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  • Writer's pictureThe Essential Homemaker

Shampoo - detergent vs. soap based, what's the difference and why you you need to make a change!

I often get asked by women how I can help them grow out their hair and get their healthy.  My first question is always, what shampoo are you currently using.  This is a very important question because 99.9% are using a detergent based shampoo, and that’s the problem.


What does this mean?  What is detergent based shampoo?  Let’s start with some basic chemistry, detergents are cleansing agents known as surfactants.  Surfactants reduce the surface tension between two liquids.  They can do this because of their chemical structure.  One part attaches to water (hydrophilic) and the other attaches to oil (hydrophobic).


In recent years, people have started to pay attention to the ingredients of the products they are using. Information on the negative impact of sulfate based chemicals in shampoos surfaced, and people made it clear they didn't want to use products with sulfates in them. However, many shampoo companies are tricking us by saying their products are sulfate free, but they are not being transparent because they are using other detergents that are just as harmful.  There are anionic detergents, cationic detergents, non-ionic detergents, amphoteric detergents, enzyme/biological detergents, etc.  The most common are sodium laureth sulfate, SLS. This is what causes shampoos to be luxuriously sudsy, aka the artificial feeling of clean.  This is a mind trick, foam doesn’t equal clean. It just means bubbles.


Detergents are overly harsh and are too striping of natural oils of the hair and scalp.  This excessive stripping of oils causes rebound sebum production on the scalp and excessive oil production at the root for the hair.  This over compensation creates a vicious cycle to start the process all over again. This is where the issues begin.  This is where I see the scalp problems, split ends, frizz, poor growth, oily scalp with dry ends, etc. 


My shampoo bars are old fashioned soap. What makes soap different from detergents?  Detergents are synthetic and man-made, soap is natural. Soap cleans the scalp and hair by acting as an emulsifier. The shampoo bars allow oil and water to mix so that they are removed when rinsed.  They are not two parts, hydrophobic and hydrophilic like detergents, they are amphiphilic meaning they are both at the same time.  This is why users of shampoo bars often experience a transition when using soap based shampoo bars, the rinsing is different.  You really must spend more time rinsing soaps out compared to detergent based shampoos.  Soap is more clingy. It’s literally attaching itself to dirt and lifting it.  We have to put the effort in to rinsing that out.  Detergent based shampoos are slicker, making rinsing easier.  Hard water can be an issue for soaps, it is best to use in softened water or using a shower head filter.  I have soft water, but I still filter my shower head.  This is what I use. Acid rinses also help the removal of buildup that soaps break down. I use an apple cider vinegar rinse. I use 3-4 Tablespoons of homemade apple cider vinegar in 12oz water. I play around with the water. Sometimes I use plain water, sometimes I make an herbal tea. I use a squirt bottle because that allows me to ensure I get my scalp.


Soap based shampoos were used prior to World War 1 when detergents became popular because soap supplies (animal and vegetable fats) became limited.  Soaps were used to clean everything in the home, clothes, the house cleaning, the body and hair. Detergents had to be manufactured as a substitute.  Chemists used by-products instead of raw materials at the time, that had similar properties as soap.  Detergents became popular once soap supplies became available again because detergents are cheap to make, much cheaper than soap because petrochemical by-products are in abundance. The extreme stripping nature of shampoos was realized, so the companies had to create and sell you conditioner to put the natural oils back onto the hair.

Soaps, however, are made from natural ingredients, such as plant oils and butters, animal fats, glycerin, etc and they are biodegradable which is much better for the environment. Based off of the chemistry of detergents, detergents are much stronger than soaps. They are excellent at removing dirt from clothes, removing food from dishes, but they are not suitable to be used skin and hair.


I have 3 shampoo bars:  Herbal Growth, Moisture-Lock, and Strengthening.  If you need to address scalp issues, I have a great magnesium spray to break up calcium deposits that are restricting blood flow to follicles, as well as oil treatments to get your scalp healthy.  Of course you need to address nutrient deficiencies by taking a full spectrum multivitamin.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out to me! My inbox is open.


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