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Do shampoo bars actually work?

Words by Hannah Cole

Illustration by Twylamae

An investigation. 

In the scariest news of the week, it seems we only have another 12 years to adjust before climate change catastrophe strikes. Trump is one form of horror, but an all-out world crisis is another, better-left-avoided, situation. Now, more than ever it’s time to take this seriously and back-track our waste.

I find myself constantly stuck between two worlds – the internal hippie and the external city-slicker. But both parts of me – the kombucha brewing, natural deodorant advocate and the magazine, (old) Celine obsessive – must heed this call to action with urgency. One step at a time, I’m on a mission to become a sustainability *kween* minus the dreadlocks, harem pants and flame throwing.

Waste, recyclable or not, is waste. Earlier this year, China restricted the import of recyclables we previously sold, leaving Australia’s recycling status in a frenzy. Now more than ever, our waste must be considered – carefully. If you can minimise the use of just one more bottle or one more packet, then do it. We’ve all got to get on board.

Welcome, the shampoo bar: a bottle-less approach to hair washing. “A bar of soap to be used on your hair?” I hear you wondering. I too was bewildered. In a very Zoolander-esque moment, I pondered how one could transfer a bar of soap to one’s head, with much scepticism.

My first foray into unknown territory came thanks to The Source Bulk Foods where I trepidatiously picked up a Rosemary & Nettle Bar. After a quick Google, I learnt to lather the bar in my hands before transferring to my thick mop of hair. Lathering factor was strong; I had suds flying in all directions of the shower – always a positive sign. And it left my hair feeling fresh, au naturel and a little bit perkier knowing it had accomplished a zero-waste feat.

The ultimate test comes two days post-wash: Judgement Day. Every three days is my general rule of thumb (two only when I absolutely have to) because combing thick locks is not a task for the faint-hearted or short-on-time. On Day Two, I could feel the ick seeping in the under layers, lurking and disturbing. Toxic hair hit. But, saving the environment comes at a cost, and that cost might be scheduling in extra hair-washing time.

So, would I try the bar again? Yes. Would I recommend you give it a go? Definitely. As they say, you never know if you never go. But before you embark on this venture, here are a few tips, from one haircare amateur to another:

1.    Keep your shampoo bar in a soap case. I learnt the hard way. A protected bar makes for a valuable purchase. Mine was quickly used up – approx. eight washes in – as it melted away before my very eyes sitting in the shower soap dish.

2.    Persistence is key. Like switching deodorants, changing shampoo can be a process. It takes time to a) get your spoilt hair used to the newness, and b) find the *just right* bar. Check out Ethique and Lush for their deliciously scented offerings.

3.    Invest in after-care products. It doesn’t end as soon as you step out of the shower. Switching from a bottled, chemical-laden product to an enviro-friendly option can feel drastic, so pamper your locks with a bit of eco after-care. Apply oils to the ends for a glossy boost (and make it DIY for extra resourcefulness points).

If that’s all too much, too hard, too fast, take it one step at a time. Most bulk food stores are also prime purveyors of suds, washes, shampoos and conditioners. Purchase a bottle or two of shampoo and conditioner, then keep coming back to re-fill, reduce, reuse, recycle. And, just maybe, we’ll stop that 2ºC rise before disaster hits.  

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