natural shampoo

A Definitive Guide to Using Dr. Bronner’s as a Natural Shampoo

Shampoo is a product that many companies notoriously tend to load with synthetics and toxins. If you’re looking for a natural shampoo that’s great for your hair and the planet, look no further! Using Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap as a shampoo works great, but depending on your hair type and the water you use, it may involve a bit of tinkering to get it right.

Much of the information presented here was compiled from customers’ first-hand experiences who commented on Lisa Bronner's original hair washing postIn this guide, we'll cover all the basic concepts and offer some troubleshooting tips for using Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap as a natural shampoo!

Dr. Bronner Shampoo Basics

natural shampoo

If there’s one important thing to remember about using castile soap as shampoo, it's that you need to follow up with an acidic conditioning rinse. We recommend our Organic Conditioning Rinse, which is specially formulated for this purpose and uses a base of organic lemon juice—but you can also use diluted apple cider vinegar in a pinch.

Used as a natural shampoo, Dr. Bronner’s Castile Ssoaps clean your hair and scalp amazingly well, but they may also leave your hair feeling tangly and matted. This is because the outside of your hair is made up of cuticles: layers of cells that lay over each other like roof shingles. Washing with our soaps may disturb these cuticles, but an acidic conditioning rinse will fix the problem beautifully by tamping these cuticles back down, which will give your hair a soft, silky feel.

That said, some folks find that their hair feels fine washing with just soap and don't need an acidic rinse. Others found success after combining our soap with some coconut milk and shampooing with that, so they don't require a rinse either. If this basic routine doesn't seem to work for your hair, see our troubleshooting guide below to figure out how best to tweak it.

Transitioning from Using Conventional Shampoo to Natural Shampoo

Conventional shampoos and conditioners (which is nearly all of them... even the ones that claim to be natural, botanical, etc.) usually contain silicones and waxes that coat your hair and give it that smooth feeling.

So, if you stop using these products and switch to using a natural shampoo or soap like Dr. Bronner’s, it will very likely take your hair some time to adjust. Most transitions last between two and four weeks. Initially, your hair may feel greasier than normal. After a couple of weeks, your hair may even start to feel drier than normal. Some hair takes to the Dr. Bronner’s natural shampoo routine right away with no transition, which is great! But if you are like most, you may need to withstand a few weeks of bad hair in order to reach the promised land. The reward is a completely natural hair routine, and for many, the softest, silkiest hair they have ever experienced!

Which Dr. Bronner’s Soap Should I Use as Shampoo?

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Our classic liquid Pure-Castile Soaps work great for many folks. However, some of our other soaps may offer specific advantages for your particular hair type or water condition. Here’s a list of the soaps we currently make, along with their unique benefits:

18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soaps (Liquid)

Our original liquid soaps are the go-to for many folks’ natural shampoo needs. One advantage is that this is probably the soap you currently have in your house and is the most readily available. Which scent should you use? Your choice! For hair washing, the various scents will function pretty much the same—although Baby Unscented does contain double the amount of olive oil.

Pure-Castile Bar Soaps

Bar soaps offer a few advantages for hair washing. For one, hemp & jojoba oil are added after the coconut, palm, and olive oils have been saponified. This means that hemp oil and jojoba oil remain as oils in the bar instead of being turned into soap, which makes our bar soaps more moisturizing than our liquid soaps. This can be good for thicker or dryer hair types.

Bar soaps also seem to help in hard water conditions. Hard water is very tough on our soaps, as the minerals in the water can break down our soaps and can sometimes lead to build up or residue on the hair. We’re not exactly sure why bar soaps help with the buildup/residue issue but have heard from many customers that they’re effective in preventing residue from occurring. We think it may have to do with the added salt that’s in the bar soap formulation.

Organic Sugar Soap

Our Organic Sugar Soaps are terrific for washing hair. While these soaps begin with our pure-castile liquid soap base, we add a good deal of organic sucrose and organic grape juice. The sugar acts as a natural humectant, helping skin and hair retain moisture. We’ve found this to be good for all hair types, but can be especially beneficial for thick or dry hair.

Organic Shaving Soap

Even more sugar than our Organic Sugar Soaps! For the most moisturizing soap of the bunch try the Organic Shaving Soap. It’s super deluxe.

How Much Soap Should I Use?

While the exact amount you need will depend on your hair type, here are some basic dilutions to get you started. Keep in mind that diluting the soap can help distribute the product evenly throughout your scalp—a little water can go a long way!

  • Pure-Castile Liquid Soap: You can either apply ½ Tbsp. of soap directly to your scalp or dilute ½ Tbsp. of soap in ½ a cup of water for a thinner consistency
  • Pure-Castile Bar Soap: Work up a lather in hands and apply directly to scalp
  • Organic Sugar Soap: One pump, applied directly to scalp
  • Organic Shaving Soap: Start with a nickel-sized amount in your palm, and apply directly to scalp

Applying a Homemade Deep Conditioner After Using Dr. Bronner’s as a Natural Shampoo

For many—particularly those with dry, curly or kinky hair—a regular deep conditioning routine is key to healthy hair. The basis of a deep conditioning routine is to mix a combination of moisturizing ingredients (ex. coconut oil, olive oil, aloe, honey, avocado, banana, apple cider vinegar), apply this concoction to your hair for 15 to 20 minutes, then wash/rinse your hair as you normally would. How often you deep condition really depends on your hair's needs and your routine, but between once a week and once a month is a good ballpark.

How to Work with Hard Water and Dr. Bronner’s

Water hardness/softness, as well as the exact composition of trace minerals in your water, can greatly affect both your hair and the effectiveness of the products you use to wash and rinse your hair. Hard water seems to present issues for any hair care routine that includes our soaps, as the minerals in hard water can react with our soap in ways that ultimately make it less effective for washing hair.

Water softening is a good solution. Even if you aren't able to buy a water softening system for the entire house, there are water-softening shower heads available that can yield good results. You can also keep some distilled water around specifically for diluting your soap or acidic conditioning rinse.

Troubleshooting If You Have Oily/Greasy Hair

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If you’re in the transition period of moving from conventional shampoo to natural shampoo, we urge you to stick with it, as your hair should eventually reach its natural balance. If you’re several weeks into your routine and still experiencing oily or greasy hair, here are a few things to try:

  • Use less conditioning rinse, or rinse less frequently
  • Use diluted apple cider vinegar instead of Dr. Bronner’s Organic Conditioning Rinse
  • Mix in some baking soda with the soap when you shampoo
  • Massage your scalp firmly, but not vigorously, in the shower while shampooing

    Troubleshooting: Waxy Hair or Build-Up

    If you're experiencing this, it might be product build up. To help with this, try using a natural bristle brush.

    If you have hard water, it could be that the soap is reacting with minerals in your water and leaving a waxy film on your hair. In this case, you can use a water softening shower head or switch to using our bar soap, which seems to perform better in hard water conditions.

    A couple other things to try:

    • Use the conditioning rinse more often. Alternate between using the soap and rinse together, and using just a rinse
    • Try clarifying your hair with a baking soda paste, followed by an acidic conditioning rinse

      Troubleshooting If You Have Dry/Brittle Hair

      If you experience dry hair when washing with our soap and rinsing with an acidic conditioning rinse, you may need to increase the frequency of your deep conditioning routine. If you’re still experiencing dry hair on a regular basis, try changing the balance of your soap and rinse. As a general guideline, think of the soap as a drying agent and the conditioning rinse as a moisturizing agent.

      Things to try:

      • Use less soap or cut out the soap entirely from your routine and just wash with a conditioning rinse. Remember that vinegar or lemon juice still have excellent cleansing properties and will effectively clean your hair on their own!
      • Wash less often, or alternate with washing with just water
      • Add some coconut milk to the soap to give it some extra moisture. Use a small amount of Organic Coconut Oil on your hair after it has dried

        Troubleshooting If You Have a Dry/Itchy Scalp

        An itchy scalp can have several different causes and, depending on the underlying issue, may require a different approach. If your itchy scalp is associated with dry hair (and not oily hair or dandruff), then focus on making sure your scalp is moisturized enough. Deep conditioning will likely help, along with some of these techniques:

        • Dilute the soap and the conditioning rinse: it could be that full-strength is too strong for your scalp
        • Use organic aloe vera directly on your scalp: leave in for about 15 minutes, then rinse with cool water. This will moisturize your hair and help cut down on itchiness
        • Rinse with water in between wash days

        Best of luck finding the Dr. Bronner shampoo routine that works best for you!

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