Raising the Bar: Zero Waste Solid Shampoo

Ditch the plastic bottles and make the switch to solid shampoos and body washes.

Clean Beauty, Solid Shampoo
Charcoal Beauty Kubes. Photo by Plant-Terra

More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced each year by global cosmetics industries, most of which is not recyclable. And only 9% of all plastic is recycled worldwide, so clearly, recycling isn’t the solution—cutting our dependency on plastic is. Cleaning out your bathroom of all the plastic is a good place to start. Take a good look at your bathroom cabinet. How much plastic is there? When you consider how many times you replace your plastic—packaged shampoo/soap/lotion etc. — that is a lot of plastic thrown out every year.

Enter solid shampoos and body washes. Although they seem to be having something of a moment lately, in fact solid shampoos have been around for a while stretching back to the 19th century, whereas packaging- free shampoos of course go back even further. It was only in the '30s and '40s that we started to see packaged liquid soaps and shampoos on our shelves.

Solid shampoo bars are plastic-free and come with minimal packaging, thus reducing waste. They are more lightweight and compact than their bottled counterparts, so they require less space during transport relative to the same amount of washes with liquid shampoo. Roughly ten to fifteen transport trucks of liquid shampoo would be needed for one transport truck of solid shampoo bars to get the same number of washes! So, solid shampoo (and conditioner) bars are better for the environment, and us. They’re great for travelling as they are small, lightweight, and there is no leakage or bulk. And they look great on your bathroom ledge— no plastic clutter and very minimal.

More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced each year by global cosmetics industries, most of which is not recyclable.

Did you know that most plastic packaged liquid soaps and shampoos contain mainly water? That’s the first ingredient listed on the INCI. So, in effect you’re paying for plastic packaged water to be shipped over to you. That’s also why you need preservatives to prevent mold and bacteria growth. Solid shampoos do away with the water altogether, after all, you’ll be using it in the shower anyway. As a result the bars are more concentrated than traditional shampoos and conditioners, so you can use less per application and they will last longer than conventional bottled shampoos. Typically you can get 50-75 washes per bar. I bet your shampoo bottle doesn’t last that long, right?

How is solid shampoo and body cleanser different from a soap bar? Soaps are made from oil or butter and lye in a process called saponification. The final product is great as a body cleanser but has too high a pH level for hair. Solid shampoo bars, on the other hand, have a lower pH and also contain surfactants, breaking up the trapped dirt and oils on the hair and scalp gently, so they can be washed away with water.

Although in the past solid shampoos got a bad rap, leaving hair dry and dull, there are now a number of new brands with bars for every hair (and skin) need, minus the nasty chemicals and additives. Keep your eye out for moisturising ingredients like shea, mango, cocoa and other nourishing butters, along with coconut, jojoba, avocado, argan oils.  Solid shampoos require proper care to make them last. Don’t let them sit soggy in soap dishes or travel tins as they need to dry out after every use.

Here are six of the best clean and vegan solid shampoos and body washes.