Ditching the Plastic with Shampoo Bars

travel in style

No, I’m not dirty.

I had been looking for ways to reduce my waste lately–food waste, time waste, plastic waste, money waste–when my search to simplify coincided with a sobering realization.

I put an awful lot of harmful crap on my body. Makeup, lotions, antiperspirants, tampons, medicine, shampoo, toothpaste and more, everything that comes into contact with my body either comes loaded with sketchy ingredients or contributes to the growing burden of waste I add to the planet. We produce 300 million tons of plastic globally, of which about 10 percent is recycled. Recycled plastic does not retain the structural integrity of the original and has limited uses before finding a home in the ocean or landfill.

I started to notice the unconscious waste I generated each day: a single use coffee cup, a gum wrapper, an empty lotion bottle, a receipt, shipping material, grocery bags and more. Once I noticed it was impossible to un-notice. I knew I needed to make smarter choices.  Being vegan had been “enough” for me to lessen my carbon footprint for a while, but if I could nix the 185 pounds of plastic I, as an average American, generate each year with minimal-effort changes, why wouldn’t I try?

I’ll make posts about my switch to a menstrual cup (goodbye forever, tampons!), natural cosmetics, aluminum-free deodorant and ways I am transitioning to a lower-waste lifestyle (goodbye forever, single-use coffee cups!), but today let’s talk about my hair.

Because I haven’t washed my hair with liquid shampoo, dyed it, or so much as spritzed it with hair spray in nearly three months. How am I doing? I’m learning.

The Beginning

I used to wash my hair every single day of my life. My hair is baby-fine and I don’t have a lot of it. What hair I do have gets greasy fast. I made the commitment to ditch liquid shampoo at the end of July, fed up with spending my money on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and nasty fillers packed in a plastic bottle. My logic was, if I am after the good ingredients, why waste my time with the junk that comes with it? I also wanted to find a product that lasted longer and traveled easier on planes in light of impending travel plans.

I spent some time searching for a solid shampoo alternative. I found it reasonably difficult to source local, small batch shampoo bars without SLS or palm oil in my area, but quickly found an online seller called Easyshowers on Etsy.. I was happy with their products which came packed with great ingredients, but in the future, I want to find a more local option. To pretend that shipping anything halfway around the world is environmentally friendly is frankly silly. From the gas to drive the car to the packing material it came wrapped in, I probably did more harm than good. For my first try however, this is alright. When trying anything new it is important to save room for the learning process. Burdening yourself with the overwhelming pressure to get it right completely defeats the point of living with kindness and simplicity.

I bought the “Tamarind, Rice Milk and Coconut Milk bar”. The ingredients are Tamarind pulp powder, Rice milk, Coconut milk, Rice bran oil, Coconut oil, Olive oil, Soybean Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Water, and Sodium hydroxide. It has no SLS, SLES, parabens, colors, synthetic fragrance or palm oil, just the good stuff. It smelled good when it arrived: kind of earthy like tumeric and incense-y in a way that conjured images of tapestries and journals handmade with wood pulp, but not “dirty hippie”.

The bar took a couple weeks to ship. During that time, I did a bit of a crazy thing.

I didn’t wash my hair at all. Besides the occasional vinegar rinse, the only thing that touched my hair was water and a good brushing. Yikes.

The Transition

I won’t pretend the transition period was pretty. In shampoo, sodium lauryl sulfates are designed to strip the oils from your hair. They are effective at removing the grease but leave you with dried out hair and skin and over-zealous oil production. When I washed my hair every day, it would be drier than a desert in the morning but by the evening the mess on my head resembled a napkin full of pizza grease the way my bangs clumped together and my roots lay flat to my scalp. It wasn’t a good look.

My brief dip into the no-poo (no shampoo) movement was extraordinarily difficult. I found myself developing insecurities about the appearance of my hair. I didn’t want anyone to touch it or to look at it for too long. I found it difficult to style. I settled on loose up-dos and experimented with hats and scarves to cover the hair. One thing that helped me through this transition period as my oil glands adjusted to these changes was apple cider vinegar rinses and thorough brushing to distribute the hair oil from my scalp to the ends of my hair.

Apple cider vinegar rinse was a lifesaver. I used unfiltered apple cider vinegar because “the internet” told me to, but honestly in a pinch I think white vinegar would work fine too. The important part is to dilute it to save money and avoid dumping straight, smelly vinegar on your head. I filled a big jar with two cups of water and added about two tablespoons of vinegar and swirled it together. I think anywhere from two to four tablespoons is fine. Each time I made it the exact ratio varied a little and I didn’t notice an immediate difference. This amount of ACV rinse lasted two to four showers (I don’t have a lot of hair). What I did was: wet my hair, massage the roots of my hair for several minutes, pour ACV rinse on my scalp and continue to massage it like I would a shampoo. It took away a lot of gunk and felt nice once my hair dried.

I started using the shampoo bar the moment it arrived.

No-Poo to Low-Poo

No-poo was a great experiment, but low-poo gave me a happy and sustainable medium to keep the momentum moving forward!

There are a few differences I have noticed between liquid shampoos with SLS, parabens, etc. and shampoo bars. My hair doesn’t feel the same after rinsing out the soap in the shower as it did while I was using traditional shampoo. It feels less silky and more easily tangled. This goes away entirely after an AVC rinse and letting it dry naturally. I also find my hair feeling a little dry occasionally as I no longer use a cream conditioner. If it feels especially dry or tangled I distribute a drop or two of tea tree oil in the ends of my hair with a brush.

I have utterly fallen in love with the combination of washing with a shampoo bar two times a week and rinsing with ACV every other week or so. I don’t find I get overly greasy this way but my hair has enough grip to style into braids or twists. As anyone knows, freshly washed hair doesn’t hold style well and freshly-washed, fine-textured hair even less so. I have finally found a routine that gives me the hair capabilities for a fraction of the money I used to spend on hair products (Salon shampoo, salon conditioner, pomade, styling spray, hair masks, mousse, heat products, etc… versus a $2 bar of soap that has lasted for months plus a bit of vinegar.) Easy choice for my wallet, my hair health and my goals.

Tips:

  • Shampoo bars! Look for ones without SLS, parabens, synthetic fragrance or palm oil!
  • ACV Rinse: 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to a cup of water
  • Shampoo bars are not subject to liquid restrictions on airline carry-ons!
  • Brush your hair thoroughly with a good bristle brush to distribute your natural oils along the hair shaft.
  • Don’t touch your hair with your fingers during the day. This gets your hair greasier quicker.
  • Change your pillowcase often for cleaner, healthier hair and skin.
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