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Plastic-Free Hair Care: The Complete Guide

It’s overwhelming to think how many plastic bottles of shampoo households must throw away each year. Even if a bottle is recycled, plastic can only be recycled two or three times before it has to be sent to a landfill site or incinerated.

That’s not to mention the miniature shampoo bottles found in hotels, or the bottles of conditioner, hair masks, oils, serums, and other styling products many of us get through annually.

Thankfully, some industries are making great changes – InterContinental Hotels Group announced it will cut out 200 million mini plastic toiletries, including shampoo, in the next two years. The US state of California has placed a ban on small plastic bottles in hotels.

Now it’s time to do our bit as consumers! It may feel daunting to change your hair routine, but there are excellent plastic-free hair care options out there. So without further ado, here’s your complete guide to plastic-free hair care.

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Plastic-free shampoo

Shampoo bars

Shampoo bars are an instant plastic-saver. Plus, they require five times less energy to produce than liquid shampoo. Less plastic, less carbon emissions!

On top of that, most shampoo bars are cruelty-free, and there are many palm oil free and vegan options.

They’re also economical. Bars last far longer than liquid equivalents, and you can buy one for as little as £2.75.



How to use a shampoo bar

You can either lather the bar in your hands and then apply the product to your hair, or rub the bar straight onto your hair. The former is a good way of assessing how much you’re using, and then making adjustments depending on how much shampoo your hair needs.

Water breaks your bar down, so keeping it in the direct stream of your shower will shorten its life. Store it outside of the shower on a soap dish, ideally one with holes, to let it dry out between uses.

Shop: Eco-friendly soap dish

Read more: How to make your soap bar last as long as possible

Many people swear by shampoo bars, but we do need to talk about the transition period.

Shampoo bars – the transition period

Shampoo bars are typically 100% natural, which means they have a very different formulation to the shampoo your hair is used to.

Traditional shampoo contains sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a chemical that produces the foamy lather found in many cosmetic and cleaning products. Although SLS does a good job of cleaning your hair, it strips it of essential oils. Your hair has adapted to this by producing more oil to compensate.

When you switch to a shampoo bar, the oil stripping stops. Your hair will need time to adjust and rebalance its oil production. This is the infamous “transition period”, which can last anywhere between days or months.

Your hair may feel waxy during this time. Chargin Valley Soap & Salve Company describes it as “your hair literally freaking out, going through withdrawal”.

To manage the transition period, make sure you rinse more thoroughly than usual, and try an apple cider vinegar rinse. This formula is good at clearing out stubborn product from hair, so it could help reduce waxiness. You can make your own or buy one, such as Bain & Savon’s organic vinegar hair rinses.

Hard water exacerbates the transition period. If you live in a hard water area, it may be worth rinsing with diluted water or buying a filtered shower head.

Don’t let the transition period put you off, as some people have very little trouble adjusting to them. If you can persevere, shampoo bars are an excellent swap to make for the environment!



Alternatives to shampoo bars & the transition period

If you prefer liquid to bars, you can buy plastic-free liquid shampoo from brands like Lor or Funky Soap. Funky Soap even sells refills at a discount. 

If you want avoid the need for a transition period, check out Moo Hair Miracle Shampoo or Beauty Kubes. They are formulated with ingredients your hair will be used to, so your hair won’t go through a transition!

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Plastic-free conditioner

Conditioner bars

Just like shampoo bars, conditioner bars are a great way to switch to plastic-free hair care. You don’t need to worry about a transition period, it’s just a case of finding the right bar for you. 

How to use a conditioner bar

Slide the bar through your hair. To ensure your hair is getting the maximum benefit, gently squeeze the water out of your hair, and apply the conditioner to it when it’s drier. Leave the conditioner in your hair for a few minutes before washing out.

You can also double up your conditioner bar as a shaving soap or in-shower moisturiser!

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Both shampoo and conditioner bars are easy to travel with, all you need is a travel tin to keep them in. No more travel-size plastic bottles required!

Shop: Soap travel tin



Liquid conditioner

Funky Soap offers refillable aluminium bottles of conditioner, or compostable cardboard tubs. Brands including Wild Sage & Co, Bain & Savon, and Moo Hair offer liquid conditioner in glass packaging.



Plastic-free leave-in hair products

DIY leave-in conditioner & detangler

This simple recipe for making your own leave-in conditioner also works as a detangler — great for kids! The best thing about making your own products is that you can reuse one spray bottle again and again, instead of buying a new product each time.


1 tbsp of aloe vera gel (available in a glass bottle)

½ tbsp of vegetable glycerine

5 tbsp of distilled water


Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake!

Source: Live Simply

If you can’t find a particular ingredient in plastic-free packaging, you could buy it in bulk instead. This limits the number of times you have to purchase a new container. Or, check if your nearest zero-waste store offers it as a refill. Other than that, don’t worry about achieving “perfection”! You’re unlikely to go through ingredients as quickly as hair products, so on balance you will be reducing waste.



Oils, serums & masks

Embracing natural oils is a great way to replace plastic-packaged oils, serums, and masks.

Argan oil is rich in nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids, which makes it an excellent choice for maintaining shiny, healthy hair. You can add Argan oil to wet or dry hair, and even use it as an overnight mask.

Jojoba oil is also great for moisturising hair, and for strengthening it. You can use jojoba oil in place of a hair mask by leaving it in your hair for 20 minutes and then washing as normal.

Conscious Skincare sells aluminium bottles of Argan oil and jojoba oil. You can purchase a plastic pump with your first bottle, and then reuse the same pump for future bottles.



Plastic-free hair styling products

DIY texture spray

This handy recipe helps you achieve beachy waves, minus the plastic packaging or cost of expensive styling products. Simply reuse a spray bottle!


1 cup of hot water

2 tbsp of epsom salts (available in paper bags)

½ tbsp of Himalayan or sea salt

1 tbsp of aloe vera gel


  1. Pour the hot water into the spray bottle.
  2. Add the epsom salts, sea salt, and aloe vera.
  3. Shake for 1-2 minutes or until the salts dissolve.
  4. Spray on damp hair and scrunch with a towel for loose beach waves!

Source: Wellness Mama

Plastic-free hair wax

Brands like Kite Nest and The Natural Barber Co sell hair wax in recyclable (or reusable) aluminium tins. Easy peasy!

Plastic-free dry shampoo

You may be used to dry shampoo in aerosol spray cans – plastic-free dry shampoo is a little different. It comes as a loose powder, which you apply with your fingers. Primal Suds sells plastic-free dry shampoo in compostable paper bags. Alternatively, you can make your own simply by using arrowroot powder!

DIY hair spray

Did you know that sugary water works as hair spray? This old school recipe was loved and trusted back in the 1950s!


1/2 cup of hot water

2 tsp of sugar

5-8 drops of your favourite essential oil (optional if you want to add scent)


  1. Boil the water
  2. Add the sugar
  3. Stir until the sugar dissolves
  4. Allow to cool
  5. Add essential oils of your choice (optional)

Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and you’re good to go.

Source: Thank God It’s Natural

Your plastic-free hair care guide is complete! Let us know which tips you find useful. Cut down on plastic each month with our plastic-free subscription box. Get 10% off your first box with the code FIRSTBOX to give it a go!

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