I’m so excited to share this with you; it’s something I’ve been working on for almost a year! This particular recipe has been in testing and tweaking since July. I’ve had a lot of requests for a surfactant-powered shampoo bar (as opposed to a soap based one), and I wanted to make sure what I came up with worked, was thoroughly tested, and was mine, and finally—here we are! This lovely Snowflake Shampoo Bar has lovely lather, lasts for absolutely ages in the shower, and is pretty darn simple to make (it’s mostly waiting and mashing).
I started my surfactant shampoo bar research about a year ago with articles and recipes from It’s All In My Hands, Chemists Corner, and SoapLab Malaysia. I made a few bars from other people’s recipes (well, mostly… I’ve never been very good at leaving well enough alone) and tested them for about eight months, developing and fleshing out my basic understanding of what makes a shampoo bar. I was also making notes about how different surfactant blends came together and worked, what ingredients I liked in a shampoo, and which ones seemed like a waste in a wash-off product.
The general gist of a shampoo bar is this: it’s a high concentration of surfactants; mostly solid/powdered ones, and mostly anionic, with complementary cationic and amphoteric surfactants to round out the blend. The resulting surfactant paste is further hardened with a small amount of things like hard butters and fatty acids, with the option to add in good-for-hair and fun things like hydrolyzed proteins, essential oils, detangling ingredients, and pigments. You can make a shampoo bar using just one surfactant (this is what LUSH typically does; their bars are almost entirely Sodium Lauryl Sulfate held together with a small amount of glycerin or some sort of watery infusion), but blending surfactants with varying charges makes for a gentler blend.
The starting point for this bar was a bag of Sodium Coco Sulfate and some photos of LUSH shampoo bars; you can really see that they’re basically a brick of SLS sticks, held together with a handful of other ingredients. Well… that seemed simple enough! I started with a blend of mostly SCS with a touch of Amphosol CG to make the blend a bit milder and give me some liquid to start working with. I rounded it out with a bit of kokum butter, BTMS, and cetyl alcohol. I liked that bar—it cleaned really well, and came together really easily, but I did find it was a bit soft, and perhaps a bit strong.
For version two I incorporated some Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate to further temper the enthusiasm of the Sodium Coco Sulfate, and increased the hardening ingredients by adding some stearic acid. I really liked this version, but found it to be a touch strong, so for the next version I further adjusted the surfactant blend a bit more in favour of the SCI and Amphosol CG, and that’s the version I’m sharing with you today!
Now, if you have made hot process soap you will likely be familiar with the sort of consistency we are working with when we go to mash this shampoo bar into its mould. It is sticky and clumpy, and doesn’t have all that much interest in sticking to itself (it will happily run off with your spatula as you try to press it down). This uncooperative consistency also makes doing pretty things with a shampoo bar feel like a bit of an exercise in futility, but I tried anyways 😂 I blended about half of the shampoo mash with some blue mica before popping it and the remaining white portion in the mould in an attempt to create a snowflakey blue-white layer sort of thing, and it was… well, there is some blue in there. And some white. The photos speak for themselves, haha. At least I know once it gets used the lumpy edges will smooth out nicely!
The resulting shampoo bar might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it has the loveliest lather and leaves my hair feeling wonderfully clean and soft. It also lasts forever; a bar this size will typically last at least two to three months for me as long as it dries out relatively well between uses (bars I’ve travelled with that live in baggies tend to get soft, and then squashed, and die faster). In keeping with the snowflake theme it’s unscented, but can can definitely add a scent of some variety if you like. The pH of this bar naturally falls somewhere between 5.5–6, which is right where we want it to be, too. Score! Due to the inclusion of the sulfate I wouldn’t recommend this for colour treated hair, but I’m sure I’ll have a sulfate-free shampoo recipe for you sometime soonish—in the meantime, check the links in the second paragraph for recipes from other makers 😊
Snowflake Shampoo Bar
10g | 0.35oz tucuma butter
8g | 0.28oz BTMS-50
2g | 0.071oz stearic acid
3.5g | 0.12oz cetyl alcohol
1/32 tsp blue mica, dispersed in a couple drops of liquid oil (optional)
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the SCI and Cocamidopropyl Betaine into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place that measuring cup in your water bath to melt through; this typically takes up to an hour for me. It’s done when you have a uniform white paste. If you have a pre-prepared 3:2 SCI:Cocamidopropyl Betaine paste, you can skip this step and use 50g of that paste instead.
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a wide, flat-bottomed sauté pan.
Add the SCS to the SCI/Cocamidopropyl Betaine mixture. Weigh the tucuma butter, BTMS-50, stearic acid, and cetyl alcohol into a second heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place both measuring cups in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
While everything is melting through, mix the blue mica and a couple drops of liquid oil in a small (~100mL) bowl. This is also a good time to select your mould and set it out; I used a 100mL round silicone soap mould.
Once the tucuma butter mixture is completely transparent and liquid, and the surfactant paste is very soft, pour the tucuma butter mixture into the surfactant baste and briskly stir to thoroughly combine. Keep stirring the mixture as it cools—this bit is a titch tricky. We need the mixture to be cool enough to add the preservative (we need 50°C and below for liquid germall plus), but we also need it to be soft enough to incorporate a liquid surfactant. When the outside of your measuring cup feels about hot-tub-hot (hot tubs are typically ~40°C), mash in the preservative.
Now you’re ready to do the colour part if you’re so inclined; scoop roughly half the shampoo paste into the bowl with the mica and quickly mash it all together. Scrape/squish that into your mould, and then top it off with the remaining white paste. This stage is not pretty; that is ok.
Pop your mould in the freezer for about ten minutes. After ten minutes have passed, pull it out, and lay a sheet of cling film over the shampoo. It will now be chilled (and not sticky) enough that you can use the bottom of a glass to press the bar down and get a more uniform surface.
At this point the bar should be hard enough to remove from the mould, but if it’s not, freeze it until it is. Remove it, and wait a day or two before using (if you live somewhere humid, err on the side of longer). Et voila! You just made shampoo.
- You can use a different brittle butter (like cocoa) instead of tucuma. I don’t recommend using anything softer, like shea or mango.
- You can use BTMS-25 instead of BTMS-50
- If you want to mess with the surfactant blend I’d recommend reading this and this to learn more about how to do that effectively
- If you’d like to add some essential oils or fragrance I’d recommend about 1g; add this with the preservative. I’d recommend choosing something clear so it does not impact the lovely white-ness of the bar. Also keep in mind that this will alter the pH of the bar.