Soap vs. Shampoo Bar vs. Liquid ShampooWhich one is best for both you and the planet?8 min read5 March 2023 (Updated: 6 March 2023)
As consumers become more environmentally-conscious, they're seeking out alternatives to plastic-packaged products for their personal care. As a result, a big shift is happening in haircare. People are reconsidering traditional liquid shampoos and the polluting big plastic bottles they're sold in. They are exploring possibly more eco-friendly options like soap and shampoo bars. But which method is actually best for your hair? Let's explore the similarities and differences between soap, shampoo bars, and liquid shampoos.
The main difference between soap, shampoo bars, and liquid shampoos is the form in which they come. Although soap can refer to different products, people most often use "soap" to mean a solid block of long-lasting soap that, in theory, could be used for both body and hair. A big change happened in the 1930s when Hans Schwarzkopf came up with the idea of mixing shampoo powder with water. He wasn't the only one, as John Breck created a similar product in the form of liquid shampoo in North America around the same time. The future for shampoo was set for the next decades to come: a big bottle where shampooing and conditioning agents could be diluted in water for convenience and bigger profits.
But then, it came the climate crisis and people started to wonder if liquid shampoos and big bottle of plastic was the best option for one's hair. The answer came in the form of shampoo bars, with a similar form factor to soap and all the benefits of salon-grade liquid shampoos.
Ingredients, form factor, and method of use differ in all three cases, but choosing the right option shouldn't be just down to convenience. Each product has its pros and cons when it comes to considering hair types and environmental impact.
Using soap to wash your hair may seem like a simple, inexpensive option. Not only that, a bar of soap can last a long time and is very environmentally friendly when it sold in plastic-free packaging. However, there's more to soap than meets the eye.
Soap is a cleansing agent made from a combination of fats and an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide. What we hold in our hands is the result of a saponification process and chemical reactions that results in an alkaline product and pH level of more than 7. Most, if not all, soaps are not pH balanced and as a result may be very harsh to use for hair and beards. Indeed, many dermatologists would not recommend soap for use on the hair and scalp because it can strip hair of its natural oils and cause dryness and irritation.
Traditional Liquid Shampoo: Its Advantages and Disadvantages
If soap is not that good for your hair, beard and scalp, then no wonder why traditional shampoos became the go-to option at the shower. Liquid shampoos are the most common type of shampoo due to their convenience and variety of offering at supermarkets, pharmacies, and drug stores. They come in a wide range of formulations designed for different hair types and concerns, making it easy to find one that fits your specific needs. They’re made with various ingredients to clean the hair and scalp, including surfactants, oils, and fragrances.
Also, traditional liquid shampoos are more effective at lathering and removing dirt and oils than soaps. They often contain chemicals like sulphates that generate that rich foam we all love, as well as a luxurious and satisfying shower experience. The problem comes when one starts reading the small print and realises the chemicals like sulphates and parabens are derived from petroleum and fossil fuels. Not only, the extraction of raw materials in the form of fossil-fuels is damaging the environment, numerous consumers have for long raised concerns about adverse reaction in their skin and hair.
In short, liquid shampoos may contain synthetic ingredients, fragrances, and harsh chemicals that can dry or irritate hair and scalp. If you can't tell what's inside the bottle, someone is probably hiding where the ingredients came from too.
Shampoo bars are solid items designed to be used in place of liquid shampoos on wet hair. They are used differently, but shampoo bars have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their many benefits. Just to name a few, shampoo bars:
- Are more sustainable due to reduced packaging, and potentially being plastic-free. They are often packaged in recyclable materials, and produce less waste than liquid shampoos.
- Are much more convenient for taking them away. A shampoo bars fits perfectly within a gym bag. And as a solid shampoo format, you can take them to an airport without having to show them at the security gate.
- Typically contain fewer chemicals and additives, which can be beneficial for those with sensitive scalps or allergies. If the bar is natural and vegan, then ingredients will also be more environmentally friendly.
- Can be a cost-effective option as they last longer than traditional shampoo bottles.
Because of their solid format, ingredients tend to differ from their liquid counterparts. Many shampoo bars consist of essential oils, kinds of butter, surfactants, and other natural ingredients. The shift to natural alternatives doesn't mean they're a less effective option, as the solid shampoo market has evolved and matured a lot in the past few years. Shampoo bars now come in a variety of formulations designed for different hair types, making it easier to find one that fits your specific needs.
Having said all that, at Disruptor London, we have made extensive customer research on why the adoption of shampoo bars is slower than one might expect from the amazing benefits above. One of the reasons is that they may not be as effective at lathering. This happens because traditional liquid shampoos would typically contain petrochemicals like sulfates to create the rich foam consumers expect. By shifting to natural alternatives, we all had to start from scratch in terms of formulating the perfect shampoo.
Customers have also told us that the shampoo bars they have tried in the past may be more drying to the hair and scalp than liquid shampoos. The latter may include some silicones and other chemicals that add that sensation of softness after each wash. An old trick is to use apple cider vinegar after each use if you're dealing with a dry, itchy scalp, but some consumers feel like this is very inconvenient.
Here at Disruptor London, we have spent more than two years in getting all those concerns right. The benefits that shampoo bars offer over liquid shampoos, let alone alkaline soaps, are too big to give them a miss. Shampoo bars are the future of planet-positive haircare, and we want them to work.
We have formulated bars like Balance, which helps to maintain a healthy microbiome, as well as Flake Free, for itchy and dry scalp, that lather easily. We have created a unique formula with a dual-charge surfactant system that creates a very rich, silky foam. All of our bars also contain very rich conditioning ingredients like panthenol and keratin. And all that, without compromising on the environmental aspect and all the benefits we have learned to love about shampoo bars.
How to Choose the Right Product?
We wouldn't recommend using soap for your hair, given their alkaline and drying properties. Liquid shampoos and conditioners are widely available, but they are also very polluting and unsustainable for the planet.
Regardless of which option you end up going for, first and foremost, please consider your hair type and any specific concerns you may have. For example, if you have damaged hair or sensitive skin, a gentle shampoo bar like Calm may be the best option as it will be kinder on your strands than a harsh liquid shampoo. Likewise, if you suffer from a congested scalp, then something like Detox would be excellent for you, as it combines two types of exfoliating mechanisms with the cleansing properties of upcycled charcoal.
If you want to reduce your environmental impact, then opting for shampoo bars packaged in eco-friendly materials may be more up your alley. If you find products sold in a box, then look out for the FSC symbol to make sure the paper comes from sustainable sources.
Not all shampoo bars are created equal. While some manufacturers are disguising old soaps as innovative shampoo bars, others are using formulas that are not that convenient and efficient. Take the time to research the different options available and experiment with what works best for you personally. It may take some trial and error, but finding the right product for your hair can make all the difference in achieving healthy-looking locks.
Above all, you should always choose products made with your hair type and needs in mind. Also, pay attention to the ingredients list when shopping for haircare products. That way, you will know you’re using good and effective products.
As a rule of thumb, when shopping for a shampoo bar, look out for:
- Are they soap free?
- Do they contain any petrochemicals like sulfates or parabens?
- Do they lather well and create a rich foam?
- Do they contain conditioning agents that are going to take care of your hair, scalp, and skin?
If you find that a particular brand doesn't answer all those questions, then one may consider whether accountability and transparency is one of their values. Ultimately, consumers shouldn't have to bend over backwards to decide what's best for them and the planet.