Shower Gel

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 61 shower gel brands.

We also look at animal testing, toxic chemicals, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Lush and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying shower gel or body wash:

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

  • Is it cruelty-free? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. The Cruelty-Free logo guarantees that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Could you buy a bar of soap instead? Soap bars use less plastic packaging, and because they are solid and therefore contain less water, have a lower carbon footprint in terms of transportation. Go for a soap bar if you want a more environmentally friendly option.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying shower gel or body wash:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably.

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists for shower gels often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health.

  • Does the manufacturer use microbeads? Although these tiny pieces of plastics are now banned in the UK, lots of cosmetics companies use them in products elsewhere in the world. They are disastrous for marine-life, so avoid companies using microbeads.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The UK’s bath and shower gel market is dominated by just three major brands – Carex, Dove, and Radox. Radox and Dove are owned by multinational Unilever whilst Carex is owned by PZ Cussons which also owns other top selling brands.

Because these brands also dominate the soap industry, they are doing particularly well with everyone buying more of that at the moment.

Image: shower gel

Why soap bars are the most ethical shower option

Whilst liquid shower gels have been popular recently, the humble bar of soap has been left on the shelf.

People generally tend to buy more liquid shower products than solid soap bars, sometimes driven by a fear of other people’s bacteria lurking on bars.  Companies have encouraged the notion that using liquid gel is more hygienic with clever marketing as there is a higher profit margin from the more expensive product.

A precaution with bar soap is to keep it dry and not let it lie in a puddle of germ- loving sludge.
 

The environmental impact of solid bars vs liquid soap

From an environmental point of view, the bar of soap is the overall winner. It also tends to have a smaller list of simple ingredients. The environmental impact of liquid gel is thought to be higher due to the fact it is:

  • Heavier: Containing lots of water, liquid soaps are likely to be heavier than bar soap, resulting in a higher carbon footprint for transportation.
  • More packaging: Packaging for body washes and liquid soaps tend to be plastic bottles that end up in landfill or our oceans. Even if the bottle is made from recycled plastic, a thin paper wrapper or no wrapper for soap bars is better.
  • Petroleum: Many shower gels and body washes are made of petroleum-derived synthetic detergents and need emulsifying agents and stabilisers to maintain their consistency.
  • Damage to aquatic life: What you use on your body ends up in the water system. Liquid detergents may contain harmful substances that can bioaccumulate in living organisms.

On the score table, all brands make liquid shower gel, but you can look at our ethical shopping guide for soap for bar options.

If you're going for a shower gel brand, these ethical companies that offer refills: ALTER/ NATIVE by Suma, Bio-D, and Faith in Nature.

Animal ingredients

Honey and milk can be found in some shower gels, as can lanolin which is a naturally occurring fat found in sheep's wool.

Brands which are suitable for vegans have been marked on the table with [Vg].

Vegan shower gels are now offered by Alba Botanica, ALTER/NATIVE by Suma, Avalon OrganicsBaylis and Harding, Bentley Organics, Bio-D, Bulldog, Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Earth Friendly Baby, Faith in NatureGreen People, Honesty, Jason, Lavera, Little Soap Company, Lush, Neal’s YardOdylique, Organii, Pacifica, PHB Ethical Beauty, Pure Nuff Stuff, Tropic Skincare, Weleda, Urtekram, Yaoh,

Even the mainstream companies are now making vegan shower gel: Original Source (PZ Cussons), Love Beauty and Planet (Unilever).

If you are vegan you may also wish to buy shower gel from a totally vegan company: Bio-D, Caurnie, Honesty, Little Soap Company, Pacifica, PHB Ethical Beauty, Yaoh, and Faith in Nature.

Animal testing

Although the testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in the EU, this is not the case everywhere else in the world. But the REACH legislation has complicated the issue. See our article on animal testing in cosmetics for more on this.

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets where animal testing of products is required by law. A clear rating in the Animal Testing column indicates this.

The following shower gel companies were certified by the Leaping Bunny standard, the gold standard for being a cruelty-free company: Alba Botanica, Avalon Organics, Conscious Skincare, Faith in NatureHonesty, Jason, Natura (Body Shop), Neal’s Yard, PHB Ethical Beauty, The Little Soap Company and Tropic Skincare.

Plastics in toiletries

More than 500 known microbeads or microplastic ingredients can be found in personal care products. These are tiny plastic particles that are added for their exfoliating properties, but sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes only. A recent report by CodeCheck found that non-biodegradable liquid plastics were also prevalent across a wide range of cosmetic products. See our feature on hidden plastics for what’s wrong with microplastics and liquid plastics.

In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in ‘rinse-off’ products such as shower gels. However, microbeads were not banned in products classified as ‘leave on’ (skin-care lotions, sun cream and make-up), nor were liquid plastics.

The following brands were made by companies that did not use microplastics or liquid plastics in any of their products: Bio D, cut.le.crap, Green People, Hain Celestial (Jason, Avalon, Alba Botanica), Honesty, Lavera, Little Soap Company, Neal’s Yard, Organii, Pure Nuff Stuff, ALTER/NATIVE by Suma, and Weleda.

Toxic chemicals

We have rated all the brands for their toxic chemicals policies on three key chemicals. Those companies which received a best rating had a policy which has banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan. We talk more about these chemicals in our feature 'Toxic Beauty'.

Parabens are often an ingredient of liquid soaps and are used as a preservative. You might see methylparaben, propylparaben, and  butylparaben on an ingredients list. Triclosan may be used in liquid soaps whilst you might see triclocarban as an ingredient in soap bars. For example, Dettol soap bars contain triclocarban. Phthalates may be used in synthetic fragrances.

However, as you can see from the table below, the majority of the brands are owned by companies that have either committed to not using any of the three toxics or have at least committed to banning one or two of them (a middle rating).

Best rating for toxics Middle rating for toxics Worst rating for toxics
Attitude

Baylis and Harding

Astonish

Bentley Organics PZ Cussons, Bulldog
Caurnie Soap Earth Friendly Baby, Cuticura
ALTER/NATIVE and Ecoleaf Lush, Molton Brown
Conscious Skincare Procter & Gamble, Fung Group
cut.le.crap Avon, Estée Lauder
Lucy Bee Body Shop, Clarins
Bio D Urtekram, Henkel AG
Friendly Soap Unilever, L’Occitane International
Honesty Elizabeth Arden, KKR
Little Soap Company Johnson & Johnson, Pacifica
Pure Nuff Stuff Sante, Reckitt Benckiser (Dettol)
Lavera Nivea, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Hain Celestial Yaoh Superdrug
Odylique    
Organii    
PHB Ethical Beauty    
Green People    
Weleda    
Colgate-Palmolive    
Neal’s Yard    
Faith in Nature    
     

Palm Oil

Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many soap products. In particular, it is used because it is a fat that is hard at room temperature. Substitutes include cocoa butter and coconut oil.

Our Palm Oil column on the score table shows which companies receive our best, middle and worst ratings for their palm oil policies and practices.

Palm-oil free brands: Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Pure Nuff Stuff.

Companies that source their palm oil more sustainably and get a best Ethical Consumer rating for their palm oil sourcing include: cut.le.crap, PHB Ethical Beauty, Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd. (ALTER/NATIVE), Little Soap Company, Lush, Nivea, Weleda, Odylique.

For more about this please see our feature on palm oil and cosmetics.

Organic suds

Brands which are organic have been marked on the scoretable with [O]. The following brands made organic products only:

The following brands also had some organic products: Lavera, cut.le.crap, Conscious Skincare, Earth Friendly Baby, Green People, Little Soap Company, Neal’s Yard, Organii, Sante, and Urtekram.

See our feature for more about organic certifications.

Company Profile

Lush Cosmetics, which has over 900 Lush-branded stores worldwide, is well known for its non-animal testing stance as well as for a wide range of other radical political interventions. While many companies in this sector claim that they do not test on animals, Lush describes itself as “fighting animal testing”.

It does this by seeking to operate a company-level boycott of suppliers using animal testing anywhere in the business. Its non-animal testing policy states that it will “only buy raw materials from companies that are not involved in the use of, or commission the use of, animals for testing and have no plans to do so in the future.” Since 2013, Lush has worked with Ethical Consumer, as a third party, to audit its supply chains in order to try to ensure that this policy is upheld.

Lush also created a global prize in 2012 to support initiatives to end or replace animal testing. The £250,000 prize fund, which has gone to a range of winners from scientists to campaigners, is the largest prize fund in the world of non-animal testing. This project is also run in partnership with Ethical Consumer.

We have been working with Lush for some years on a number of projects including the Lush Prize and Spring Prize. We work with the company because it is an ethical company that tries hard to do the right thing where possible.

This relationship doesn’t impact our ratings and we try to remain a critical friend to Lush, helping it improve the way it operates whenever we can. Our independent ratings, based in a formal methodology, help to do this.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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