Are you looking for the best Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) free shampoo and conditioner bar for your travels? Me too. I actually just recently discovered that shampoo bars were a thing, and now I'm excited to discover what's available and which brands are best. This article is a compilation of my research about shampoo bars. Just here for my recommendations? Skip past everything and view my list of Top 10 Best Sulfate Free Shampoo Bars
- How I discovered bar shampoo
- Difference between bar soap and shampoo
- Benefits of shampoo bars
- Disadvantages of shampoo bars
- Types of shampoo bars
- What are Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)?
- 10 Best sulfate free shampoo bars
How I discovered shampoo bars: I invented them!
When I'm back home in the USA, I use amazing shampoos and conditioners… ones that are sulfate free, made with organic ingredients, and are blessed by a Rabbi. When I travel though, which is about eleven months out of the year, I'm left using cheap shampoos that I pick up from local pharmacies or are provided by the hotel.
Believe it or not, the selection of hair products available in other countries is not always as great as what's available in the USA – and quality shampoos cost a lot of money overseas! For example, I can pick up a bottle of one of my favorite brands of organic shampoo and conditioner at Dollar General in USA for about $5-7/each, but that same bottle in Colombia costs close to $30!
Aside from price and availability, I'm hesitant to buy expensive shampoo overseas because I usually end up leaving behind half filled shampoo bottles wherever I go since I can't travel on airplanes with them. (Better than leaving behind half empty ones though, am I right?) And buying travel sized shampoo bottles is economically stupid – it's cheaper to buy a big bottle and leave most of it behind than for me to buy the small sizes.
Last week when I was going through airport security, I saw some poor soul get their shampoo bottle thrown away, and I had an idea. What if I invented a non-liquid shampoo? That way I could travel through airports with my favorite brand of hair product.
Well it turns out that non-liquid shampoos already exist in bar form, so I decided to do some research to see what's out there. During my research, I only looked for products with comparable ingredient stories to the shampoo and conditioner that I use back home, because I don't want to trade the cheap liquid shampoo I'm using now when I travel for an equally shitty bar shampoo. That sort of defeats the purpose of why I'd be interested in traveling with shampoo bars. I'd only be interested in buying and traveling with shampoo bars if it meant that I could use better quality products again.
This post is a compilation of my research about bar shampoo bars, however my list of Best Sulfate Free Shampoo bars is not exhaustive. I'm interested in finding the BEST sulfate free shampoo bars on the market, so if you know of a brand that I missed please leave the link in the comments.
What's the chemical difference between bar soap and bar shampoo? Can't I just use the same bar for my hair and body?
Lindsey from Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve explains in a blog post that the difference between bar soap and shampoo is, “the proportions of the base oils and butters, a number of extra oils or superfatting, and the way in which I use infused oils, botanicals and essential oils in a shampoo bar recipe is different.”
She goes on to say, “Shampoo bars usually have more castor oil. The only oil containing ricinoleic fatty acid, castor is a great hair care oil, a fabulous humectant, and contributes to the fluffy, bubbly lather that people seem to like in shampoo bars.”
Since the shampoo bars have less extra oil, they may not be as moisturizing as soaps, but they'd certainly get the job done. A high quality shampoo bar made from natural ingredients is probably better for your skin than a low quality high perfumiated chemically infused bar of soap from a hotel.
Benefits of shampoo bars versus liquid shampoo
Here are what I learned to be the environmental, financial, and travel pros of using shampoo bars.
- They last longer. Some shampoo bars advertise that they will last 60-80 uses or about 3x as long as a bottle of shampoo.
- They are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate free. This can't be taken for granted as a blanket statement though, because not all shampoo bars are SLS free. However, since shampoo bars are still a niche product, for the most part, the brands that make them are conscious of the ingredients they use, and most are sulfate free.
- They don't use plastic packaging. Plus one for the environment! Most shampoo bars come packaged in biodegradable paper or in no package at all if sold in a store. This helps decrease the amount of plastic waste typically associated with hair products.
- They can be used for both hair and body. Certainly using one bar for both purposes has its disadvantages, but technically speaking, a shampoo bar can handle both jobs which will save you some space in your toiletry bag.
- They're lightweight. Speaking of saving space, shampoo bars are lightweight and compact. One bar of soap can replace the equivalent of 3 shampoo bottles which can be a perk because every ounce adds up when traveling.
- They are less prone to spill all over your bag. Unlike a bottle of liquid, shampoo bars won't accidentally break and leak all over your bag.
- You can use every last bit. Alternatively, sometimes it's hard to get all the liquid out of a shampoo bottle, but that's not an issue with shampoo bars which you can use down to the last flake.
Aside from the benefits above, some people say that shampoo bars do a better job of cleaning their hair. But to be fair, many statements like this came from people who switched from using shitty liquid shampoo to shampoo bars – so their results may have partially been from switching to a shampoo without chemicals and sulfates in general. What do you think?
Cons of shampoo bars
It's not all fun and games though. I've read a few negative sides to switching to shampoo bars like:
- Waiting for them to dry is a bitch. Some travelers have said that if they don't wait for their soap to completely dry before packing it away, they come back to a squishy mess. My friend Suzanna solves this problem by shaving off a few pieces and only bringing what she needs to use into the shower with her.
- It doesn't get your hair as clean. Other travelers have said that shampoo bars don't lather as much, and therefore they didn't feel like their hair got as clean. These stories are anecdotal though because maybe they weren't using enough, applying it right, or using a quality brand of shampoo bar. Remember, not all shampoo bars are created equal.
- The shelf life of a shampoo bar is shorter, kind of. Although the soap itself won't go bad, sometimes the fragrance of the soap disappears with time if you store it for too long because most shampoo bars use essential oils for fragrance. Also, in time, the water evaporates from the bar causing it to dry up and harden. However, most of the shampoo bars I profile in this post indicate that their shelf life is at least 1 year.
Aside from those three things, I couldn't find too many cons to shampoo bars. After my research, I'm thinking that your success with shampoo bars has a lot to do with which brand you choose. This leads us to the next sections…
Types of Bar Shampoos
There are three broad categories of shampoo bars, although some will overlap categories.
- Cold-pressed shampoo bars are typically made by home crafters and natural product companies. They are often full of natural oils to help condition your hair and are usually free of SLS.
- Glycerin-based shampoo bars are oftentimes more gentle and pH balanced, but some people say they don't lather as well.
- Solid surfactant shampoo bars lather the best and are more pH balanced but contain SLS which can be an irritant for some people.
In this article, I am exclusively profiling shampoo bar brands that are SLS-free, so they will fall into the first two categories above.
What are Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS) anyway?
If you aren't sure what I'm talking about when I say SLS, I'm referring to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which is an inexpensive and commonly used chemical found in many household shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, and detergents. SLS is a detergent and surfactant, and its primary purpose is to break surface tension and separate molecules in order to allow for a deeper interaction between the soap and your hair or skin. It's essentially the ingredient in most soaps that create the lather and it's widely used because it's so cheap.
The downsides of SLS is that it's a common skin irritant, is rumored (but not proven) to cause cancer, and is terrible for the environment. In fact, it's such a common irritant that it's sold to companies specifically for that purpose when testing products used to heal skin conditions. That's why so many people look for sulfate free shampoos, conditioners, and soap. I read an article from Lush about how SLS aren't so bad and you shouldn't stress about them (because Lush uses them in their bar shampoos), and HOLY SHIT you should read the comments! But to save you the time, I'll summarize: &$%# you Lush! SLS are the devil and they made my kid itch. However, jokes aside, sulfates aren't great for you and there are plenty of natural alternatives that provide the lather effect for soap. That's why I didn't include LUSH on the list today or any other brand which uses SLS in their shampoo bars.
Top 10 Best Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS) Free Shampoo Bar Brands
This list is a compilation of my research and the brands are presented in no particular order. If you've got experience with one of the brands listed on this page or would like to add one to the list, please drop a comment below the article with your review or recommendation.
#1 Friendly Soap
Rob Costello and Geoff Kerouac of Friendly Soap use an ancient cold-process method of soap making which creates a biodegradable soap and ZERO waste! Every ingredient gets used up and turned into Friendly Soap. In an effort to minimize their energy consumption and impact on the environment, every bar of Friendly Soap is poured, cut, stamped and packed by hand, in the UK. Their packaging is made from 100% recycled paper, and even their delivery parcels are plastic-free and environmentally friendly.
- contains castor oil to create a deeply conditioning, creamy lather
- contains essential oils of lavender and rose geranium for their natural stress relieving qualities
- free from palm oil, parabens, sulphates, triclosan, phthalates and cruelty
- handmade with natural ingredients
- boxed in plastic free recycled (and recyclable) packaging
INGREDIENT STORY: Friendly Soap is made using naturally biodegradable ingredients and contain no animal by-products or harmful preservatives or foaming agents like SLS or Parabens. They also never use Palm Oil because they believe that it's best for the rainforests, animals, and the earth to avoid it entirely.
#2 Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve
Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve got started in 2001 when Ida Kasdan started making soaps at home using natural ingredients for her friends and family. By 2005 her hobby had blossomed into a full fledged business and her son and daughter-in-law joined the company. They've since expanded into a full line of natural and USDA certified organic skin and hair care products, selling in over 80 countries, all while continuing to adhere to their original mission and goal of making all natural skin care products with nothing artificial or synthetic and no GMO’s – just “wholesome ingredients you can trust.”
- Organic Certified, Non GMO, Cruelty Free
- Organic sweet almond oil helps condition
- A great natural shampoo for all hair types
- Hydrate dry and damaged ends
- Soothes dry scalp
INGREDIENT STORY: Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve ingredients are USDA certified organic, sustainably produced, cruelty-free and ethically traded. USDA Certified Organic means that the ingredients they use were produced without the use of toxic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sewage sludge or irradiation. This way you can be assured that their skin care products are free of the synthetic chemicals often used in the skin care industry and that their raw ingredients and finished products were handled, packaged and distributed without risk of contamination.
#3 J.R. Liggett's Old Fashioned Shampoo Bar
35 years ago J.R. Liggett discovered an old recipe card for “hair soap” stuck in a very old book, so he made up a batch of all natural shampoo that hadn't been seen for more than 100 years, and the rest is history. He started by giving bars to friends and family as gifts for birthdays and holidays, and soon he had people asking for more. Now, over 30 years later, J.R. Leggitt has over 30 products he sells internationally, all with a consciousness toward ecology and their customers well being.
- 3-BAR VARIETY PACK OF J.R. LIGGETT'S MOST POPULAR FORMULAS to clean your hair and leave it shiny and...
- CONTAINS ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS AND NO HARSH DETERGENTS OR CHEMICALS, so you can use it with...
- ALL-VEGAN BARS ARE 100 PERCENT BIODEGRADABLE AND GOOD FOR THE EARTH, so using them does no harm to...
- REFRESHING SCENTS GIVE YOU VARIETY WITH EVERY USE, with options including virgin coconut and argan...
- FORMULA NEVER WEIGHS DOWN THE HAIR AND RINSES CLEAN without leaving behind residue that can dull the...
INGREDIENT STORY: J.R. Liggett's 100% vegetable oil formulation lathers quickly, cleans well, and rinses out easily without stripping the natural oils from your hair because they use no detergents. His original formula is still being produced which is made from a combination of saponified olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, sunflower oil, RSPO palm kernel oil, and rose essential oil for fragrance.
#4 Oregon Soap Company
Oregon Soap Company are dedicated to producing superb organic products and offsetting at least 150% of the greenhouse gases created producing them. To help accomplish that goal, they work in partnership with Friends Of Trees and Trees For The Future to plant one tree for each 10 bars or 5 gallons sold of soap they sell.
- WE BELIEVE IN PRODUCTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR YOU AND THE ENVIRONMENT - We plant one native tree for...
- VEGAN and BIODEGRADABLE - SOY, TOXIN & GLUTEN FREE: Safe for your skin and the Earth
- WE ONLY USE CERTIFIED ORGANIC INGREDIENTS - Never harsh chemicals
- CERTIFIED BY OREGON TILTH - Oregon Tilth is a leading nonprofit certifier, educator and advocate for...
- TEA TREE PEPPERMINT CASTILE SHAMPOO BAR (Pack of 3)
INGREDIENT STORY: Oregon Soap Company's products are SLS free and they are certified organic by the Oregon TILTH. Their shampoo bars are made from a combination of oils like coconut, olive, castor seed, sunflower, jojoba seed, rice oils, and essential oils mixed with cocoa butter, leaf juice, vitamin E, and chlorella.
#5 Beauty and the Bees
Jill Saunders of Beauty and the Bees suffered from eczema and dry skin and couldn't find success with any commercial product on the market. So she returned to her grandmother's old remedies using natural raw food ingredients and a 2000 year old formula to make her own absolutely natural skin-friendly soaps. She emigrated to Tasmania, Australia from Britain in 1992 to seek out the island's abundance of natural ingredients like Leatherwood honey which is unique to Tasmania.
- European women's best kept ancient skin and hair care secret, used for hundreds of years
- A totally concentrated all natural solid shampoo bar - Always Fresh and Chemical & SLS Free! Shampoo...
- Apple cider vinegar encourages healthy hair growth - Helps hair retain more moisture helping to...
- Helps dandruff, itchy and dry scalp - apple cider vinegar has antibacterial and antifungal...
- Apple cider vinegar helps to balance the pH of hair and scalp, stimulating better circulation to the...
INGREDIENT STORY: All of Beauty and the Bees products are made from familiar foods like honey, dairy cream, organic herbs, cold-pressed vegetable, nut oils, nut meals, and fresh fruit – ingredients that don’t clog pores and leave your skin free to breathe. Their skincare formulas are made with Tasmania's Leatherwood beeswax and honey, found nowhere else in the world, and possessing an intense floral aroma.
#6 The Yellow Bird
The Yellow Bird is a family owned and operated all natural skin care company that uses pure and simple ingredients that are free of synthetic chemicals. Husband and wife team Nicole and Colin started The Yellow Bird with a mission to provide products for the whole family that are full of simple yet powerful ingredients for people with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
- CLEANS WITHOUT STRIPPING - A great sensitive scalp shampoo. Sulfate free, silicone free, and paraben...
- PERFECT TRAVEL SHAMPOO - An all-in-one eco friendly shampoo for men and women. Use also as a body...
- GENTLE HAIR RESTORATION - Our Bar Shampoo includes Kaolin Clay and Sea Salt to help remove unwanted...
- SOFT, SHINY HAIR - Vitamin E rich Argan and Jojoba oils hydrate and protect hair from frizz. Lightly...
INGREDIENT STORY: The Yellow Bird products are made with ingredients as close to nature as possible. All of their soaps are made using all natural and organic ingredients. They are chemical and fragrance free which means no GMOs, parabens, or soy. They use high-grade essential oils for fragrance.
#7 Falls River Soap Company
Falls River Soap Company is a small family business based in Ohio which crafts natural handmade soaps through a soap making tradition that has been handed down for generations. They do not outsource their work and still create everything by hand in small batches using the best ingredients.
- Believe in Natural Power - Helps Stop Hair Loss and Promotes Healthy Hair Growth-Anti Dandruff-...
- ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS - Coconut Oil, Castor Oil, Canola Oil, Jojoba Oil, Palm Oil, Extra Virgin...
- It works like MAGIC: No Conditioner needed, Oil Control, Anti-Dropping, Anti-Dandruff, Raising hair....
- TSA Approved - PERFECT TRAVEL SHAMPOO - USE IT TOP-TO-TOE! Works great for Hair, Body and Beard!
- One bar equals approx. 24 oz. of liquid shampoo. A little goes a long way. Use daily as it is very...
INGREDIENT STORY: Falls River Soap Company only uses natural ingredients which they define as ingredients that come from a plant, vegetable, mineral or animal byproduct like honey or milk (sorry vegans). They do not use any synthetic fragrances, colorants, or preservatives in any of their soaps.
Ethique was started in 2012 by biologist Brianne West on a mission to create change in the world through products that are waste free, natural, and effective. Her coined hashtag #giveupthebottle says it all, and Ethique is proud to have prevented more than 150,000 bottles from being made and disposed of. They offer a line of 30 solid beauty bars including shampoo, face cleansers, and body washes.
- The Heali Kiwi! Specifically for those who suffer from scalp problems, this bar is chock full of...
- 100% soap free, pH balanced and safe for colour treated hair
- Contains neem and karanja oils to help combat dandruff
- Equivalent to 3 bottles of liquid shampoo
- Cruelty-Free, Eco-Friendly, TSA Friendly, Compostable
INGREDIENT STORY: Ethique believes that nature knows best, so they combine the best 100% natural ingredients with their knowledge of science to create cosmetics that are effective, gentle, and better for the environment. Some of their ingredients include calendula, cocoa butter, coconut butter and oil, chamomile oil, jojoba oil, and ylang ylang oil. None of their ingredients include synthetics, SLS, parabens, petroleum products, silicones, palm oil, or ingredients produced in a non-sustainable manner.
#9 Whidbey Island Natural
David and Kimberly Tiller founded Whidbey Island Natural in 1995 to produce handmade, wholesome, consumable and useful products. They named their business after their home in Whidbey Island which they describe as, “a magical mix of wildflower meadows, pastoral hills, evergreen forests, and rugged, driftwood-strewn beaches.” In their island workshop, is where they infuse nature's nourishing plant oils with healing and fragrant essential oils to create organic soaps and lotions.
- All-in-One Shampoo Bar cleans without stripping your hair of it's natural oils - Ideal for...
- Multi-purpose - Forgot your regular soap? - No problem! Use as a face and body soap. Gentle...
- Ideal for Travel - All-in-One Shampoo Bar is perfect for the traveler or vacationer. Won't be...
- Cruelty-free and Vegan - All ingredients are sustainably harvested. No animal testing.
- Vibrant, healthy Hair - Naturally! - Made with pure plant oils that are rich in natural...
INGREDIENT STORY:Whidbey Island Natural's All-in-One Shampoo Bar is sulfate-free, paraben-free, silicon-free and detergent-free. They use pure plant oils that are rich in natural emollients and essential oils to provide the fragrance. Their ingredients are sustainably harvested and they use no animal testing.
#10 Skinny & Co
Luke Geddie founded Skinny & Co in 2013 a year after he and his brother traveled to Vietnam where he was introduced to an innovative way to produce coconut oil without heat, chemicals or solvents. Skinny is the only coconut oil on the market that is wild harvested, hand pressed, small batched, never heated, 100% raw, 100% virgin, and 100% without chemicals and solvents.
INGREDIENT STORY: Skinny & Co's Raw Shampoo Bars are made with their patented Skinny Coconut Oil. They have no parabens, sulfates or phthalates and are also gluten-free, paraben-free, and BPA free. They are made entirely from concentrated, pure, saponified coconut oil.
Which is the best brand of shampoo bar?
Now that you've seen my list of Top 10 Sulfate Free Shampoo Bar brands, it's your turn to tell me – what's YOUR favorite shampoo bar brand and why? Drop a comment below with your reviews and recommendations.
What about conditioner bars?
Many, but not all, of the brands above offer conditioner bars to complement their shampoo bars. The reasons I did not create a separate list of conditioner bars are because 1) there would be a lot of overlap between the two lists, and 2) many folks who use shampoo bars have said that the natural oils found in these bars work to condition their hair and that they stopped using a separate conditioner. However, if there's a brand of conditioner bar you'd like to recommend, please do so in the comments as well. Happy travels everyone!
PS: Need a travel sized hair dryer for your next trip? I've done the research for you. Check out my travel buyer guide about best travel hair dryers for help choosing the right one.
Last update on 2019-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API