pH Levels and Your Scalp

There are so many different reasons women (and some men) have for griping about their hair; the reasons only increase if you happen to be an ethnic woman. Different shampoos create different results for different hair types. How does that work out? And are all the chemicals in modern shampoos safe?

In recent years, there’s been a grassroots movement to eliminate shampoo, known as going “no-poo”, that has steadily picked up steam. Participants cleanse their hair with homegrown concoctions, usually some dilution of baking soda and water, and finish with an apple cider vinegar conditioning rinse.

Whether you choose to go the traditional route or opt for a more home grown method, there are a few things regarding the pH levels of hair and scalp that you should know. First of all, the pH value of something is how acidic or basic it is. From the EPA.gov website:

The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. It ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic, and a pH greater than 7 is basic. Each whole pH value below 7 is ten times more acidic than the next higher value. For example, a pH of 4 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 5 and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than a pH of 6. The same holds true for pH values above 7, each of which is ten times more alkaline—another way to say basic—than the next lower whole value. For example, a pH of 10 is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 9.

What does that have to do with hair, you ask? Dominique Harris of All Things O Natural notes:

Sebum, which is the hair’s natural oil, has a pH (potential/power of hydrogen) Level of 4.5 to 5.5, which makes it slightly acidic.

This means that, by and large, our scalps are more acidic than water, which has a neutral pH of 7. This matters because

…hair products with alkaline pH levels open the hair cuticle, making your strands susceptible to major color loss and damage,

according to Rob Guimond, Sojourn hair care director of chemistry. So even water opens up the hair cuticle, since, despite it being neutral, on the whole it is still more alkaline than our sebum (Beautylish.com).

In the baking soda + ACV rinse I mentioned above, the baking soda opens up the hair shaft and the apple cider vinegar works to seal it up again. The extreme changes in levels wreaks havoc on your head. Many users report that it works for some months but then their hair is listless and “strawlike.”

It’s best to find a shampoo (natural or synthetic) that is pH balanced to match the composition of human hair. Rob Guimond warns that:

Many companies use the term pH-balanced to market their products, but this could mean a pH level of anything.

It’s always best to do a spot of research beforehand. The best way to know for sure is to purchase a pH testing kit (readily available online—even WalMart carries them!) and run a quick and simple test on your hair care products.

With all that being said, there are plenty of people out there who don’t buy into this—at least not completely. And not just yet anyway. The science is solid and makes sense, but it falls into that category of things which haven’t been tested enough. And of course, everyone is different. Trichologist at the (apparently legendary) Philip Kingsley Clinic in New York City, Elizabeth Cunnane Philips says she hasn’t seen the pH issue affect any patients dramatically.

It’s still a marketing angle at this point, but that doesn’t mean there’s not validity to the topic. It’s an interesting concept that can only have a positive effect on all hair types.

References
EPA.gov: Acid Rain
Let’s Talk Hair: Are You Testing Your pH…Level That Is?
Beautylish.com
WalMart.com: pH test strips

One thought on “pH Levels and Your Scalp

  1. Pingback: Is Organic Shampoo Better?

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