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How to Know If You’re Washing Your Hair With ACTUAL Shampoo or Just Soap, According to an Expert

Labels and marketing lingo are often misleading. Whether in terms of food, skincare, fitness and more, much of the time, what’s being sold to you isn’t exactly what’s being advertised. Haircare is no exception. In fact, you probably don’t realize you may have been using soap as shampoo at some point!

That’s right—many products branded as shampoo (especially when in the form of bars) are equivalent to ordinary soap you’d use on your hands or dishes. So, how do you actually know what you’re putting in your hair? Dr. Conny Wittke, cofounder of Superzero no-waste shampoo bars, breaks it down for us.

Keep reading for what she has to say!

woman with short hair shampoos her locks in the shower
(via Pexels)

Mane Addicts: Please explain the concept behind brands not using actual shampoo in alleged “shampoo” formulas? Why is this?

Dr. Conny Witke: Given that bars are trending at the moment, some companies sell soaps as shampoo bars, at the cost of longterm hair cuticle damage for you. The technique for creating soap is called saponification and results in very high pH levels. Since the natural pH of your hair is slightly acidic, high alkaline pH levels of soap damage your cuticle layers and result in dull, dry hair over time. Depending on your water type, soap can also build “scum” in your hair, which shows itself as unsightly residue.

MA: How do you know if you’re using actual shampoo in your cleansing product? Are there certain terms or ingredients to look out for?

DCW: If you want to check if another shampoo bar is just “soap in disguise,” look for soap tell-tale ingredients like sodium stearate, sodium olivate, or sodium cocoate or anything with the word “saponified” in it—and stay clear of shampoo bars with those ingredients in the INCI list.

MA: How do brands get away with this false advertising?

DCW: Brands get away with selling soaps as shampoo because there is very little regulation for terms in the beauty industry and there’s also no regulation with what you can call a shampoo, which would clarify the standards for a shampoo.  

MA: Tell me about Superzero’s shampoo formulas and how they work to give the hair a thorough cleanse.

DCW: Our superzero formulas avoid soaps altogether. We use mild sulfate-free surfactants, the primary one being Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, which is derived from fatty acids sourced from coconut. Then we add a sophisticated blend of nourishing and conditioning agents that bind to your hair, mostly emollients and cationics, and finish each tailored formula with targeted actives by hair type.

We also ensure that the pH of our bars is slightly acidic to keep hair cuticles smoothly shut and thus shiny, because light can only reflect from smooth surfaces. This ensures your hair doesn’t just look good after one wash, it stays healthy and looks great wash after wash (after wash after wash).  

MA: Is there anything else you’d like to share on this matter?

DCW: There are other examples of questionable products marketed with strong benefit claims. One example is selling products containing saltwater or other drying ingredients to enhance volume. Saltwater damages the cuticle structure so that they open and you get the appearance of more volume because the damaged cuticles keep the hair strands further apart. So you get the short-term appearance of more volume at the cost of longterm damage to your hair that makes it dull, dry and brittle. 

Speaking of washing your hair, if you have color-treated hair, THESE are just the shampoos to swoop up!

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