If you simply want clean hair and nothing else, then this is your go-to shampoo recipe without frills or fragrance. Beginner DIYers will love this recipe for it’s short and affordable ingredient list. This shampoo is a step-up from washing your hair with natural soap, because it’s pH-balanced. It contains mild, natural surfactants and zero fragrance, therefore this is also an ideal shampoo for sensitive skin and babies.
Recipe Variations & Substitutions
I really don’t recommend substituting the surfactants in this recipe. Nevertheless, if you must substitute then the best 1:1 replacement for SCI will be Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate (SLSa). However, using SLSa means that the shampoo won’t be palm-free. For the decyl glucoside, the best 1:1 substitute is coco glucoside (also a palm-free version preferably). I wouldn’t use lauryl glucoside in this recipe, because the shampoo will be way too thick.
Trust me when I say that I have tried many different natural surfactant blends, and this is the best. It’s taken three months of development and dozens of sample formulations to get here. Of course, you can go down the same road and use any blend of surfactants to find what works for you.
If you would like some fragrance or plant-powered properties, then you can replace the water with a botanical hydrosol or floral water instead (like rose water). As always, you can also use distilled water instead of deionised water.
You can use another thickener, like guar gum or carrageenan, instead of xanthan gum. Just bear in mind that each thickener has different properties in terms of what it will bring to the product texture, clarity and scent. If you want to add some conditioning properties to your shampoo, you could use a cationic gum, but then it will no longer be a clarifying shampoo, because cationic gums will coat the hair in order to condition it.
Geogard Ultra (Preservative):
You can use any water-soluble, broad spectrum preservative which is compatible in an acidic pH range. Just remember to adjust my recipe according to the manufacturer’s instructions and usage rates, and to test and correct the pH accordingly. Another reason that I use Geogard Ultra in shampoo is because it drifts the pH downwards, which is what I want with most surfactant products. It means that I often don’t have to correct the pH with citric acid – so less effort.
Cost & Shelf Life
Cost price: R34 per 200g. (Costs accurate at time of writing in 2023)
Lasted me about: 1 month in a household of two people, with each of us using about a tablespoon of shampoo twice per week.
Estimated shelf life: 3 months if stored in a sterilised container, and out of direct sunlight.
- Contains no ingredients that nourish the hair: It’s just a mild cleanser for the hair (and skin). If you want extra goodies like proteins and conditioning actives, please refer to my Mint & Rosemary Shampoo (for intermediate DIYers) or my High-Performance Herbal Shampoo for more advanced formulators.
- Subtle detergent scent is noticeable from the surfactants, since there is no added fragrance. It smells a bit like Sanex Zero shower gel. If this bothers you, then substitute the plain distilled water for a fragrant hydrosol, or add up to 10 drops of essential oils to the final shampoo.
Cherry on Top
- Vegan Friendly
- Eczema friendly, but I can only speak for myself.
- Sulfate Free
- Curly Girl approved ingredients
- Multipurpose: This doubles-up as a pH balanced body/face/hand wash. It’s the perfect multipurpose cleanser for the minimalist lifestyle.
- Clarifying: You can use this as a clarifying shampoo before you dye your hair to remove product build-up.
- Customisable Base: You can use this as a base shampoo to add your own essential oil blend (max 0.5% / 10 drops).
- Palm Free: The ingredients I chose are typically derived from coconut sources (but please do check with your supplier).
- Contains no cocamidopropyl betaine: which is a common ingredient that many people have an allergy / irritation to (including myself).
- Deionised / Distilled Water: is a pure, pharmaceutical grade of water that is suitable for cosmetics. It contains no minerals or ions. It is not the same as bottled, filtered or spring water and cannot be substituted by these. You can find distilled water at most pharmacies. (buy here).
- Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate: or SCI is a mild, natural surfactant derived from coconuts. It is the primary cleanser in this recipe which provides dense and stable foam without stripping the hair. It is also responsible for the snow white colour of the shampoo. (buy here)
- Decyl glucoside: is a natural surfactant that is derived from plant sources. Depending on the supplier, it can be derived from corn, coconut or palm oil. This non-ionic surfactant supports the SCI in the recipe and boosts lather (buy here).
- Vegetable glycerine: is a natural humectant that will help the hair retain some moisture, thereby making it more manageable after being cleansed. It is also necessary to hydrate the xanthan gum. (buy here)
- Xanthan gum: stabilises the texture of the product by gelling the available water in the shampoo (buy here).
- Geogard Ultra: is a broad-spectrum preservative which is approved for use in certified organic products. It is approved by COSMOS/ECOCERT, NATRUE and SOIL association. It is composed of sodium benzoate and gluconolactone. (buy here)
Please be very careful not to inhale SCI or any other solid surfactant! Even when you’re measuring SCI flakes, tiny particles always become airborne that will irritate your lungs. Always wear a well-fitted mask. I even hold my breath while measuring SCI, and then step outside to breathe while the SCI settles down again. Leave your mask on until the SCI has been melted down into a liquid/ paste form.
How has this minimalist shampoo recipe worked for you? Please share in the comments section below.