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How Does “Solid Beauty” Stack Up?

Yes, they look like the soaps of old, but beauty bars have been hailed as the future of green beauty. We put them to the test  

Lucy Adams

To be honest, solid beauty bars have always been around (we used to know them as “soap”). But in the last few years, the humble bar of glycerine and salt has been reinvented, as consumers have realised the environmental cost of plastic bottles and beads – and brands have started to respond.

“As the effects of climate change, biodiversity collapse and habitat loss have become a greater concern for consumers, brands have had to look to how they can make themselves look sustainable, and solid beauty products are a way of doing that,” explains Brianne West, founder and CEO of solid beauty brand Ethique. Unlike other brands who are recent converts, Ethique was founded in 2012, shortly after West discovered that 95 per cent of her hair conditioner was just… water.

“I set about learning cosmetic chemistry (I was completing my Bachelor of Science at university at the time), and looked to formulate a solid shampoo,” she says. “I figured that switching to a solid product would be the answer not only to the water waste issue, but also plastic waste.”

So far, Ethique claims to have saved over 10 million bottles of plastic from landfill.

Adds Nuebar co-founder Kate Hennah: “People used to think that plastic bottles were being constantly recycled in this big, lovely loop. But not only is that impossible (most can only be recycled once), most of the time it is simply not happening.”

Ethique’s products – ranging from shampoo to serum – are boxed in compostable cardboard; its shampoo bar – which weighs 110 grams – holds as much product as three 350 ml plastic bottles and saves 1.9 litres of water when diluted.

Made mostly using emulsifying binders like coconut oil and shea butter (which are also super moisturising), solid beauty bars are free from sulphates, palm oils and alcohol. Instead, they contain natural alternatives like clay, organic coffee grounds, almond shavings and citrus-based lactic acids that are highly effective.

To me, solid beauty is an environmental no-brainer but it’s still a change from my usual regimen. And I had some questions, like: Do they go gooey in a soap dish? Do they feel as good as my usual products – and do they work?

Tried: Kitsch nourishing conditioner, $20 

By Lucy Adams, PRIMER beauty editor

Rubbing a bar over your hair definitely takes some getting used to. But did you know that most of the slip and slide we all love about conditioner actually comes from water? Simply glide the bar up and down your hair three-to-four times (you won’t need much, a little goes a long way and it’s meant to last 100 washes), then massage through your hair, concentrating on your mid-lengths to ends. The result? My hair felt hydrated and just as conditioned as my regular (plastic bottle – eek!) formula and smelt ‘spa-like’, which was a relaxing bonus.

Tried: L’Occitane Shea 2-in-1 Exfoliating Soap, $19

By Sherine Youssef, PRIMER contributing editor and co-founder of gloss etc

Packed with the brand’s signature shea butter, this soap delivers a double punch: it cleanses and exfoliates (thanks to the addition of finely-shaved almond shell powder), and the dual sides—one smooth and flat, the other with protruding, rounded nubs—offer two different experiences. Body soap is not a new idea, so using this felt kinda retro and reminded me of my childhood. And while I wasn’t particularly keen on the floral honey scent, I did enjoy the kneading sensation of the nubby side. Overall, it’s a solid bar.

Tried: Ethique Saving Face Serum, $41

By Lucy Adams, PRIMER beauty editor

This nifty little three-pack of serum not only packs some serious skincare, it also saves three 60ml plastic bottles, and a tree is planted with every order! What’s more, it’s actually really good – and easy to use. With ingredients like shea butter, rosehip oil and cupuacu butter, it melts into the skin. And like most bars, a little goes a long way. I applied it liberally to my forehead and t-zone (skipping my oily chin), massaged it in, let it absorb (takes a little longer than my regular serum), and then applied my night moisturiser over the top. A real winner for my dry, sensitive skin.

Tried: Lush Scrubee Body Butter, $16.95

By Daniela Elser, writer

Lush’s Scrubee is a whimsical product that looks and smells like something out of an Enid Blyton novel. The ground almonds in the honey-scented bar leave your skin feeling pleasantly, though not that thoroughly, exfoliated, and your skin soft. The fact it’s a bar makes it much easier (and faster) to use than other body scrubs.

Tried: Lush Full of Grace Naked Facial Oil, $19.95

By Daniela Elser, writer

The idea of how exactly to use an oil in bar form stumped me to start with. After first trying to use it on my damp skin (oil and water, d’uh), I ended up having to start again, cleansing and gently drying my face before attempting round two. This time, direct body heat meant the bar very slightly melted on touch, as I’m guessing it is supposed to. The fresh rose petal infusion was divine and my perennially dry skin definitely enjoyed the murumuru butter. The combination of a good product in bar form though is a big win for those of us who can get quite lazy about skincare (cough), especially at night.

Tried: NueBar Face Wash, $18

By Lucy Adams, PRIMER beauty editor

Truthfully, once I got past the fact it wasn’t a liquid product, the face-washing process wasn’t much different. If anything, more streamlined and efficient. Post wash, my face felt clean and hydrated. The nifty typography on the bar makes it handy to grab when you’re on the go, too: F for face; S for shampoo, etc. The only challenge for me was keeping it dry between uses. While it wasn’t the chicest solution, I housed it in an old travel soap box I had lying around, and that did the trick nicely. I’m now on the hunt for a chic, drainable soap dish, as this solid player is staying put in my weekly line-up.

Tried: Valquer Shampoo, $14.95

By PRIMER co-founder Anna Saunders

It was always going to be a tall order to compete with my beloved Olaplex shampoo and conditioner, and while I can’t say that Valquer’s shampoo bar matched the bond-repairing technology of Olaplex, I was pleasantly surprised.

It smells delicious for a start, and didn’t leave my hair feeling stripped or overly dry. I was also impressed that Valquer offers a range of solid shampoo bars for different hair types, from dry to oily. If I could find a sufficiently nourishing dry conditioner bar to match it, I’d consider making the switch.

Tried: Drunk Elephant JuJu Bar, $40

By Anna Saunders

After I washed my face with Drunk Elephant’s facial cleansing “Juju Bar”, I waited expectantly for that squeaky clean, tight feeling that comes whenever you use a product that’s way too astringent.

I waited. And waited. But that feeling never came. Instead, my face just felt pleasantly, thoroughly clean – and even slightly soft, presumably thanks to the Marula oil in the Juju Bar, which gives it a pH of 6.3 instead of the standard soap pH of 9 or above.

I liked that I could easily use the Juju Bar in the shower (as long as it’s stored in a container), although the exfoliating bamboo power won’t suit sensitive or rosacea-prone skin types.

Credits: Main image by Georgina Egan

Styled by Lucy Wood


BY Lucy Adams

Lucy Adams is PRIMER's beauty editor

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