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?