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Let's Talk About Shampoo Bars!

For many people one of the changes they are making as they reduce their use of plastics to help combat climate change and pollution is to ditch the bottles of shampoo and turn to solid shampoo bars instead.

But just like when you go to the supermarket the shelves are full of different types of liquid shampoos, so too in the world of shampoo bars, there are a variety of options to choose from.

In today’s blog we are going to explore the difference between the two main types of solid shampoo you will find on the market today.

Soap Style Shampoo Bars

For many people looking for a ‘natural’ option to the often chemical filled liquid shampoos (these may contain many synthetic ingredients such as SLS or sodium lauryl sulphate to create lather, silicones to smooth and add shine etc.), the soap style shampoo bars are a good option.

Soap is created through the chemical reaction caused by mixing oils and butters and an alkali which creates salts of these fatty acids. This process is known as saponification. When mixed with water, soap cleanses by lifting away dirt and grease.

What is the Difference Between Skin Soap and Hair Soap?

Oils and butters have difference properties and different fatty acid profiles, which can provide a range of benefits for skin and hair. Good formulators will choose the ingredients for their soaps with the purpose of the bar in mind. For a soap, while it should be cleansing, you don’t want it to dry the skin out, so choosing highly moisturizing ingredients like shea butter or cocoa butter are good options.

However, with a bar shampoo, using oils and butters that are too heavy will result in overloading the hair with moisture, leaving it greasy and dull; on the other hand using too many high cleansing oils like coconut could strip the hair of its natural oils and dry it out leaving it frizzy and rough. Creating a balance in a soap style shampoo between cleansing and moisturizing is one of the challenges for their creators.

There are also certain oils which are known to be nourishing for hair. Castor oil is one of the best oils and one of the only oils that is high in ricinoleic acid which helps strengthen hair, making it smoother and stronger. Apricot kernel oil is rich in gamma linoleic acid which helps skin and hair retain its moisture balance. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E which nourish the hair and in soap is helps create a mildly cleansing bar that won’t strip all the natural oils from the scalp and hair. Shea butter is extracted from the nuts of the African karate tree and is a rich moisturizer that is soothing and conditioning.

Creating a shampoo bar is a delicate balance of mixing the right oils in the right quantities to obtain the results you are looking for.

Syndet Bars

The other main option for shampoo bar creators is to make what are known are syndet bars. The word ‘syndet’ is a mash up of the words ‘synthetic’ and ‘detergent’. It is a cleansing bar which is created by mixing different synthetic detergents or ‘surfactants’ – Dove was the first syndet bar on the market. Syndet bars are often highly foaming, but can contain ingredients that are quite harsh and some find they are sensitive to these ingredients.

While the word ‘synthetic’ can make those looking for a natural product to be wary, there are many products available for use that are derived from plant oils, and while more processed than the oils used to make soap, they are still gentle to skin and hair and eco-friendly.

At Surya Luna the surfactants ingredients in our Conditioning Shampoo bars come from coconut and are so mild that they are used in the formulation of cosmetic products for babies and children. In addition, our ingredients are sulphate free, meaning that they are also gentle to colour-treated hair.

Why do some people prefer these bars?

Soap is by nature alkaline. Our hair has a lower ph and some people argue that because of this, soap style shampoo bars upset the natural balance of the skin and hair.

In addition, using soap style shampoos in hard water areas can result in the soap molecules binding with the minerals in the water and depositing those on the hair leaving it heavy and waxy.

Users of soap style shampoo bars also often go through a transition phase when they switch to solid bars as their hair adjusts to a new type of cleansing. Looking at different ways to deal with this will be the subject of our next blog post.

Makers of syndet bars can use ingredients in their bars that better match the ph of the hair. Therefore, there is no transition phase when you switch.

You cannot adjust the ph of soap to match the ph of the hair and skin.

Finally, everyone’s hair is different! A shampoo bar that suits one person may not suit another – it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the bar, just that it’s not the one for you. Think about the rows and rows of different types of shampoo bottles that you see when you walk into the supermarket. There will always be ones that we prefer over others for how they make our hair feel.

How Do I Know The Difference Between A Soap Style Shampoo and a Syndet Bar?

The key to telling the difference is to look at the ingredients.

In a soap you are looking for the ‘chemical’ names of the oils used which have become salts through the process of saponification. For example, when you use coconut oil in a soap the chemical name is sodium cocoate, olive oil becomes sodium olivate, almond oil becomes sodium sweet almondate, shea butter becomes sodium shea butterate. The ‘sodium’ in the name plus the ‘-ate’ ending indicates that these are the salts of the oils and that this is a soap.

In addition, some syndet bars use surfactant ingredients in noodle form. For example, the cosmetic company Lush use this type of ingredient in many of their bars. Other ingredients to look out for are SLS, SLSa, SCI, SCS etc.

How Do I Choose?

At the end of the day it comes down to a matter of personal choice, how your hair/body reacts to the different types of bars and what your preference is for the ingredients they contain.

This is why, at Surya Luna, we offer both styles of bars so that you can find something that works for you, with high quality ingredients, carefully chosen to be mild and gentle.

You can browse our range of soap style shampoo bars here –

You can browse our range of syndet style conditioning shampoo bars here –

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about switching to shampoo bars and subscribe to our blog if you would like to leave a comment or question below.

Next Time on the Blog – Surviving the Transition Phase with soap style shampoo bars!

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