From Shampoo to Soap – My Story

shampoo - washing hair with soap

It’s been 12 years since I originally wrote about washing my hair with Dr. Bronner’s soap, so I thought it was time to update this post and let you know how it’s going. I’ve washed my hair quite a lot since then.

I still wash my hair with soap, and I love it even more now than I did then.

I love that I can wash myself with one product from head to toe. In my early morning pre-tea fog, I appreciate this so much. Most of the time I use the Castile Liquid Soap—usually Almond, sometimes Citrus. If my hair is feeling extra dry, I go up to the Organic Sugar Soap—Lemongrass Lime—with its sugar and Shikakai powder to give extra nourishment. (Sugar is a humectant which draws moisture into skin and hair. Shikakai softens skin and hair.)

And when it’s really dry here in Southern California, like when the Santa Ana winds roar out of the desert, sucking every last drop of moisture from all forms of life, I use the Organic Shaving Soap. That’s the most moisturizing of the Dr. Bronner’s soap line, and great for more than just shaving.

So let me take you back to the beginning. To why I started washing my hair with soap instead of shampoo and how I survived the transition.

My motivation

When I started learning about problematic ingredients in personal care products, I noticed a disturbing trend. All the ingredients that populated the “12 Worst” and “Avoid These” lists were common in shampoos. Ethoxylated compounds like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (not to be confused with its cousin Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, aka SLS), Polyethylene Glycol, and other -eths with the carcinogenic stowaway 1,4-Dioxane. Quaternium compounds and Ureas which are common allergens and formaldehyde-releasers, another known carcinogen. Ethanolamines, aka DEA, MEA, TEA, which readily react with nitrogen compounds in the air or in other ingredients to form skin-penetrating carcinogenic nitrosamines.

It was time to find another way to wash my hair. But I still wanted my hair to look good. Who doesn’t?

Choosing an acidic rinse

I knew that one key to success was going to be an acidic rinse. A trait that differentiates soap from shampoo is its pH, which is whether something is acidic or alkaline. Soap is always alkaline. Shampoo is acidic. The keratin scales of hair strands raise up in the presence of an alkaline (soap). I’ve heard people describe their hair feeling sticky or tacky after washing with soap, or it’s dull or easily tangles or it feels like Velcro. All of this is because of the raised keratin scales. The scales must be smoothed back down with a balancing acidic rinse.

Here are three great options, and my dilutions. Bear in mind that I have fairly long hair. Shorter hair may need less or even none, as I’ll discuss with my husband and son:

  • Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Hair Rinse: 1 or 2 capfuls diluted in 1 cup of water
  • Apple cider vinegar (ACV): ½ cup in ½ cup water
  • Lemon Juice (filtered to remove all pulp): 1/3 cup in 2/3 cup water
    • (Take note that lemon juice is not shelf stable and needs to be kept in the fridge.)

Basic method

  1. Wash hair with soap of your choice. Rinse out.
  2. Apply rinse of your choice, finger combing through the hair. Let it sit for 1-3 minutes. Rinse out.

My first hair wash with soap (anticlimax)

The first time I washed my hair with soap I was frankly horrified. What I realized is that conventional conditioners had been coating my hair with silicones, usually dimethicone, which accounted for that slippery post-shower feel. However, not only did those weigh down my hair, but also they concealed its neglected malnourished state. So the first time I washed my hair with soap which removed this coating, my hair looked awful.  By the end of that day, it was completely limp and lifeless. It was full of static and didn’t even feel clean. I was so discouraged that I gave up the attempt.

My second hair wash with soap (months later)

It was several months later that I decided to try again. I washed my hair with soap, again found my hair to be the same tired overworked mess, but I had a different resolve.

I knew my hair needed to heal.

Tactics I used to ease the transition

  • Once a week I did deep conditioning treatments, where I left a masque on my hair for about 10 minutes. Hair strands are comprised of two or three layers. Fine hair has only two layers. The outermost layer, or cuticle, is made of keratin in an arrangement of overlapping-scales. This covers the inner cortex, which is solid keratin. Thicker hair has a central shaft called the medulla. I needed a deep conditioning treatment that would penetrate into these layers. At the time I used a brand of conditioning masque that isn’t now available, but now I use coconut oil (a pea-sized amount on my long, thick hair) or the Dr. Bronner’s Hair Crème.
  • I doubled down on the five lifestyle habits that most impact hair (and skin!): good nutrition, plenty of water, plenty of sleep, exercise, and laughter. When these are not in place, the hair is sure to show it.
  • Once a week I used my previous shampoo and conditioner. This might have been more of a psychological help than a restorative one to my hair. But using the old comfortable stuff once a week made me feel better about the whole thing and got me through, so that’s worth something.
  • I let the acidic rinse sit on my hair for most of my shower to give my hair lots of time to smooth.
  • I used 1-2 pumps of Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hair Crème after each hair washing, which is a leave-in conditioner that is like lotion for hair. I would apply it while my hair was still damp after I had brushed it out, concentrating on the lower half of my hair which tends to be dryer since it is further from the sebum-producing scalp.

Over a period of two weeks, my hair got stronger and stronger. It became soft and silky. I think my scalp realized it needed to wake up and supply some necessary oils, too. Without those silicone residues, my hair does not feel slippery when I’m done, but it is tangle-free, and when it dries, it is smooth and soft.

I also discovered that my hair is much wavier than I knew, now that it’s not weighed down by all the conditioner residues. That’s been kind of fun. I have discovered that if I gently scrunch the Hair Crème into my hair and let it air dry, the waves are more pronounced.

My other takeaways

I use a dab of the Hair Crème to smooth flyaways on dry hair, especially if I am going for more of a structured style like a braid or twist.

I also have found that I don’t need to wash my hair very often. The most I’ll wash it is every two days, but sometimes I go three or four with it still looking nice. I’m really pleased with my hair now that I’ve gotten used to this different system.

Remember that for me, it wasn’t an instant switch. It took some time for my hair to adjust, for my scalp to adjust, and even for my own norms to adjust. But it has so been worth it. My hair is healthier, stronger, and most importantly, I like how it looks.

Hair washing with Bar Soap

The Castile Bar Soap also works excellently for washing hair. Two members of my household use it regularly: my husband and my son. The only reason I do not is that it takes a while to work it all the way through my long hair. However, when traveling and I haven’t wanted to bring the liquid for risk of spilling, or when for some reason I don’t have the liquid on hand, the bar soap has been a great substitute.

Another great way to use the bar soap on hair is to make up a batch of Soap Cream, which is a semi-liquified bar soap. This would work through the hair more quickly.

Washing traditionally colored hair

If you’ve been on board with this whole discussion of soap for hairwashing, I may derail you: it is not recommended to wash traditionally colored hair with an alkaline cleanser. Soap is always alkaline. The reason goes back to the fact that the alkalinity of soap opens up the hair follicles. This is precisely where traditional hair dye is stored. The color will drain out and fade quickly. Colored hair needs acidic products only. Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database for healthy color-safe  hair care options.

Washing Henna-dyed hair

Henna-dyed hair does not have this same caution and can be washed with soap. Henna works by staining the outer keratin of the cuticle, rather than storing the dye inside the cortex. Soap will not affect this stain.

Washing highlighted hair

Highlighted hair also is safe with soap. Highlights work by removing some of the color of hair, not by adding color in. Unless you have also added lowlights back into the hair, you can wash highlighted hair with soap. I have highlighted hair myself and cover this topic in greater detail in another article.

Finding what works best for you

It takes some time and tinkering to land on a routine that works best. Our hair is all so very different from one another. And what we want from our hair is different. What one person calls sleek, another calls flat. What one person calls full of body, another calls wild and out of control.

You will need to decide whether to use the Castile Soap or the Organic Sugar Soaps or the Shaving Soap. Which rinse works best and how long to let the rinse sit on the hair. Whether to dry with a blow dryer or let it air dry. Whether to use the Organic Hair Crème on wet hair or dry hair. How many days you’ll need to wait for damaged hair to repair. I hope that seeing what worked for me will get you started.

For more tips and tricks on hair washing with soap and to find your perfect method, check out my colleague Rafi Loiederman’s excellent overview, The Definitive Guide to Washing your Hair with Dr. Bronner’s.

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Jake says:

Lisa Bronner,

Greetings. The first time I used Bronner soap I washed my hair with one of the 18-IN-1 Pure-Castile Soaps. I learned a new phrase: “I stripped the oil from my hair.” My wife failed to tell me to use the 4-IN-1 Organic Sugar Soap. All is well now.

The above is background to get to this: I noticed a display of Bronner Soap in the baby related products in a local grocery store. Probably between 50 and 100 bottles were on the shelf. What I noticed most was that every bottle I saw was an 18-IN-1 Pure-Castile Soap. I immediately remembered my first hair washing experience with 18-IN-1 and pointed it out to one of the employees. I thought I was doing them a favor. (Silly me !) I was quickly notified that the soap was a concentrate and should be diluted.

When at home I checked the ingredients for both of the soaps. They have a different listing of ingredients.

The 32 oz bottle has a lot of information, but my 76 year old eyes have to use a magnifying glass to read the small print. So … hoping to get a simple response … what would be your recommendation(s) for which soap to use with infants, babies, youngsters in general, probably younger than 4 years. I would greatly appreciate any counsel you might provide.

Thanks and best regards,
Jake Netherland

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jake – Yes, the Sugar Soap has the Castile soap as a base and then has the addition of sugar (sucrose), shikakai powder, and white grape juice. I find that for the very young, the simplicity of the Pure-Castile soap is all that is needed. I used it on all of my kids for as long as I bathed them. Keep in mind though, that as a true soap, it is not tear-free, so take care to keep it out of their eyes. Perhaps my article about washing my babies will be helpful:

Mary McCarty says:

Hi Lisa,
I’ve been a fan of Dr. Bronner’s for many years. I’ve recently started using soap as shampoo because I’m allergic to detergents.
I belong to several groups on facebook and they all have the same tired warnings about using soap on hair like a flock of parrots. You have long hair and have been using soap for many years.
Would you mind if I used you as an example of how well it can work?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Mary – I don’t mind at all and am flattered that you asked! I, too, have seen all the cautions against how bad soap is for hair, and maybe there are so many soaps that wouldn’t work for hair that people make that overarching statement. However, I certainly have had great success with Dr. Bronner’s Castile. In fact, I was just travelling and for ease of packing, decided I’d just use the hotel stuff. I was super glad to get back home to my soap and lemon juice.

Karen says:

What can I use to thinken the liquid castile soap to make a gel shampoo and or a body wash?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Karen- We haven’t found anything that we recommend using to thicken the Castile Soap. Using it in a foaming pump dispenser with 1 part soap to 3 parts water (adjust this dilution as you like) will functionally “thicken” the soap with water and air. Or, try the Organic Sugar Soap. With organic sugar and Shikakai powder, it is naturally thicker than the Castile Soap.

Karena says:

I evidently didn’t bookmark the site so I can’t give you the exact proportions I used, but I successfully used salt to thicken mine. Google “salt to thicken soap” and you can probably find a starting point to experiment with.

B says:

I use the soap and rinse with DB hair rinse; ACV or lemon.
I don’t need to use soap as often. Some times I just rinse with water.

Amelia says:

I love using my Dr Bronner Citrus Organic Hair Rinse! Sometimes when I fist open a new bottle from the store it comes out clumps like jello and then it takes forever in the shower to try to and break down all the pieces with my finger. I have tried shaking he bottle rigorously but still clumpy. Can I put water or vinegar in there to get it back to a liquid state, instead of a gelatinous state? Would that work? Thank you.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Amelia- I’m sorry you’ve encountered a change of consistency in the Hair Rinse. I am familiar with the variance you’re describing. It stems from the range of pH that lemon juice can have, between 2-3. This variance can make the hair rinse more of a darker gel or on the other end, the lighter brown liquid. Both still are equally effective at providing a balancing rinse for shampooing with Dr. Bronner’s Castile or Organic Sugar Soaps. You can add a small amount of water to thin it out, but then use slightly less diluted.

Jenny says:

Thanks for this article as well as your article on skin PH and soaps. One of the best researched articles I’ve read and answered my questions.

I’m hoping to return to using Dr Bronners (my family used this product when I was a child) after 30 years using a myriad of other products. The minimalist approach to hair and body wash, and natural ingredients is appealing. My only question is around your palm kernel oil as I don’t want to add to any ecologically damaging practices. Can you please advise where this ingredient is obtained?

Many thanks.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jenny – Thanks so much for your kind words and welcome back! I’m glad you are asking these questions about palm kernel oil as there are many destructive practices happening in its production around the world. Like you, we insist that our products only help the world. We have partnered with Natural Habitats in Ecuador to obtain organic and fair trade palm kernel oil. Here, family farmers grow oil palms sustainably, and receive a fair price for their palm fruits. I’ll anticipate that you might have a follow up question about the palm oil that we use in our bar soaps. For this, we ended up founding our own palm oil mill in Assoum, Ghana that sources palm kernels from certified organic, fair trade, and now Regenerative Organic Certified farms. Please read more about this beautiful project in my article “Making Ethical Palm Oil a Reality” Let me know if you have any further questions!

Stephanie says:

So grateful you posted all of this and to those who commented! I have been looking for a cleaner hair care and, really, all over routine for my cosmetic needs. I just washed with Dr. bronzers for the first time and used it as a shampoo and I was so scared feeling the gummy tacky feeling! I’m going to try the acidic rinse next time. Thanks for your research and shared experiences!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Stephanie – Good for you for making this switch! Let me know if you have questions moving forward!

Colette says:

I have been regularly shampooing my waist-length hair with undiluted Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap Peppermint for two years, my hair is amazingly soft and my scalp has never felt better. My hair is finally rid of years of build-up from regular shampoos and other hair-styling products (now I use none).

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Colette – I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks for sharing your experience.

Colette Pinkney says:

I have been washing my hair (true organic henna-dyed) with Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap Peppermint and using it as a body wash for 2 years now. I use no conditioners on my hair. I love how my hair and my skin feel after cleansing. This soap really deep cleans and my face and body are literally squeaky clean. I use the same soap in my foaming soap pump dispenser diluted. I no longer buy refill bottles of liquid hand soap as I use my Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap exclusively. I prefer peppermint for its many natural benefits. Also, I enjoy reading bottle label (which is why I final decided to come Dr. Bronner’s website to learn more). Fascinating! Thank you and I appreciate all of you and what you have been doing to help take care of Spaceship Earth. Be Blessed Always everyone.

Elisa says:

If I’m using the regular Castile soap for shampooing, do I dilute it? I washed my hair with it and OMG I could barely glide my hand through my hair it was so rough in texture.

I’m assuming that is because all the build up was removed. I had to use half a bottle of the conditioner I bought. I didn’t realize Dr Bronner had a conditioner!

Is that what you call the rinse?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Elisa- I don’t typically dilute the Castile Soap prior to using it in my hair. For my long, thick hair, I use a good ½ Tbsp. of Castile Soap. When using soap, the key is to follow up with an acidic rinse. The soap has an alkaline pH which makes our hair kind of tacky/sticky feeling. The acidic rinse smooths everything down. There are two options for an acidic rinse. For my long, thicker hair, I use about 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (ACV) diluted with another 1/2 cup of water. Or, I dilute a capful of Dr. Bronner’s Organic Citrus Hair Rinse (the orange bottle in the photo above) in 1 cup of water and then pour it over my head and work it through and rinse thoroughly. Use less of either dilution if your hair is shorter. During the couple weeks of transition, especially if you’re coming from a conventional shampoo/conditioner regimen, you may need to use another crème conditioner after the rinse. As I mention in the article, I also used deep conditioning treatments once a week to help my hair through that transition period. Keep in mind that it can take up to two weeks for your hair to adjust.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Yanni- Yes, white distilled vinegar will work. I think the reason it’s not generally used is that it smells more vinegary than ACV. It has a lower (i.e. stronger) pH than ACV, so you can dilute it more. Try a dilution of 1:2 instead of 1:1.

Andreas says:

Hi Lisa!

Can I somehow get my hands on Sal Suds in Europe? If not, might I be able to in the future? If not, how come? =)


Julie says:

Rather than mixing up a vinegar rinse (which I frankly alway forgot to do!) I keep a spray bottle of vinegar in my shower. A few sprays throughout my hair after cleansing, then a quick rinse. No mixing, no hassle, and always available!

Kathleen says:

What do you recommend for grey/silver hair that is yellowed from our water. This started when we moved to a new town.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kathleen- Because grey and white hair have little or no pigment, it is more prone to picking up pigments from the environment, including chlorine and minerals in water. Try an acidic rinse of either apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (speaking from experience, filter the lemon juice to remove pulp!) diluted by half after washing hair, as well as a shower head filter that removes minerals and chlorine for prevention. Finally, sunlight can yellow hair as well, so take care to wear hats when in the sun.

Jon says:

I put the unscented liquid soap into pump containers for hand washing by the sink, but they get clogged and when you go to pump, the soap squirts out onto your shirt, your face or the wall? What is the solution?

Karena says:

You can add extra glycerin to prevent this. I have been using the foaming dispensers for so long that I don’t remember what I used to use, but it definitely worked. Just to give you a ballpark, I think it was either 1tsp or 1Tbs per cup of soap.

J davies says:

We’ve used it this way for years but I dilute with filtered water. I use approx 1/3 cup of liquid Dr. B soap and fill remainder of soap bottle with filtered water and gently shake to combine. Works perfect every time and does not clog.

Denise says:

During an episode of a migraine, I had the thought of simply massaging my scalp while also washing my extremely short curly hair with the amazing Dr. Bronner’s Castile Peppermint Bar Soap. The soap bar was getting quite small, so I’ve learned how to use every single possible use of the bar. Anyway, as I applied cold faucet water and then applied the Peppermint Bar Soap and worked into my scalp, the most amazing tingling sensation overtook my scalp and actually helped ease some aspects of the migraine.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Denise- Migraines can be so debilitating, and I’m glad to hear the Peppermint Castile brought you a bit of relief!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Estelle- Because grey/silver hair can be dry, I recommend the Organic Sugar Soap, which will draw moisture into the hair. Take care to also use acidic rinse of either a 1:1 dilution of apple cider vinegar and water or our Citrus Hair Rinse, which is more nourishing.

Dina says:

I tried using Dr. Bronner’s lavender bar soap in place of shampoo recently and was pleasantly surprised! I’m African American and have curly/wavy ethnic hair. I don’t use chemicals in my hair and prefer to wear it natural so I use a variety of pomades, and other smoothing products to manage my curls which can cause product buildup. After shampooing with the lavender bar soap, I noticed all of the product buildup was stripped away. I finished by applying a moisturizing conditioner and detangled my hair as usual.
I plan to try other Bronner soaps for my hair as well which may offer more moisturizer after reading the recent hair journey article.
Thank you!

Nil Flowers says:

Coming here now, I can’t wait to see the whole blog. I already use your soap for cleaning the house etc and now I’m going to buy the sugar soap to wash my hair and my daughter’s. My husband has psoriasis, which one do you recommend for him?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Nil- Welcome, welcome! I haven’t tackled psoriasis myself, but I know it can be so frustrating. We have received very positive comments regarding our Unscented Baby Mild and Tea Tree scents from our customers with skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. Both the Castile Soaps and Organic Sugar Soaps come in these two scents. The Shikakai powder in the Organic Sugar Soaps provide more moisture to hair and skin, so I recommend starting there. The important thing with washing hair is to follow with an acidic rinse of either diluted apple cider vinegar or Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Hair Rinse. The Citrus Hair Rinse also contains Shikakai powder, so it would be slightly better. I would also recommend our new Unscented Magic Balm for softening tough skin.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Diane- We don’t have any soaps specifically made for white or grey hair, but customers tell us the Castile Soap keeps grey and white hair from yellowing. As grey and white hair can be on the dry side, I recommend the Organic Sugar Soap for the added moisture it brings. Remember to follow-up with an acidic rinse of either our Citrus Hair Rinse or a 50/50 dilution of apple cider vinegar and water.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Cindyann- We hear from customers that Castile soap keeps gray and white hair from yellowing. Because grey hair leans towards being dry, I recommend the Organic Sugar Soap. Be sure to follow with an acidic rinse of either our Citrus Hair Rinse or a 50/50 dilution of apple cider vinegar and water. It can take a couple of weeks for your hair to adjust to the new regimen.

Stephanie says:

I am so grateful for having found Dr. Bronner’s soap! After suffering many years from contact dermatitis on my face and undergoing many treatment plans, I discovered the problem was my allergy to formaldehyde and other chemicals in traditional soaps and household products. Dr Bronner’s soap has helped me rid myself of the nasty rashes I had to deal with daily. THANK YOU, for selling such amazing natural products.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Stephanie- I’m so sorry you had such journey. It’s wonderful to hear that our products have been such a help to you. Thanks for sharing!

David says:

Thank you Lisa for continuing to write about hair washing with Dr Bronner’s products. I find your writing very informative and just love to hear your story. I have had a struggle with using Dr. Bronner’s due the very hard water here in Phoenix, along with the desert climate. Have given up a couple of times using Dr. Bronner’s products for hair and body washing. But keep coming back to the product line due to the pureness and integrity.
Thank you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi David- It’s great to hear this is a helpful topic. I hope some of the tips and such here are of help, but reach out with any questions and we can troubleshoot.

Kathy says:

Hi, do you husband and son use a rinse after using the bar soap? If so, which rinse?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kathy- They both have short and somewhat course hair, and neither of them use an acidic rinse.

Ene says:

So informative! Thank-you for your time & your product.
I also am impressed with all the information in the comments as sometimes a question/comment could be exactly what I’m dealing with.
I would really like to print some of the comments as remembering what I’ve read is not my strong point. However, I am not able to print the comments like I can the articles. Is this a glitch on my part or is there a reason for this?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Ene- I’m glad you found this article helpful. And you’re right – there’s loads of great information in the comments! Unfortunately, the website doesn’t have the ability to print comments directly from the page. However, you can find the comments of most interest to you, copy-and-paste them into a Word document, and then print that document. With more than 600 comments, you’ll save yourself a lot of paper and ink this way as well!

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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