Current Location: Gruyères, Switzerland
I’ve actually been working on this challenge since June because I wanted to be sure that I could do it before I officially committed to it in July. Since I moved to Geneva in early June, I haven’t used shampoo from a bottle or conditioner. This seems like a slightly crazy statement; rest assured, I have in fact cleaned my hair, just not using anything that comes out of a plastic bottle.
Instead of using the traditional shampoo + conditioner + hair product combo, coming from at least three different plastic bottles, I now use shampoo bars followed by a homemade apple cider vinegar rinse and occasionally I’ll put a little argan oil on the ends of my hair. That’s it.
I’m quite pleased with how this challenge is turning out compared to how it started. I’m not going to lie; in the beginning it was a real struggle. The first week that I switched over my hair was disgusting. I literally though for a couple of days that I might never have clean hair again. This clearly turned out not to be true.
Step 1: Shampoo Bars
Shampoo bars (with the exception of the ones you can buy from Lush) have a different composition than bottled shampoo. A shampoo bar is to bottled shampoo as a cleanser is to an exfoliator. They clean your hair, but they don’t strip the dirt and oils away in the same way that bottled shampoos do. In the long run, this is a good thing. My hair is a lot healthier and softer now. However, your hair and scalp do take some time to adjust.
Even with conditioner, your scalp will overproduce oils to compensate for the fact that bottled shampoo is stripping all of the oil from your hair. When you first start using a shampoo bar your scalp is still overproducing oil and you end up with really greasy hair. The other issue with shampoo bars is that it is difficult in the beginning to get the hang of the lather. Since most shampoo bars don’t have the sodium ingredients that give bottled shampoo the fluffy lather, you have to work a little harder to lather up and to build the product into your hair. After a couple of tries it’s really not that difficult to get the hang of it. Some people prefer to get a soapy foam by rubbing the shampoo bar into a loofah or washcloth. I find that rubbing the bar directly into my hair works perfectly fine.
There are a few other challenges with switching to shampoo bars. Like any hair product, you have to find the one that works best for you. If you Google search “shampoo bars”, one of the first search results you’ll find is Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. By a stroke of luck, one of the most popular shampoo bar retailers in the United States is produced and sold less than 15 minutes away from my parents’ house in Ohio. While I was home in June I paid their downtown Cleveland shop a visit. I was recommended two different bars: Honey, Beer, and Egg and Olive & Babassu.
The beer bar I really wanted to like but unfortunately was way too heavy for my hair. It’s a nice smelling product though and I’ve continued to use it as body wash/shaving soap. I’ve been using the olive bar for about 6 weeks now and my verdict is that it’s okay, but there are probably other products that will work better for me. I bought a new one at an artisanal soap shop in Gruyeres which I’ve really been liking. It’s shaped with ridges so it lathers better and is less awkward to rub into my hair.
Step 2: Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
I can’t explain why because I got a 2 on AP Chemistry, but there’s something about the composition of the shampoo bar that requires an ACV rinse in order to balance the pH in your hair. Read more about it from someone who understands this better here. Essentially, the ACV rinse functions as a conditioner. I can feel how much softer it makes my hair when I let it soak for 3-5 minutes. The only downside to the ACV rinse is the smell. However, a few drops of an essential will cover the scent and I haven’t had a problem with it. I use a few drops of a citrus scent that I got for 8 CHF at a local natural beauty shop.
The only tricky part of the ACV rinse is figuring out what ratio of ACV to water is best for your hair. In general, greasier hair needs more ACV than dry hair. I personally use a ratio of about 1:3 for my dilution. There are a lot of options for ACV rinses. You can buy ACV with a blend of oils for your hair type from retailers like Soap & Salve. I opted for a grocery store brand of ACV and it works perfectly fine. It cost about $2 for a liter and I estimate that it will last me three months based on how much I’ve used thus far. I dilute my ACV rinse in a Neutrogena toner bottle that I up-cycled, but you can use almost anything. I wouldn’t recommend a glass container in case you drop it in the shower. Soap & Salve also sells bottles that seem like a great option for easy application.
Step 3: Hair Product
As you have probably noticed, I have very frizzy hair. I have tried countless products to try and tame the beast with not a lot of success. Since switching to shampoo bars, my frizz has deflated significantly and I don’t use drug store products anymore. Here’s what I use now:
If I’m going to sleep with wet hair: nothing. My hair’s natural oils are enough to keep it looking healthy and not overly frizzy.
If I’m letting it air dry in the morning: a few drops of argan oil smoothed on the ends. I’m actually in the market for a new bottle of argan oil since my last one got confiscated by airport security (it was 3.7 oz and half full, was that really necessary?). I’ll have to look around the Geneva area, the last bottle I got from Amazon.
If I need to walk out the door with wet hair immediately: a homemade blend of aloe vera gel and castor oil. The mixture I make is about 4:1 aloe vera gel to castor oil. The aloe vera gel works like any other commercial hair gel in holding curls, and the castor oil weighs it down so it doesn’t get frizzy. The aloe vera is also really great for clearing up dandruff. I bought both the aloe vera gel and castor oil at Whole Foods originally, and have since replaced them with products from Bulk Apothecary, which oddly enough is also located in Cleveland.
Overall, my experience switching to bar shampoos (aside from the first week) has been overwhelmingly positive. I dispose of/recycle significantly less packaging, I save money, my hair is a lot easier to manage, and travel is simplified since I use fewer liquid products. I would absolutely recommend this transition for anyone interested. My only caution would be to be prepared to experiment and have a few bad hair days along the way. Like any transition, it will require some trial and error, that is ultimately worth it in the end!