How can we wash our hair and ourselves plastic free, chemical free and still keep it lightweight, budget and travel-friendly and practical?

When showering on a sailboat (if you’re lucky  the soapy water drains straight to the sea. But also when showering anywhere, ingredients can sneak through filters straight to the sea. Often man-made chemicals that don’t belong there. And what is the bottle usually made from?

Shampoo and soap come with two big ocean challenges

  1. Most of the shampoo packaging is plastic which we now know, never disappears.
  2. Some shampoo ingredients are not reef safe because of added manmade chemical ingredients taking the ecosystem out of balance.

A quick rough calculation and I realize I’ve added around 360 bottles of just shampoo to the trash pile. That’s just me. And that’s only shampoo. Some shampoos are believed to reef safe (as far as the research goes), but still come in plastic. Some shampoos claim they are ‘eco’ ‘green’ ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’ but are they? The cosmetic industry is shockingly little regulated. Often they are not.  It’s called greenwashing.

With an ocean of information out there on the good, the bad and the ugly on cosmetics, health and the environment, it’s hard to find the good solutions on reef safe soap and plastic free shampoo. The cosmetic industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, simple reef friendly plastic free shampoo and soap is not number #1 in Google (yet).

I navigated through the storm of information on shampoo and it’s effect on the ocean to make it easier for you to choose a travel-friendly plastic & chemical free shampoo and soap for you and the ocean.

Showering on a Sailboat

environmental friendly plastic free shampoo

A few facts to help you understand the ocean challenge with soap and shampoo

  • Approximately 400 million travel-sized bottles of shampoo and 210 million travel size bottles of conditioner are produced every year (1). I haven’t found numbers on ‘normal size’ shampoo. Given almost 8 Billion people on the planet, the number of shampoo bottles produced per year, is likely to be in the billions.
  • Hundreds of billions of single-use plastic sachets are thrown ‘away’ globally every year. in India, shampoo sachet penetration is 95% by volume. (2)
  • Conventional shampoos contain unregulated man-made chemicals that have been linked to everything from endocrine system disruption to neurological and immune system damage. The big five risky manmade chemicals in shampoo are Sodium Lauryl sulfate (SLS) Sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES) (for the funky foam), Parabens (for preservatives), Triclosan  (Killing the bad AND good bacteria) and phthalates (for frangrance). (3) (4) (5) The list goes on (6) but these five have the most evidence of serious harm. SLS, in particular, has been shown to kill off certain types of microorganisms that fish eat and perhaps you too if you fish (7)
  • We may ingest and absorb up to 2,5 kilos of chemicals per year (8). Imagine how many kilos are going via our waterways to the ocean. There’s more and more evidence that everyday chemicals pass through the treatment plants into waterways, into the ocean (9). If you’re a sailor, it all goes straight to the ocean.

Plastic-Free Shampoo & Soap Considerations for Travelling

Minimize and Simplify

Do we really need separate products to wash our face, hair, body, hands (and even your clothes, dishes, and floor)? By having one solution that does it all you can save so much time, money, plastic, and luggage weight. Also, do we need to wash so often? Washing our hair and skin puts the natural Ph out of balance. Try washing less. Stay salty after a dive in the ocean. Wash with products with fewer ingredients. Wash with unprocessed natural things. Keep it simple and experience what happens.

DIY Shampoo and Soap

The cheap and simple DIY option: Bicarb and vinegar! Available almost everywhere. And to be used to clean almost everything. It works really well! 
Feeling creative? More advanced DIY options: shampoo from Soapnuts. DIY recipe Shampoo from SeaWeed or Dry Shampoo for those offshore sailing trips with small water tanks.

Go Solid with a Shampoo Bar

What are shampoo bars? This is a concentrated block of solid shampoo. It’s a cheap, compact, longer-lasting and more ocean-friendly option than water-based plastic bottled or sachets of liquid shampoo. Shampoo bars are perfect for travelling and often free of sulfates, silicones, and chemicals contrary to conventional shampoos. The next challenge is finding one made with sustainable practices and local ingredients. Choose one with ingredients from mother nature that you can pronounce, and free of sulfates, parabens, and palm oil (read why). The best I’ve found are the hand-made ones. There are thousands out there on Etsy See who’s being creative in your area. On Etsy, there are lots of DIY creatives out there making shampoo and soap bars just from a few natural ingredients. Raise the bar and try it out!

Scrub with Nature

Look what’s around you. What does nature provide? My favourite scrub: the beach! Coffee, baking soda, sea salt, sand, sugar, are other circular ways to scrub.

Multi-Purpose Natural Liquid Soap in Recycled Bottles

Are shampoo bars and DIY out of the comfort zone? Try natural multi-purpose soaps that come at least in 100% recycled packaging. If you live in the US, check out PlaineProducts that make natural and have a packaging recycling system.

Question, Research & Educate Yourself

Learn more about shampoo, soap and the chemicals in your favourite products (some resources at the bottom of this post) ‘Look for the zero’ to check if the product has microplastic in it or not. Try the alternatives. Support the brands working for positive change. So eventually the good stuff will be eye height on the shelves.

Selected Plastic Free Shampoo Solutions


What do I use?

First of all, I was my hair wayyy less then I used to do. Now I wash my hair once a week, sometimes twice. My hair looks nicer too (unless I just come from an ocean-crossing). Since I’m often jumping in the sea multiple times a day, I’ve settled for being salty. Now I actually prefer being salty. Slowly turning into a mermaid ;). When I turn too hippy, I wash my hair with whatever I can get my hands on. I’m usually in a place with little availability of anything. I go on a local treasure hunt to see what the locals and nature provides. When in Spain, I find myself an olive oil based something (love the Castile soap bars), when in the tropics I definitely go for a coconut oil based shizzle and in Africa African black soap is it. Sometimes I make a hair mask from fruit (avocado, papaya, and mango do miracles) or coconut oil. I also tried Dr. Bronners. Useful and smells great. I re-use the bottle. Soapbars are a wonderful solution. I only tried them once but will try out more of them! When there’s nothing natural or chemical free around, I use baking soda and vinegar. It works really well. Try it.

Oceanpreneurs on top of the wave

A plastic-free biodegradable ball of shampoo for travel

The young oceanpreneur Benjamin Stern is developing a biodegradable, single-use shampoo bal. Nohbo drops are plant-based, made without the use of harsh chemicals and packaged with plant-based materials, making them 100% waste-free. A travel-friendly shampoo and high potential solution to the single-use shampoo sachets popular for travel, in hotels and Asia. Learn more.

Resources on the chemicals in Shampoo

To all you travelers, ocean nomads, and sailors. What do you use? Which of these plastic free shampoo tips are you going to give a try? Share your wins with #plasticfreenomad

If you like this post, share it with your friends. Together we can turn the tide on plastic!

As always, opinions are my own. No organisation or brand is paying me to write this or mention them.  I only recommend brands from who I believe wholeheartedly in their commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free ocean solutions. Sometimes links to ocean-friendly alternatives to plastic contain affiliate links. If you’re looking to purchase something, huge thanks if you purchase it via this website (but try to find it locally first! ). At no extra cost to you, orders and bookings through this website give me a tiny piece of the pie that help me keep investigating, exploring and creating content about on ocean action and solutions! Together we can turn the tide on plastic. Here are more ways to support ocean awareness and action. Splashthanks!

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Ocean Nomad, Adventurer & Change-Maker
Hi! My name is Suzanne. I'm here to help you go on ocean adventures and make positive impact for a healthier ocean. Explore this website to learn what I do and how you can make some splashes too!
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Plastic Free Shampoo & Soap Ideas for Travelling
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Plastic Free Shampoo & Soap Ideas for Travelling
How can we wash our hair and ourselves plastic free and chemical free and still keep it lightweight travel-friendly and practical? Tips to choose the best zero waste travel shampoo and soap for travelling and sailing.
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