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The Ultimate Helpful Guide on How To Use a Shampoo Bar

Written by Fran

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Posted on July 19 2019

Today I met a good friend of mine for lunch, she’s recently embarked on a journey to ditch plastic from her life too, and she is doing an amazing job at it, however, as soon as we met the first question she asked me was “How do you use a shampoo bar?”. 

There was a kind of frustration and disappointment in her face while she muttered the words, and I knew exactly what was going on. Truth is, I've been there too.

When I first decided to make a real go at swapping to eco-friendly alternatives to plastic-packaged products, one of the biggest struggles I faced was to actually get into solid shampoos!  The first time I washed my hair with a shampoo bar my hair looked so doll, coated and heavy I just didn’t even know if it had even be washed at all! 

To reassure you, after a lot of trial and error and many many hours spent researching this on the internet  I finally found a step-by-step plan to transition from commercial shampoo to natural shampoo bars and make it work. 

Here’s how you can, too, fall in love with natural shampoo bars and never look back!

The best way to use a shampoo bar:

1. Don't buy anything with Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) in it

2. Avoid hard water by using other types of water accessible to you.

3. Prepare your hair with a pre-shampoo baking soda rinse

4. Lather in your hand/on a sponge before applying on your hair

5. Make sure you spread it evenly around your entire head

6. Rinse your hair thoroughly using the right technique

7. Apply a natural acid rinse  

infographics how to use a shampoo bar

So, I know what you are thinking right now. “Wow, that's a lot of things to keep in mind,  especially for just getting my hair washed!”. Don’t worry! 

When I first started using shampoo bars I too got very overwhelmed with the endless amount of information I found online but after trialling dozens of methods I am fairly confident I finally cracked it and got the ultimate step-by-step troubleshooting plan to get your hair used to natural solid shampoos! 

Here’s what you need to do:

1. First things first: make sure your shampoo bar is really shampoo!

soap bars instead of shampoo bars

This may sound silly but I can assure you from experience that a lot of eco-friendly options available on the market and claim to be shampoo bars are actually made with the same process used to produce soaps. This is because they are very high in water and they are made through a process called saponification.

Lye, also called sodium hydroxide, is actually a very common alkaline element, but when combined with oils,  it chemically turns into glycerine in the finished soap form. So when you buy a shampoo bar make sure to check that none of the oils has been combined with lye, but they are used in their pure form and not together:

  • coconut oil/sodium cocoate + lye
  • palm oil/sodium palmate + lye
  • beef fat or tallow/sodium tallowate + with sodium hydroxide
  • olive oil/sodium olivate + sodium hydroxide, among others

So, if you see one of this combination mentioned on one of your shampoo bar labels please stay clear, what you're buying is actually plain simple soap! And if you have ever tried to wash your hair with soap (I have!), you will know and it's not good for your hair at all, as it will completely strip your hair of its essential oils leaving it dry, frizzy and lifeless. 

I often hear a lot of people saying “oh this shampoo is not for me”, and in most cases I can guarantee it's because they didn't even get to try the real thing, so please make sure you check the label before buying your selected shampoo bar,  otherwise none of the following steps will work!

2. How to use a shampoo bar with hard water.

How to use shampoo bars with hard water

If you happen to live in an area with hard water, this means that it is very high in mineral components, especially calcium and magnesium, as well as sulphates and bicarbonates.  So-called hard water usually requires a lot more shampoo to create a good lather but it is also a lot harder to rinse completely off your head, as it can leave an unwanted film on your hair making it rough and prone to get tangled.  

If this is the case for you and you have water that is very rich in minerals coming out of your tap, then an easy solution to this problem is to wash your hair with previously boiled water. Or you could use distilled water instead.

3. Before washing your hair: how to remove natural and product build-up from your hair 

How to remove build up from hair

A fundamental step to take if you really want your shampoo bar to work on your hair and leave it soft and silky is to actually prepare it for the swap before washing it. 

Most people I’ve heard of that have had bad experiences with shampoo bars usually skip this step, but after trying so many methods, I really think this is the magic trick to make it work! (together with an acid rinse after shampooing) . This is because our hair tends to get coated by two different types of residues:

  • Natural build-up: This is just normal stuff that makes your hair dirty. We naturally produce sebum and secrete sweat from our scalp glands. This, together with dry skin cells, can coat our hair and skin, and it is a completely normal process.
  • Commercial products’ build-up: these are all the residues left from commercially made shampoos, conditioners, gels and other mass-produced hair care products you used in the past. These products are usually made with synthetically-made substances such as silicones, silica and waxes, specifically designed to make our hair look shiny and full of volume. In fact, what they end up doing in the long term is to coat our hair with a residue build-up that is quite hard to remove and take some time. Also, these products are quite aggressive and tend to strip both hair and scalp from its naturally secreted oils that are supposed to moisturise the skin on your scalp, so when you stop using them your hair will need some time to re-balance its oil production. 

This is also why when you first start using natural products such as natural soaps, most people report having either dry hair (too much product build-up), greasy hair (unbalance in natural oils secretion) or a mix of the two, usually in different patches of hair.

All you need is to help your hair remove some of the excess oil, as well as get rid of all the chemical build-up left by your old shampoo.  The solution? Very easy! And it’s probably sitting in your kitchen right now: a simple baking soda rinse! This will also help if you live in a place with hard water.

To prepare it:

  •  Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to a cup (250ml) of lukewarm water.
  • Mix well and wet your hair with it before applying the shampoo. 
  • Make sure you massage it well into your hair and scalp and leave for a few minutes before rinsing with water.

Your hair is now ready for your eco-shampoo!

4. Washing your hair with a shampoo bar: Dos and Don’ts

lather shampoo in hands

Shampoo bars are a lot more concentrated than liquid shampoos, so my best tip to avoid coating your hair with lots of residues is, especially during the transition, to avoid rubbing the solid shampoo directly on your hair and scalp

DO: Create a nice foamy lather by rubbing it wet between your hands, on an exfoliating glove, a soap pouch or a natural sponge. 

DON’T: Don’t use the whole shampoo bar to wash your hair, only the lather produced. 

DO: For better results, section your locks in different major areas and massage each patch carefully with the shampoo foam. 

DO: Use circular motions to spread the shampoo, this will help circulation, which in turn will make your hair look even healthier.

DON’T: Don’t neglect parts of your head that are slightly more difficult to reach, such as the nape of your neck or your lower head. This is particularly important if you have long hair, don’t rush this as you may end up with mixed oily/dry patches of hair.

DO: Once you are sure you have applied the lather everywhere, rinse very carefully. And then...rinse again, and again

DON’T:  Rush the rinsing step: make sure to remove all the excess shampoo, which would otherwise weigh your hair down once dry.

5. Post-shampoo apple cider vinegar: what a difference a rinse makes!

apple cider vinegar rinse for hair

Shampoo bars made with organic natural ingredients are a lot gentler in cleaning your hair than commercially made shampoos, and this may translate into them taking longer to get rid of all the build-up created by previously used synthetic products. 

The best way to make sure you get rid of all that excess is to apply an acidic rinse when you are done shampooing.

This will help re-establish your hair’s natural PH level, as well as get rid of any shampoo residue left.

Again, you don’t need to buy any fancy products, you can easily make your homemade rinse using some standard apple cider vinegar (yes, the same one you may have in your kitchen already!). 

Some people use white vinegar as it seems particularly good for naturally dry hair,  however, I have personally found that the apple cider one is the one that works best for most hair types. 

Here's how to make your own Apple cider vinegar rinse for shiny hair:

  • Dilute 2/3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar with 250 ml (1 cup)  of lukewarm water 
  • Mix and apply on your hair and scalp, and if you want to achieve a deeper rinse, you can then massage your hair using an exfoliating glove. Whatever you do, don’t be shy and apply everywhere, from roots to ends.

Even though I started using this while adjusting to my plastic-free shampoo bar, I also discovered that apple cider vinegar is also great to tackle many other hair issues:

  • It’s a natural remedy to treat dandruff
  • It gives hair shine and volume
  • It helps untangle frizzy hair
  • It balances the natural oil production of your scalp, so it is especially great for oily hair types
  • When combined with a vigorous head massage, it helps unclog hair follicles, avoiding hair loss due to the accumulation of dead skin cells or sebum.

a) How often should I use the ACV (Acid Vinegar Rinse)? 

If you are ready to start using a shampoo bar for the first time, I suggest you apply this after your shampoo every 2/3 days until your hair has properly transitioned and got used to the natural ingredients of your new shampoo

After that, I usually have an acid rinse once a week, but that can vary depending on your hair type: keep in mind that greasy hair may need it more often, while if you have dry hair type, once or twice a month will still ensure you give your hair a nice extra pampering and care.

b) Do I rinse the vinegar off with water or not?

I personally don’t, as I like to enjoy the full effect of this rinse on my hair, but if you prefer you can apply your DIY rinse and let it be absorbed for 2-4 minutes, then quickly sprinkle some cool water on your hair to get rid of some of it.

Please do not worry about the vinegar smell, so many people are put off by the sound of it, but I can assure you the vinegar smell vanishes completely once your hair is dry. I was very sceptical when I first tried, but it really works, trust me!

6. How long does the transition period last for?

transition time using shampoo bars

Truth is, it really has a lot to do with the type of hair you’ve got.

It personally took me more than 2 weeks to get rid of all the nasty residue left from all the synthetic products I used to buy before the switch. I felt so compelled to just revert to the products I (an mostly my hair) had gotten used to, I think I screamed defeat at least a dozen times the first 2 weeks. But then, it just worked! And I can truly say that my hair looks so much healthier and better right now than it ever did before the change.

So whenever I see posts on facebook or social media of people just wanting to give up on soap bars because “they just don’t work out for them and their hair type”, I usually feel an urgent need to reassure them, to let them know it’s gonna be ok, that if they just keep at it and be patient and consistent, it will work! 

Not only that, but also that this simple action can have a huge impact on giving your hair a much more natural and healthy look, and also, in the end, it also saves the planet from single-use plastic and toxic chemicals down our drains and into rivers and seas. Now, isn’t that a good enough reason not to give up?

7. Conclusion

If you are starting out using a naturally made shampoo bar, or if you have already tried it and found it left your hair looking coated, dull, dry or gummy, don’t despair! This is completely normal, you are just going through a transition period where your hair will adjust to the natural ingredients of your new soap as opposed to the chemical ones from supermarket shampoos. 

Make sure to follow all these tips for at least 2 weeks, don’t wash your hair more than 3 or 4 times a week and don’t forget to apply the suggested DIY pre and post shampoo rinses, to get rid of build-up, counteract the damaging effect  of hard water, rebalance your natural PH and simply remove any other excess trapped in your hair. 

Just give it time, it will work for you like it has for me! 

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