanced Bar

Our hair has a pH between 4.5-6 which is acidic. When a shampoo has a pH of 8 or higher, it falls on the alkaline scale. This will cause the hair cuticle to swell becoming dry, frizzy and prone to split ends. 

Shampoo and conditioner bars that are pH balanced will not have this effect. Instead, they will leave your hair looking smooth, shiny and manageable. 

A Syndet Bar

Syndet comes from combining the words synthetic and detergent. That’s what they are: synthetic detergents that create a surfactant (cleansing agent). However, just because they are not natural doesn’t mean they are not safe or non-toxic. Some examples of common surfactants used in syndet bars are Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI), Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS) and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). 

You want to avoid soap or anything containing saponified oils that are being marketed as a shampoo bar. During the soap making process saponified oils are formed when the fatty acids react with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide.  

Soap is an alkaline product and cannot be pH adjusted. This is why soap makers will recommend an apple cider vinegar rinse after you wash your hair, it’s all in an attempt to balance the pH of your hair. Syndet bars can be pH adjusted. 

Also, syndet bars should wash off clean where saponified oils will leave a soap scum. Bonus less scrubbing when it’s time to clean the shower!

Type of Surfactant used in the Shampoo Bar

SCI (Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate)

Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate is derived from coconut, it’s known as a baby surfactant for its gentle cleansing ability. This surfactant is safe to use in kid/baby shampoos and pH balanced for fabulous looking hair. This is what is used in The High-End Hippie shampoo bars. 

SCS (Sodium Coco Sulfate)

Sodium Coco Sulfate is also derived from coconut, however it’s a stronger surfactant and could irritate very sensitive skin.  It also has a high pH so unless it is adjusted with citric acid or another acid, it will fall on the alkaline scale. One reason companies like to use SCS is due to its foaming ability. It creates a great lather with lots of bubbles and cleans well!  

SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a surfactant that can be derived from coconut, palm or petroleum. There is a lot of misinformation out there about SLS, some being that it’s linked to cancer which has not been scientifically proven. It is commonly used because it’s inexpensive and a great cleanser. Since it’s such a strong surfactant, it could be irritating to the skin. Plus, if you are switching over to shampoo bars to be environmentally conscious, you might want to avoid products with petroleum or palm (unless sustainably sourced).   

Safe, Clean & Non-toxic Claims

Companies and marketing agencies are very clever. They play on mass consumer misconceptions. Like the idea that a product has to be all natural to be safe or non-toxic. This just simply isn’t the case and many of those 100% natural claims are false.

Lead, mercury, arsenic and aluminum, which can be found in cosmetics and personal care products, are naturally occurring elements but very dangerous if we are exposed to them in high amounts or repeatedly over a prolonged period of time, causing bioaccumulation.  

It’s best to look for safe, clean and non-toxic claims. 

A Company that has done it’s Research and is Committed to Excellence

Like I have stated before, a great shampoo bar is extremely tricky to formulate and a solid understanding of chemistry is essential. Sourcing ingredients that deliver professional results takes time to develop. 

Find a company that shares your values and loves what they do. If they love what they do,  they will be committed to providing the highest quality products and service. At The High-End Hippie, we are committed to providing the most luxurious and non-toxic product for you available on the market today.

Discover our full range of luxury shampoo bars and conditioners here


Written by Sarah Byer, co-owner & Senior Stylist at InGoodCo. Toronto & Amy Hamilton

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