Cramming all of your toiletries into a small plastic bag is annoying. Being forced to pull said sack from your crowded carry on at an inspection point with your third hand while simultaneously keeping track of your passport, tickets, valuables, and maybe a few kids for good measure is infuriating.
I’m not a big fan of the current TSA checkpoint process, and add my voice to those who describe the entire scene as “security theatre.” I won’t elaborate further today, but thought I’d put any grumpiness that shows up in my review of innocuous shampoo bars into perspective.
Many have complained about this trial by toiletries. An oft offered solution is to replace liquid products with solids where possible. Carry a bar of soap instead of a bottle of body wash, tooth powder or baking soda in place of toothpaste, etc.
On such lists, you’ll usually read, “Try a solid shampoo bar!” And that’s the end of the advice.
Solid shampoo bar: what is it?
But how many shampoo bars do you see in an average salon or in the hair care aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy?
I believe shampoo bars are most readily available at places like Whole Foods or other health food markets. Every solid shampoo bar I’ve seen anywhere uses less packaging than all liquid shampoos, so some of the rationale for that is fairly obvious.
A shampoo bar is essentially just a bar of soap. Ideally, it is a soap or detergent formulation designed to gently yet effectively cleanse hair as opposed to skin.
Keep in mind for this comparison that I don’t require hair conditioner under normal conditions. My very fine hair is easily weighed down and my scalp is slightly oily. I do use a little conditioner at home to keep my ends healthy now that I have some coarser grey hairs, but I don’t bother to bring it when I travel unless it is a long trip in a very dry climate.
I’m using the following bar shampoos without conditioner when I give my evaluation.
J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Bar Shampoo: a natural and affordable option
- 3.5 oz bar
- dimensions: 2.5” x 1.25” x 2”
- retail $7.49
- 6 varieties, including unscented
- Made in the USA
- Packaging is 100% paper and fully recyclable
These stats are for the full size bar.
Trial/travel size bars are the size of a traditional hotel soap: 2″ x .375″ x 1.25″ and ² ⁄ 3 oz or mere 18g. Though its a little sliver of a thing, I find each small bar lasts for many weeks of use.
It’s gentle enough for use on the body, and the manufacturer even suggests it as a laundry/stain treatment when traveling.
I picked up my first shampoo bar, made by J.R. Liggett, in a health food store in Oregon. I’ve been using them for travel for at least a decade. The company has been producing them in New England for closer to 30 years.
There were three varieties if my memory serves when I bought my first J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bar. Researching this article showed me they now have six types. The travel friendly Sampler for $9 would be my choice to try the brand for the first time since it includes one of each formula.
Ingredients in the J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bars are all natural and easily interpreted by an average user. Oils (you could eat, but please don’t bite your shampoo bar!), water, and sodium hydroxide (lye), plus essential oils for fragrance and perhaps therapeutic purposes.
This is legitimately an old-fashioned recipe for soap. My son made something similar at a science museum day camp.
My personal experience is generally good with the way my hair looks and feels when I use Liggett’s on my fine, straight hair, but it matters which formula I use on my sensitive scalp.
I do find that it works less well in hard water as sold. Like many other shampoos, my hair gets weighed down under these conditions.
Liggett’s suggests a solution to these issues using stuff you’ve probably already got at home. Whether or not you feel like carrying some baking soda or vinegar to adjust water pH and aid your shampoo’s effectiveness when you travel is a different matter.
I choose to use another daily shampoo at home where the water has some frustrating mineral content, but don’t find this problematic enough to prevent me from traveling with a J.R. Liggett shampoo bar in my toiletry kit.
If my hair reacted terribly in a particular destination’s water, I would use the hotel shampoo or buy something in a local shop.
J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bar “Tea Tree & Hemp Oil” is my first choice for travel right now†.
- It has no added fragrance if you exclude essential oils purported to serve other purposes or colors.
- It does a good job of cleaning under most conditions, leaving my hair normal looking and manageable.
- It doesn’t irritate my sensitive scalp.
The trial/travel bars are affordable and exactly the size I’m looking for: tiny!
I appreciate the unscented option so my whole family can happily share a single shampoo. My child with eczema uses it safely, too, but only when we travel‡.
J.R. Liggett also offers a Mini Traveler Pack ($8) that combines a zip storage pouch with four sample size bars and a plastic “soap saver.” I have this, and it is good, but not necessary or the best option for my family.
The soap saver does keep bars from degrading into mush prematurely or sticking to stray dirt and hairs, which is the kit’s best feature. It isn’t strictly necessary, but may help a bar last longer.
I find the Mini Traveler pouch much larger than it needs to be. I’ve switched to carrying my Liggett’s shampoo bar in a simple Ziplock plastic baggie or a similar reusable Bumkins pouch. Sometimes, I just wrap my bar in a piece of Saran Wrap that I store carefully and re-use. All of these options take up less room in my admittedly tiny Tom Bihn toiletries pouch.
Finally, the Mini Traveler combo comes with a sensible complement of four bars, but there are two each of just two types: 2 Original Formula Bars and 2 Jojoba & Peppermint Bars. Peppermint Oil is an unnecessary irritant to my sensitive scalp, so half of these bars are wasted on me.
I’d suggest that J.R. Liggett could improve the Mini Traveler Pack by sticking with its least irritating, least scented formulae which should work for the largest percentage of potential users. New users would do well to test the brand with one of its three unscented varieties if going for a full size bar.
The Liggett’s shampoo bars are somewhat brittle, especially as they age and dehydrate. I have broken one by dropping it onto a hard surface. I think they would be difficult to slice into smaller segments for ultra-light travel, at least if one wanted a neatly cut piece.
Lush Shampoo Bars: a stylish choice
- 1.9 oz bar
- dimensions: 2.25″ round x .75″ high
- retail $10.95 – 14.95
- 12 varieties available on http://www.lushusa.com
- Made in Canada for North American consumers
- No packaging at all, sold as a loose block of soap from an apothecary jar
Last year, I made an impulse purchase of a Lush Shampoo Bar while on vacation in San Francisco. I wandered into that shop looking for a bath bomb to ease my aching muscles after walking so many hills. I was unable to resist trying their popular shampoo bar once I’d smelled “Jason And The Argan Oil.”
I don’t normally go for scented products with unknown “fragrance” in the ingredients list because I react poorly to so many. I was in vacation mode, however, and felt like a girly splurge.
Lush Jason and the Argan Oil shampoo bar is strongly scented of rose. When I put it in the shower at home, my husband asked me if I’d suddenly lost my mind and started using air freshener. It is almost too powerful a fragrance for me to tolerate, but it doesn’t give me a headache like most commercial perfumes.
Your mileage may vary, but tread cautiously with this brand if you are sensitive to smells.
Ingredients include Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Red 33 dye. I would prefer a product without these ingredients, but it takes about five days of use before my scalp starts to react to them with this shampoo bar.
At home, I alternate shampoos, so this is no problem. On the road, I wouldn’t make this my only shampoo for anything but a weekend trip.
My skin is highly reactive; if yours isn’t, consider this a fairly mild product.
I very much appreciate that Lush lists all ingredients and links directly from its product pages to an explanation for why each one is included. I disagree absolutely that a bright pink color is worth including any dye in a product I will rub on my head. This is the major reason I prefer the simpler J.R. Liggett product in this head-to-head comparison.
Decide for yourself, but I use fragrance- and dye-free products whenever possible, and I will select for safer ingredients over more aesthetically pleasing results where I’m balancing health with beauty.
Lush customer service, both in store and online, has been great. I used their chat option to confirm where their shampoo bars are made. I love transparency, and this seems to be a corporation that cares about many of the things I do, even if we aren’t 100% aligned on SLS and added colors/perfumes.The optional storage tin I bought in San Francisco with my Lush shampoo bar was Made in China. I don’t recommend the tin. If I had it to do over, I’d simply use one of my existing lunchbox containers (Tupperware, etc.) if I wanted a hard travel box for the bar.
The tin doesn’t work well in the shower, encouraging the bar to sit in a puddle of water which would let it melt into pink goo. You’re supposed to dry the bar off after use before storage in any closed container. In the shower, my Lush bar sits on a cheap soap dish I already owned where it can drain properly and air dry.
I like these reusable, dishwasher-/washing-machine- safe cloth zip bags by Bumkins (shown next to packed lunch, below), and I think the Lush shampoo bar would fit well in the “snack size.” Any soft bag will pack smaller than a rigid box, especially as the bar is used up over time. Since you’re drying the shampoo bar off after use, being waterproof isn’t even necessary.
Perhaps because of the SLS, I can use the Lush shampoo bar at home with our somewhat mineral-laden water and get soft, bouncy hair. It works better to clean my mane under these conditions than the J.R. Liggett’s bar.
After rinsing, I don’t notice the rose scent lingering on my own head. My son refuses to sniff my hair and give an opinion, but the perfume is not wildly obvious once the user has left the bar’s own odiferous presence.
Lush only makes the full size shampoo bar. It isn’t outrageously large for travel, but, considering how many uses are contained in one (about 80), it would be better to travel with a much smaller slice. I think it is roughly hockey puck size, but that’s not sports equipment I have on hand to compare for myself.
I’m considering trying to saw off a small segment of the Jason and the Argan Oil bar for my own travel use, but haven’t tried it yet. If I do, I’ll update regarding how well it fares. I’m worried it will shatter, but it isn’t a particularly brittle bar.
Head-to-head size comparison shots
Here is the naked Lush Jason and the Argan Oil shampoo bar held next to the J.R. Liggett’s travel size bar.
And here they are with the Lush shampoo bar in what they call a “travel” tin.
May your every travel day be a good hair day, too!
† I’m looking forward to trying J.R. Liggett’s newer Coconut & Argan Oil formula, however. I would prefer to avoid potentially sensitizing essential oils and I know my skin does well with argan oil in particular.
‡Specialty non-soap products are recommended by his doctor, but the Liggett’s bar seems non-irritating for short term use on quick trips where we don’t carry the entire assemblage of that which soothes angry skin.