Everything You Need to Know about Shampoo Bars

You may have noticed that Curl Warehouse just recently added another brand of shampoo and conditioner bars - the Vida Bars - to our growing list of products.

Solid bars are really popular these days as we try to use less plastic - but we still want to treat our naturally curly, kinky and wavy hair with the same attention and care by following the Curly Girl / Curly Hair Method (whether it is modified version or not)!

Are Shampoo Bars the Same as Soap?

The first thing I will mention is that not all shampoo bars are created equal.  A lot of bars out there are made using saponified oils.  Why?  Well that is exactly how you make soap and if you can use something on your skin why not your hair?  Soap on hair will usually make it feel waxy or greasy and it just doesn’t work very well.  Plus the pH level of soap is off for hair and you will usually end up with a lot of build up. 

How do you know if you are dealing with a bar that uses saponified oils as the cleaning agents?  Just look for coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil... even caster oil.  If that is your first or second ingredient it might be saponified. Not all companies will indicate it is saponified but you can always call / email the company and ask for clarification.  You will find that running this product's ingredients through curlsbot.com might show as approved or it might ask “is this soap?”.  Don’t despair if you have a shampoo bar in your hands right now that uses oils.  It is perfectly good to just use that like a regular bar of soap for your body. Don’t throw it away.

pH and Your Hair

Hair is very sensitive to changes in pH levels and naturally sits at about 4.5 to 5.5.  A bar of soap or a shampoo bar with the saponified oil process will hit around 9.  Our skin can handle that change but the cuticle of your individual hair strands cannot and will be “blown open”, letting in too much water and eventually causing high porosity hair.

Shampoo and Conditioner Bar Ingredients

Shampoo bars that are good for your hair will have surfactants or detergents.  I know this sounds harsh but it really is not at all.  These are ingredients you have probably noticed in your current liquid shampoo such as:

  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Methyl Isethionate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
  • Decyl Glucoside
  • Lauryl Glucoside
  • Coco Glucoside
  • Cocomidopropyl Betaine
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate
  • Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate

If you are following the Curly Girl / Curly Hair Method - or just in general - we still advise to avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Coco Sulfate as much as possible as they can be drying.  Curly hair is naturally dry, so we do not want to dry it out further with these ingredients.  Plus there are so many products out there now that are great at cleansing without drying out your hair.

Conditioner bars must have emulsifying agents, along with emollients like butters and non-saponified oils, so that it actually can penetrate your hair.  This process allows them to be small enough to combine with water.  Lastly there must be positively charged (catatonic) ingredients so your naturally negatively-charged hair will allow a thin film to stay on the hair after rinsing. This is what gives conditioner that smoothing effect.  A conditioner that rinses off fully is not effective.

Benefits of Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

You will probably notice that the first time you try a shampoo bar that they feel really “cleansing”.  Like squeaky clean.  Remember shampoo bars do not include water like your current shampoo so they are very concentrated.   Traditional liquid shampoo can be up to 80% water!   A shampoo or conditioner bar can last anywhere from 70-100 washes.

A big benefit of shampoo and conditioner bars is that you can go anywhere with a solid bar.  Camping and holidays are now much easier: throw a bar or two in your bag and you won't have to worry about it leaking or not being able to put it in your carry on bags when flying.  Jack59 offers a cute travel case for your next trip!

How to Use Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

It is important to get your hair wet - in fact very wet - when using a shampoo bar.  Then you can swipe the bar down the length of your hair a few times or start the bar in your hands by rolling it around like regular soap and then apply it to your hair.  Keep massaging it in to your scalp before you add more as you won’t need a lot.  Of course not needing a lot ties into the fact that your bar will last you a long time!  Instead of reaching for the bar to get the lather you want, add more water and see how that goes.

Conditioner bars are also very conditioning.  Again without the water you have a good concentration of those ingredients that will detangle and smooth your hair cuticle.  Like the shampoo bar, you can apply the conditioner bar to your hands first or just apply the bar directly to your hair with a few swipes.  Unlike the shampoo bar, which focuses on scalp cleaning, when using the conditioner bars you will focus on the hair itself from mid shaft to the ends.  For dry scalps going up to the root with conditioner is fine.  Let the conditioner sit for a minute or two to penetrate and then start your detangling process.

Storage

Storage of your bars is something new to consider if you have not used them before.  Shampoo and conditioner bars should be kept dry between uses.

Jack59 has created a compostable container that allows them to dry as the water drains away from the bars.  There is a lid that protects them when not in use and acts as a holder when you are actually using them.  It can also be used as a travel container inside the reusable cotton bag that it ships with.

A soap dish that allows air to circulate around the bars will also work for storage.

Choosing a Bar

Jack59 bars are sold separately so you can mix and match your shampoo and conditioner.  Being able to choose which bar you want for your shampoo and a different bar for your conditioner is great if you have dry ends and an oily scalp, for example, or if you want to use a purple shampoo but a regular conditioner.

Jack59 bars are vegan, paraben-free, phalate-free, and pH balanced. They are also all Curly Girl / Curly Hair Method approved and handmade in Edmonton, Alberta. This company has also recently released a leave in conditioner in an aluminum container (infinitely recyclable!) and a serum in a glass bottle. 

Vida Bars are sold as a set so you get a shampoo and conditioner bar that have been formulated to work together.  They also come pH balanced, gluten free, fully vegan and with a reusable cloth bag.  These are also crafted by hand. 

One of the new quandaries you might encounter when using your bars is figuring out which one is shampoo and which one is the conditioner!  Once they are being used you no longer have a label to refer to.  The shampoo bars tend to be darker, glossier whereas the conditioner bars look creamier.  Vida Bars' shampoo bars are smaller and rounder than their conditioner bars.  Jack59 does stamp a C on the conditioner bar which helps at first, but as it wears away, try to always put them in the container the same way when you are finished using them. 

Enjoy these curly friendly, eco-conscious products, knowing you are helping your curls and the planet!