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Beware the 'shampoo bar'

It's important to know what you're looking at with solid haircare products


There's a reason we have both soap and shampoo - it's because if you use soap regularly on hair, chances are you'll end up with dull, dry, lifeless locks. A genuine shampoo bar is exactly that - it is NOT soap. So it's important to know exactly what you want and what you're getting when you buy shampoo and conditioner bars. Many soap makers produce a 'shampoo bar' which is in fact a hair soap bar and chances are you won’t like it.

The easiest way to figure out if you should use a product for your hair is to ask if it has lye in it - that indicates that it is a soap, not a shampoo and you should be very wary of using soap on your hair.

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I should point out here that I tried really hard to make a shampoo soap bar myself, did lots of research, made lots of test batches, and used soap on my hair for about 6 weeks solid. None of it worked - my hair was terrible by the end of it and my scalp was itchy too.

There is one main (but really important) difference between shampoo and soap - and that is ph. Soap is slightly alkali, which is great for skin but not for hair. Alkalinity affects the charge on the hair strand, which makes the hair follicles stand up from the hair shaft, instead of lying down. That opens up the strand, the moisture is sucked out of it and eventually your hair turns into dry straw. Hair products should be neutral or slightly acidic. If you're being told you can rinse your hair with vinegar, beware! This is in an effort to neutralise the pH of your hair after using soap (I tried this too - didn't work for me). Depending on your water hardness, washing your hair with soap could leave you with a head full of soap scum. The soap attaches to the minerals in your water and can leave them in your hair - which doesn't make for a clean and shiny result.

My final reason for not using soap on your hair is because shampoos have conditioning agents in them which mean they both clean and nourish. Soap does not. So if you wash your hair with soap regularly you end up (again) with tangled dry straw.

Don't get me wrong - I love soap! But not for hair.......


Soap Kitchen Wanaka shampoo bars are great because they are exactly that - they are shampoo, they are not soap. Once I realised that soap had been terrible on my own hair, and once I had done enough research to know the science that explained why that was, I set about making something that actually worked.

So what are shampoo bars? Now, don’t freak out, but shampoos are actually detergents. - whether they are liquid or solid. They’re quite different (much more gentle) than the ones you wash dishes with, but the reason they are ph neutral is because they’re detergent, not soap. I started with a base of SCI, which is an extremely gentle cleanser derived from coconuts and combined it with some other plant based cleansers. Add some conditioning agents into the mix as well as moisturising ingredients like cocoa butter, pro vitamin B5 and some hydrolyzed wheat protein for slip and you end up with a hair shampoo bar that cleans, conditions and makes your hair look and feel great. Are shampoo bars good for your hair? The answer is absolutely yes - but it must be a well formulated shampoo and not a soap.

I tinkered with my formula, made my first batch, and distributed it to my friends and family to see what they thought. Most of the feedback was super positive - except for me! And my mum. Because the two of us have super fine hair, we both thought it was a little heavy for us. All shampoo - whether liquid or bars - have conditioners in them so that they clean your hair but also nourish it. I tweaked my original formula just a little by reducing the amount of conditioners and that’s how today at the Soap Kitchen we have two different hair shampoo bars - normal to dry hair shampoo and fine hair shampoo and they are both available with either lavender and rosemary essential oils, or with lemongrass.

All of that is fantastic, but I haven’t even gotten to the best bit yet! When you use a shampoo or a conditioner bar, you don’t use a plastic bottle and you don’t send a bottle to recycling or landfill. We must reduce our use of plastic which is why all our products are plastic free. We can’t do everything at once, but switching to shampoo and conditioner bars is something that you can do today. It will make a difference and actually, once you get used to them, you’ll like bars more than liquid. The first time you pack your toiletries bag to travel, you’ll be amazed at how much more space you have! And, the forest of plastic bottles in your shower will be a thing of the past.

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It doesn’t take very long to get used to using bars on your hair - it’s easy. I simply rub the bar straight on my wet hair. Just as with liquid shampoo, you can feel when you’ve got enough lather and away you go as usual. There is very little difference between using a bar or liquid.

I’m often asked what to store shampoo bars in and I think I have the best system you can get. You know the little drawstring bags that you sometimes get small gifts in? I keep each bar in one of those. You can use it right through the bag - no need to take it out - and I have put a hook in my shower so the bar, in it’s little bag, can hang out of the way and dry between uses. Even better, when you get down to the lumpy end bits, you don’t lose any of them down the drain, just pop a new bar in and keep going. When you buy a Soap Kitchen hair combo, you get the two bars of your choice and the bags to put them in.



Obviously, it depends how often you wash your hair, so approximately 50 washes.


In the bags, preferably hung up in your shower.


They certainly do if they’re the real thing. If they’re actually shampoo bars they are just shampoo in solid form, so they will lather just like the liquid does.


Do you normally use conditioner? If you do, then the answer is yes.


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