Exactly! Why should you even care about natural hair and pH? I mean it’s not like you need a chemistry degree to take care of your hair, right? Well, yes you don’t need one and you certainly don’t need to know the periodic table, but it sure is important to know the relationship between your hair and pH.
What Is pH?
The power of hydrogen, or pH as it’s commonly known, is a term used to describe hydrogen concentration in water-based solutions. It is measured on a scale that ranges between 0 and 14, with 7 being neutral. A pH lower than 7 is acidic and a pH higher than 7 is basic or alkaline. When a chemical is very acidic or basic/alkaline it is called reactive and can cause serious burns.
Take a look at the list bellow to have an idea of the pH level is common things.
Hair & PH
When it comes to human hair and scalp oil (sebum), measurements show that they have a pH that ranges between 4.5 and 5.5 which, if you look at the image above, is slightly acidic. You might be puzzled like I was when I first came across this information. I thought human hair had to be neutral like pure water to be healthy and smooth, not acidic which we normally connect to something that has a sour or sharp taste. In the case of human hair, you’d be envisioning it brittle and dry. Confusing isn’t it?
Not so much when you think that having an acidic environment in our hair and scalp oil is what prevents fungi and bacteria from proliferating. Think of dandruff, hair loss, itchy scalp and even eczema. A pH unbalance is many times at the root of the problem. So you see, an acidic pH, in this case, is a good thing to have on your pretty head.
Additionally, and this is also very important, the acidity in our hair and sebum is what allows the cuticle layers of the hair to lie flat. This is significant because in such conditions scalp oils travel more easily along the hair shaft giving you fewer tangles, less frizz, less breakage and more shine. So if you were to have an alkaline/basic environment, the hair would swell and the cuticle layers would open which would result in dull hair prone to knots and tangles, breakage and inability to retain length.
To summarise all of this, you have to remember that human hair and scalp oil need to have an acidic environment. A pH of 4.5 to 5.5 is what promotes hair healthy and prevents several scalp conditions. An alkaline pH higher than 7 will open the cuticle layers while an acidic pH will contract/close them.
Are you wondering how does this knowledge relate to your hair care?
Natural Hair’s PH & Hair Care Products
As I mentioned in this article, by nature curly hair if full of twists, kinks and coil and, as a result, the cuticle layers on the hair shaft are unable to lie flat. This means that the cortex structure of the hair, that provides strength and elasticity, is left vulnerable and sebum has a hard time balancing pH.
This situation can become more difficult with the use of some hair care products. Conventional shampoos, for instance, have harsh surfactants like SLS that strip sebum out of your hair (read more here). The use of these products change the ideal pH conditions of the hair. Thus, why in the case of shampoos, brands have developed low or no-poo shampoos to balance this.
In addition, when you submit your hair to a chemical treatment such as dyeing, bleaching or relaxing you are essentially subjecting your hair to an alkaline process that needs to open the cuticle layers so it can be effective. Once the required goal is achieved an acidic solution is applied to contract/close the cuticle layers. Nevertheless, in this case, your natural hair if from then on irreversibly changed.
So you see, the hair care products you use and the treatments you apply on your hair can have a negative impact on it. Once the cortex of the hair is exposed the protein bonds in there are more susceptible to damage. We now know that curly hair is naturally dry because of its shape, which keeps cuticle layers open. However, this characteristic can be worsened if you’re not careful when choosing your hair products and treatments. Knowing the pH levels of your products is very important to a hair that is already fragile.
Although pH levels are not normally printed (or mandatory) on product labels you can easily measure them with simple pH level strips. With this knowledge, you can combine your products in a way that maintain your hair in a 4.5 – 5.5 pH level.
A study performed on how a shampoo can affect your hair found that 61% out of 123 shampoos had a pH level higher than 5.5. This is just an example, but this is why many times you can’t understand why your hair is so frizzy and dry or why you have such hair breakage and can’t keep hair length. So, if you bought on of these shampoos you would need to use a low pH conditioner to restore the desired acidic environment.
Hopefully, this information will be useful to you when you buy and combine your hair care products. Was this information imperative in order for you to take care of your hair? No, but it will sure help you avoid some setbacks in your journey and achieve your hair goals faster.
Did you find this information useful? Do you look at product’s pH?
Thanks for this information. I have never worried about PH and my hair!
I must say that my hair used to be stunning in my twenties and not that I am in my mid (to late LOL) thirties my hair has become dry and frizzy. Especially after I wash it, it just goes all over the place. A big difference from when I used to be able to wash it and leave it to dry and it would dry perfectly in place. Now I have to blow dry it, use serums and force it flat. Or my quick fix, tie it up and hope it stays there!
I never knew about pH either, and it doesn’t make it easier that most products don’t have that on the label. Maybe now you can try and check the pH and see if your hair improves it’s appearance.
Hi Monica, a very interesting summary. It boggles the mind that so many shampoo producers do not really know about pH values for your hair. Maybe they put their accent more on beautiful hair than on healthy hair? Would it be possible to create a shampoo that takes care of both? Cheers, Jerry
Hi Jerry, companies normally create shampoos with a higher pH (up to a 7 pH) than the hair’s ideal one because they have to account for possible reactions when shampoos enter into the eyes or run down your body. However, it still makes a difference to your hair, if you know the pH of a shampoo you can then adjust your conditioner to take your hair back to a 4.5-5.5.
I have always had dandruff issues. I have always used conventional shampoo and never thought their PH balance was part of the problem I had. Now I understand and have been checking the PH on the products I buy and with your knowledge on the subject I was able to find a remedy.
Hello ISeeStarz, it’s good to know you’re checking you product’s pH and seen the results. It’s not a necessary thing to do but it makes a difference doesn’t it?
Does the PH in your hair affect your scalp conditions? I am going bald and shave my hair pretty much to my head but I get very dry scalp sometimes, I moisturise it or my partner does to maintain a healthy scalp but yeah, just wondering if it’s treatable without the use of moisturiser?
Yes, pH does affect your scalp and hair health. If it’s not within the ideal (4.5 – 5.5) or neutral (7) pH range you can experience itchiness, dryness, hair thinning and can lead to hair loss. But i believe man baldness is a different thing. Nevertheless, if you shave the way you do your scalp is exposed to the sun, wind, heat and cold. It needs to be protected. So yes, your partner is right in wanting to moisturise your scalp.
This was a very interesting read! I didn’t even know that hair PH is so important. I never even thought of that. My hair is pretty good but I have to use lots of conditioner and serums to keep it moisturized and shinny.
I usually don’t think much when it comes to the shampoo I use but I guess I will have to find a PH balancing shampoo.
Thank you for sharing this info!
Hello Katerina, pH is very important and can definitely affect the health of your hair if your products are too alkaline or acidic.
A very interesting read
I use only natural products on my hair. But I have never considered the ph levels.
I use coconut oil on my scalp because it is very close to sebum in structure and has a ph of between 3.5 and 5.5
It also has antifungal and antibacterial qualities.
But whatever you should not as your article states be applying products with higher ph levels to our hair.
It’s good that you’re taking good care of your hair and opting for natural products. Coconut oil is really good for our hair, however If you are looking for an oil that is close in structure to hair sebum then you should try jojoba oil.
The pH level of oil can’t be measured, only aqueous solutions can have their pH level measured. Because coconut oil has no water and is hydrophobic (=water fear/can’t mix with water) you can’t get a solution, so you can’t get a pH reading. An emulsifier has to be used to mix oil and water.
I’m sorry Tim but I didn’t quite get what you wrote in the end. I’m guessing you said that “But, whatever you do you should not, as your article states, be applying products with higher pH levels to our hair”. Ideally, the pH should be 4.5 -5.5, however if your products are within 7pH than it’s OK as it’s neutral. Companies have to consider allergic reactions when making their products that is also why a conditioner should be used after shampooing, they close the cuticle layers of the hair.
This is a very interesting post. I have curly hair and I also have a dry scalp. I usually buy shampoos that say they are moisturizing because I assume that is what is best for me and my hair. That might not be correct. I use to have frizzy hair when I used cheaper products, but I have been using more expensive shampoos, and only using them once a week or only on days I exercise, to limit my oils being drained from my scalp. Is there a specific product that you would recommend for dry and curly hair?
Hi Jessica, curly hair needs moisture to survive, actually, all hair types do but ours needs it even more. Buying a moisturising shampoo is a good choice, but you also need to make sure these do not have drying ingredients such as SLS SLES. Give preference to sulphate-free shampoos. You can read more about shampoos on curly hair here.
This is a very informative post and it will certainly be helpful to a great number of people, of that I am sure. It is very well written and well formatted I love love loved it. Actually having read that excellent post I then went on to poke around the site to my benefit I must say as again it was really well laid out and very informative. I can tell that you have put a lot of work in to this site, it really shows. Congratulations on a great blog and your site is amazing.
pH is a really big thing to consider if your hair is not responding the way you are used to. I don’t think people are normally aware of it, thus why I decided to write this post. So, glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for your kind words Simon.