It’s been about eight years since I started re-evaluating the products I use in my bathroom.
It all started with a concern about the ingredients in my body care products. I started reading ingredient labels and realized that I wanted to choose products with fewer synthetic ingredients; I wanted to use products that would be practically edible, because what you put on your body goes into your body; and I wanted to use products that were safe for the environment, since most of the products on our bodies get washed down the drain.
Almost a decade later, it’s much easier to find products that meet my criterion of having simple ingredients that are recognized as safe. (Basically, if I wouldn’t put a product on my kids, I don’t put it on myself.) Now I am looking for products that come without single-use packaging— products that are either sold without packaging or that come in reusable or refillable packaging.
But the bottles are recyclable!
Shampoo, conditioner, hand soap and body wash are major sources of single-use plastics in most people’s bathrooms. Sure, plastic bottles are accepted by most city’s recycling programs, but despite popular belief, it’s not like those plastic bottles just magically turn into new plastic bottles ad infinitum. Those plastic bottles either get turned into a lower-grade product that is no longer recyclable or get shipped off to a developing country, where I’m honestly not sure what they do with them, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t good.
One option is to frequent a local refillery and just use the same plastic bottle many, many times. I refill our foaming handsoap bottles with water and liquid castile soap, but the option I prefer is to use a cleanser that has no packaging.
Back to basics
First, go back to soap in a bar!
Guys, bar soap for your hands and body is CHEAP, it lasts longer, it’s zero waste, and you can bring it in your carry-on luggage!
Did you know that liquid hand soap in a pump wasn’t even a thing until the 70s? And body wash (aka shower gel) only came about in the late 80s? Body wash only took over from bar soap in the showers of the developed world in the late 90s … and of course it was and is marketed as somehow more effective, more luxurious and sexier than its solid predecessor.
Just think about the marketing gimmick: is the skin on your hands any different than the skin on your forearms or your feet? No, it’s not, but two different products are marketed to us: hand soap and body wash. But both of these products do the exact same thing as bar soap—what humans have been cleaning themselves with since 2800 BC. (Think bar soap is unsanitary? I understand for public restrooms, but in your shower it’s completely fine.)
If you’re addicted to squirting creamy body wash onto a plastic bath puff, you can get the same effect using bar soap and exfoliating gloves (my method of choice) or a completely compostable natural loofah.
Is bar shampoo … just bar soap? Nope!
I will concede that washing our hair and washing our skin is not the same thing, although people with close-cut hair often just use the same soap all over. And while people are aware of hand and body soap in bar form and can easily find it at most drugstores (but have been convinced by marketers that such products are better in bottles), many people still don’t realize that shampoo and conditioner exist in bar form!
I have been using bar shampoo for at least five years now, and I no longer even bother with conditioner (whether liquid or solid). Since I weaned my hair off of traditional shampoo and its synthetic ingredients that strip hair’s natural oils, I’ve found that I don’t need conditioner, but it is possible to get conditioner in a bar form if you want it.
Bar shampoo, just like the liquid you’re used to, comes in a variety of formulations for different hair types, and you might have to try a couple before you find the one that works best for your mane. When in doubt, I would recommend contacting the shampoo bar makers themselves for recommendations for your specific hair. These are typically small brands who will be more than happy to chat with you about which formula would work best for you.
How do you use bar shampoo?
Moisten the bar, rub on your hair, shampoo as usual.
How long does it last?
Because there’s no chance of accidentally squeezing out more than you need, it’s pretty hard to waste your bar shampoo. As long as you don’t leave it soaking in a puddle of water causing it to dissolve prematurely, it’ll easily last as long as your favourite shampoo, if not longer.
Once you switch to a bar shampoo, you may find, like me, that you can train your hair to require washing less often. Experts say we should only be washing our hair one to two times per week. Because most traditional shampoos contain detergents that actually strip our hair’s natural oils, our scalps start overproducing oils to compensate, and our hair feels greasy and dirty soon after being washed, so we wash every day, and the cycle continues. Once your hair gets used to not being stripped daily, your hair’s natural oils will rebalance and soon you will find you can skip wash days. (I also use refillable dry shampoo made with arrowroot powder and cocoa to help coax an extra day out of my coif.)
How do you store bar shampoo?
Most brands offer a specific reusable container for their shampoo bars. The lid will protect the soap from shower spray and make it easy for travel. It’s best to let the bar dry out before replacing the lid so it doesn’t dissolve in the container.
I tend to reuse containers I already have. If the bar fits snuggly in the container, you can just remove the lid, turn it upside down to rub on your head, then shampoo.
Can I use bar shampoo on my kids?
Sure you can!
Notice that “tear free” shampoos contain synthetic ingredients to prevent eye irritation that bar shampoos do not, so no one is marketing “tear free” bar shampoo that I know of. That said, it really is possible to wash a child’s hair without getting shampoo in their eyes, and the ingredients in the bar shampoos I’ve tried are arguably much safer for eyeballs (and mouths, and scalps) than the shampoo typically marketed for kids.
We are currently using La Petite Nature made by Dominique at La Striga Potions Urbaines. It is unscented and contains ingredients like coconut oil, Moroccan lava clay, avocado oil and colloidal oatmeal.
Where do I buy bar shampoo?
If you want to shop brick & mortar, check your local natural foods store. I have not yet seen solid shampoo on shelves in regular grocery and pharmacy chains. The body care products chain Lush, found in many malls, sells solid shampoo and it was theirs that first got me onto the solid shampoo train.
Unwrapped Life solid shampoos and conditioners are made in Calgary and are available online at The Baby Footprint and in exclusive bundles at Well.ca. I am loving my Bora Bora shampoo bar so far, and I’ll report back after a few months of regular use.
What other products walk into a bar?
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