2021 Note: This was my very first sustainable product review! I’ve updated it with product changes, and I’ve since written many more reviews, including of my new favorite shampoo & conditioner bars. Check them all out and let me know in the comments if you have questions!
Does anyone else feel like they’d like to buy less stuff in wasteful plastic packaging, but have no idea where to start?
In the months leading up to Plastic-Free July this year, I started testing all kinds of plastic-free and eco-friendly products. I didn’t really know where to start, but let’s just say that with a degree in sustainability, the growing enthusiasm for the new month-long sustainability event made me feel more than a little bit behind.
So I started looking an easy first target: A product I wouldn’t mind changing anyway. Something wasteful that I could replace with something more sustainable (but still effective) that had no plastic packaging and no questionable ingredients.
Probably at the suggestion of a million targeted Instagram ads, I landed on shampoo bars to replace my random, unloved selection of drugstore shampoos.
But the bars had to actually make my hair look and feel good. They had to be enjoyable to use. I’d tried shampoo bars before, and always felt like I was giving something up to try to be good.
This time, no compromises.
Luckily, sustainable toiletries have come a long way from the patchouli-scented hippie soaps that were around a few years ago. So, as I happily discovered, “No Compromise” is actually possible now.
Plastic-free shampoo & conditioner bar brands in this review:
- byHumankind – a good choice for fine or thin hair, carbon-neutral, and the lowest price per ounce. (Jump to my review.)
- HiBAR – long-lasting and great-smelling. (Jump to my review.)
- 100 Senses’ “Ultimate Body Bar” – my multi-use pick for travel and for its luxe feel and wonderful scents. (Jump to my review.)
- Habitat Botanicals – a good company for some sustainable toiletries, but not my favorite shampoo & conditioner. (Jump to my review.)
- Alternatives – Ethique, Lamazuma, and others (especially if you’re not in the US)
- Comparison chart of prices and other details
2021 UPDATE: After a year of testing these and other brands, I wrote another review of my new favorite bars, from The Earthling Co., and how they compare to HiBAR. Check out the review here! (And if you try Earthling, any link from my blog will automatically give you 15% off – no discount code required!)
None of these companies use animal testing, most of their products are vegan, and all ship in minimal, plastic-free packaging.
Also, none of these shampoo bars contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is well known to cause skin irritation (although scientists don’t think it causes cancer or anything like that). SLS is a detergent ingredient that creates lather, and it’s in everything from shampoo and face wash to toothpaste and dish soap. That’s why I didn’t test the popular brand Lush for this post – their shampoo bars do contain SLS. (And they’re about twice the price per ounce compared to the bars in this article.)
But they also make a few totally unique products in refillable packaging – like mouth wash in tablet form, which dissolves in a glass of water and comes in interesting flavors like ginger and cinnamon. It makes sense for travel because, if you use mouthwash, it’s one less liquid to carry. And at home, it means one less big plastic bottle to buy and throw away regularly.
But the one product I was most excited to try was their refillable deodorant:
byHumankind Refillable Deodorant:
It may be off topic, but I was too excited about this not to share it.
Here’s how it works: Your first order includes a refillable plastic deodorant tube. With every refill order, you slip a cardboard container of deodorant into the plastic carrier. It’s brilliant!
2021 UPDATE: I reviewed byHumankind’s deodorant in more detail, along with another favorite from PAPR Cosmetics that comes in 100% paper packaging. Check out the full review here! (And if you want to try PAPR, use the code MAP15 for 15% off!)
byHumankind Shampoo Bar Review:
This would probably be the best option if you’re looking for a volumizing shampoo bar for thinner hair. It leaves my long, thick hair feeling heavy, feeling extra thick, and not as smooth as the other bars I tried. So I farmed out some testing to my mom for a different perspective: It made her short, fine hair shiny, lifted and not flat.
What we both liked about this bar is that it lathers more easily than others I’ve tried. It doesn’t produce a rich foam, but it’s very easy to work with and takes no time at all to feel like you’ve got enough product from the bar to wash your hair. (Even for my mid-back length hair.)
The texture and scent were both what I’d expect from a more old fashioned shampoo bar. (Dare I say first generation? You know, the homemade, hippie beauty products. So if that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.)
The scent is strong and lasting – at least the Lemongrass that I tried. It’s got that hippie-organic smell of the original natural beauty products. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant smell, but it’s not what I would call a modern scent.
It also leaves my hair with that squeaky clean feeling, which makes it hard to run my fingers through when rinsing (which the other bars didn’t). But that’s not a deal-breaker, and if you use conditioner it probably wouldn’t be a problem. (byHumankind also makes a conditioner bar, which I liked much more than their shampoo, and but not as much as my favorite conditioner bars from Earthling Co.)
Plus, it’s the least expensive bar on this list, and every order gets free, carbon-neutral shipping.
byHumankind used to offer unscented options for all their products, but some have been disappearing from their site recently. Their shampoo and conditioner bars are still available in unscented.
UPDATE: byHumankind also makes hand sanitizer with a reusable pump that comes in grapefruit, eucalyptus or unscented! (And it made my Master List of favorite plastic-free products.) It’s in aluminum bottles (much easier to recycle than plastic). Like all their other products, if you already have the pump from a previous order, you just check the box for “no pump,” or better yet, order their larger refill bottles.
Everything is vegan and cruelty free. They do use palm oil, but it’s Fair Trade certified and RSPO certified.
Plus, the entire company is carbon neutral, from office space to shipping! They accomplish that by buying carbon offsets that support reforestation projects in Brazil and New Jersey. There’s more info on how it works, plus ingredient lists for all their products, on their FAQ page.
Shampoo Bar Price & Shipping:
The byHumankind shampoo bars are $15 for 4 oz. (113 grams), which is $3.75 an ounce. But if you subscribe, they send you two bars at a time (which means less shipping waste) and everything is 15% off. (Which makes the shampoo $3.15 per ounce – the best deal on this list.)
byHumankind gives free, carbon-neutral shipping on all orders! (Right now they only ship to the US, although they do say they plan to change that soon. I’ll update this when it happens.)
You can order by Humankind directly from their website. (byHumankind is not available on Amazon or through any other online retailers.)
This Minnesota-based company only does shampoo and conditioner bars – nothing else – but they do them well. They’re the only brand I tried that has options for different hair types: normal, moisturizing, volumizing, and sensitive.
HiBAR “Maintain” Shampoo Bar Review:
Their basic bar (called “Maintain”) was the first product I tried for this review, and I liked it much more than all the other shampoo bars I’ve tried in the past! It lathers easily, my hair feels clean, and it smells great.
Specifically, when I first took the bar out of the cardboard packaging, it smelled exactly like key lime pie. Which was fun, although I didn’t necessarily want my hair to smell like pie. But when it dries, it leaves almost no scent on my hair, and after a few days the super strong scent faded from the bar itself. Now I can only smell it when lathering up, and I still love the fresh, tropical pie scent.
Plus, this shampoo bar is lasting a long time. After two months, it’s nowhere near finished (and my husband is using it, too). And it holds its form well, without disintegrating while sitting in the shower. (Just like with any shampoo bar, make sure you store it in a place where it can drain in your shower, otherwise any bar will turn to mush.)
At the end of the day, I’d buy HiBAR again. (Although I didn’t buy this one. They were kind enough to send me a free bar to test for this article – thanks HiBAR! That’s Minnesota for ya.)
HiBAR now offers an unscented version of their Moisturize bars. Otherwise, all of their bars have the same lime-y citrus scent, which I really love.
Made in Minnesota, USA. No animal testing, and the Moisturize and Volumize HiBARs are vegan, but the Soothe and Maintain bars contain “trace amounts of honey.”
HiBAR Price & Shipping:
Although it seems like the cheapest option here, HiBAR is actually the most expensive per ounce of the shampoo bars I tested – but the difference is tiny, especially considering how long it’s lasting. These relatively small bars go a long way.
When you order directly through HiBAR, the shampoo bars are $14 for 3.2 oz (91 grams), which is $4.38 per ounce. The conditioner bars are the same price, just ever so slightly smaller. (And Earth Hero has a better price, even before taking 10% off with the code tiltedmap10.)
HiBAR offers free shipping on orders over $20 in the US. Subscribing for automatic delivery gets you just a slight discount (5% off) but you still pay $3 for US shipping if you just order one bar at a time. (If you subscribe for both shampoo and conditioner, shipping is free. Or just order two at a time, stock up, and reduce emissions and packaging from shipping!)
HiBAR does ship outside the US! But of course, it isn’t cheap. I put in my old address in Italy and the website calculated $13 for shipping. Even random addresses in Canada were about the same.
Order directly through the HiBAR website, or from HiBAR’s Amazon storefront, where the products will still be shipped directly from HiBAR. This matters, because it means it’ll still be plastic-free packaging. Avoid random resellers on Amazon, as the packaging will likely be plastic!
Or order HiBAR (or anything else) from Earth Hero, and use the discount code tiltedmap10 for 10% off your order!
100 Senses’ Ultimate Body Bar
This LA-based company has a pretty different aesthetic than the others on this list: Less about being eco-friendly and plastic-free, and more about a bougie, indulge-your-senses-in-a-marble-bathtub-overlooking-a-pine-forest kind of vibe. A little too fluffy for my taste.
Their body wash + shampoo combo bar comes in minimal, plastic-free packaging, but all their other products are in plastic packaging.
Still, I decided to try to the bar anyway, because it had overwhelmingly good reviews, and because, originally, my whole idea was to test and review all the eco-friendly beauty products that advertised to me on Instagram. And this was certainly one of them.
Ultimate Body Bar Review:
I must admit, I actually really like this one. It lathers intensely – definitely the foamiest, most luxurious feeling bar I’ve tried. And I think it leaves my hair shinier and smoother than any other bar, without even using conditioner.
It doesn’t seem like it’ll last as long as the HiBAR, but that could be because I’m using it for everything – hair, body, shaving my legs, even washing my face.
I’m normally very particular about what I use on my face (it’s taken me years to figure out products that work to keep me from breaking out). But some of those glowing reviews I read said people were using the Ultimate Body Bar as a face wash, so decided to give it a shot. Of course, what works on sensitive skin will be different for everyone, but it’s been working wonderfully for me!
Overall, I’m impressed with this multi-purpose bar. I’m going to keep ordering it, especially to use for travel – since I can replace multiple liquid products with one bar. It’s also great for when you’re in a hurry – one product for your entire shower.
Ultimate Body Bar Scents:
I’ve tried all three scents, and they’re all great. (Seriously. I’m very picky about scents, and always think a lot of products have cheap smelling perfume, or are too strong or too sweet. But this is an area where 100 Senses really stands out.)
My first love was the Wild Lavender scent. It’s subtle and fresh and modern – not sweet at all. My husband likes it, too.
Then I tried the Citrus Neroli, which is fruity and energetic and I like it maybe even more than the lavender. To me, it smells almost exactly like this fancy Byredo perfume, which I haven’t yet treated myself to, but I’ve been eyeing for quite a while.
Finally, the Green Tea scent – when I took it out of the box, I was afraid I’d hate it. It’s very natural and earthy. But I started using it and I actually like it. It’s not overpowering. It’s light and just surprisingly pleasant. (And if you’re looking for the most “manly” option, this is it, although all of their scents are designed to be gender-neutral, and none of them leave a strong scent on the skin or hair.)
And 100 Senses also makes an unscented bar. I have a family member who is extremely sensitive and allergic to any kind scent or perfume, including natural oils, and she said it doesn’t bother her at all.
100 Senses Sustainability:
Everything from 100 Senses is made in California. The scents are plant-based, and their bars are plastic-free, vegan and “100% cruelty free.” So they don’t use any animal-derived ingredients or animal testing (and they contribute to animal welfare causes).
100 Senses Price & Shipping:
At $26 per bar, this one has sticker shock to go along with its boogie marketing vibe. But by weight, it’s actually less expensive than some of the other shampoo bars. (The bar is 6.5 oz, or 184 grams, so it’s $4 per ounce plus shipping.)
If you subscribe, you get 10% off and free shipping. That brings it down to $3.60 per ounce. (You can set the delivery frequency anywhere from every month to every six months, and can change it anytime. It’s one of the more flexible subscription services I’ve seen.)
Otherwise, without subscribing, there’s free shipping on $50 orders. (They only ship to the US.)
Or, this link gives you $15 off a $50 one-time order (you can’t use it on a subscription order).
It’s not an affiliate link, so I don’t make any money from it, but it’s a “refer a friend” deal. (Which means if enough people order through that link, I eventually get a free bar! It doesn’t pay the rent, but hey, I’ve gotta wash my hair, too.)
Shop 100 Senses:
These bars are not on Amazon. Order directly through the 100 Senses website here (link gets you $15 off a $50 order).
Habitat Botanicals is another good company with legit sustainability credentials. It was founded by two Canadian women who specifically wanted to make plastic-free, cruelty-free toiletries (and they still make all their products by hand).
And Habitat recently became a part of Pela (of Pela Case compostable phone cases and Pela Vision compostable sunglasses) which is great because Pela is a certified B-Corp, the company is climate neutral, and a member of 1% For The Planet. (Which are three great certifications – I love to support companies that put in the effort to live up to those high standards.)
Habitat Botanicals Shampoo & Conditioner Bars Review
However… even though I love Habitat’s sustainability credentials, I wasn’t a big fan of their shampoo or conditioner bars.
Habitat’s shampoo bar did leave my hair shiny and soft, but it produced more of a slime than a real lather.
And it turned almost mushy in my shower and started to break apart after using it for only a couple weeks. (Even though I stored it in the same conditions as the other bars – on a well drained soap dish.)
Their conditioner bar had the opposite problem – it stayed hard as a rock no matter how long I tried to make it lather (both rubbing it between my hands, and directly into my hair). It hardly gave off anything conditioning and felt like it didn’t transfer any product to my hair.
Other Products from Habitat Botanicals
I do like their plastic-free lip balm, which is packaged in cardboard. And I’m curious about their deodorant, but I’m so happy with my refillable one from byHumankind that I’m just going to stick with that.
One unique thing about these bars is that Habitat says they’re biodegradable and compostable, and therefore safe to use in river and lakes – which could make this a good shampoo option for camping.
Also, all Habitat Botanicals products are plastic-free, zero-waste and vegan, and the company is cruelty-free.
Price & Shipping
The shampoo and conditioner bars are normally $14 each (for 2.2-ounce bars), but subscribing gets you 20% off.
Shop Habitat Botanicals
Shop directly through the Habitat Botanicals site, or on Amazon. But be aware that if you order from Amazon, it’ll probably arrive packaged in plastic. How do you know? By looking under the “buy now” button: It says “sold by Pela,” but “ships from Amazon.”
(Unlike HiBAR, who does its own fulfillment for Amazon orders, so your HiBAR still ships plastic-free even if you order through Amazon.)
Alternative (and Non-US) Shampoo Bar Brands
The brands I originally tested for this post are mostly US-based (except Habitat Botanicals is Canadian), and only HiBAR ships abroad.
Surprisingly, I haven’t had much luck with European shampoo bar brands – at least not the ones that are available in natural shops in Italy and France (the two places I’ve lived in Europe).
But if you live outside the US, or are traveling and run out of your bar, here are a couple of good places to start:
So far, my favorite shampoo bars that I’ve found widely available in Europe are from the French brand Lamazuma, and they’re also available on Amazon. Their shampoo bar for normal hair is roughly comparable to HiBAR’s Moisturize bar, but it doesn’t last as long.
Ethique is a New Zealand-based brand of vegan, plastic-free and carbon-neutral shampoo bars and other beauty products that meet really great sustainability standards. Ethique ships widely and are also available on Amazon.
Shampoo Bar Price Comparison Chart:
|by Humankind||HiBAR||100 Senses|
|Price||$15 for 4 oz bar|
|$14 for 3.2 oz bar|
|$26 for 6.5 oz bar|
|Subscription Frequency*||Every 8 weeks||Every 30, 45 or 60 days||Every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 months|
|Shipping||Always free |
(ships to US only)
|Free over $20|
(ships abroad & available on Amazon)
|Free over $50 or with subscription (ships to US only)|
|Back up to my Review||by Humankind Review||HiBAR Review||Ultimate Body Bar Review|
Did I leave anything out? Anything else you’d like to know about any of these products or about plastic-free shopping? Leave it in the comments!
Looking for more about sustainability? Check out these reviews:
- All my favorite less-waste toiletries,
- toothpaste “tablets” and other plastic-free options,
- plastic-free deodorants (that actually work),
- my ridiculously detailed review of plastic-free laundry & cleaning products,
- my review of LastObject,
- and others!