How to Use Shampoo Bars

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Over the past several months I have noticed how my Shampoo Bar Epiphany post is one of my most consistently read posts.  But I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately because it isn’t the most up-to-date with my current shampoo bar routine nor does it really discuss all of the trials, tribulations, epic fails and light-bulb-coming-on-ah-ha-moments of “genius”.  If you’re thinking about giving shampoo bars a try, but don’t know what to expect or where to start, this post is for you.  If you’ve been at war with your shampoo bars, are at your wits end, and are just about ready to throw in the towel, this post is for you.  If you’ve been using shampoo bars but your hair is, well… just meh, this post is for you.  Everything i could possibly think about to help make shampoo bars a success with just about any kind of hair is in this post.  Without any further adieu!

Factors Affecting How Your Hair Will React To Shampoo Bars

If you are someone with thicker hair, you may not experience as many problems as those of us with fine hair.  The same goes with people with shorter hair – the longer your hair, the more the ends have been exposed to the elements, pollution, your hair dryer etc.  If your hair has been dyed or if it is extremely porous and holds on to water like it’s going outta style, you may experience more difficulty having the bars rinse clean.  The hardness of your water can also change how easily the bars rinse from your hair – soft water, as always, is best.  And finally, how much product you use on a daily basis and what is contained within those products will affect your success with shampoo bars – try your best to avoid products with -cones in them.

What to Expect – The Dreaded “Transition Period”

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Of course not everyone will experience the awful, demoralizing, emotionally painful “transition period” when first trying shampoo bars, but I think knowing that it can (and probably will happen) will help prepare you for the worst and then some of you can be pleasantly happy when it’s not as bad as you expected.  For me, it was horrible.  My hair went from feeling heavy and congealed to dry and frizzy to slick and greasy and now (cue angelic choirs singing) to the best hair I’ve had in my life!  My hair is shiny, feels soft and healthy, has no frizz, and is easy to style.

The whole of the transition period lasted several months for me – each phase seemed to last about a month or two, then I’d have a reprieve and feel like I had won the war and my hair was starting to adjust to shampoo bars only to have the next problem come up.  Each time, though, I came up with strategies to help overcome them; these strategies I am going to pass on to you!

Basic Steps to Using a Shampoo Bar

One of the biggest differences between conventional shampoo and a shampoo bar is that the bars don’t have water in them.  This not only makes them great for travel, but also to reduce the packaging because nothing is required to hold a liquid in place prior to use.  Naturally, the most important step to shampoo bars is to wet down your hair – a lot.  A lot, a lot.  Even for me I find that I will continue to add water as I’m creating a lather in my hair to ensure that the bar can do its job properly.  All right.  Let’s get on to the basic process.

  1. Wet hair.  With lots and lots and lots of water, ensuring that the water saturates your hair all the way down to your roots.
  2. Create a foamy lather with the bar in your hands (wetting your hands and the bar as necessary).
  3. Add lather to the hair, thoroughly rubbing the foam into your roots.  If you are finding that the lather isn’t foamy enough, you need to add more water to the mix.  Avoid washing the length of your hair with a shampoo bar – just rinsing it over the ends will be plenty to keep them clean.
  4. Rinse, rinse, rinse and rinse again.  Lift up sections of your hair (if it is thick or long) to ensure that all of the shampoo bar residue is rinsed free.  The rinsing process should take longer than the time it took for you to lather.  I can’t stress how important it is to shampoo bar success to make sure it is rinsed clean.
  5. Repeat if necessary, but I find that as I got better with the bars I only needed one round of soap.
  6. Condition as required – or use an apple cider vinegar rinse (1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water).

Just like that, amazing hair right?

What to do When Shampoo Bars are Working Against You

Here are some trouble shooting tips and tricks as well as answers to a few of the most common questions I have been asked.

  • Hard Water? No problem! – I have hard water, but that doesn’t stop me from using shampoo bars!  There are so many options out there if you don’t want to go out and get a full-blown water softener.  There are smaller adapters available at all major hardware stores that attach right to your shower head and filter all kinds of minerals and other deposits out of the water.  Another option is to rinse your hair in cool water – this is what works best for me, and doesn’t require me to change a filter every few months.  I hop out of the shower, turn the water to arctic freeze and rinse, rinse rinse!
  • Heavy, waxy build up?  – The first time that I washed my hair with shampoo bars my hair moved as one big unit; I had the ultimate helmet head.  I found this was due in part to the products I was using at the time as well as the products I had used prior to using shampoo bars.   Because shampoo bars are so gentle, it takes them a while to remove all of the silicones, heavy oils, and petroleum based products that have been put on your hair for years.  It was also due to the fact that I was trying to create a lather using the shampoo bar right on my hair and instead of creating a lather, I was just depositing the super-fatted soap directly on to my hair.  Lesson learned – lather in my hands.
  • Greasy looking hair, but smells clean?  – This had three different causes for me.  Firstly, apple cider vinegar rinses work better for me and my fine hair if I used them before I shampoo.  This helps to remove any excess buildup, but it also prevents the stringy, greasy look for me.  Something about the rinse causes fine hair to slick right down and look very greasy and stringy.  And it’s not just me.  Other fine-haired beauties have reported to me that they experienced the same thing.  My hair also became greasy when I wasn’t rinsing it well enough – the best thing I did to combat this was section my hair as I was rinsing it out.  Finally, heat styling can be the devil.  Avoid using heat to dry your hair – it re-solidifies the soap.  But if you must heat style (and believe me, I still do) use a lower setting, and dry your hair as much with a towel prior to using the hair dryer, curling iron, straight iron, etc.
  • Sections of my hair feel heavy and greasy, while others are light and clean – Especially as my hair has gotten even longer I notice that the top of my head and my crown get clean, but the sides feel heavy and greasy.  The best thing I have done to combat this is to pull up the top half of my hair prior to getting in the shower, wash the sides first, then let the rest of my hair down and wash the top.
  • Dry, crispy, frizzy ends – You aren’t ready to get rid of your conditioner yet, you need a heavier conditioner for your ends, or probably the most likely culprit is that you are in a phase of the transition period where the gently cleansing shampoo bars are slowly removing the build-up in your hair.  The best way to help this phase end faster is to ensure that you are rinsing thoroughly and try a clarifying shampoo or an apple cider vinegar rinse prior to using your shampoo bar.
  • No matter what I try the shampoo bar just doesn’t seem to rinse from my hair! – This was a huge challenge for me for several months.  I think that the main culprit here is that the dry sections of my hair were hanging on to the bar like it was a lifeline.  Here are some of the things that I tried to get me through it each time it happened (or continues to happen, occasionally).
    1. Wash your hair upside down – yes, you heard me right.  Section off your hair starting at your ears, heading up to your crown.  Flip over, and allow that section to fall.  Apply your shampoo bar lather to the crown of your head, working minimally down your part or towards the front of your head.  Rinse while still upside down, then stand up normally and rinse from the top as well.
    2. Apply oil or heavy conditioner to the parts of your hair that don’t seem to rinse clean prior to shampooing.  The section of my hair that gave me the most trouble were the strands at the front that probably saw the most heat styling over the years.  They were the most prone to frizz and required the most conditioner/oil.  I applied a little hair oil to these parts prior to shampooing and the problem was solved!
    3. Comb your hair prior to showering (then the lather won’t pool in your tangles) and use a wide tooth comb to gently remove tangles while in the shower.  I use a detangler to help with this process, and I am just super gentle and aware that my hair has a higher chance of being stretched and broken in this fragile state.  But having a clear avenue for the lather to run off my hair has made a world of difference.
  • Everything was going fine, but now my hair is getting heavy and greasy again. What gives? – Congrats!  The most likely reason behind this outcome is that your hair is getting more healthy and doesn’t require as much conditioner or hair oils anymore (if any at all!).  Try going without conditioner for a day or two and see what happens.

Wow, that was a long one.  Thanks for sticking it out!  I hope that helped.  If I missed anything, or you have any comments or questions please leave a comment or send me an email/tweet.  I’d love to hear from you!

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9 thoughts on “How to Use Shampoo Bars”

  1. What a great post, super helpful! I’ve never tried a shampoo bar but if I ever will I will definitely read this post again 🙂 Which shampoo bar is your favourite? 🙂 xx

    1. Thanks, Jana! I would absolutely recommend shampoo bars! As for my favourite, probably the Extra Honey Beer one from Chagrin Valley. It just makes my hair super, duper shiny.

  2. I am so glad to hear your transition took months. It took me a solid two months to get past the waxy phase. I’m now at the “my hair rinses well but still looks crappy phase”. I’m going to try the acv rinse before washing. Never thought to do that and I have thin hair. Thanks so much for the post. I really enjoy your blog!

    1. Oh my gosh, my transition phase took forever! But I promise it is worth it! Maybe try the washing upside down thing too… It worked for me when my hair was kind of limp and blah.

  3. Thanks for your encouraging post. I’m in the totally-discouraged-my-hair-looks-and-feels-like-crap-and-it’s-making-me-super-cranky-phase. So I will stick with it! I’m also having trouble with the conditioner part – what kind of conditioner or oil do you use? I have thicker, long hair, and tried the first day with no conditioner and that was definitely a mistake!

    1. I’m sorry that you’re in that phase still, but it definitely is possible to have the bars work for you! I used John Masters Organics detangler with either the Honey and Hibiscus Hair Reconstructor or the Lavender Avocado conditioner

  4. THANK YOU! This is the most helpful post on shampoo bars that I have read. My hair was dandruff-y and gross for a couple weeks, then it had a week of looking and feeling AMAZING, and now I’m having the clean-yet-greasy issue with my length. I have super long hair, so I bet I’m not rinsing well enough! And I’m going to try the ACV rinse before shampooing, too. thank you again!

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