A soap? Great. A facial bar? Fabulous. A solid shampoo? Mmmm… not so fast. A solid shampoo is exactly what it sounds like: a solid, concentrated hair cleanser and a low-emission, travel-friendly alternative to traditional liquid shampoo in plastic bottles. Solid shampoo isn’t new, but it’s growing in popularity, thanks in part to conscious consumers looking to cut back on their consumption. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of bar soap – give me some shower gel, please – I was apprehensive. But I decided to take the plunge and try St. Clements shampoo from New Zealand brand Ethique, in hopes of getting beautiful hair with less waste.
Plastic waste is a huge global problem – the International Union for Conservation of Nature says the world produces 300 million tonnes of it a year, of which at least 14 million tonnes end up in the ocean. Because it’s concentrated, one shampoo bar provides about the same number of washes as three 8½ to 10 ounce bottles. Ethique presents itself as a zero plastic and zero waste beauty brand. The product line is made up entirely of solid face and hair bars, which come in compostable packaging (although, of course, consumers still have to compost the packaging themselves or take it to the composting center the closest).
Shampoo bars don’t just eliminate the need for a plastic container. Most, like the Ethique bar I tried, are also free of sulfates typically found in liquid shampoos (sulfates strip hair of its protective oils, making it drier and more brittle). For someone like me, who wants to protect their hair and the planet, this all sounds amazing. Trouble is, I’m also someone who’s reluctant to change a beauty routine that works – if I get even a drop of the wrong moisturizer on my face, that’s the town of the escape. And even though I miss the TRL era, I don’t need my skin to go back to my teenage years.
When I use my usual liquid shampoo, my hair looks great the day after washing. But when I wake up the next morning, my roots look “shiny” (sounds a lot better than “oily, doesn’t it?). According to Ethics, the lime and orange oils in the St. Clements bar “balance oil production, cleanse the scalp, and refresh your hair.” And the company offers additional shampoo and conditioner bars that address other issues, like dandruff and dry hair. Bar prices range from $13 to $17. Since each bar replaces three average bottles of liquid shampoo, this route could be very cost effective: you might only need to buy a few bars per year, depending on your hair care routine. I was spending about $20 three or four times a year on shampoo.
The instructions are simple: wet your hair, run the bar a few times through your roots, then work the product through your hair. Once there is suds, rinse and continue on your way. After decades of using liquid shampoo, it might seem odd to run a solid bar over your head. But this bar lathers up really well – it was no different than my usual liquid shampoo, and I didn’t have to scrub and scrub to get it lathered.
I’ve read a few reviews online from people who said they were disappointed with the waxy residue left by shampoo bars (and I’ve read that if that happens you should rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar apple to clarify things). I didn’t have this problem: the product washed off easily and left no residue; the only thing that lingered was the light, pleasant citrus scent.
Once my hair was dry, I was delighted with how light and soft it was, even without conditioner. The final test came in the morning, when I looked in the mirror to see what seven hours of sleep had done to my hair. He looked…about the same as usual when I first wake up. With the liquid shampoo, I wash my hair daily. And I will maintain this routine with the St. Clemens bar – it didn’t make my hair any less greasy on the second day. That’s fine with me – I should probably book a miracle for something more important than the state of my mane at 8am anyway. I haven’t seen the results yet, but I’m curious how ridding my shampoo of sulfates will help my hair in the long run. Although the results are pretty much the same as I get with regular shampoo, I like that I can spend less money and lessen my impact on the environment.
Pro tip: If you want to keep the shampoo bar in the shower, it will last longer if you dry it completely between uses and store it in a container. Any soap dish will do, but Ethique makes a compostable version from bamboo and cornstarch that can last up to five years. It’s what I use to store the bar, and it’s easy to open and close, even with wet, soapy hands. A handy container is also a great way to store a shampoo bar for travel – you can easily pack enough shampoo for months, there’s no spillage and the TSA won’t throw it away.
This article was edited by Jen Hunter and Jason Chen.