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Until recently, I’d never even heard of a shampoo bar, except something I vaguely remember using on an outdoor education camping trip in my teens — and the effect wasn’t pretty. I’m one of those people who’s secretly obsessed with their hair, and I pretty much rely solely on salon hair products. But a friend mentioned she’d been using hair shampoo bars for nearly a year, and the girl has glorious shampoo commercial hair. I was intrigued, and maybe even a little envious.
While my curiosity was born from vanity, I quickly learned why hair bars are rapidly rising in popularity. They have a small environmental impact and can last up to 80 washes — the equivalent of about three bottles of shampoo — with no plastic waste. While at first glance they may seem pricey, you get triple the value in one bar. They’re also amazing for traveling since there’s no potential for a mess in your suitcase. But equally importantly for us vain hair snobs, shampoo bars use thoughtful, effective ingredients packed into a concentrated form, so you’re not sacrificing good hair while doing good for the planet.
And while the application may seem more complicated, it’s not: You simply swipe the bar through your roots a few times, then work into a lather and wash just as you would with liquid shampoo. It takes some getting used to the first or second time, but then it'll become second nature to you.
When shopping for a shampoo bar, avoid anything soap-based, says sustainable beauty brand Ethique founder Brianne West, because they’re especially bad for dry or color-treated hair. “The pH is too high and over time roughens up the cuticle, making hair dry, frizzy and dull.”
But what are ingredients should you look for? West particularly likes things like sodium cocoyl isethionate (a gentle surfactant derived from coconut oil), coconut oil, cocoa butter, vitamin B5 (panthenol) and starches like tapioca or cornstarch.
No matter what your hair type, here are a variety of shampoo bar options that are worth the hype.
Top-rated hair shampoo bars
Made with fair trade honey, sweet wild orange oil and bergamot oil, this cult-favorite formula softens and moisturizes hair without stripping away natural oils. It’s also a good choice for shampoo bar newbies: It lathers well and has a honey-toffee scent that’s not overpowering.
Great for fine hair that needs a boost, this product’s star ingredients are things like shea butter, coconut oil and rice protein — instead of damaging sulfates, phthalates, silicones or parabens. Reviewers love its subtle smell and easy-to-hold shape, which make it a cinch to swipe onto roots.
This easy-to-lather formula has a light coconut scent, and it’s packed with creamed coconut and cocoa butter to help smooth hair without leaving it flat and limp. It’s soap-free and safe for color-treated hair, and it’s ideal for wavy, curly or dry hair that’s been abused by blow dryers or chemical treatments. Of note: Ethique also makes a variety of shampoo and conditioner bars so you’re covered no matter what your hair concern.
This bar has a whole lotta good going on so you’ll feel good about using it. It’s color-safe; vegan, paraben-, sulfate- and cruelty-free; and the company donates a bar of soap to someone in need with every purchase. Even better? Wonderous ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter leave hair squeaky clean, shiny and without any icky residue.
If you’ve got fine hair, this gentle shampoo/conditioner combo promises both strength and bounce. It has a light coconut-y smell, its lather is a dream and it’s made with energizing mimosa flower. To note: While it’s filled with plant-based detanglers, some reviewers say they’d prefer a stronger conditioner.
For those in need of major moisture, this sulfate-free bar is the answer to your prayers. You won’t get a super frothy lather with this one, but ingredients like aloe vera, castor oil and glycerin are intensely hydrating yet gentle on the scalp. It’s a multitasker, too: This bar can even be used on your body.
Some new-to-solids users report that bars can leave hair tangled, but say goodbye to knotted locks with this shampoo and conditioner combo set. Made with limited natural ingredients like peppermint essential oils, cocoa butter and olive oil, these bars create soft, manageable hair and leave behind a refreshing mint scent to give you a boost.
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