Are you looking to lessen your carbon footprint with your personal care products? Shampoo bars and conditioner bars are a good choice. But which ones have the least toxic ingredients for your scalp? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst non-toxic dry shampoos, best & worst non-toxic collagen for healthy skin, & best & worst shampoo & conditioners, now join us as we bring you all the shampoo & conditioner bars and which ones are the safest in terms of the ingredients they use.
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars Cut Down on Packaging, Weight, & Your Carbon Footprint
Shampoo and conditioner bars are all the rage, and with good reason – they eliminate the need for wasteful plastic packaging. If you can cut down on plastic bottles by avoiding liquid shampoo, every bar of soap sends less to landfills. Your personal care purchases can have an immediate effect on the environment in the following way:
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from personal care products are flushed down the drain and end up in our rivers, streams, and oceans where they “alter hormone levels leading to reproductive effects in aquatic organisms” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Plastics are made from fossil fuels and end up in the oceans and breakdown into microplastics, which fish and plankton eat because they think it is food. Now microplastics are found inside fish all over the globe.
- The heavier a product is, the more fossil fuels are needed to transport it from point A to point B.
Considering all we mentioned, shampoo bars are way better for the environment. However, everything we use on our bodies has a potential impact on our health, including our shampoo and conditioner bars, so we thought it was important to take a look at all the brands out there and evaluate them in terms of toxic ingredients and packaging.
Big Personal Care Brands Have a Long Way to Go, But Here’s Which Brands Are Moving in Sustainable Direction
The big personal care brands, like Unilever & P&G, are starting to come up with ways they can cut down on their carbon footprint, but they still have a long way to go.
- Olay tested its refillable Olay Regenerist Whip moisturizer on Olay.com in the US and UK, but then dropped it from their website in 2020. Perhaps it was a year before its time? In order to get their general audience to accept refillable cartridges, they will have to dedicate some time to educating consumers.
- P&G & Unilever were some of the first CPG personal care companies to adopt TerraCycle’s innovative Loop concept, in which popular products are delivered directly to the consumer, returned, and refilled in premium packaging.
- Other companies are cutting down on the amount of plastic and weight in general. However, more needs to be done here to cut down on plastic and fossil fuels.
Even so, products marketed for their “green” benefits can still contain ingredients that are anything but good for the environment. We would love to see these brands lessen their carbon footprint, but unless they also reformulate their product to less toxic ingredients, they will continue to be a strain on the Earth and its inhabitants.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars May Have Nasty Preservatives
Shampoo and conditioner bars can be a great no-waste alternative to traditional shampoos and conditioners, but you do need to watch for harmful ingredients even in these “green” products.
Though they’re made out of really common ingredients, common doesn’t always mean safe (neither does ‘natural,” for that matter). Even many “natural shampoos” and organic shampoos are not 100% pure. So just because it markets itself as a natural shampoo bar doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
Haircare products like shampoo and conditioner are designed to lather up and leave your hair “squeaky clean”, but some chemicals will leave your hair stripped of natural oils causing dry hair, which is why we need conditioner to re-moisturize it without leaving it oily.
Shampoo Chemical Buildup Can Harm Hair Follicles
Build up of these chemicals can also clog and reduce the size of hair follicles, leading to hair loss and damage, especially to sensitive skin.
Achieving the desired cleaning effects, being shelf-stable, and not using any harmful ingredients is a big ask for brands looking to make safer options, but it is possible
In this post, we’ll review harmful chemicals to avoid in your beauty products and the worst and best shampoo and conditioner bars for healthy, natural hair. Ingredients like cocoa butter, castor oil, olive oils, jojoba oil, & glycerin are welcome. The ingredients below are not.
Nasty Chemicals in Your Shampoo Bars
Mamavation looked at over 200 different shampoo and conditioner bars and noticed some patterns in nasty ingredients.
Fragrance: This is definitely something to look out for. The term “fragrance” can act as a backdoor for all kinds of chemicals to sneak into your products. It’s often applied as an over-arching term for up to 100 ingredients, many of which are toxic to human health. To name a couple of these toxic offenders, phthalates are linked to reproductive and developmental damage, and synthetic fragrances are known to build up in our bodies and linked to hormone disruption.
Surfactants: This is what makes your shampoo bar lather up with suds. We usually associate soap suds with cleaner hair, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sudsing doesn’t really occur much in nature, so it’s often the result of a chemical reaction or agent. While these chemicals aren’t toxic to humans, they can cause serious irritation and can be really harmful to aquatic life. Given the quantity of shampoo going down the drain every time we wash our hair, we’d prefer to avoid irritation and create a safer environment by choosing better products.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS & SLES) are sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of petrochemical process called ethoxylation.
- Other ethoxylated ingredients: In a process called ethoxylation, ethylene oxide is added to other ingredients to make them less harsh. Ethoxylated ingredients include many chemicals that end in “eth,” which often denotes ethoxylation, like ceteareth and oleth.
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds: These ingredients are often used as penetration enhancers, thickeners, softeners, & moisture-carrying agents. PEG compounds are formed by condensing water and ethylene oxide, and can also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen. But because they are penetration enhancers, they make other nasty chemicals more problematic as well.
Preservatives: Most shampoos are full of preservatives to keep them shelf-stable. They’ll last for a really long time without separating out or going “off”, however mold is a health issue as well. These preservatives prevent the growth of yeast, mold, bacteria, etc., but because they’re literally designed to kill things, preservatives are tricky and can have a range of toxicity problems for both humans and the environment. Because this product contains less water, we prefer brands that use less preservatives.
Retinol Derivatives: Retinol and its derivatives are synthetic versions of Vitamin A. Retinyl palmitate and retinoic acid have been found to be problematic when exposed to sunlight and retinoic acid has also been deemed a developmental toxin that is persistent in the environment. Other ingredients are retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate.
Dangerous Chemicals in Conditioner Bars
Like shampoo, conditioner suffers from many of the same problems when it comes to surfactants, preservatives, and fragrance, but it has one more problematic ingredient category, emulsifiers. Try to massage this mango butter conditioner bar into your scalp with less problematic ingredients.
Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers combine oil and water to stop them from separating in your conditioner. They also soften your hair giving you that soft, flowy feeling. But though these emulsifiers, such as siloxanes, are effective, they don’t break down in the environment. This is definitely bad news for aquatic life!
Mamavation’s Investigation of Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
This post is our first-ever investigation of shampoo and conditioner bars. We plan on updating this investigation annually now so if we have missed a brand, please let us know in the comment section. This year we evaluated over 200 shampoo & conditioner bars!
Here are some additional haircare investigations you may find yourself looking for soon:
- RELAX! If you are looking for safe hair relaxers, check out our investigation on hair relaxers here. We’ve included shampoo & conditioner brands for coiled & curly hair.
- STYLE! We also have an investigation on all the safest hair styling products (like hairspray and such) you can purchase here.
- COLOR! If you want to color or dye your hair, check out all the best & worst hair color brands here.
- ALL THE THINGS! And if you are interested in ALL our investigations check our always-expanding list here.
Not Our Favorite Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
These are all products that contain problematic shampoo chemicals and ingredients that are to be avoided as far as possible, like carcinogens and endocrine disrupters in “fragrance” and at least two other ingredients hazardous to your health. Things you may find in this list include PEGs, parabens, undisclosed fragrance, nitrosamies, surfactants, harsh preservatives, cancer-causing ingredients, & ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, etc. Basically, this list was just overwhelming so we stuck them here.
- Aerwyna Conditioner Bar
- Douce Nuit Solid Shampoo Bar
- Dr. Harris & Co. Shampoo Bars
- E’tae Carmelux Shampoo Bar
- Foamie Shampoo and Conditioner Bars
- Love Beauty & Planet Shampoo and Conditioner Bars
- Lulux Shampoo and Conditioner Bar Set
- Lush Angel Hair Shampoo Bar
- Lush Avocado Cowash Bar
- Lush Coconut Rice Cake Shampoo Bar
- Lush Dirty Shampoo Bar
- Lush Flyaway Hair Shampoo Bar
- Lush Godiva Lucky Coin Shampoo Bar
- Lush Snow Fairy Shampoo Bar
- Lush American Cream Pressed Conditioner
- Lush Big Pressed Conditioner
- Lush Golden Cap Pressed Conditioner
- Lush Jungle Pressed Conditioner
- Natural Essence Shampoo Bars
- Nature Skin Shop Clara 2-1 Shampoo Bar
Better Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
These products contain some dangerous shampoo chemicals, but they are light years better than the bad category. Here you may find polysorbates, propylene glycol, undisclosed fragrance, and/or plant-based surfactants. But the amount of bad ingredients was by far less than the category above. Fragrance-free brands are were marked with a (*) to help you find them.
- Acure Coconut and Argan Shampoo Bar
- Badger Jojoba and Baobab Shampoo Bar
- BamboEarth Shampoo Bars
- Beauty and the Bees Unscented Honey and Hemp Shampoo Bar*
- Beauty and the Bees Honey Silk Conditioner Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Real Beer Conditioner Bar
- Brillaire Darkening Shampoo Bar
- Chagrin Valley Bar Shampoo
- Christophe Robin Hydrating Shampoo Bar with Aloe Vera
- Clever Yoga Shampoo Bars
- Clever Yoga Conditioner Bars
- Clever Yoga Conditioner Bar, Fragrance-Free*
- Daughter of the Land Shampoo Bars
- Dayspa Body Basic Shampoo Bars
- Detox Earth Shampoo Bars
- Detox Earth Conditioner Bar
- Dragonfly Cinnamon Bar Shampoo and Conditioner
- Earthling Shampoo Bars (original scents)
- Earthling Shampoo Bars (sulfate-free scents)
- Earthling Conditioner Bars (original scents)
- Earthling Conditioner Bars (unscented)*
- Earthling “New Formula” Conditioner Bars
- Earthsuds Shampoo Tablets
- Hibar Solid Conditioner Maintain
- Hibar Solid Conditioner Moisturize
- Hibar Solid Conditioner Volumize
- HiBar Solid Shampoo, Maintain
- Hibar Moisturize Solid Shampoo
- Hibar Soothe Solid Shampoo
- Hibar Soothe Solid Conditioner
- Hibar Volumize Solid Shampoo
- High-End Hippie Active Bar 3-in-1
- High-End Hippie Awaken Conditioner Bar
- High-End Hippie Clarify Conditioner Bar
- High-End Hippie Restore Conditioner Bar
- High-End Hippie Soothe Conditioner Bar
- Lush #BeCrueltyFree Shampoo Bar
- Lush Honey I Washed My Hair Shampoo Bar
- Lush Jason and the Argan Oil Shampoo Bar
- Lush Jumping Juniper Shampoo Bar
- Lush Montalbano Shampoo Bar
- Lush Seanik Shampoo Bar
- Lush Soak and Float Shampoo Bar
- Nature Skin Shop Coconut Milk Conditioner Bar
- Pacific Spirit Shampoo Bar, Green Paradise
- Sweet and Sassy Conditioner Bar, So Sumptuous
- Sweet and Sassy Conditioner Bar, Sunkissed
- Trader Joe’s Peppermint and Tea Tree Shampoo Bar
- Whiff Conditioner Bar Evergreen, Lavender, Orange Zest, or Peppermint
- Yellow Bird Eucalyptus Tea Tree Shampoo Bar
- Yellow Bird Grapefruit Rosemary and Lavender Shampoo Bar
- Yellow Bird Peppermint Shampoo Bar
Best Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
These sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner bars also do not contain added phthalates or parabens. They may contain preservatives, but not ones I’m concerned about. If you are looking for bars free of chemicals, you should feel comfortable using just about any of the products on this list. Most rely on natural ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, argan oil, tea tree oil, shea butter, aloe vera, to provide cleansing and moisture to various hair types. In addition to being free of harsh chemicals, most of these brands are also cruelty-free and/or eco-friendly and most are made from organic ingredients. Fragrance-free brands are were marked with a (*) to help you find them.
- ArtNaturals Shampoo Bars: Lavender, Eucalyptus, or Sweet Orange
- Aspen Kay Naturals Lemongrass and Sweet Orange Shampoo Bar
- Aspen Kay Naturals Lemongrass and Sweet Orange Conditioner Bar
- Auromere Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Real Beer Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Eggscellent Egg and Lemon Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Lemon and Chamomile Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Moroccan Mud Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Bamboo Charcoal Shampoo Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Udderly Luscious Yogurt Bar
- Beauty and the Bees Black Charcoal Conditioner Bar
- Bossman Men’s Bar Soap 4-in-1
- Earthling Shampoo Bar (original unscented)*
- Earthsuds Conditioner Tablets, cedarwood mint
- Earthsuds Conditioner Tablets, unscented*
- Ethique St. Clements Solid Shampoo
- Ethique Wombar Solid Shampoo
- Ethique Tone It Down Purple Solid Shampoo
- Ethique Tone It Down Purple Solid Conditioner
- Ethique The Guardian Solid Conditioner
- Ethique Kookobara Solid Conditioner
- Friendly Soap Shampoo Bar, Lavender and Geranium
- Friendly Soap Conditioner Bar, Lavender and Tea Tree
- High-End Hippie Awaken Shampoo Bar
- High-End Hippie Clarify Shampoo Bar
- High-End Hippie Restore Shampoo Bar
- High-End Hippie Soothe Shampoo Bar
- JR Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoos
- Maple Hill Naturals Shampoo Bars
- Maple Hill Naturals Shampoo and Conditioning Bars
- Maple Hill Naturals Pure & Gentle Unscented Shampoo Bar*
- Nature Skin Shop Jojoba Shampoo Bar
- Skinny & Co. Shampoo Bars (Raw, Rosemary, or Lavender & Orange)
- Sweet & Sassy Shampoo Bar, Coconut Lime
- Sweet & Sassy Conditioner Bar, Coconut Lime
- Sweet & Sassy Shampoo Bar, So Sumptuous
- Sweet & Sassy Shampoo Bar, Sunkissed
- Vegan Glow Original Shampoo Bar
- Vegan Glow Original Conditioner Bar
- Whiff Shampoo Bars (Evergreen, Lavender, Orange Zest, or Peppermint)
- Whiff Shampoo Bar, Unscented*
- Whiff Conditioner Bar, Unscented*
- Yuve Organibar Shampoo & Conditioner Bar
About the Author
Leah Segedie is a consumer watchdog, author, entrepreneur, environmental activist, and mother of three boys.
She wrote Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, & Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) in 2018. She’s consistently been featured in the media for the past 15 years in media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Yahoo, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine to name a few.
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