A bar of soap? Sounds great. A facial bar? Fabulous. A shampoo bar? Mmmm … not so fast. A shampoo bar is exactly what it sounds like: a solid, concentrated hair cleanser and a low-waste, travel-friendly alternative to traditional liquid shampoo in plastic bottles. Solid shampoo is nothing new, but it has been growing in popularity, thanks in part to conscious consumers looking to reduce their consumption. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of bar soap—give me shower gel, please—I had some apprehension. But I decided to take the plunge and try the St. Clements shampoo from New Zealand–based brand Ethique, with the hope that I could get great hair with less waste.
Plastic waste is a massive, global problem—the International Union for Conservation of Nature says the world produces 300 million tons of it annually, with at least 14 million tons winding up in the ocean. Because it’s concentrated, one shampoo bar provides roughly the same number of washes as three 8½- to 10-ounce bottles. Ethique touts itself as being a zero-plastic, zero-waste beauty brand. The product line is made up entirely of solid face and hair bars, which come in compostable packaging (though, of course, consumers still have to compost the packaging themselves or take it to the closest composting center).
Shampoo bars don’t just eliminate the need for a plastic container. Many are also free of the harsh sulfates typically found in liquid shampoos (sulfates can strip hair of protective oils, causing it to become more dry and brittle). For someone like me, who wants to protect her hair and the planet, that all sounds amazing. The problem is, I’m also someone who hesitates to change up a beauty routine that works—if I get even a drop of the wrong moisturizer on my face, it’s breakout city. And as much as I miss the TRL era, I don’t need my skin going back to my teenage years.
When I’m using my regular liquid shampoo, my hair is fine the day after I wash it. But when I wake up the following morning, my roots look “glossy” (that sounds way better than “greasy,” right?). Ethique says the lime and orange oils in the St. Clements bar “balance oil production, clean the scalp, and freshen your hair up.” And the company has additional shampoo and conditioner bars that address other concerns, like dandruff and dry hair. The bars range in price from $13 to $17. Since each bar replaces three average bottles of liquid shampoo, going this route could be very cost-effective: You might need to buy only a few bars a year, depending on your hair-care routine. I was spending about $20 three or four times a year for shampoo
The instructions are simple: Get your hair wet, swipe the bar multiple times through your roots, and then work the product through your hair. Once there’s a lather, just rinse and be on your merry way. After decades of using liquid shampoo, it can feel weird to sweep a solid bar across your head. But this bar really does lather well—it didn’t feel any different from my usual liquid shampoo, and I didn’t have to rub and rub to get it sudsy.
I’ve read a few online reviews from people who said they were disappointed by the waxy residue that shampoo bars left behind (and I’ve read that if this happens, you should give your hair an apple cider vinegar rinse to clear things up). I didn’t have this issue—the product washed out easily and didn’t leave any residue; the only thing that lingered was the faint, pleasant scent of citrus.
Once my hair was dry, I was delighted by how light it felt and how smooth it looked, 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. It looked … about the same as it normally does when I first wake up. With liquid shampoo, I wash my hair daily. And I’ll keep up that routine with the St. Clements bar—it didn’t make my hair look any less greasy on day two. That’s fine by me—I should probably save a miracle for something more important than the state of my mane at 8 a.m. anyhow. Though the results are about the same as what I get using ordinary shampoo, I love that I can spend less money and mitigate my environmental impact.
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. This is what I use to store the bar, and it’s easy to open and close, even with wet, soapy hands. A convenient container is also a wonderful 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 toss it out.