There has been some debate by some soap makers as to whether or not a shampoo bar can be made the same way as bar soap. Meaning using a cold process method which creates the end result using sodium hydroxide mixed with water and oils to create a solid bar.
This process if calculated properly can make an amazing soap. Here is the thing though - remember my rant on PH Balance? It is 10,000,000%+ impossible to create a PH Balanced bar of soap that still cleanses. This means you are stripping your hair of its necessary oils and leaving it dull, frizzy, tangled and cause it to break and be extra static charged.
How to Avoid a High PH Balanced Shampoo Bar
While being able to look at a label and tell if it is PH Balanced is not possible, there are a few ways in which you can tell immediately if it is not PH Balanced.
- Does it contain Sodium Hydroxide? If yes, then the PH will be an 8 or higher which is too high for your hair.
- Does it contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate? If yes, see if the bar has any acids, generally citric acid will be used to reduce the PH. If yes to both, it may be neutral BUT it is going to cause you cancer and kill aquatic life so I strongly recommend you do not purchase
- Does it contain Sodium Palmate and/or Sodium Cocoate? Both of these ingredients are made with sodium hydroxide. They may be neutralized with an acid to be closer to PH Balanced however this is a finicky process and each batch made would need to be tested with a high quality PH Tester to know if it is balanced. It is very easy for the mix to go too far the opposite direction and the mix that worked yesterday may not be what works today. Better to just avoid and find a shampoo bar with better ingredients from the start. **I have seen some happy reviews of shampoo bars made with these ingredients. The thing I noted about them was that they also included a lot of oils and butters to feed the hair that all of the sodium ingredients are stripping away. I did not see any long time use reviews which would be a lot more telling.
Here is a soap bar masquerading as a shampoo bar.
Is a soap bar like the QUO shampoo bar safe for your hair?
The short and easy answer is No, No it is not.
Bars made with sodium hydroxide like this one are alkaline and will have a PH of 8 or higher. We need them to be at least down to a PH of 7 in order to not be too high and even a 7 is a little high as that just hits the neutral mark. We don't want to be too low either as then they are acidic. The sweet range is between 4 - 6.5. Soap bars can be reduced somewhat by adding an acid, like citric acid. This however changes the soap to no longer cleanse.
Lets dissect the rest of the ingredients of the QUO bar:
Sodium Palmate: This is a mixture of fatty acids from palm trees, this may actually reduce the high alkaline of the soap bar as it is supposed to create a more gentle cleanser. Does it make it neutral enough? I'm guessing no as when I asked the staff at the local shop that sells this bar they told me customers complained a lot about the quality of it. Plus the elephant in the room - it is made from palm oil.. .. if you have met me, you know my stance on palm oil.
Sodium Cocoate: This is derived from coconut oil combined with sodium hydroxide (which as discussed is not PH Balanced) and is used as an emulsifier to mix with hair oils and grime to rinse it away. It can be an irritant to those with sensitive skin
Aqua: This is just water, to make bar soap you need to mix sodium hydroxide with water to make a lye water solution. **For a proper shampoo bar made with PH Balanced surfactants you do not add any water
Glycerin: This is a natural compound from vegetable oils (it can also come from animal fats. I personally have only used the vegan option and this ingredient list does not state what kind it is, I'm guessing it is the vegan kind though). Glycerin is used a humectant which draws moisture to the skin or hair and helps keep it there.
Sodium Olivate: This is the same as the sodium cocoate however this one is made with olive oil and sodium hydroxide.
Polyquaternium-10: This is found in a lot of hair care products and is a synthetic polymer compound. It effectively coats the hair shaft to provide some conditioning, detangling and some anti-static. Considering all the sodium hydroxide on this product, this is likely added to try and combat all the negative effects that would happen from using this bar on your hair.
Fragrance: This could be made with oils or synthetic chemicals which may not be safe to use even in soap. Sadly, there is 0 requirement for manufacturers to list what their fragrances are made with to know if they are safe. One thing I do know though is you should never use a fragrance in a hair product. If it was an Aroma, that may be OK. I use natural aromas from my Calgary supplier Soap and More and they are made only with essential oils and are safe for hair products along with my own essential oil blends that I have developed specific for the hair type the bar is for.
Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Oil: This is rosemary essential oil which is the only good ingredient in this entire bar as it is awesome for hair! I use this in my hair oil as it can help stimulate hair growth, prevent hair fall and is great for overall hair and scalp health.
Sodium Chloride: AKA salt! This is likely used as a bar hardener to make the bar last longer, however, it may also be used in lieu of a proper preservative which a shampoo bar should have as it is going to get wet.
BHT: This is an antioxidant more commonly used in plastics, coatings and elastomers (AKA rubber). I have no idea how or why this is in a bar for soap or shampoo.
EDTA is an acid which maybe is in there to lower the PH Balance. I'm not sure if it can do that, however I do know that it is used as a foaming agent that is meant to bind with metal ions to prevent metal from accumulating on the hair and skin.
From what I can tell, not only is this bar bad for your hair, it is not great even just as a soap.
INCI Names: Sodium Cocoate VS Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil
I noted a few corporations using some interesting ingredient listing on their shampoo bars which can make it even harder to know if a product is safe.
In Canada we are to use the INCI name for all things. Note, in the USA, it is only optional, in fact, in the USA some soap manufactures do not even include all of their ingredients on their labels - just the ones they want you to know about.
INCL stands for International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredient and for every bath and body care product that is to be sold in Canada the manufacture is to submit a Cosmetic Notification Form. With these forms the makers must use the INCI of each ingredient used. Now this does not mean that every maker has actually done this, especially small operations in which you can find at the farmers market. I have done it but really, if you have gotten this far in this post you know I am a big time nerd so of course I do them.
The point is, I noted a lot of these large scale players are writing the sodium ingredients on the labels in a confusing manner that may look safe to the consumer.
For example, the shampoo bar from another Canadian favourite manufacturer:
In this example, both the sodium cocoate, sodium olivate, sodium shea butter and the sodium sunflower oil are written as if they are the oils and not a sodium hydroxide mixture derived from those plants. The only actual plant oil in this product is the Castor oil. Further there is not any acid to bring down the PH balance of the sodium hydroxide so this is likely an alkaline bar that is not balanced for hair health.
The INCI for coconut oil is Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil. While I admit I have a cosmetic notification form for all my products, I use plain English on my labels. I find this use of adding the plant the sodium mixture was made from as if that is what that ingredient is very misleading.
Are Sodium Cocoate and Sodium Olivate Safe?
According to websites such as Healthline, they are not deemed unsafe. Other sites refer to them as harsh chemicals. While they are derived from plants, they are created in labs where the plants are stripped of their fatty acids. Depending on where they are made they may be better or worse perhaps. As to the actual safeness of them, that is not truly known by the likes of me.
As a maker, I have access to many ingredients via different sources. None of these sodium plant blends are available which makes me question why not. Ditto for the sodium lauryl sulfate which the suppliers purposely do not sell because of it not being safe. I can of course get it via a chemical producer or China with ease, however, I obviously do not use it so there is no need for me to do that.
If the suppliers do not sell it - my guess is they are not the safest things to be using.
As a guide for better hair care, look for shampoos that use things like Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) which is also referred to as baby foam as it is gentle and PH balanced enough for baby cleansers. Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa), Cocamidapropyl Betaine, DLS Mild, also known as Stepan-Mild SL3-BA are some great ingredients that create a lovely bubbly shampoo bar that is plant based and safe for you and the environment to name a few. All of my bars use these quality PH Balanced ingredients.