When I was first offered the opportunity to review Ethique‘s solid shampoo bars, deodorant bar, conditioner bar, and face scrub bar, I almost said no. I hardly ever do beauty reviews anymore, in fact.
Why? Because I’m a unique flower.
No, seriously! I have a normal skin type, pale skin with a rosy undertone, thick wavy hair, pescatarian Western diet, city environment, yoga-plus-HIIT workout routine, and modern-classic fashion sense. Combined with my little niggling beauty issues – I occasionally get acne, I have gnarly dandruff and mild keratosis pilaris – these serve to make up the fingerprint of my body’s skincare needs. These also govern how my skin and hair will react to any beauty product.
In other words, my review is but one data point and personal opinion, and can’t really be extrapolated to all of womankind, much less your particular needs and wants.
Plus, I like to be honest in my reviews: Here’s what worked, here’s what didn’t. What is the point of a review, otherwise? But this doesn’t seem to be the norm on blogs, especially clean beauty blogs. Whenever I’ve been honest about a non-toxic product’s shortcomings, I’ve been told one of three things:
- My body is just going through an adjustment period, and if I just keep using the product for a few more weeks or months, the acne or oiliness or discomfort or whatever else unsatisfactory result will disappear. In other words, you’re doing it wrong and buy more of our stuff.
- I need to buy and use the entire product line in order for the individual products to work. In other words, you’re doing it wrong and buy more of our stuff.
- That I just need to put more effort and time into using said product the correct way. In other words, you’re doing it wrong and buy more of our stuff.
Look, I don’t believe that your personal care routine should be complicated, tedious, and unenjoyable. It should be simple, relaxing, comforting, fairly quick most of the time, and above all, effective. Why is that such a weird ask for the natural beauty community?
However, I was honestly curious about the phenomenon of solid beauty bars in general. They promise that you can get all your personal care needs satisfied without the use of plastic tubes, tubs, or bottles. And if there’s one thing I’ve felt guilty about (OK, there are many things) it’s my use of plastic packaging, even if I do try to recycle all my plastic shampoo bottles and plastic pumps and plastic screw-on lids.
So, I had a selection of their products shipped to me, and I started using them once we settled into our Berlin apartment for a month, intending to see if they’re good for home use and if they’re also good for traveling.
Look, No Plastic!
All Ethique products are non-toxic, vegan, cruelty-free, and palm oil-free. They use biodegradable ingredients and wrappers, and you can pop the compostable wrapping in your compost bin. They are certified climate neutral, a living wage employer, a certified B Corp, and have committed to donating 2% of revenue (or 20% of profit, whichever is highest) to charity. All of the bars and packaging are made in New Zealand, though they ship all over the world.
So far, so good. But how do they perform?
Well, the Lavender & Vanilla Glow Solid deodorant bar was a total dud for me. After a normal day, I ended up smelling like a lavender and vanilla-scented locker room. I mean, it was bad. So bad that one day when my husband sat down next to me on the train, he actually started laughing I smelled so bad. God bless him. Now, I’ve written before about how natural deodorants tend to react differently to everyone’s body chemistry. So, I’m not telling you that Ethique’s deodorant won’t work for you. But, if you already have a natural deodorant you love that comes in a glass tub or cardboard push-up tube, then…. stick with that.
The shampoo for normal hair, Pinkalicious, smells like vanilla and grapefruit. The directions say to swipe it from root to tip, then massage it in while it foams up. While it has moisturizing ingredients such as coconut and cocoa butter, the texture and foam is more like simple soap. It worked to get my hair clean.
I liked the anti-frizz shampoo. Because of its creamy texture, I start using it as a shave cream with my safety razor. I would probably continue buying it for this purpose at home, but since traveling, I’ve kept my toiletry kit small by using conditioner for shaving, so once I left Berlin, I didn’t take it with me.
However, as I mentioned above, I have bad dandruff. Like so bad I used to have medicated shampoo. I’ve been using Head & Shoulders, which I’m not proud of. So I was eager to see if Ethique’s Heali Kiwi for dandruff or scalps problems worked. I used it for an entire month, and asked my husband several times if he noticed my dandruff coming out. (He’s so much taller than me, he has a perfect view of my scalp.) And the verdict is that… it worked! I’m largely dandruff-free, at least no worse than went I was using the toxic anti-dandruff shampoo. This is shocking, for a natural brand. The only drawback is that it’s a rather soft bar. When I put it in a shower where it got splashed, it started turning into mush, so I had to put it inside a small reusable ziplock baggie, which takes away the entire purpose of the solid bar! So, if you get this one, make sure to keep it on a high shelf in your shower that stays dry.
The conditioner bar, The Guardian, I did not like. Running it over my strands from root to tip and then massaging it in, per the instructions, was dissatisfying. My hair is thick and wavy, and after a couple weeks of using the bar, I felt like my strands were dry and ugly, even though this bar was for damaged and dry hair. I could have tried separating my hair into layers in order to make sure all my hair is covered, but I just didn’t want to do all that additional work!
The Gingersnap face scrub comes in what looks like a chocolate bar. The instructions say to break off a square, wet your face and the square, and rub it on your face until the brown sugar has been deposited on the skin, then rub it in. I don’t find enough ever gets on my skin using this method, and I resort to using my nails to dig out a chunk in order to rub that on my face, a strategy that yields the feeling of actually being scrubbed. In that case, I like it well enough, but since face scrub isn’t part of my routine, I don’t see the point of adding this product to my repertoire. You might, though!
Ethique also sells face cleanser bars. At this point, however, I’ve long since switched to mycellar water and love what that has done for my skin. However, when I’m at home, I do keep face soap in the shower, so this could serve that purpose. Ethique also offers a face moisturizer and solid serum. Again, might be great for some women, but I prefer to have an anti-aging cream with scientifically-proven effective ingredients.
Do Solid Beauty Bars Work for Travel?
Honestly, I don’t think so. Because if you wanted to avoid plastic use, you would have to get a bunch of metal soap tins to carry each item: shampoo, conditioner, face wash, deodorant, face moisturizer. And because these products don’t come in standard sizes, you would end up with them taking up a lot of space. Maybe you could get a bento or lunch box instead of a toiletry bag? Or, you could buy a Matador flatpack soap bag for each one, but that’s made of synthetics, so I’m not sure that’s much better. I even bought a hemp woven soap bag, but if you’re traveling, sometime you need to pack up a wet bar right after you take a shower. So that doesn’t work either!
So, now that I’ve tried solid beauty bars out while traveling, I’m not going to feel guilty about refilling my plastic travel-sized beauty bottles. I tried going plastic free, but when it comes to traveling lightly, packing small, and even safety and practicality (broken glass sucks), plastic is actually really, really helpful.
So, can someone send me some travel-sized reusable bottles made from recycled plastic, please?