All About Shampoo Bars: Gentle, Effective Cleansing for Natural Hair

Lavender shampoo bar

Article also featured on Black Girl with Long Hair!

As I explore more and more small business brands, I began to notice a growing trend in product offerings: shampoo bars. The notion intrigued me for several reasons - but mainly because my memories of bar soap on my skin were not the fondest. Using bar soap, my skin always felt dry and a little itchy. Would those same results occur with the myriad of shampoo bars on the market today? And furthermore, are shampoo bars a viable alternative to regular shampoos for natural and transitioning hair? Let's explore.

Shampoo bars are gaining popularity within the natural community for 3 main reasons:

1. They are cost-effective. Most shampoo bars cost under $10 (with the majority hovering in the $5 - $7 area), and last 2-3 months or longer. They can be safely stored in Ziploc bags or travel soap dishes (about $1 at Target) between uses.

2. They are great for travel. How many times have you heard about (or personally experienced) having TSA discard your beloved hair products because the containers were too big? Or even worse, having liquid-y product burst and spill in your luggage? Shampoo bars are the perfect cleansing travel companion.

3. They are gentle on hair and sulfate-free. That's right, shampoo bars don't contain any sort of sulfates whatsoever. They are oil-based, and therefore not drying (we'll talk about formulating shampoo bars in a second). Some of the most popular oil-bases for shampoo bars are coconut, palm, olive, safflower, and castor.

Shampoo Bars: The 411
So why exactly are shampoo bars so amazing, and what makes them ideal for natural and transitioning hair? To get the scoop on the sudsy bars, I consulted with Obia Ewah, Founder of Obia Natural Hair Care. According to Obia, shampoo bars are less stripping than tranditional shampoos because they are normally formulated with oils that are saponified.  Unlike traditional shampoo, they do not contain sulfates or detergents.  Because harsh detergents are not used, they are a less stripping and gentler than traditional shampoo.

So umm, what does "saponified" mean again? Obia further broke it down - explaining that saponification is the name of the reaction that occurs between the oils and lye used to make the shampoo bar.  Saponification is also known as the reaction between fats (oils) and a base (sodium hydroxide a.k.a. lye).

Oh, so there's lye in shampoo bars? I thought we left that behind with our relaxer kits? Don't be alarmed. Obia is a trained chemist, and if there's anybody's word I trust, it is hers. As she explains, the truth is that shampoo bars do not contain lye.  Although lye is used in the beginning of the soapmaking proess, there is no lye in the finished shampoo bar due to saponification.  When lye is evaporated from the soap, the soap is now "cured". In fact, the byproduct of oils and lye is soap and...glycerin! Yes, the same moisture-attracting humectant that many naturals and transitioners know and love.

Just to sum things up, oils + lye (a super small concentration at that) = soap + glycerin. Are you okay with that formula? I am. And the proof is in the results: cleans, soft, detangled, moisturized, shiny hair, and a clear scalp. There is no curl loosening, relaxing, or anything that occurs as a result of using shampoo bars. I repeat, nothing is going to happen to your curls, kinks, and coils. In fact, I'd argue that your hair and scalp are better off with regular use of shampoo bars, because your hair and scalp are adequately cleansed without being stripped, buildup is removed, and shampoo bars often contain ingredients that are AMAZING for hair and scalp health. Not to mention, you never have to worry about things like silicones, parabens, and propylene glycol popping up in your poo bar. Most ingredient lists are short and straight to the point.

So, are you convinced that shampoo bars are worth a try? I hope so. Even if you have a sensitive scalp or suffer from a condition such as dandruff or psoriasis (like me), shampoo bars are excellent at cleansing the scalp without drying, and some even contain ingredients that help soothe and relieve the itchy flakes. Here are some of my top picks for poo bars:

If you're tired of using traditional shampoo to clarify your hair and scalp, give these bars a try:
  • AfroVeda Carrot Seed Clarifying Shampoo Bar ($6.75) - This shampoo bar has TONS of slip, making detangling super easy while clarifying scalp and strands. Leaves hair feeling super clean without drying it out. Packed with beta carotene and Ayurvedic herbs, this bar also stimulates the scalp and promotes growth. 
  • Hairitage Hydration Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo Bar ($8) - They had me at Apple Cider Vinegar. This apple orchard smelling shampoo bar is super slippy, but packs a powerful clarifying punch without the dryness that can come from apple cider vinegar rinses. Formulated with Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, honey, and soy bean protein, this shampoo bar cleanses, moisturizes, and strengthens.
Gentle Cleansing
Looking to mix up your regular washing routine? Try one of these:
  • Obia Natural Hair Care Coconut Shea Shampoo Bar ($10) - The first poo bar I fell head over heels in love with. Super slippy, great lather, but leaves hair feeling ultra moisturized. Also contains rosemary essential oil for stimulating the scalp, and soy bean protein for strength.
  • Soultanicals "Honey I Shrunk the Frizz!" Strand-Poo Bar ($5) - Super sweet and gentle cleanser with a nice amount of slip, lather and moisture. Contains honey for extra moisturizing, and soy bean protein for strengthening.
  • Senica Naturals Senk Shampoo Bar ($12) - Creamy lathering bar with great slip that leaves hair super soft. Packed with rosemary extract, geranium oil, bay rum oil, carrot seed oil, and more to nourish and stimulate the scalp.
  •  Purgasm Shop Cocoa Yogurt Poo Bar ($7) - I almost took a bite of this shampoo bar. Creamy chocolate-smelling goodness combined with super moisture and shine make this bar a winner in my book. Boosted with argan oil, honey, and silk aminos, this shampoo bar nourishes both hair and scalp.
  • Hydratherma Naturals Buttery Shampoo Bar ($9) - Smooth and creamy bar with tons of lather and moisture. Leaves hair soft and shiny. Calendula and St. John's Wort extracts give this bar a boost in the conditioning and growth stimulating department!

Clay-Infused & Detoxifying
Admittedly, I'm on a clay kick right now. I love the super gentle detoxifying qualities of clays like Bentonite and Rhassoul that make curls, kinks, and coils come to life. Get a taste of amazing clays with these two:
  • Brown Butter Beauty Rhassoul Herbal Tea Shampoo Bar ($8) - Super slippery, gentle cleansing bar that leaves hair extra soft and makes detangling a breeze. This bar made my curls pop, thanks to Rhassoul , and packed my hair with nutrients while soothing my scalp thanks to burdock, neem, nettle, chamomile, and more.
  • Ynobe Shop Silky Shea & Clay Shampoo Bar ($5.75) - Packed with both Rhassoul and Kaolin clays, this shampoo bar is guaranteed to gently detoxify strands while nourishing them with minerals and oils.
That's right -- conditioners can even come in bar form! If you want the bar experience without the shampoo, check this out:
  • Tree Naturals Green Tea & Coconut Conditioner Bar ($13) - When I found out this bar was actually conditioner, I got excited. What could be better than a cowash with a bar? This fresh conditioner bar is super creamy and formulated with natural hair loving fatty alcohols, shea butter, cocoa seed butter, green tea, and more. It leaves hair super soft and shiny.

Lastly, to get the most out of your shampoo bars, make sure you pat them dry with a paper towel after each use. Store them in a cool dry place, in a container or bag that can be closed/sealed to preserve it for as long as possible. Nothing fancy needed here - just a Ziploc bag or Target travel soap dish (around $1) will do. Alternatively, you can cut your shampoo bars into smaller squares, storing unused portions in a Ziploc bag until you're ready to use them. This way, only a small part of your bar gets used at a time!

So, are you convinced to try shampoo bars? Why or why not? If you have already, what are some of your favorites?


  1. Yeah, I'm convinced. I've never heard of hair soap bars, let alone tried one, I think I will. Comprehensive article, well-done :)

  2. Do they have sodium chloride (table salt) to thicken the bars ? Too drying for me.

  3. Thank you for the honest review! I was considering this, but still wasn't sure if it could be something that could/would work with me, especially since I have IBS problems, too! I wouldn't want to throw a new probiotic into the mix, especially as I just found one that seems to work.

  4. After all, dandruff may have been building up on your scalp for quite a while. Zero Waste Shampoo Bars

  5. I love the article and your wonderful way of expressing how things work. I would love for you to do an article with your complete wash day routine and favorite products. Maybe also a complete one week routine that we could easily follow. I have finally taken out my crochet curls and my weaves and I am loving my "almost" waist length hair and learning to work with my 3c curly/coily textures. Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Blessings!