Happy Scalp Shampoo Bar

If you live in the U.S., chances are you’ve been stuck inside your house for the past three months. Social distancing has been tough for me: it’s hard not to see my clients and know that many of them are in jail or out of work, I hate not seeing my friends and family, and my emotions have been all out of whack. But isolation has also been a quietly joyful time where lots of people have rediscovered the power of domestic pursuits. Seeing everyone trying out sourdough and home haircuts gives me hope that work that has traditionally been relegated to women, especially Black women, will experience a renaissance, complete with the appreciation it truly deserves.

For those of you stretching your DIY muscles for the first time in a while, welcome! I’m here to tell you that making soap and shampoo is not as scary or as complex as it might initially seem.

Today’s recipe is a shampoo bar – perfect for those of you who want to cut back on plastic, wish you didn’t have to pack tiny bottles when you (eventually are able to) travel, or want to avoid using sodium laurel/laureth sulfates on your tresses.

I’ve been working on this particular recipe for a few months now. Even after 31 years, my hair is still a bit of a mystery to me. My curls would be totally happy if I only washed them once a week (or even every two weeks). But my scalp is an angry motherfucker that demands cleansing at last every other day

I’ve found that, especially since I’ve been in New York, my scalp has gotten more and more flaky. I don’t know whether I should chalk it up to the pollution, the humidity, or just the stress of living here. No matter what was causing it, though, I needed a solution so that I could continue wearing the official uniform of New Yorkers everywhere – all black everything.

This bar’s base is a combination of oils that balance scalp cleaners with hair moisturizers. Olive oil is hydrating while coconut oil creates tons of bubbles. Castor oil – the secret ingredient to a good shampoo bar – creates a creamy, stable lather and washes away oil and product buildup on your scalp. I added sunflower oil for some vitamin E and topped it all off with a bit of neem oil for its anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal powers. (Don’t worry, though, the rotting-peanut-butter-and-garlic scent of the neem oil doesn’t come through in the finished bar.)

For scent, I aimed for a clean scent that would boost the bar’s attention to me scalp. Rosemary and lemongrass act as anti-fungals, while eucalyptus and peppermint fight itch. Tea tree would be a great addition too, but my girlfriend is allergic to it and I like snuggling with her too much to put it in my hair.

Finally, I went with a few tried and true anti-dandruff herbs. Both turmeric and alfalfa have been traditionally used in scalp treatments everywhere they grow as native plants. Just one problem: while turmeric alone turns soap a lovely maroon and alfalfa will make it green, together they create a vomit-erific shade of brown. Enter activated charcoal: not only will it color your soap pure black, it’s a key ingredients in commercial dandruff shampoos.

After (im)patiently waiting a month for my shampoo bars to harden, I can gladly report back that they are working a like a charm. My scalp has been entirely flake-free since the third use, my curls are as bouncy as ever, and I’ve been able wait longer between washes.

Before we dive into the recipe, I’ve got a quick note for anyone new to using cold-process shampoo bars. After washing, your hair is going to feel squeakier than with a normal detergent-based shampoo. This isn’t harmful to your hair as long as you follow with a conditioner and/or an acidic rinse. Whereas most shampoos use surfactants, cold-process soap is slightly alkaline, meaning that you hair will need a little acid balance after use.

Happy Scalp Shampoo Bar


In the spreadsheet blow, make your own copy in google drive (“File” > “Make a copy” > “OK”). Enter the amount of soap (in grams) you want to make in the pink box and the spreadsheet will auto-calculate ingredient amounts for you in the blue boxes. Use a lye calculator to calculate the amount of lye you will need and enter that number in the yellow box.


Follow my general soap making instructions and lye safety tips.

Once the soap has reached trace, add the essential oils, turmeric, alfalfa, and activated charcoal.

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