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Choosing the Right Shampoo Bar For You

There are so many kinds of shampoos! Randomly purchasing shampoo bars might not be the best approach unless you have short hair with no scalp problems. If you are one of those lucky devils then may as well purchase a inexpensive one that smells good. For the rest of us, knowing just a tiny bit about the differences between the ingredients will help you choosing the right shampoo bar for you.

Know the Difference Between Natural Shampoo Bars and Synthetic Shampoo Bars

Know if you are purchasing a Natural or Synthetic Detergent Bar. It makes a difference.

NATURAL SOAP SHAMPOO
Saponified Oils
Made with oil and Lye
SYNTHETIC DETERGENT SHAMPOO
(Syn-Det Shampoo Bars)
Cleansing agent is all or mostly soap based, meaning the maker has saponified oil by adding a high alkaline lye or potash mixture to them.
considered
Can not be Ph banlanced
Harsher on hair
Cleansing agent is detergent based, meaning the maker has not made it but purchased it premade via a chemical process at a industrial facility.
Can be Ph balanced
Gentler on Hair

Identifying Natural Soap Shampoo Bars

If the ingredient list contains the phrase “Saponified Oils of…”. It is a natural, old fashioned shampoo bar.

Until the mid 1930’s this is the only way shampoo came. Natural shampoo bars are basically the exact same thing is old fashioned soap. You take oil and fats, add lye or caustic potash and viola! Soap. It isn’t exactly that easy but for Great Great grandmother, it probably was. Problem with old-fashioned soap, it cleans but it cleans less well the harder your water is. It is also high alkaline, so it can be hard on hair. Finally, the better the soap is for your skin the more likely it will leave a residue of oil from the unsaponified portion of the soap.

Unsaponified oils in a soap are great if you want soft skin but not great if you want squeaky clean hair. (My guess is in the old days everyone who cared about the appearance of their hair, rinsed after shampooing with rain water. When I visited my grandmother, she showed me where the rain barrel was so I could rinse my hair after washing it.)

I sell four types of these traditional shampoos:

Identifying a Syndet Shampoo Bar

Basically it isn’t a natural soap if the ingredient list:

  • Doesn’t have one of these words;  “saponified”, “sodium hydroxide”, “potassium hydroxide”, “lye” or “caustic ash”.
  • Doesn’t refer to the chemical name of natural soaps usually “sodium ____ate” for instance “sodium cocoate” is coconut oil exposed to lye, “sodium tallowate” is tallow exposed to lye.
  • Includes any reference to synthetic detergents or their initials
  • Doesn’t say “soap”. Beauty bars like Dove or CeraVe are not natural soaps. Dr Bronners and even Irish Spring are soaps.

Wartime Introduced Synthetic Detergents (Syn-Dets)

With the shortage of oil during World War II, we started using synthetic detergents and it changed our lives or at least how our hair looked.  Synthetic detergents play very nicely with hard water, rinsing out the minerals and don’t leave unsaponified oil in hair. Hair looks much nicer and so, after that we were hooked on synthetic detergents. Still, synthetic detergents were still pretty harsh and be too highly alkaline for perfect hair so we started developing a ton of alternatives/

Not all Synthetic Detergents are the Same

Now, the list of Synthetic Detergents is a very long one. The names are complicated by different manufacturers naming their product somewhat differently. Only detergents that come in solid form can be used as the primary surfactants in a shampoo bar so this narrows the choices.  To vastly simplify things there are detergents used in shampoos that are:

Inexpensive strong cleansers with great foam

The most often used one is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). It is extremely inexpensive and comes in both a liquid and a noodle form, so can be easily used in shampoo bars. Lush uses it in about 2/3rds of their shampoo bars. Issues like harshness and toxicity to people and the environment have made them less popular.

Inexpensive milder but good cleansers with good foam

Instead of using one strong, harsh detergent like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, most artisinal shampoo bar makers are blending several types of detergents aimed at creating the right balance of cleansing, gentleness and conditioning. The issue for the consumer is to find the right balance of ingredients.

Sodium Cocyl Isethionate

Almost all shampoo bar makers who choose to avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulfate will use Sodium Cocyl Isethionate. This is a really lovely surfactant because it comes in a solid form, it is gentle, mild but cleans well and provides a decent foam.  It is perhaps double the price but well worth it.

Secondary Surfactants Necessary

Most all shampoo bars will have secondary synthetic detergents in them in order to increase mildness (harsh detergents can be made milder when mixed with other detergents), boost foam, and to make more or less cleansing. My shampoo blend includes Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate which is an extremely expensive surfactant but very lovely for hair. I also need to add a few liquid surfactants each with their benefits to help dissolve the solid surfactants into the final bar shape, hard enough to be long lasting. The liquid surfactants I use include Cocamidopropyl betaine (which is almost mandatory when working with Sodium Cocyl Isethionate to get it to dissolve into bar form), Cocoa Glucoside and Decyl Glocoside.

Fun and Conditioning Ingredients

Shampoo Bars can also contain a whole lot of variety of conditioning agents and other beneficial ingredients for hair. This list of natural extracts, proteins, quats, silks, silicones, butters, beneficial additives, clays and other ingredients are limited only to the imagination and research of the maker.  Of course, some additives are going to make more of an impact than others.

One I’d recommend looking for is Behentrimonium methosulfate. It is a great conditioner that can’t be added to a liquid shampoo but works great in a solid shampoo bar. Plus hair loves it, it isn’t toxic and it isn’t bad for the environment.

Ziryab’s Syndet Shampoo Bars

I presently sell two syndet bars.

So, in the end, choosing the right shampoo bar for you starts with understanding the ingredients.