Looking to make shampoo

cortlandjcortlandj Member
edited January 12 in Hair
Hi all :)

I am trying to figure out if it's possible to make my own shampoo; ultimately I would like to stay away from sulfates and a lot of the chemicals that are found in today's commercial shampoos.
I have had success with two herbs: yucca and soapwort. But that success extends only to getting my hair clean (yes, that is in fact the point :) ), but not with making real shampoo. This is b/c what I wind up with is soapy water, which is difficult to use. It would be really cool if there was a way to thicken it; cornstarch, arrowroot and xanthan gum haven't really worked out.
Do I need a surfactant here? I don't need anything to help with cleansing - again, the herb itself does a good job there. Is there a thickener I can just throw in, or do I need a thickener in conjunction with something else? Would it help to find a homemade recipe for shampoo to follow - even if it has some stuff in there I really don't want - at least as a starting point, and then work my way down from there? 
Some time back, I found and still use a 'natural' liquid shampoo that is SLS and paraben free, and although the viscosity is not that of commercial shampoos, it's absolutely fine. If I can get there, I would be happy. Maybe I need something that is in that shampoo? I can list the ingredients if need be. The co. says the shampoo is hot or cold process soap with lye (that ok?) and oil, and that it does not require sulphates.
Any tips and pointers will be appreciated... thanks in advance.


  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    I'll start off that if this is just a hobby and an interesting project for you then that's fine. If you want a shampoo that actually works in the way you're used to commercial shampoos working...just keep buying commercial shampoos.  You will NEVER make something that works as good using the chemicals you've described. It can't be done.

    Ok. First step, read this article about how shampoos are made.

    You are already using a surfactant. Soapwort is a surfactant. It's not a particularly good one which is why your product is difficult to use. Yucca also has some surfactant properties.  But you have to understand, these are inferior technologies.  

    As for thickening, maybe one of these natural thickeners might work. But again, at best what you will end up with a thicker shampoo that doesn't leave your hair feeling good after using it. 

    The "natural" liquid shampoo that you describe is using better surfactants than soapwort & yucca. However, what you describe sounds like soap.  Saponified fatty acids is also old technology. Washing your hair with soap used to be what people did before the invention of superior synthetic detergents. There is a reason they were invented and that is because they didn't leave the hair feeling dry or being tangled. 

    So, if you want to keep down this path just know that you are never going to make something that works particularly good, certainly not as good as modern shampoos.   As an analogy, what you are attempting to do is make something that works like a light bulb using ingredients to make a candle.

    That doesn't work.
  • cortlandjcortlandj Member
    edited January 15
    Hey - thanks so much for taking the time.
    Will check out sime of those thickeners - thx for the sugg.
    As to whether or not this is a hobby - depends on how you look at it. Def not looking to sell anything, but the objective is to make shampoo to use on a daily (or almost daily) basis.
    "But you have to understand, these are inferior technologies."
    How do you mean? From a cleaning standpoint? Based on my personal exp, I would have to disagree there; the soapwort gets my hair as clean as any comm. shampoo. Unless you meant something else?
    Also, still wondering about the lye. That other shampoo is made with lye; is that ok, bad, good?
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    By "inferior technology" I mean this...

    If we did a blind test experiment on a group of 100 people. We gave them two shampoos to test; one based on soapwort and one based on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.  The Sodium Lauryl Sulfate would be overwhelmingly preferred vs the soapwort one.

    That is not to say everyone would pick SLS over soapwort but the vast majority of people would. So, while your experience is different, it does not represent what most consumers would experience.

    And as far as lye (sodium hydroxide) goes it is neither bad nor good. For a standard shampoo sodium hydroxide is added in order to increase the pH of the system (it is an alkaline material). For a soap-based shampoo it is used to chemically convert fatty acids into soap surfactants. In the process the lye gets "used up" and no longer exists in the formula.
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