1. The first and by far the most important factor for telling a high quality bar from low is establishing whether the bar is soap-based or not.
A soap-based shampoo bar is literally just soap, it's not really shampoo at all. And it is not going to be good for your hair as soap always has a high pH and thus is a very strong surfactant (cleanser). Soap is great for skin, which is alive and can regenerate it's acid mantle very quickly via the sebaceous glands, but hair is dead so after being cleaned with soap the cuticles (overlapping scales) on the hair shaft will be left open, leaving the hair shaft unprotected and vulnerable. This leads to dull, dry & damaged hair.
Honua bars are proudly soap free!
2. The second indicator is whether the bar contains a blend of surfactants (cleansing agents), or just one.
Like players on a sports team, different surfactants have different strengths and weaknesses, so to make an optimally effective bar you want to blend them together.
3. Is it pH balanced?
This means that the pH of the bar is in the region of 3.5-5.5, so that it sits within the natural range of your hair and scalp. If the shampoo bar is just pressed and little white prills or noodles are showing (which admittedly looks cool), then it's not possible to accurately test the pH as not all the ingredients have melted, and thus it's not possible to know if it's in the right pH range.
If it's just a soap-based bar then it's definitely not pH balanced, as soap has a high pH and cannot be brought down to a hair friendly level without the product breaking down.
You want the bar to be pH balanced because hair is dead and cannot regain its mild acidity in the way that skin can. Washing your hair with unbalanced products will result in dull, dry and damaged hair. Any shampoo (whether it be liquid or bar) worth its salt will be pH balanced. For example, any standard supermarket shampoo like Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences etc will definitely be pH balanced. It's more handmade/small business shampoo bars of a lower quality where you would want to check this.
'pH neutral' isn't good enough, neutral means 7 and that's still too high for hair. Honua bars are pH balanced to a pH of 4.5-5.
4. Do they disclose where all the ingredients are derived from on their website?
Is the palm oil responsibly sourced, i.e. RSPO? If they are transparent regarding derivations and point out if their ingredients are responsibly and sustainably sourced, then it demonstrates they are trying to use an ethical supply chain.
Our website will have the full low down of every ingredient for your perusing pleasure.
5. Is it simply a pressed bar?
If you can see lots of little white noodles in the bar then the bar's ingredients are just pressed rather than melted and blended. With a pressed bar it isn't possible to accurately test the pH and ensure it is sitting within the correct region for the hair and scalp. As we've seen above, having the bar correctly pH balanced is crucial for ensuring that the shampoo will protect the hair shaft, by closing down the cuticles properly.