It is surprising that some do not know the important of pH in hair care products. To fully understand hair, one needs to have a clear grasp of the relationships between your shampoo, pH levels and hair care. So, it’s important you understand the meaning of pH if you want to make quality shampoo or hair cream.
What Does pH Levels Mean?
In chemistry, pH is a scale used to specify how acidic or basic a water-based solution is. Acidic solutions have a lower pH, while basic solutions have a higher pH. At room temperature (25 °C), pure water is neither acidic nor basic and has a pH of 7.
The pH scale is logarithmic and inversely indicates the concentration of hydrogen ions in the solution (a lower pH indicates a higher concentration of hydrogen ions). At 25 °C, solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic. The neutral value of the pH depends on the temperature, being lower than 7 if the temperature increases. The pH value can be less than 0 for very strong acids, or greater than 14 for very strong bases.
Blood and water are both examples of things with neutral or pH7 levels. Battery acid has pH level 1 and is very acidic; while bleach has pH level 13 and is very basic.
Each level movement, either left to right or its reverse, represents the acidic or basic levels of a substance. The higher the Ph level the more alkaline or basic it is.
Your hair’s typical pH balance is between 4.5 and 5.0. Hair is somewhat acidic because of the mantle – a slightly acidic fluid mixture of oil, salt and water found in your hair.
Water, with pH 7, is therefore too alkaline for human hair. Then human hair encountering hard water will mean trouble!
What Does It Mean When Your Hair pH Is Too Acidic or Too Alkali
The closer the pH level of your hair product is to the natural pH level of your hair, the more healthy and beneficial it is. Using a product that causes the pH level of your hair to drop can make it very basic can cause your hair to look dry, frizzy and become very brittle and easy to break. This is why using cleansers, such as baking soda (pH of 9) or even just water alone (pH of 7), can be very damaging to your hair with repeated washes.
There are a number of conditions that can indicate the pH of your hair is too acidic or too alkali; some of which are discussed bellow.
- If you have problems with flaky, itchy, dry scalp, eczema, fungi or bacteria on your scalp, it is likely that your scalp and hair are too alkali. Usually, this means that you are using a product that has a high pH above 7, and it is stripping away your naturally acidic sebum that fights bacteria. Lower pH shampoos may also cause less frizzing and breakage. This is why a shampoo with a pH of 6 or 7 should be used.
- If you have curly hair, then your cuticle is already partially open. It is especially important for people with curly hair to return their hair to a slightly acidic pH level, since the open cuticle prevents natural acidic sebum to keep the entire hair at a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5.
- If you have dry hair: using products that are too alkaline can cause the cuticle to open, and this can cause your hair to lose too much hydration throughout the week. And on the other hand, using products that are too acidic can cause the cuticle to shut. This means water won’t be able to move in through the cuticle to hydrate the shaft.
- Scalp Fungus. When you put alkaline products on your hair, it may disrupt your scalp’s acidity and cause scalp fungus and dandruff. Your scalp’s sebum has a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5, and this slightly acidic structure helps to fight bacteria, fungi, and other predators.
Note: The term “hard water is used to describe water that has high mineral content, usually calcium and magnesium, but may also include bicarbonates and sulfates. The degree of hardness becomes greater as the mineral content increases.
So, when hair encounters high alkaline substances, like hard water, the cuticles of our hair swells, rises and opens. Raised cuticles lead to porous hair that will have difficulty to absorb and keep moisture on. Because of this, hair will become dry, tough and susceptible to frequent breakage.
On the other end, when hair comes into contact with low pH substances, the cuticle contracts and lays flat. This is technically the ideal situation because a compact cuticle better holds moisture which leads to healthier looking hair.
To restore a balanced pH level, one key thing to do is to transition to hair products that are within the 4.5 – 5.5 pH level range. This may be difficult to determine because some manufacturers don’t include pH levels in their product labels. However, you can conduct a simple test to identify the pH levels.
If the product you have falls within the happy hair range of 4 – 5.5 then this product is safe to use as is. Those that have high pH levels can still be used but with additional help of acidifying agent to balance out the range. Some of the more common acidifying agents are aloe vera, lime juice, and apple cider vinegar.
Mixing these substances together requires a few tries. Its suggested to mix minute volume of the acidifying agent into the solution and then continuously checking for pH level until you’ve reached the ideal one.