Shampoo Bar 101

french vanilla soap topped with chamomile
french vanilla soap topped with chamomile

While I was developing my soap recipe, it was important to me to create a bar that was so luxurious you couldn’t wait to shower, but also one that could multi-task as a shampoo bar.

You guys, shampoo bars are what originally got me hooked on handmade soaps.

I have naturally curly hair. Sometimes it’s fantastic and defined and curvaceous, and other times it’s big and bushy. It’s thick and dry always.

My hair has little consistency, and literally does whatever the hell it wants depending on the weather. Bonus cell phone selfie! Here’s what it looks like today, on a hot and humid summer day: somewhere between curvaceous and bushy.

case in point: second day hair after straightening my bangs. The bulk of my hair is a little flatter than normal, but my bangs, which started the day straight curled up to match.
case in point: second day hair after straightening my bangs. The bulk of my hair is a little flatter and frizzier than normal, but my bangs, which started the day straight curled up to match.

I gave up trying to control my hair a long time ago. I’ve never been a fan of moose or hairspray or gel. It all just feels gunky and like it weighs my hair down. I gave up on conventional shampoos ages ago too. With liquid shampoos, my hair was either brittle, oily, or so dandruffy I looked like I didn’t wash at all. Gross, right?

Enter the almighty shampoo bar!

Bar soap has literally saved me and my hair from constant flux. While I can’t control how my hair reacts to humidity, I can keep it clean and healthy and my scalp relatively itch free. In my book that’s a huge win.

Here’s the thing though–I had to find the right shampoo bar. And believe me, I tried a lot of them along my quest to greatness.

You need to look for two things in a good shampoo bar:

  1. A high percentage of castor oil. Castor oil is a thick, moisturizing oil that boosts the amount of lather so your hair is easier to wash. Because castor oil is so thick and soft, it isn’t often used above 10% in any bar of soap. Any more than that and the bar can become sticky and soft, but between 5-7% is perfect for a shampoo bar. This will still puts it low on the ingredients list, but if it’s there, it’ll be good for your hair.
  2. Hard cleansing oils like coconut oil or lard, balanced with a moisturizing oil like olive oil. Balancing the hard cleansing oils with the moisturizing oils creates a balanced bar that gets your strands squeaky clean without drying out the natural oils in you hair.

Sounds good, right? But I know what you’re thinking. How’s the transition period? Will I look like I haven’t showered in weeks? The answer is no, of course not. There is a transition, but it’s nothing like going no-poo if that’s what you’re worried about.

What to Expect from Switch to a Shampoo Bar

  • A shampoo bar will clean your hair so well that all the silicon and other gook commercial hair products have left behind will start to wash out.
  • Transitioning from coated to clean hair can make your freshly denuded strands feel extra thirsty and dry for a few days or more
  • Your hair might be a little frizzier or even hold a little more static since it doesn’t have that commercial gook weighing it down
If you have dry hair like me, finishing your shampoo with an apple cider vinegar rinse (ACV). ACV acts like a conditioner and adds moisture and balance back to your hair and scalp. Remember, soap is alkaline, so a little acid goes a long way. An ACV rinse should also help with any dryness, frizziness, or static-cling.

I use about 3 oz ACV and fill the rest of a 24 oz condiment squirt bottle and apply directly to strands and ends after shampooing. I let the rinse set while I finish my shower and then rinse with water before I get out.

I wash my hair about every 2-3  days depending on weather and activity level. I’ll wash it more often if I want my curls to be super defined for a special occasion, but most days, it looks like the selfie above, and I’m cool with that.

Have you ever used a shampoo bar? What were the results?

All of Tiny Dino Soapworks soaps can be used as shampoo bars. All you have to do is choose your favorite scent!
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Why I Love Handmade Soap

lavender cocoa butter soap on wheat plate

About mid-spring, I got stuck on the idea that I wanted to make my own soap. Now, soap and I have not had a particularly happy history. It’s not that I have trouble with lye or fragrance (though I do try to avoid frangrance with phthatlates), it is simply that I have dry skin, and sometimes, using commercial soap was akin to dousing myself with itching powder–and then combine that with our hard water, look out.

I always had better luck with handmade soap. I tried Soap for Goodness Sake and absolutely fell in love with Nuture Botaincals and Bazil Essentials, which is a local-to-me company that I cannot recommend enough if you are in the market for vegan body products. I could lather up with these soaps and get out of the shower and not feel like my skin was going to snap Cassandra from Dr. Who style.

lavender cocoa butter soap bars

So what’s the big difference? Most commercial soap are made with Sodium Laueth Sulfate which is a detergent and skin irritant. Mixing it with oils make it resemble soap, but it more strips grease than cleans, hence the getting out of the shower and diving straight into a bucket of lotion. With traditional soap, yes, made with lye, the soap gently loosens dirt and debris off your skin as it lathers, but the oils in the bar also moisturize your skin. Since I switched to completely handmade bath products, I haven’t needed lotion at all. (Obligatory disclaimer: This is all totally my experience from n=1 experimentation with soaps. These statements are not to be taken as medical advice.)

lavender cocoa butter soap

I spent most of the month of June reading up on oils and their different properties–which ones make a super sudsy moisturizing bar, and which ones make a nice hard bar that one dissolve immediately in the shower. I discovered that my favorite oil is probably cocoa butter. It’s rich, creamy, supremely moisturizing, and makes the kitchen smell like fresh chocolate while you’re working with it.

lavender cocoa butter shave and shampoo bar

The chocolate smell, unfortunately, does not last through the soapmaking process, but the properties of the butter do. The lavender soap I’ve been sharing photos of has cocoa butter, castor oil, and just a little bit kaolin clay, which gives it such a creamy, rich lather that is perfect for shampooing or shaving. Plus, it’s really pretty.

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