The green movement does not end in the bathroom, that is actually a great place to start! A lot of our trash is generated here, where we also use most of our water. On average, each German household spends about 80 Euros a year just on hair care products . As a girl that had long hair most of her life, I also investigated different (expensive) products to take the best care of it. As this is a big business opportunity, surely the hair care industry has no interest in telling us that we could switch to more Eco-friendly products which might actually also be better for our hair. So let’s look into this ourselves!
What is the environmental impact of hair care?
Hair care includes different products which have several uses: Shampoo is used to clean your hair and scalp. Conditioners are used to care for hair and give back any moisture lost during cleaning. And different styling products are added to achieve a variety of hair styles.
A big environmental issue related to hair care is water use: All products used on hair will eventually need to be washed out, extending our shower times. We already spend an average of 45 liters per day only for body care. The increased water use influences the already sparse water supplies.
In addition, hair care products generate a lot of plastic waste: Most products come in plastic bottles and only a small fraction is actually being recycled. Most of it will just be burned after usage. If not, it will slowly decompose over around 450 years (for an average plastic bottle according to ). It will be turned into micro plastics that pollute our environment and our oceans, even our drinking water! In addition, plastics are produced from crude oil. Therefore, using plastic-packaged hair care also increases our oil consumption.
Furthermore, in many hair care products harsh chemicals are used which are difficult to clean out of the wastewater. Therefore, we are also adding this to our ground water pollution. Especially silicone is critical as it is impossible to filter out of wastewater. This way it accumulates in the environment. It is used in most hair care products because it makes our hair feel super smooth by forming a film around it. Because it is also difficult to remove from hair, strong surfactants are added to shampoos to get rid of silicone build-up: Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is the most prominent one. This is how our hair care forms a vicious cycle of chemicals that is tricky to break.
We can do better!
This brief summary already gives you an idea why it might make sense to rethink hair care towards more environmentally-friendly options. So here are my most important life hacks how we can all help to mitigate the environmental effects of our hair care routine!
1. As always with sustainability, use less!
Using less is always the easiest option for a more sustainable way of living which also saves us money. Especially with hair care it is obvious: Most of us already use way more of the product than we actually need. Even for long hair, a walnut size drop of shampoo is sufficient to clean the scalp and let the product wash off any dirt from the lengths. The important thing is to thoroughly distribute the product by rubbing it along your scalp and into the lengths. Your hair does not need to be foamy all the way! Foam is just an artificially added construct to the shampoo recipe to make it feel cleaner to the user. But the surfactants actually cleaning are active even with less (or no!) foam.
The same goes for the numbers of products used: You can save a lot of money by rethinking which products you actually need, and reducing those which you don’t need.
And most importantly, try to reduce shower time and water usage: Turn off the water while you distribute the product in your hair. By using less, you will need less water to wash out. And you will empty your bottles slower, which will reduce plastic waste!
2. Go plastic free!
Especially for the bathroom, more and more plastic free options are arising: Even in normal super markets you can now buy plastic free soap or shampoo bars. These are fantastic for multiple reasons:
- They are by definition plastic free, meaning you won’t generate any plastic waste when buying bar soaps or shampoo.
- They are lasting longer than a normal shampoo or shower gel bottle, therefore you will make less waste in general.
- They are much easier to transport: Due to the compact size and low weight (especially compared to shampoo bottles filled to large parts with water), a lot of CO2 is saved for their transport from production to supermarket and your home!
These advantages also account for bar soaps, which are the perfect replacement for shower gels. For those especially, you can also save a lot of money as a soap bar is much cheaper than the corresponding amount of shower gel!
The only thing you need to have in mind for soap and shampoo bars is that you need to store them in a dry place after the shower. Otherwise, they will deteriorate more quickly.
3. Go silicone-free!
If you want to avoid harsh chemicals, you also need to avoid silicone. The strong surfactants such as SLS are necessary to solve silicone from hair. If you use a silicone-containing product like a conditioner, but a shampoo without the surfactants able to solve silicone, you will get build-up and it will be difficult to fully clean your hair.
Instead, you might switch to products without silicone and sulfates, which are better for the environment and actually also your hair! Without the silicone layer covering your hair, nourishing ingredients can better enter it. So your hair will actually really get better, not just feel good as it tends to do because it is surrounded by a silicone layer. And for washing it, you will not need as harsh chemicals and can make do with gentle substances. There are many silicone and sulfate free options in the stores!
4. Use soap instead of shampoo!
Soap is a great option also for your hair: It can replace shampoo for cleaning your scalp and hair. Normal soap or special hair soaps work great and are much better for the environment than shampoos with strong surfactants.
Beware, though: Soap has a higher pH level than most shampoos. This can lead to increased cuticle damage and fiber breakage  as well as more frizzy hair. This is the reason why often a sour hair rinse is recommended by soap users: It lowers the pH of your hair after soap usage and therefore eliminates its negative influence.
Using hair soap and conditioner, is that possible?
When I started using hair soap, I was wondering about this and could not find any information online. As someone with very dry, curly hair, quitting conditioner completely made my hair so frizzy I did not dare to go out anymore. So I looked into how I could make it work to at least use some conditioner. And it works!
Just bear in mind that after switching to soap instead of shampoo, you need to avoid all other silicone containing hair products as well! Soap is also not able to remove silicone. The combination with a silicone-containing conditioner will therefore again make it difficult to sufficiently clean your hair. A silicone-free conditioner on the other hand should not be a problem.
Switching to a more eco-friendly hair care routine might not always be as easy as it sounds. It took me quite a while to figure out which products work for me and which simply don’t. Especially quitting silicone was something I was dreading because I feared a negative influence on my hair’s structure. But I am happy I made the switch and now found something working for me!
What are your sustainable life hacks for hair care or the bathroom in general? Let me know in the comments!