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January 10, 2023 5 min read

I am often asked if there is a "transition period" when switching to solid shampoo. The simple answer is no, if you are using a true, pH balanced solid shampoo. Your hair should not go through a period of looking or feeling bad when switching to a new product.

When switching to Silver Stone Apothecary solid shampoos, there is definitely NOT a transition period. All of our solid shampoos are pH balanced and formulated specifically to work with our hair.

Where did the idea of a "transition period" come from?

There are many bar soaps marketed as solid shampoos or shampoo bars. I went into detail about the difference and how to tell what you are dealing with in this article, Shampoo Vs. Soap: What's the Difference.

Companies who make soap and label it as shampoo will often tout a "transition period" while your hair gets used to "being more natural". I don't want to use the exact words of any one company, so I compiled a general claim that is very similar to those I have seen on websites promoting the use of soap as shampoo.

The Claim:

 It may take days, weeks of even months to fully transition to "chemical-free" shampoo (soap). Your hair is addicted to chemical-laden products and has been working too hard. It may feel crunchy or waxy after your first few uses as the shampoo (soap) detoxes your hair from all the chemicals. It is freaking out and going through withdrawal, but will eventually settle down.

There are quite a few things wrong with this assessment of your hair's reaction to high alkaline soap. It is true, your hair will feel weird- it may feel like straw, crunchy, or waxy. But, it doesn't get better after repeated use. Let's break down the claim to see where it goes wrong.

Claim Part 1. "Chemical-free" Shampoo

Let's define a chemical: It is a substance that is produced or used in a process (reaction) involving changes to atoms or molecules.

We are surrounded by chemical compounds, both naturally occurring and those that have been man-made. Water is a chemical combination of hydrogen molecules and oxygen molecules. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, that is used to make soap is a chemical compound (NaOH). The very process of saponification of lye and oils into soap is a chemical reaction creating the chemical called soap. Soap's chemical formula is C17H35COONa.

I know what they mean, though. They are talking about bad chemicals, right? But, what is a bad chemical? Too much hydrogen dioxide can be fatal to humans, but is necessary for life. Sodium hydroxide (lye), causes chemical burns when undiluted. Both of those chemicals are in the "chemical-free" soap shampoo, though. 

So maybe they mean less harsh? Well, the pH of a substance affects the harshness. We'll discuss this topic in the following sections.

Claim Part 2. Your hair is addicted to chemical-laden products

This idea refers to the cycle that does exist with harsh shampoos. The harsh shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils, leaving your hair dry. Then you use conditioners with silicones to cover up the dryness. This stripping quality of a cleanser can cause your scalp to overproduce oils leading to an imbalance.

The problem with this idea is laying the blame on "chemical-laden" products. As we saw in the last section, soap is a chemical. So, when you use a soap as a shampoo, you are not eliminating chemicals from the process.

The real culprit here is the harshness of the shampoo. Spoiler, high alkaline soap will not help. It is harsh in a different way.

Most traditional shampoos on the market do use harsh cleansers like sodium lauryl sulfate. They have a lower micelle count and are smaller molecules, which give a much harsher feel and can irritate the scalp.

Soap, on the other hand, is harsh because it is a very high pH. I again direct you to the article Shampoo Vs. Soap: What's the difference for more information on the pH factor and how that affects your hair. The harshness of soap will exacerbate this cycle of oil over-production for the majority of people, and it does not get better the more often you use it.

Claim Part 3. It may feel horrible at first, but will settle down

Using a soap bar labeled as shampoo will most definitely feel horrible at first. And it will continue to feel horrible because the damage has been done.

When you use an alkaline substance on your hair, the scales on the cuticles of the hair strands rise and will no longer lay flat. This leads to tangling and friction which can rip those scales off leaving our hair strands vulnerable to even more damage. There is also a naturally occuring lipid layer that protects our hair from friction and allows the appropriate amount of water in and also serves to retain moisture. Alkaline substances like soap will break down this lipid layer and make your hair more prone to damage and much harder to properly condition.

A common recommendation for mitigating this damage is an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse. Soap-as-shampoo promoters offer this solution to restore your hair to its proper pH. While this may help your hair feel slightly better at the moment, the damage is done and it will not return to normal. ACV doesn't restore the lipid layer of protection to your hair and it doesn't help the scales on the cuticle lay flat.

ACV does have a lot of uses in hair care, but it does not take the place of a conditioner and should not be used to remedy alkaline products. Your hair should never be exposed to such high pH substances in the process.

When using a properly formulated sholid shampoo that is a match for your hair type, your hair should feel great with the first use.

What's the point?

I frequently talk with people who have tried solid shampoo once and decided it's not for them. Most of the time, as we delve into the details, we discover it wasn't actually shampoo they tried. It was soap.

This misconception in the solid hair care world is detrimental to its progress. If the first experience someone has with a solid shampoo is unpleasant, it is natural for them to write off all solid shampoos and never try again.

I am passionate about shining a HUGE light on this issue. Soap is not shampoo. Soap will ruin your hair.

Again, I point to the article Shampoo Vs. Soap: What's the Difference?, which gives you three red flags to determine what you are dealing with when looking at a product labeled solid shampoo. Add this one to that list:

If the label, company, or maker talks about a "transition period", you are dealing with a bar of soap mislabeled and promoted as a shampoo. Do not use it.

I am also vocal about this issue because I want you to know, if you have tried a solid shampoo and it didn't work for you, there is still hope! Silver Stone Apothecary has FIVE different options for different hair types that are all mild, pH balanced and made with clean chemistry. All five options are formulated with the special needs of curly hair in mind, so will not strip your hair or damage that lipid layer that keeps your hair happy.

If you need help deciding which bars are best for you, we have mini shampoos and conditionersyou can try. Or, feel free to email me with your specific hair needs and I'll make a suggestion for you!

I hope you learned something new from this article!

Angela Mayorga

Alchemist and Owner


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