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I’d like to hear from people who wash their hair with soap and by soap I mean Saponified SOAP (not syndet bars, shampoo bars or melt and pour bars)

August 26, 2014

I really don’t like it when I go up to a market stall to look at their beautiful soap and they say any of these things:

  • Our soap doesn’t contain any of the nasty chemicals you find in commercial products.
  • Our soap can be used on people with eczema
  • Our soap can even be used to wash your hair.

The first one grates on me because I am a chemist and while I don’t love ALL chemicals I love chemistry and find the phrase ‘nasty chemicals’ mildly offensive.  Well, I don’t really but it does make me roll my eyes and make a mental note that this person probably doesn’t really understand what goes into ‘commercial’ soap many of which contain the same ingredients as his or hers I’m sure.

Soapy cross

The second comment brings back memories of childhood that I should probably seek therapy for (another joke).  I used to have skin that was red raw and weeping from eczema and soap was not my friend.  It might have been the perfume or the commercial ‘nasties’  but having used soap since (and all kinds including the nice hand-made stuff) I am still not a fan for my eczema prone places as it just dries me out too much.  This is personal though,  maybe if the soap people said ‘we have had some eczema sufferers say that they prefer this soap over shop bought soap because it is super fatted and has a much lower pH than your average soap bar’ I absolutely would buy some as that sounds more than reasonable to me even though I still wouldn’t be convinced without trying that it would help my hands, knees and elbow creases.

But it is the third one that really makes me wonder what planet people are on and I feel bad about that.  I hate being so judgemental and yes, I know that hate is a strong word but I truly do feel so bad when the first thought that comes into my mind when someone spouts something I feel is rubbish is ‘oh my God, I feel like such a bitch’.  I want to fix this situation because a) don’t want to feel like such a bitch (selfish motive first) and b) I feel that there is always more to learn and maybe, just maybe I haven’t given it enough of a go.

My dad (bless him) used to wash his hair with soap. Imperial Leather, still reminds me of my dad.   He had short, wiry hair  and still does.  I never saw him use conditioner (it’s not for men) and never really saw or heard him complain about having  a bad hair day or whatever even though I clearly remember his hair being anything but soft.

I have longer hair, my hair is also fine and prone to breakage (I get it caught in stuff – laboratory mixers, handbag straps, my mouth while I’m eating dinner….)  and on the odd occasion when I have washed my hair with soap it has been terrible.

Scientifically a bar of saponified soap will not be the best thing for the hair.

Saponification raises the pH of the oils and turns them into soap with pH varying from around 8.5-12 depending on how much Lye is left.

The hair is best kept acidic as it is made up of Keratin and keratin is an AMINO ACID.  Acids tend to break down when they go into alkali situations and, well, you can see where this is heading.

Saponified soap is also an issue in hard water and forms scum which is a big issue where I live as we bathe in mineral water up here in the beautiful Blue Mountains.  I am aware that not everywhere has this issue so maybe again I have problems that others wont.

Colours of soap

So, what to do?

Well I would like to hear from people who do wash their hair with saponified soap and like or LOVE it.

I would like to know what your water is like?

What your hair is like

What soap you use

Whether you use conditioner afterwards or not.

and of course, where you got the soap from.

Then I will set up an experiment (with controlled water) to test them myself.   My testing is not to counter this soapy love, it is to satisfy my own curiosity and (hopefully) to have my prejudice put to rest.

So what do you think?  Will you help out?

Comment on the blog and we can go from there. It would be great to see the soapy hair washing in action via a video but as that is probably a bit tricky for some people an email or comment is also enough.

Soapy Story

Let’s see what soap can do!

Amanda x


20 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa Thomas permalink
    August 26, 2014 10:52 am

    Typically, everyone around our area has tank water but we also sell soap to people who will travel back to areas where mineral levels in water will be higher. I don’t overly promote our shampoo bars, taking the stand that results will vary in different water and for different hair. I always say that if it works out, fantastic, but if you don’t like it it will still be a lovely soap bar to use on the body. Lots of fellas like the simplicity of it but we’ve also found women with short fine hair say they like it because their hair has more body. I wouldn’t have a hope of using a soap bar as my shampoo, as I have thick, long curly hair so I certainly don’t think our bars would suit everyone’s hair or water. Typically, the people who will resort to using a soap bar as their shampoo are those who have itchy scalps and have tried “every” medicated shampoo on the market. Those people are willing to try anything to stop the itch and it would seem that a well formulated soap bar sometimes does that. So, it’s less about finding the best shampoo effect and more about trying to lessen the potential irritants.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 26, 2014 11:05 am

      That makes perfect sense Melissa! You see if I came to your soap stall I would be impressed with that as it sounds like a fair and reasonable appraisal of the soap. I think that these sweeping statements do people a dis-service really and that’s what I was hoping to get across. I do want to try your soap now though. I’ll have to track down your shop and buy some 🙂

      • Jessa D permalink
        November 12, 2014 10:35 am

        Hi RealizeBeautyEd,

        I’m a Cosmetic Chemist. and as one chemist to another, I’d never personally even think of washing my hair with soap. There so many pH friendly hair cleansers out there that not packed with unwanted chemicals. I can’t even imagine what the cuticle would be like after using pure soap as a hair cleanser.

  2. Anne C permalink
    August 26, 2014 7:52 pm

    I occasionally use handmade saponified soap to wash my hair (but not cheap commercial brands as I’m not sure if they have had some of the glycerin extracted but I don’t actually know if this makes any difference or not). My hair is coarse, wavy and medium in length. We live in a hard water area but we have a water softener and I find the biggest difference in the end result is how soft the water is. If I have forgotten to refill the salt in the softener then my hair feels sticky and unclean but in soft water it feels squeaky clean and I can’t tell the difference from using my normal shampoo. I very rarely ever use conditioner – I’m too lazy! My husband now prefers using bar soap to wash with but not for his hair (which is very fine and straight, he always uses a conditioner!). One of the reasons we had the water softener installed was that when our teenage son was a baby he had terrible eczema, we think it made a difference but maybe it was a combination of all the things we tried!

  3. Rachel permalink
    August 26, 2014 10:35 pm

    I have, while holidaying OS used a commpressed olive oil soap to wash my hair… I don’t think it is a saponified soap… it was from a Melbourne based company called Est.

    My hair is very dry, thick and curly. I didn’t have conditioner on me at the time but I think I whacked some oily stuff in my hair afterwards.

    The soap was really difficult to lather up and disperse through my hair… it took AGES. But I think the end result was ok. I wouldn’t mind washing my hair with Est soap balls on a regular basis except that it was SO time intensive.

  4. Paul permalink
    August 27, 2014 4:21 am

    I make alkaline (pH 9.8 – 10.3) olive oil soaps professionally for 5 years. I have made a soap for hair. It has more than 7% unsaponified fats and much of citric acid and deionized water plus some herb extracts. In our country we have medium water hardness. It makes hair really soft and conditioning without itching scalp. That’s what they like in it most of my customers. Making a soap so “soft” like this, actually we try to deceive our bodies so to stand the alkaline pH. I am geochemist and i still learning the cosmetic science. I know most of the problems that can occur from alkaline cosmetics. But take a look on this link to see something interesting:
    Also i am preparing a shampoo right now working with nonionics/amrhoterics.
    I think problems arise under the continuous use of a product. Many wanted to try my soap because as i understand they are tired from their shampoos (build-up problems?, irritating? don’t know). Maybe after some time using my soap they will be tired from this also and so they will go back to shampoo.
    That’s all of my personal experience till now.

  5. Belinda Romanuski permalink
    August 27, 2014 10:37 pm

    I have been using my own superfatted? saponified bars of soap as shampoo for 8 months. My scalp is not itchy, my scabby dandruff is gone and my hair is getting thicker. I add a lot of beneficial herbs, clays and essential oils. I also put a light oil on my hair before going to bed. If I use any commercial shampoo my scalp condition comes back. My hair is shoulder length and fine. We also have hard water from a very deep well.

  6. September 16, 2014 12:09 am

    I have been making soap for three years now and in that time have made two different shampoo bars – both are made with about 10% castor oil (to moisturize and boost lather), one is made with beer as the liquid. The beer shampoo bar is the clear winner – in our hard well water it lathers generously and rinses out well, leaving my fine hair feeling silky, strong and healthy with more body than I have EVER had! I find that I need neither a conditioner nor a vinegar rinse (recommended by many soapmakers), and there was no transitional experience of “funky hair”. I’ve happily used this shampoo bar for the past 9 months on both shoulder length hair and super-short hair – six months ago I cut my hair to less than an inch long and was giddy with how easily I could wash with the bar – I simply rubbed it over my wet head and voosh! Instant lather! As an experiment, I have used the (expensive) commercially-produced shampoo that still sits on the shelf, and find I prefer my own product. I pack a bar when I travel and hope to never again use store-bought shampoo! If you’d like to provide me with your info, I’ll happily send you a bar to try 🙂

  7. Katy permalink
    December 30, 2015 4:13 pm

    I have very long, thick hair (I usually have it cut when it gets to my waist because it becomes a strangling hazard if I roll in my sleep). I used commercial shampoo forever, and always had to use conditioner or I wouldn’t be able to get a comb through it. I was pretty happy with that routine, except that I always had to wear my hair in a ponytail or braid. It was just too flat looking to leave down without having to style it, and that was something I didn’t usually have time for. Plus it would get so tangled throughout the day that it would look awful unless I brushed it often, but I seemed to pull out hair every time I brushed. So ponytails where my life, but that was causing a lot of breakage. When I started making soap, I heard people talking about shampoo bars and I thought the idea was intriguing, but I was completely prepared for a disaster of stringy greasy tangled nastiness. I used my most straightforward bar — just water, oil and lye. It worked okay. Most days it felt nice, but occasionally it was just not quite right, as if my hair was still a bit greasy. I couldn’t be sure if it was that particular soap, if it was using a shampoo bar in general, or if it might be the vinegar rinse (4:1 water to ACV in a spray bottle, using about 1 ounce of the mixture after each wash). So I decided to try another bar to see if I got different results. Completely different! The second bar was designed to be a shampoo bar from the start and it was obvious the first time I used it. I’ve been using that bar for 4 months now and I haven’t had a single day that it didn’t get the job done. I lose a little hair to the drain when I rinse in the shower, but that’s it. When I brush my hair now I don’t pull any out. I have no trouble combing even without a conditioner. It feels super soft. And, most importantly, my hair has a life now — I haven’t had to do a desperation ponytail one single time. Long story short, shampoo bars can be great, but not every bar is a shampoo bar and I would be very hesitant of any vendor that tells you that all of their soaps can be used for one. (Same goes for shaving soap, but that’s another story). If you want to give it a shot, let me know and I’ll send a bar your way. 🙂

  8. August 28, 2017 7:17 am

    I make lye soap and most of my soaps are at minimum 5 percent superfatted but not all soap works as a good shampoo bar. First off let me say I have extremely dry hair and I’m constantly trying to find a product to keep my super fine blonde wavy locks in good shape. I have made a shampoo bar from avacodo oil Argon oil castor oil coconut oil Shea butter and olive oil. IT is an amazing shampoo bar also really good for shaving legs. It lathers so creamy and rinses super clean. However I really don’t need conditioner. This coming from someone that uses conditioner 2:1 over shampoo. So….I’m going to continue to use my avacodo soap as long as it works. I do wonder about a previous comment. Why is it not good for hair to use soap that has a ph of 7.5 to 12.5? This makes little sense to me when water has a ph of above 8 in 90 percent of the worlds water supply. Water is highly corrosive if not and the water must be treated if it has low ph because it will destroy cast iron or copper water lines and create all kinds of scale in pvc. Just asking because if the water is usually 8 to 12 ph what’s the difference if your soap is?///….your exposing your hair to the exact same problem whether your using soap or shampoo. High ph is high ph

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 28, 2017 7:56 am

      Hi there, Thanks for the detailed response, it is good to know that there are some soaps that are better for hair than others. With regards to the pH, pure water has a pH of 7, mineral water may have a pH around 8 and there are some places where water is more acidic due to dissolved acids from acidic soil or rain or pipe erosion. While water pH will have SOME effect on the hair, it has less effect than the soap as the soap is a surfactant and the water is not. Surfactants are designed (or created) to degrease a surface, water can only wet it (although the dissolved minerals might make it look dull, feel rough or slightly dry). Soaps ability to degrease (remove oils) is increased with increasing pH, so the higher the pH, the stronger the degreasing effect. This is one reason why oven cleaners are usually caustic (high pH). I hope that helps explain why high pH is not just high pH.

  9. January 4, 2018 2:45 pm

    Well,I enjoyed reading your piece. I’m writing on my phone sorry for typos.
    I make and sell soap on our Lavender farm I make a 5% supperfated lye soap with a lot of lavender essential oil in it and have been washing my hair with it for the past three weeks followed by a mainstream conditioner. I have fine (red/dirty blond) hair, it is odd and unmanageable, goes from wispy and baby fine when I wash it to wild the next day. I have never found a shampoo that really worked the way I wanted it to. So before I had gotten around to making a shampoo bar one day I took the plunge and washed with my soap. I am so amazed, my scalp feels good and my hair feels much softer. the biggest problem was constant tangles and damaging my hair from trying to brush out tangles, that is literally 100% better, another person looking at my hair might think it just looks neater, they would not know that it was a transformative experience, but to me it is a very big deal. I’m still going to try to make a lower pH recipe because I’m worried about long term effects. In terms of sales pitch, I get what those sellers are saying but I’m very carful to frame it differently! Even small time soap makers have run into trouble from the FDA making claims about their products so I only tell people what our customers have actually told us and tell them to read the reviews of each product. We definitely have had ppl. tell us they can use our soap on eczema, but that does not mean it’s for everyone!

  10. Linda permalink
    March 24, 2018 11:42 am

    I wash my hair with lye soap I make myself and it has saved my hair. With store bought shampoos I had to trim my hair every 2 weeks to get rid of split ends n lost alot n by alot I mean 2 hand fulls of hair every time I washed my hair. It was horrible on days I didn’t wash my hair. So I switched to lye soap I made myself. My hair is healthier n I go 8 weeks between trimming my hair bow. It’s also more mortruized than ever. I love it and will never use anything else.

  11. Beth Buzzell permalink
    April 1, 2018 12:38 am

    I have just begun to use homemade lye soap on my hair, because an elderly friend told me it was “good for my hair”. Always curious, and disappointed with OTC shampoos, which left my hair straight and limp ( it’s short), I tried it, and am pleased with the effect…nice clean hair and scalp, hair with fullness and shine.
    I made the soap with lard. Our water is medium
    hard. No conditioner was used.

  12. Samantha permalink
    July 19, 2018 6:03 am

    I have been using Jr Liggits saponified soap (claimed shampoo bar) to wash my hair. I love on the coast of California and luckily our water is very “soft”. I have been look for the same questions you posed! From all intention, the beauty industry says I shouldn’t be using shampoo with parabens or sodium laurel sulfates. The soap doesn’t leave my hair soft and conditioner is still needed. The results remind me of the lush shampoo bars that contain sodium laurel sulfate and strip my hair equally of oils. Not totally sold on the benefits of the whole shampoo bar thing but I’m giving it a try.
    I purchased the JR Liggits bar off amazon.

  13. Clare permalink
    August 4, 2019 2:57 am

    Ive never used soap, but, Same with my dad. Coarse hard hair. Only uses soap. Always used soap though and used to have long soft black curls…hmm

    I have always had strong but fine soft shiny hair. I feel lucky. I never used treatments, ive used coles shampoo and conditioner most of my life amd i have definatly not been nice to it. Its been dyed and bleached before. Not lots but enough that im lucky its still the shame health wise.

    The one thing i do.

    Dont wash it! Like leave it a week between washes if possible.
    I let the oils build and build till my hair is a stiff block (im exagerating a little) then wash. And after the wash. Shiny and healthy as ever. I usually get about 3 days before i have to resort to a bun to appear publicly.

    Ive been into shampoo bars a bit but more for the enviroment than for hair health.
    I dont really mind sulfate based shampoos but for someone washing more regularly i definatly would advise against high sulfate content just from friends experience and research.

  14. Rachel Malek permalink
    June 4, 2020 3:21 am

    Ok, after my other comment I would like to clarify: I love your blog, but it fills me with a strange mix of doubt a curiosity. Well done. I touched on using castile soap as shampoo in my other comment, and now I am doubting myself. Nonetheless, my hair has been a happy camper since I started my routine, so I will share anyway.

    Our water:

    I believe our water at home is likely hard, but don’t know for sure. The water in our comune comes directly from the mountain we live on, and I know there are a lot of places near us that bottle mineral water, so it just seems likely.

    My hair:

    Thick, wavy and pain in the butt. I am growing it out now and it is about shoulder length. When I was using baby shampoo and commercial conditioner/products it’s always had problems with texture, dullness, and breakage. Having shifted my hair care now it has gotten more volume, shine, and strength, and generally just does it’s own pretty thing without needing to do much styling or use other products.

    Soap used:

    Classic Dr. Bromners liquid soap. The big dark blue bottle, can’t remember the specific name. As mentioned before, I will be trying to switch to homemade castile soap with 100% olive oil, but this is yet to be attempted.


    1) Oil. Usually I either add some oil by hand before I get in the shower, or put some in the bath before I soak. Which oil depends on the mood of both me and my hair. Usually either pure olive oil or a mix of 80% Safflower Oil, 15% Avocado Oil, and 5% Almond Oil that I have on hand for skincare. My theory is that I am basically giving myself a hot oil treatment before the wash, as the steam from the shower or hot water (I assume) helps me absorb it. I leave this in for at least 15 mins. I don’t know if my theory is correct, but I like this step.

    2) Hot water and castile soap. Here I usually dip my head under warm/hot water so it is dripping, apply about a teaspoons worth of soap, lather, and rinse. Because my hair is very thick, I usually do this in sections. That sounds too precise. I do it between two and four times with my head tilted in different directions to make sure it gets everywhere without having to agitate my finicky hair too much.

    3) Rinse, rinse, rinse. After all my hair is clean, it has a rough texture. I rinse again with the warm/hot water to make sure any residue is gone, and a second time with cool water (again, theoretically, to seal the cuticle. Not sure if my theory is valid). Finally, I pour over a diluted mix with about an ounce of homemade red wine vinegar in about a cup of cold water.

    4) Detangle and air dry. After rinsing with the vinegar, I don’t let water touch my hair again. I usually detangle with my fingers or a hard bristled detangling comb, stick it up in a hair towel/cap, and leave it to air dry. After a few hours I take it down, detangle with my fingers again and crunch a bit to add volume. Then I will air dry more without the towel or use a hair dryer at this point if I am cold, lazy, or have a sudden need to go out in public and don’t want dirty looks and lectures from italian nonnas about how I will get a strike of wind on my neck and die.

    5) Care in between. Usually I only wash my hair once a week, but we will see if that changes once summer comes and more sweat and salt water enters the equation. If I feel like my hair is super dusty/dirty I use the vinegar rinse in the shower or just add a cup of vinegar/citrus hydrosol/good old red wine to my bath. If my hair feels dry, I squeeze some oil into the tips. If my hair is greasy, I use arrowroot powder with some powdered dry roses as a dry shampoo.

    Side-note: This may seem high maintenance, but it’s really a nice slow weekend ritual that gets paired with other self-care. It means I spend a lot less time on care throughout the week, and I save a lot of money on other hair care and styling products.

  15. Veronica permalink
    January 22, 2021 3:44 am

    I got amazing results switching to saponified organic oil bar from some local artisans and using oil lightly as a conditioner in the ends. Our water is soft, and I used an apple cider vinegar rinse afterwards. I joined a curly girl community that told me that saponified oils are basically the worst possible thing for hair, which surprised me…so I stopped using them in favor of organic, no sulfate/parabans/nasties/more expensive options. My hair IMMEDIATELY lost a lot of curly. As to why I am uncertain, but my experience with washing with saponified oils in a natural bar (made by people i actually met, so I knew nothing bad was there) was great! I’m considering going back to it

  16. elaine rob permalink
    September 7, 2021 12:04 pm

    My skin is getting drier and more delicate as I age into my 70’s and I’ve always had sensitive skin. Recently my scalp started itching using various shampoos, so I tired shampooing with Grandma’s Lye Soap a bar soap made for the body. It has no perfumes. The soap seems to work well on my short hair; it can leave my hair a little frizzy, but a quick smooth through after I put lotion on my hands solves that problem and I haven’t seen any dulling. We have hard water in Indiana, but I have a water softener, which varies a little in it’s effectiveness. I got Grandma’s Lye Soap from the local herbal store, but had seen it elsewhere- have been using it for body for about 5 years. Actually my own grandmother used to make lye soap and we cherished it. She saved all the bacon lard to make it. lol.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      September 10, 2021 6:16 pm

      That’s lovely! I love the fact that you’ve both found something that works for you and that it brought back memories of your grandmother. I’m not sure I’d be loving a lard shampoo but hey, it’s definitely better than just throwing it away 🙂
      Thanks for sharing that with me.

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