A Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Shampoos

January 30, 2021 By tsr admin


In search of sustainable shampoo: Hair care is an essential part of everyday life, but like everything we do it is rife with the potential for environmental harm, from waste products making their way down the drain, and into waterways, to plastic containers inexorably piling up in our landfills. Nonetheless, it may yet be possible to have a clean head of hair while also maintaining a clean conscience.


By Heather Grant

The Ethics and Sustainability of Hair Care

Most of what we do involves some sort of product and purchase, and while consumption is ingrained in our lives, if doesn’t have to be mindless. Big change requires big companies to take systematic action, but every consumer has the opportunity to vote with their wallet for concerns they want corporations to take into account. And if we spend time asking questions about the ethics and sustainability of products before we buy them, we’re putting our money on the positive changes we want to see in the world. This is the essence of the conscious consumerism movement; to think before we buy, use, and throw away. And, as 73% of global consumers say they would change their consumption habits to reduce their eco-impact, consumer concerns are evidently shifting.

One thing we do every day that could benefit from more eco-thinking is our shower: the amount of water we use, the harmful chemical compounds in our products, not to mention the plastic packaging, all of which contribute to our environmental impact. Luckily, a recent trend has entered the eco-living sphere ready to change the showering game: ethical and sustainable shampoo. You may have seen new brands enter the market, with ‘eco’ and ‘cruelty free’ prominently displayed on their packaging, and old brands taking a proactive approach to acknowledging and changing their wasteful practices as buyers change their shopping demands. And even better than their bottled counterparts, solid shampoo bars are increasingly cropping up and transforming the hair-care scene. These zero-waste, travel-friendly, space-saving, and long-lasting bars are perfect for keeping both your hair and conscience clean.

But, while it all sounds too good to be true, it’s important not to be caught out. Often these products are expensive, their effectiveness is debated, and they’re not as ethical as they claim to be. They’re culprits of ‘Green Washing’: marketing used to attract customers with unsubstantiated and misleading claims. As we become more and more bombarded with labels, slogans, and expensive items, it’s important to know what’s worth spending our money on.

That’s why we’ve created this guide, to help you know what to look out for when buying earth-friendly shampoos. So let’s get lathering up and review some brands that vary in terms of price, ethos, and and eco-concerns.

What Should I Look Out For?

For a product to be ethical it must not be produced in way that is harmful to society, animals, or the environment. This could mean ensuring that workers producing the ingredients are paid fairly, it is not tested on animals, and is not harmful for the earth. Ethical products are, essentially, kind to people and the planet.

‘Sustainable’ is a narrower term, and in its simplest definition means ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. In other words, product’s environmental impact over its whole life cycle results in minimal, or ideally no, waste or destruction. Sustainable products environmental conscience covers their production, use, and disposal.

Below are some key things you can look out for when deciding whether the shampoo you’re buying is ethical and sustainable, so check the labels carefully!

Cruelty-Free and Vegan

Cruelty-free is the label given to products that are not tested on animals in any country in the world. This is different to vegan products, which, as well as not being tested on animals, do not include any ingredients derived from animals. Now you may be thinking what animal-ingredients are being put into the product in the first place, but you’d be surprised! Like many cosmetics, ingredients such as beeswax, honey, and milk are often snuck into shampoos.

Using vegan and cruelty-free products ensures no animals were harmed in the process and the ingredients are more likely to be natural. Vegan packaging is also more frequently recyclable and environmentally friendly.

To avoid misleading packaging, you can check for PETA’s cruelty-free and vegan logo:

Palm-Oil Free

Palm oil has become almost a curse word in the world of ethical consumerism; when you see it alarm bells should ring. The palm oil industry is a major driver of deforestation, destroying habitats of endangered species, contributing to climate change, and, in some cases, exploiting workers and abusing child labour.

Check the ingredients list to see whether the shampoo is palm-oil free, and be cautious of ‘sustainable palm oil’; according to Green Peace it is often simply a way for companies to continue using the ingredient, destroying forests, and getting away with it!

Non-Toxic and Natural Ingredients

Have you ever read the ingredients list on a shampoo bottle and felt like you’re reading a language from a sci-fi film? The ‘non-GMO’, ‘paraben-free’, ‘sulfate-free’, and ‘SLS-free’ talk is equally confusing. So how do we trust what’s going on our hair, and into the planet, when we can’t even understand it?

This is a tricky one, but there are ways around it without needing a post-grad chemistry degree. A good place to start is to go for organic (see our breakdown of exactly what organic means) and natural products as an easy way to avoid artificial chemicals used in shampoos (and an added bonus – it’s also better for our wellbeing to avoid synthetic chemicals!). You can also check that they’re certified as organic by looking out for logos like the Soil Association one below.

The downside, however, is that ‘organic’ often equates to expensive, and is popular in greenwashing, so understanding ingredients is even more useful (here is a great guide to help you out!).

Fairtrade

Fairtrade considers every person involved in the production and selling of the product; a fair-trade policy helps ensure the wellbeing of marginalised small producers and that farmers in developing countries can compete in the global economy. There are formalised fair-trade certifications such as Fairtrade international (FLO), and it’s always good to look out for their green and blue logo on the packaging.

Many companies, however, see it as favourable (and actually more ethical) to have their own Fairtrade policy. This is because many ingredients may be locally produced, and it allows for the company to work closely with the producers and have a more direct relationship with them. There may even be a mixture of certified Fairtrade and local direct trade ingredients used in one product, and so the company’s website is a good place to look for their Fairtrade policy and can tell you if they are ensuring their suppliers’ working conditions are dignified and fair.

Packaging

Most shampoos come in non-recyclable plastic bottles which, alongside food packaging, plastic bags, water bottles and so many other things we regularly use or consume, contribute to plastic pollution. When we throwaway plastic bottles, it ends up in the oceans, injuring sea life, or breaking down into equally damaging tiny particles called microplastics which enter the food cycle.

If you’re not ready to go try a zero-waste shampoo bar, then try to opt for recyclable bottles and thoughtful packaging instead; shampoo refill options are also becoming increasingly available!

A List of Ethical and Sustainable Shampoo Brands

We’ve scoured the web for those brands that are striving to meet some, if not all, of these goals. These brands are from around the world, suitable for different hair-types, and range from lower-end to higher-end prices.

*approximate prices are in British Pounds and U.S. Dollars

Beautiful Bottles

If you’d rather stick to what you know – a liquid shampoo you can squeeze out and bubble up – then peruse the following list of bottled eco-shampoos.

Faith in Nature

Faith in Nature is a UK based company stocked in over 40 (and growing!) countries. They believe that natural and ethical products should, and can, be accessible, and that it’s everyone’s duty to treat the planet and its people fairly.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £4.63/$6.23 for 400ml
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • Certified Vegan
  • 100% natural fragrance
  • Use organic ingredients ‘where possible’ (this is to keep the products affordable)
  • 100% recyclable and 100% reused packaging. You can also send empty bottles back to be reused and save on packaging with their 5L and 20L refill bottles
  • Does not use palm oil directly, however uses ingredients derived from sustainable palm oil

The Body Shop

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, believed that ‘business shapes the world’ and that ‘it is capable of changing society in almost any way you can imagine’. And so activism at the heart of the company. Sold in over 70 countries in the world, The Body Shop products are designed to empower everybody to feel good in their skin, without promising to make them look like anyone else.

sustainable shampoo bottle

Dr Bronner

Dr Bronner is the number-one-selling natural brand of soap in North America, renowned for old-world quality and solid principles. The 4th and 5th generation of the Bronner family run the company today based on the same believes of social responsibility the company is founded on.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £7.41/ $9.99 for 238ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Certified vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Certified organic by multiple places
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Certified Fairtrade
  • Company uses sustainable palm oil in some products

Pacifica Beauty

Pacifica is a US based company that prides itself in its clean, vegan, and cruelty-free products, made with compassion for the planet and animals.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £7.44/ $10 for 355ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Certified vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • 100% recycled and recyclable bottle – you can send empty bottles back to be recycled and receive 100 loyalty points to redeem to purchase products for free
  • Company uses palm oil in some products

Zatik Natural

Zatik Natural products are handmade in Glendale, California and aim to be simple and effective, without using any synthetic chemicals. Their products are Ph balanced and bioactive-rich to help create that healthy-hair glow for everyone.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx £7.44/ $10 for 320ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Certified organic
  • Natural ingredients cultivated in US farms
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Company uses palm oil in some products

Alikay Naturals

Alikay Naturals: a Black-owned business that started when founder & CEO Rochelle Alikay Graham-Campbell was a 22-year-old college student creating products in her kitchen. It is now one of the fasted growing and most influential beauty brands in the world and can be found at over 150 independent retail locations worldwide. Impressive, huh? Alikay products are designed especially for tightly coiled hair using nature’s quality ingredients. 

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx £9.67/$12.99 for 238ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Not all products are suitable for vegans
  • Natural ingredients
  • Organic
  • Fair trade ingredients
  • Palm oil free

Nature Lab

Aiming to achieve the perfect harmony between traditional Japanese beauty rituals and modern clean technology, Nature Lab products are the result of a team of specialist scientists and cosmetic chemists. Their expertise in botanical technology allowed them to unlock active, nutrient-rich plant stem cells proven to improve scalp health, follicle strength, and healthy hair growth.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £10.42/ $14 for 350ml
  • Certified Cruelty free
  • vegan
  • Minimal plastic packaging and refill option – each refill pouch contains 85% less plastic than 3 full sized bottles
  • Palm oil free

Green People

Green People is a well-loved UK brand that believes in natural beauty you can trust. The company was built as a reaction to products that claim to be ‘natural’ but have mainly synthetic ingredients (you only have to have less than 1% natural ingredients in the formulation for a product to be called ‘natural’!). For Green People, trust and transparency is key, and so every ingredient used is certified organic.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £12.50/$16.82 for 200ml
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • The majority of products are certified vegan
  • Certified Organic (by multiple organisations!)
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Have their own Faitrade policy ensuring workers and producers receive a fair price for their produce
  • Company uses palm oil in some products

Sienna Naturals

Sienna Naturals Black-owned business that believes that no one should ever have to choose between good and hair and earth-friendly ingredients. As a result, their products are specially formulated for textured hair and are sustainably sourced, plant-based, and cruelty free.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £13.39/$18 for 296ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Ingredients sourced through Fairtrade certified suppliers
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Palm oil free

Tree to Tub

Tree to Tub products are made with nature’s most gentle soap – the Soapberry. These are little fruits indigenous people in Taiwan used to wash before soap was invented; they lather up without any harsh chemicals, making it an ideal ingredient for sensitive skin. Caring for delicate skin, the land and its people, this company brings Soapberries from forests to your home harmlessly and ethically.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £13.90/ $18.74 for 250ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Organic – they explain why they are not certified organic here
  • Recyclable packaging and working to become plastic free by 2025
  • Partnered with local communities and eco-reserved in Taiwan who harvest the ingredients – not a single tree is cut down in the process
  • Palm oil free

Beast

Produced in the US and made with globally sourced ingredients, Beast creates personal care and grooming products for ‘Beasts of all kinds’. They’re earth-friendly, intimacy positive, and celebrate all bodies, helping everyone feel happier in their skin and caring for the planet whilst they’re at it.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £14.10/$19 for 238 ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Mostly organic ingredients
  • Sustainably sourced ingredients
  • A ‘1% for the Planet Member’ – 1% of total sales goes to high impact non-profit members that connect with their brand values
  • Minimal plastic packaging, refill options and can purchase metal reusable bottles, and companies long-term goal is to go plastic-free
  • Uses Sustainable palm oil

WOW Skin Science

WOW Skin Science was born in India out of a passion for holistic self-care; looking after the mind, body, and spirit to help you ‘live in the WOW!’. They aim to bridge the gap between natural remedies and modern science and their products use natural ingredients, backed by science, to deliver 100% vegan beauty that works.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £14.84/ $19.94 for 500ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Their workforce consists of 80% women, providing the necessary platforms and financial stability for empowerment and social change

Dr. Squatch

Dr.Squatch is ready to change the men’s grooming game. Driven by the realisation that there are no companies making honest and all-natural products for men, the founder Jack began creating his own recipes in his garage. Dr Squatch is made in the US using healthy and natural ingredients.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £14.87/$20 for 238ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Not all products are suitable for vegans
  • Natural ingredients
  • Mainly organic ingredients
  • Uses sustainable palm oil

First Hand

First Hand are a Boston-based company that believe in helping people look good, feel good, and be a part of something good. They stick by their principles of honest sourcing, sustainable processes, and partner only with those with the same values.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £16.32/ $22 for 300ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Mainly natural ingredients
  • Source materials a
  • Recyclable packaging made from Post Consumer Resin (PCR), a plastic material created by remaking used plastics into small ‘beads’ moulded into containers, and soured locally
  • Palm oil free

Just Natural Skincare

Just Natural Skincare believe that beautiful hair and skin care products aren’t something that’s made in a lab, but carefully cultivated from the earth using natural ingredients. Their products are made and packaged by hand and aim to encourage your hair’s own nutritive self-renewing process.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £18/$25 for 473 ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Palm oil free

Act + Acre

Act + Acre is a hair care​ wellness brand created to deliver the purest and highest quality nutrients for the long-term health of your scalp and hair. Their products are cold-pressed which means the ingredients retain their freshness, and ensure the wellbeing of people and the planet.

sustainable shampoo bottle
  • Approx. £20.83/$28 for 296ml
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • No heat used in production which consumes 80% less than heat manufacturing
  • Partnered with farms and labs that ensure sustainable business practices and equal wages to all parties
  • 100% recycled and recyclable packaging, and refill options
  • Carbon positive – for every tonne of carbon produced they offset the amount by funding a solar wind farm in Mumbai

OWA Haircare

OWA Haircare prioritises sustainability, transparency, and innovation. Unlike any other brand on this list, their products are free from water and contain only the cleansing ingredients you need. Their powder shampoos create a creamy lather that adds volume and moisture to the hair. And the big bonus: one bottle is the equivalent of 4 water-diluted shampoos!

  • Approx. £21.50/ $29 for 57ml
  • Cruelty free
  • 100% vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • Water-free power wash
  • 100% recyclable packaging
  • Palm oil free

Function of Beauty

Uniqueness is key for Function of Beauty. Instead of one or two products that smell the same, look the same, and are made for the same people, they let you decide what your hair needs. By building your own ‘hair profile’ you decide what goes into the formula and get a totally unique clean, ethical, and sustainable shampoo.

  • Approx. £29/ $39.02 for 238ml
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Use over 60 natural ingredients
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Company uses palm oil in some products

Bring on the Bars

Now let’s take a look at the cool new kids on the block, shampoo bars. Here are some popular ones we’ve found…

Friendly Soap

Putting ethics before profits underpins everything this UK-based company does. Their soap and shampoo bars are not only affordable but, due to the Cold Process method of their production, are kind to the planet and super gentle on the skin!

  • Approx. £2.75/ $3.70
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • Certified Vegan
  • Natural ingredients
  • zero waste bar & recyclable packaging
  • Certified Living Wage Employer
  • Palm oil free

Nuddy

Nuddy are an independent, female led, British brand. ‘Nuddy’ is British slang for being in the nude and for this company it isn’t just a funny word, it’s a feeling: to be free, vulnerable, and empowered. Their premium quality soap bars are conscious, creative, and, most importantly, don’t contain any plastic or nasty ingredients.

  • Approx. £2.99/$8
  • Cruelty free
  • Vegan
  • Zero waste bar & recyclable packaging
  • Use sustainable palm oil, and have a page dedicated to their choice here

Anita Grant

Anita Grant is an award-winning brand based in London, and ships products worldwide. Everything is made in small batches, packaged and labelled by hand, and uses Mother nature’s finest ingredients for effective and ethical results.

  • Approx. £.6.30/ $8.47
  • Cruelty free
  • Natural ingredients
  • organic
  • Fairtrade ingredients, purchased directly from farming communities
  • Zero waste bar & recyclable packaging
  • Uses sustainable palm Oil

Foamie

Foamie is a German brand on a mission to ‘think outside the bottle’ and re-invent cleaning rituals, making them planet-friendly and skin-senstive. By removing soap and using a ‘syndet’ (syntenic detergent) instead, Foamie’s bars are perfectly pH-balanced for your skin and hair.

  • Approx. £6.99/$9.41
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • Certified Vegan
  • Mainly natural ingredients
  • Zero waste bar & recyclable packaging
  • Palm Oil free

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Lush

Lush is a UK born company that operates in 49 countries globally, making fresh handmade cosmetics. They pride themselves in using 100% vegetarian and ethically bought ingredients, ‘naked’ packaging, fighting animal testing, and handmaking products with pride. Lush has a strong commitment to the communities and areas where the ingredients are purchased, safeguarding the environment and their social impact.

  • Approx. £8/$10.76
  • Certified cruelty free
  • Many products certified vegan
  • 100% zero waste
  • Use mainly natural ingredients
  • They have an extensive fair-trade policy outlined on their website, explaining their decision against certification which you can read here
  • Palm Oil free

Wildland Organics

Wildland Organics believe in living a ‘high vibe, low maintenance’ lifestyle. Wildland is committed to helping people live a more mindful, more sustainable life, emphasising connecting with nature, building community, and conscious self-care. Their products provide multi-use, travel friendly, eco-conscious hair and body care, to help you live ‘light and luxuriously’.

  • Approx. £11.87/$16
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • Vegan
  • Organic
  • Locally sourced/ Fairtrade ingredients
  • Zero waste bar and recyclable packaging
  • Company uses palm oil in some products

Ethique

Ethique are the fastest selling sustainable shampoo and conditioner brand on Amazon and are sold in 2500 retailers in sixteen countries across the world. Their packaging and shipping are entirely plastic free, 20% of all profits go to charity, and a tree is planted for every online order – they definitely live up to their name which means ‘ethical’ in French!

  • Approx. £12/ $16.15
  • Certified Cruelty Free
  • Certified Vegan
  • A carbon-neutral company – one tree planted for every online order
  • 20% of profit donated to charity
  • Zero waste bar and recyclable packaging
  • They have an extensive ‘direct trade’ policy outlined on website
  • Palm oil free

Daughter of the Land

Daughter of the Land is a brand with a vision to bring a greater awareness to the impact of what we consume on both our bodies and the planet. They create beautifully packaged, highly-effective, and multi-functional organic skincare with minimal environmental impact.

  • Approx. £14.14/$19
  • Cruelty free
  • Certified organic
  • Ingredients sourced through fair trade certified suppliers
  • They donate 1% of sales to non-profit organizations focused on women’s rights and protecting the planet
  • zero waste bar and recyclable packaging
  • Recyclable packaging
  • Palm oil free

Sustainable Shampoo: Summing Up

Shampoo Bars vs Shampoo Bottles

Looking at these products, it seems that sustainable shampoo bars are generally a much cheaper option, with Friendly Soap being the best priced. This is especially true since they’re highly concentrated, so you’re not paying for anything watered-down and can get more uses out of them! Knowing that the bars themselves are zero waste, and the paper packaging is 100% recyclable, can give you peace of mind on the packaging front too. It also seems that shampoo bar companies are much more transparent about the ethics of their products on their websites– simpler ingredient lists, charitable policies, and clearly displayed certifications.

If you’re unsure whether a shampoo bar will work for you, you can always try turning it into a liquid and use it in a way you’re more familiar with. All you need to do is to put in a jug or bowl and pour boiling water over it, stir until it full dissolves, and transfer into a bottle an old shampoo bottle, or a drink bottle you’d otherwise throw out. This is a great way to reduce waste and reuse what you already have.

The downside, however, is that the shampoo bars are much less diverse and specialised for different types of hair. But, as with any products, as they become more and more popular, their effectiveness will be improved and hopefully we’ll see some more bars emerge suited to different hair types. The only way for this to happen is to increase their demand and for more people to start making the switch!

Final Thoughts on Sustainable Shampoo

The sustainability movement frequently comes under the charge of elitism, and whilst we’ve looked at products varying in price in this guide, it’s evident there’s a market for cheaper, more accessible options (which don’t require the leisure time for a Sherlock Holmes level analysis of the ingredient lists!). Hopefully these are on their way in the not-so-distant future…