The Best and Worst Shampoo Bars: We tested four products on different hair types!

I’m probably a little late to the game but I first heard about the zero waste lifestyle mid last year while browsing group pages on Facebook. This movement is about making the conscious effort to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste that one produces on a daily basis. I’m sure you’ve heard about switching to reusable straws, reusable coffee cups, and even menstrual cups! When it comes to our beauty addiction, there are a lot of ways to make our routines more environmentally-friendly, but let’s focus on a personal care staple that (almost) everyone uses: shampoo.

Although it’s regarded as a beauty product, shampoo is a necessary component of proper hygiene. It makes it easier to wash out the buildup of oil and dirt from your scalp and hair, which keeps you from looking unkempt and smelling unpleasant. Clean hair also makes it more difficult for parasites like lice to take up residence on your head. There are different opinions on how often you should use shampoo but whatever your preferences are, chances are that you end up using a few plastic bottles’ worth - and the empty containers find their way to a landfill.

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For those looking to minimize their ecological footprint, shampoo bars seek to provide a greener alternative. The solid bar doesn’t require as much packaging, so you can purchase them in biodegradable paper wraps, reusable tins, or completely “naked”. And there are plenty of options now, too! Lush has been offering shampoo bars for many years now, but the growing popularity of the zero waste movement seems to have inspired the creation of local beauty brands that focus on these products. It was a bit surprising to find so many online sellers (some suspiciously used the same product photos under different store names) so I narrowed it down to three that meet these criteria:

  • locally made

  • uses minimal or reusable packaging

  • can be purchased in physical stores, through resellers, or uses recyclable packaging

I have straight hair and a scalp that’s easily prone to dryness. Since I wanted to see how the shampoo bars would fare on different hair types, I asked fellow PV girls Claire (thick, frizz-prone hair with sensitive skin), Crystal (curly and color-treated hair), and Nine (bleached and wavy hair) to help out. Before they agreed to join the challenge, they all voiced a common concern: do the shampoo bars contain sulfates? Most shampoo formulations contain SLS or SLES to create that bubbly lather, but since it can cause dryness, we usually avoid this ingredient in our hair products. Agua is sulfate-free while Lush lists SLS right at the top. Ecobar claims to be sulfate-free but like Beachborn, the full ingredient list isn’t disclosed on the brand website or product packaging.

Lush Karma Komba (P495 naked at Lush stores)

Yes, it has sulfates, but we had to try at least one Lush bar as the original solid shampoo option! This particular variant contains elemi oil that is supposed to gently clean and balance the scalp. Crystal liked using this because it was easy to lather and managed to tame her curls. She says that it cleaned her hair without feeling too stripping, but Claire, Nine, and I had the completely opposite experience! 

The shampoo was so drying for Claire and I that we both experienced flaking on our scalps. Claire’s hair felt crunchy and her tips dried out. Meanwhile, Nine reports that she struggled to even rinse the shampoo off because her hair felt “like tangled wires” in the shower, and remained difficult to manage after drying.

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Beachborn Onya Nees Sea Salt Shampoo Bar (P320 naked, P350 with travel tin from the Beachborn stall in Megamall and stockists)

This local brand first hit fame with their sea salt spray so I was curious about how they would do with a shampoo version. Designed to clarify and volumize, the brand recommends this formula for those with flat and oily hair. And volumize it did! Though it felt like it stripped all moisture from my hair as I rinsed it off, I was surprised to see it had better body once it had dried. Nine’s usually limp waves also looked more curled and bouncy! While the volumizing effect looked great on us, it was overkill for Crystal and Claire who found that it made their hair unruly. Claire particularly found that it emphasized her frizziness but muses that the messiness looks intentional, like celebrity beach hair.

Crystal appreciates the clarifying properties of this shampoo as it minimized her scalp’s itchiness, but it aggravated mine. As much as I liked the volume it gave my hair, I had to stop using this because it made my scalp super itchy.

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Ecobar Detox + Heal Shampoo Bar (P160 no box, P170 with box from stockists)

Described as “low foam, non-stripping, and color-safe”, I thought the combination of activated charcoal, tea tree oil, and neem would be of interest to those with oily and acne-prone skin. It also claims to “provide protection from scalp problems such as dandruff and psoriasis” though we couldn’t test that in this challenge. Crystal and I agree that this has the most pleasant scent among the bars we tried!

A common observation we all had is how difficult it was to produce a lather. We all took a long while trying to rub the shampoo into our hair, and while that doesn’t seem like a big deal, Claire and Crystal experienced increased hair fall after using this. It’s too bad since it was we all felt it made our hair clean without feeling too drying or stripping - in fact our hair felt pretty soft after! It didn’t irritate my scalp, it reduced itchiness for Crystal, and beautifully emphasized the waves in Claire and Nine’s manes. Nine also noticed that it reduced the brassiness of her blond hair.

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Agua Argan Shampoo and Conditioner Block (P179 with reusable canvas pouch from Lazada)

This is the only online store-based brand that I opted to include because they use carton boxes for their shipments - even if you order just a single bar. If you prefer to cut down on plastic packaging but don’t have access to physical stores or stockists, this is a good option though it may be a better idea to buy several items to maximize the packaging.

I wanted to focus just on shampoo bars for this review but since we were experiencing dryness from the other bars, I thought including one that already had a conditioner mixed in would be a good idea! This one has argan oil, an ingredient well-regarded for its intense moisturizing properties, but also contains added fragrance. I disliked its strange floral scent the most but Claire got it worse. Her scalp and neck became red and itchy right after showering, but fortunately the reaction didn’t last long.
As for its conditioning properties, Crystal, Claire, and I experienced having softer hair after but Nine didn’t notice anything different. Instead, she experienced scalp itchiness and flaking afterwards.

When I asked the girls if they would make the switch to shampoo bars, only Claire and Crystal would consider doing so. Claire plans on getting Beachborn’s Onya Nees for use during travel, while Crystal is open to using Lush or Agua again. Nine’s bleached hair reacted best to Ecobar but she prefers to stick to her tried and tested shampoos for now. I also feel the same way as my scalp got pretty irritated and flaky after doing this challenge.

If you can find a shampoo bar that works well for your skin and hair, it may be a good idea to switch to a more zero waste option, but if you have particular concerns like mine and Nine’s, you shouldn’t feel guilty about sticking to products that suit your condition. You can find other ways to help the environment, like disposing of your empties properly and urging the FDA to update its regulations on refilling personal care goods.