I know. Solid soap bars are nothing new.
If your family was anything like mine, you had a standard Dove or Palmolive bar in your shower growing up as your sole soap choice. Economical, unisex-scented for the whole family to use, efficient.
But maybe, like me, you ditched the old school soap bar as a teen for flowery-smelling bodywashes (preferably from Bath and Body Works!), and as an adult made sure to look for “natural” formulations.
I skipped straight over soap bars for years, thinking that they’re drying, old-fashioned, and also maybe even unsanitary.
After becoming more educated on the realities of plastic waste for our environment and the dangers of harmful chemicals for our skin, I looked into the new and improved soap bar offerings and changed my tune. I brought back the bar into my life, and with gusto!
What are Solid Toiletry Bars (Solid Sunscreen Bars, Solid Conditioner and Shampoo Bars, and Beyond)?
When I made the switch back to bars a year or two ago, I didn’t just go all-out on bar soap, but I went one step further with my solid revolution: I picked up all the new, solid bar-style toiletries I could find, seeing the benefit especially for travel after one-too-many spills and constantly pushing the limits of my 1-liter TSA-approved liquids bag.
If you haven’t heard, or aren’t yet convinced, I am so excited to spread the solid toiletries gospel. These days, you can skip the harmful plastic packaging and go for a spill-free, lasts-longer solid bar for pretty much EVERYTHING!
Solid toiletry bars are similar to the liquid products you’re used to, but they come in a solid, bar-style, concentrated formulation.
Solid Toiletry Bar Options
While I originally went all-Lush when I made the switch to solid toiletry bars, I’ve since jumped ship (more on that below). A good standard substitute brand is Ethique, which uses ethically sourced, naturally-derived and sustainable ingredients, and donates 20% of its profits each year. If you’re a brand-loyal kind of person, Ethique is a great place to start your solid bar exploration, both for their ethics and their wide range of bar offerings…
…but it certainly isn’t the only option, so I’m excited to talk about some of my favorite solid bar offerings!
*one note: solid bars SEEM more expensive than liquid toiletries at first. However, they last much longer, tend to be more concentrated, and you don’t lose the last bit to getting stuck inside a bottle*
[Standard] solid soap bar
Solid soap is a classic, and has inspired solid formulations of a variety of toiletries. There’s a solid soap bar for everything: dry skin, oily skin, skin with keratosis pilaris, “normal” skin.
Solid shampoo bar
When picking out a solid shampoo bar, you’ll want to read reviews and make sure it suits your hair type and shower situation. I’ve found some bars work better than others in cold water (an important consideration if you live in or travel to places with inconsistent hot water), and that they tend to lather much less than liquid shampoo, but clean up just as well.
Ethique has the highest-rated solid shampoo bars and a wide selection, so you can be sure to find one that fits your hair type. They’re also among the most economical, as one of their shampoo bars is equal to three standard size shampoo bottles.
Solid conditioner bar
I’ve got flat, thin hair that is somehow prone to both greasiness and frizziness at the same time (how is this possible?!?), and I find that it is tough for me to find a solid conditioner that doesn’t weigh my hair down. Again, it’s all about the reviews, which have saved me time and again.
Solid sunscreen bar
I first got hooked via Lush’s solid sunscreen bar (which is sold here in Mexico, but it seems like not everywhere else), but have since moved on to others. Now, I gravitate towards handmade, homemade bars from Etsy that I reapply frequently. (*Note: when I’m going to be having heavy-duty sun exposure, I opt for a paraben-free physical sunscreen, and I also wear a daily facial moisturizer, both of which are liquid in format. If you’ve come across an incredible, hardcore solid sunscreen, please tell me!)
Solid lotion bar
The absolute BEST thing ever for massages. You can use the bar as a tool to really get in there, while also moisturizing.
Solid bronzer bar
I’m a makeup minimalist, at home and especially while traveling, and I love a solid bronzer bar to rub on my cheeks, and to use a bit on my finger as eyeshadow. I’ve only ever found this product at Lush, and would love to hear any other recommendations! The closest thing to it is a shimmer stick, but that comes with plastic packaging.
Solid makeup remover
I tend to wear a bit of mascara and/or eyeliner, when I do wear makeup while traveling, and it’s always waterproof to avoid raccoon eyes while doing adventure activities. While it saves me from smeary makeup eyes, the waterproof stuff is a pain to get off. Luckily, this cleansing/moisturizing/makeup-removing triple-threat from Ethique does the trick.
Why I recommend traveling with Solid Toiletry Bars (Solid Sunscreen Bars, Solid Conditioner and Shampoo Bars, and Beyond)
Solid toiletries are just as effective as the liquid ones, and come with these added bonuses:
No plastic waste
Liquid toiletries come in plastic bottles, the vast majority of which end up in landfills, unless actively recycled by the consumer, which assumes that such facilities exist wherever the bottle gets finished (for example, in most places in Mexico, there’s no place to recycle plastics).
Most solid toiletries come in biodegradable paper, or come naked. You can store them in your shower (or wherever else) with a dedicated tin or container or on a soap dish.
Less product waste
If a product comes in a plastic bottle, it can be really tough to get the last little bit out. You can squirt some water in there, swirl it around, and try to use it (like I do!), but some bottles are tougher than others.
A bar design versus a liquid product also has less waste because all of the product can be applied directly (like rubbing a shampoo bar on your head, for example), versus a liquid product that is squirted into your hand (and inevitably, some falls on the floor or gets on the shower walls, or maybe that’s just me because I’m clumsy AF).
The average, soap-bar-sized solid toiletry bar lasts as long as 3 bottles of the same substance. If you typically go through one shampoo bottle a month, you’ll only go through a shampoo bar every quarter.
Liquid toiletries contain a lot of water (or another fluid), making them less concentrated. Take out the water, and you’ve got pure product.
No more spills
If you’re traveling by airplane, your bag (and all of its contents) will be subject to a change in pressure, which can create an increased likelihood of leaks and spillages with your liquids. I also find that some of my thicker toiletries (like sunscreen) are more likely to leak when they’re hot. Solve the problem with solids!
Tips for Traveling with Solid Toiletry Bars (Solid Sunscreen Bars, Solid Conditioner and Shampoo Bars, and Beyond)
Because solid toiletry bars last so much longer than regular toiletries in liquid form, you’ll need to use a lot less. Cut your toiletry bar with a hot knife to the size you’ll need it for on the trip (for a month-long trip, for example, I bring one-quarter of a shampoo or conditioner bar).
Even when I’m using my bars at home, I still cut them in halves or quarters, just for easier use. I also find they dry faster when they are smaller.
Watch out for heat
Be careful in hot climates. Bars with ingredients ending with “butter” or containing coconut oil are more likely to “sweat” or even melt entirely.
Dry them out
In between uses, make sure to let bars dry out as much as possible. Make sure bars are entirely dry before enclosing them (in a tin or case). Otherwise, you can end up with a soggy gooey mess instead of a solid bar.
I have friends who swear by tins and other containers, but I like to travel with my solid toiletries in a “reusable snack bag”. It’s cuter, lighter, and easy to wash if need be.
Downsides of Solid Toiletry Bars
Lush bars, specifically, are fake-natural
I first found solid toiletries though Lush, which I think is a similar story for most travelers. Lush has some of the best marketing of solid toiletries. My feelings on Lush have changed dramatically over the past year. I used to be a big fan of the Lush brand solid toiletries until I found out how fake and greenwashy they are, with a large percentage of products containing parabens, sulfates, and other potentially harmful chemicals.
They can melt
As mentioned before, bars with butters or coconut oil can melt or sweat.
They can be hard to find
Depending on where you live, Amazon or Etsy might be your only options, which bring with them packaging in the form of cardboard and other waste.
The initial investment is pricey
Shampoo and conditioner bars tend to run in the $10-20 price range, which seems a bit pricey for the size of product you’re getting. Remember, though, that shampoo and conditioner bars don’t contain water so they’re more concentrated, and will last longer… eventually, they’re less expensive as you’ll need to buy less often.
This option isn’t packaging-free like the solid sunscreen, but it still has less chance of spillage than a regular sunscreen, and will take up less space. When you apply a solid sunscreen stick, you also don’t get stick hands (as you just rub it on from the container). This cruelty-free, paraben-free formula by SunBum is my top pick, or you can get this approximately 30SPF, homemade stick on Etsy.
Solid shampoo bar for dogs
I absolutely love the idea of a solid shampoo bar for dogs, so even Fido can get in on the plastic-free revolution, perfectly executed by Ethique.
Solid laundry bar
A solid laundry bar is the absolute BEST thing ever for sink laundry, or to use in a Scrubba, especially in environmentally-delicate places. The Ethique laundry bar and stain stick is 100% biodegradable and compostable. It also gets nice and foamy – not sure if that helps with cleanliness, but it looks good!
I’m not a big fan of deodorants (I am really hooked on antiperspirants: I’m a sweaty person and very self-conscious about it). When I do try to wean myself off of what I know has to be horrible chemicals, I like the Lavender and Vanilla Ethique Glow Solid Deodorant, which is free from aluminum and baking soda.
I haven’t been able to find a package-free, solid insect repellant yet (if you know of one, please share!), but this Rub-on all-natural stick is at least natural and solid.
Pin it for Later: Make the Switch to Solid! Why Bar Toiletries are a Top Travel Tool
We love using those green, clean, bars of soap with a little cardboard wrapper. Like the ones you picture above. Good for the environment and your body too. Also good on the piping of many spots, where plumbing is not as high quality as in, say, the USA. Great message here Steph.
Thanks! That’s a great point – not all shower products work well in the pipes!
Interesting post! Thanks for sharing!
Good to see people converting back to using bar soap is apparently becoming a “thing”. I did use bodywashes for a while just like you did but realized after a while that they’re wasteful and usually more expensive too. Plus I feel like bar soap gets you cleaner, but I can’t prove it.
I like body wash because I think the smell is stronger, but I can’t get around the wastefulness of the plastic containers!