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Shampoo Bars Tutorial

Today I finally got a chance to get into the lab and do some playing around with solid shampoo.  Previously, I had made some with less than natural ingredients but wanted to stick to natural or organic accepted ones – everyone makes shampoo bars with the usual suspects and I wanted to do something a little different and for them to be a bit more ‘green’ friendly.

What are Shampoo Bars?

Shampoo bars are essentially concentrated surfactants which are bound together with either fats, emulsifiers, water or a mixture of all.  In the case of the ones containing water to bind, once the water evaporates, the particles of surfactant essentially clump together in a mass.  I believe shampoo bars have become very popular by Lush.  People like them because they have zero waste – no packaging is needed so they are environmentally friendly in that sense.  They are also really handy for travelling for the same reason – you can use them on your hair and your body – I liken them to synthetic detergent bars but they are, on the main, a lot sudsier and cleansing as they are highly concentrated.

The following are four different shampoo bars made with natural ingredients, from a very simple surfactant, water and fragrance to more complicated conditioning shampoo bars. I have a disclaimer.  I made these today – it took me from 9am-1pm so they are not optimised, and some are (after testing) better than others. But they are a good start in my opinion.

The Really Simple One: Lavender Shampoo Bar

Ingredient Percentage used
Sodium coco sulphate83.90%
Lavender buds00.60%
Lavender essential oil02.00%
Lavender hydrolate 13.50%

Method

  1. Weigh out dry ingredients and essential oil and stir well
  2. weigh the lavender water into the dry mixture
  3. mix well and mould with hands or use some kind of shampoo bar press

I use sodium coco sulphate pearls or prill.  This makes it a nice texture. Similarly you could use sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate. This can be easily adapted.  You can make it super simple with just water and sodium coco sulphate.  Simply replace the essential oil with water and substitute the lavender buds with the surfactant (wet ingredient for wet and dry for dry)

Mango and Sea Buckthorn Conditioning Shampoo Bar

IngredientINCI%
Sucramulse 163Glyceryl Stearate & Cetyl Alcohol & Sucrose Stearate & Sucrose Tristearate5
Varisoft EQ 65Distearoylethyl Dimonium Chloride (and) Cetearyl Alcohol8
Mango ButterMangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter5
Sea Buckthorn Co2 extract Hippophae rhamnoides fruit extract, Helianthus annus seed oil, Rosmarinus officinalis leaf extract4
Mango Fragrance (natural)Mangifera Indica Extract4
Sodium coco sulphatesodium coco sulphate74

Method:

  1. Weigh out 1-4 and melt in a double boiler or a hot plate
  2. Once melted take liquid off the heat
  3. Weigh out and add the sodium cocoyl sulphate and the fragrance to the liquid
  4. Stir well, mold with hands and leave to set

I  have used a conditioning emulsifier and a cosmos accepted emulsifier – Sucramulse 163.  You could try using a different all in one emulsifier and you can use BTMS 50 instead of the Varisoft EQ 65.  Sea Buckthorn oil is a viscous oil but I expect you could swap it out for another liquid-at-room-temp oil if you don’t have Sea Buckthorn – but that gives it the rich orange colour which adds an interesting feature.

Broccoli and Capuacu Shine Bright Shampoo Bar

This is a bit of a mouthful – but it sounds good!

INGREDIENTINCI%
Emulsense Brassicyl Isoleucinate Esylate (and) Brassica Alcohol10
Capuacu ButterTheobroma grandiflorum (Cupuacu) Butter 2.5
Lanette OCetearyl alcohol2.5
Broccoli seed oil Brassica Oleracea Italica (Broccoli) Seed Oil5
Sodium coco sulphateSodium coco sulphate75.40
Blue Malva Malva Sylvestris0.6
Jasmine Essential oilJasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Oil4

Method:

  1. Weigh and melt 1-4 and take off heat
  2. Weigh and add 5-7 in order
  3. Stir well, mold with hands and allow to cool

This formula contains a COSMOS and EcoCert cationic emulsifier derived from Brocolli seed oil as well as highly moisturising Capuacu butter and Brocolli Seed oil, thought to add shine to dull hair.

Rosemary Shampoo Block

INGREDIENTINCI%
Sodium coco sulphateSodium coco sulphate62.50
Sodium cocoyl glutamate Sodium cocoyl glutamate18.00
Dehyquart Guar HPGuar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride4
Rosemary Essential oil Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) leaf oil2
WaterAqua13.5

Method:

  1. Mix 1-5 in order
  2. add water and mix well
  3. mould with hands

Post-making observations:

They are all pretty good, have good foaming power and work well. They take about 12-24 hours to harden, however the one with cationic guar takes well over a week; so be prepared for it to be soft for a while, but it will eventually harden up.

Someone in the Facebook group pointed out that they might need a pH adjustment.  I have found them okay and admittedly, in my haste didn’t check the pH.  I expect the pH to be quite high on some, which might not be good for the hair shaft.  You can lower the pH while they are still soft.  Just dissolve a small amount at the rate of 10% in water to check the pH.  While still soft add a few drops of 50% w/w citric acid solution, stir and recheck using the method above.  You are to aim for anything neutral (pH7) and below with the optimum  about pH 4.5-5.5.

Creative suggestions:

You can use colour – normally you only need a small amount which, depending on the type will be subbed from your water or dry component. So if you use oxides you can take that from the dry surfactant, similarly, the water-based pigment will come from your wet ingredients. Normally you would only need between 03-0.5%.

How about adding botanicals like rose, heather, lavender or chamomile? You will only need about 0.5-1% of this, which you can take from the dry component in the formula.  It’s really nice to use colours that contrast – so you might want to use yellow colour for the surfactant and possibly a darker botanical like blue Malva, or lavender to offset. Using pink and a light base also works well with rosebuds!

I had a thought, it is good to play around with the oils and emulsifiers in the formula – possibly you could have more oil than emulsifier which would make it a little more liquid, it may still be a good binder for the shampoo bar.  I think that the more wax that coats the surfactant, the less foamy and cleansing it will be so adding more oil to the emulsifier might help. But it is a careful balance.

Remember these are rudimentary formulas so they may not be perfect, but they are still a good way to get started with making nice shampoo bars!

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Sandra McKendry

Thanks for posting, will hopefully get time to research, ingredients and ph and give them a go

Precious Jason
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Precious Jason

Hi becca great article. i was wondering if it is possible to create these bars without scs. are there alternative surfactants to consider? i am struggling to source it in the uk and also i want to be as sulphate free as possible