What exactly is pH? We often wonder how it really affects our skin and hair? To break it down, pH is the scale used to measure acidity or basicity of a particular formulation. It stands for the “potential/power of Hydrogen”. It ranges from 0 to 14, 7 being neutral. It suggests the amount of Hydrogen in any substance. Anything below 7 indicates higher acidity while anything above indicates a base, reflecting on the chemical composition in a product and how it could react. pH affects our skin as well as hair. Read on to find out how pH affects our hair and the importance of maintaining the perfect pH balance for hair care.
What is pH level and why is it important for hair?
The pH of a healthy scalp should be around 3.5, while the hair is slightly more acidic and should lie anywhere between a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. So remember, using the right products will help to move closer to your hair goals. On the other hand using the wrong products can disrupt the natural balance of your pH leaving your hair dry, brittle and dull. For instance, alkaline products will cause hair cuticles to open, making it frizzy and dry while acidic products will make the cuticle contract making it more shiny and strong. However using a product that is extremely acidic can cause dryness.
To maintain the balance you should avoid using products lower than a 3 and higher than a 6.
Here is why maintaining the right pH balance in your hair is so important:
1. Maintains the 18-MEA Layer
This is a lipid barrier that coats the surface of a cuticle and is responsible for forming a protective layer for hair against environmental stressors. It reduces fiction, prevents the hair from absorbing too much water from its surroundings and gives it shine and smoothness. Using highly alkaline products could damage these lipids permanently.
2. Prevents development of Fungus and Bacteria
Microbial activity is sensitive to the amount of Hydrogen ion found in the environment. They thrive in conditions that offer a neutral pH level around 6.5 and 7.
3. Maintains Hydration
Open cuticles are left exposed to the surrounding that can weaken the ability of the hair to retain moisture, allowing water to evaporate that can lead to dehydrated hair. The right pH balance can seal unprotected hair strands and lock in moisture to keep the hair healthy and hydrated.
4. Treats Dry, Brittle Hair
Harsh chemicals used to colour, straighten or perm the hair can tear down the hair’s protein structure. This can make the hair snap and lead to breakage. Balancing the pH level can reduce this by strengthening the structure, leaving you with healthier hair.
5. Exfoliates the scalp
The right pH will help get rid of any excess sebum, dead skin cells and dirt buildup stuck on the surface of the scalp by restoring its balanced state. This will promote faster growth and prevent dandruff and flakiness.
How to Maintain the Right pH level?
Now that we understand the imperative of maintaining the right pH levels, what steps should you take to maintain it? We have curated a list of things you could do to balance your hair’s pH and restore its shine:
1. Remove Harsh Shampoos
Shampoos with a higher pH can leave the hair vulnerable allowing the sebum to escape and water to readily evaporate. Using the right shampoo that is slightly more acidic and gentle can restore healthy hair. However, considering that hair cleansers and shampoos are generally more alkaline in nature, those can be hard to find. Hence another great alternative is to use a pH neutral shampoo such as the A'kin Fragrance Free Mild and Gentle Hypoallergenic Silicone Free Shampoo followed by an acidic conditioner such as the Prakriti Herbals Smoothening Jojoba Aloevera Conditioner to maintain the perfect pH balance.
2. Understand your Hair Type
The treatment required for each hair type differs widely and knowing the upper of your hair will determine the process you need to use if you provide the right nourishment. This also includes accessing chemicals used for hair colour, perms or other such treatments, scalp conditions and nature of hair. Check out our article to know more.
a) Curly Hair
Since those with curly hair have partially open cuticles, they should look for products that are slightly more acidic ranging between 3 to 5. Read more about curly hair care here.
b) Straight Hair
On the other hand, those with straight hair should look for pH neutral products closer to 6 or 7 as they do not require any extra products and sebum naturally flows throughout the hair balancing the pH levels.
c) Decode the Labels
The best way to check the acidity of a price is by reading labels before purchasing the product. If they do not mention the pH level of the product then you check yourself to determine its range. Anything above 7 should be discharged. Continue reading to find out how to conduct the test at home.
Read our article on how to decode labels by clicking the link here.
3. Use Natural Balancers
a) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Using ACV in its pure form can be damaging to the hair as it has a pH range of 2 to 3. Therefore always dilute it with water and maintain the ratio 1:5 which means for every 1 part of ACV use 5 parts of water allowing it to sit for 30 seconds after shampooing then rinse thoroughly. The Switch Fix Restorative The Grape Escape Shampoo Bar For Chemically Treated Hair smoothens hair making it less frizzy and more smooth, restoring your hair's shine and with nourishment that runs deep.
Since it has a pH range between 3 to 5.5 it is the perfect ingredient to lock in moisture, add shine and smooth out the hair follicles. We recommend Coccoon Enriching Hair Mask with Coconut and Honey to improve hair cuticles, scalp health and attract moisture.
c) Aloe Vera
Due to the strong smell of vinegar, Aloe vera is considered a great option to maintain hair pH as it lies within the range of 4.5-5.5. With its healing and neutralisation properties it helps cellular regeneration, improves blood circulation and removes dead cells to promote beautiful hair growth. Try the Prakriti Herbals Itchy Scalp Control Cucumber Aloe Vera Hair Gel to reduce dryness, flakiness and fungal development.
d) Avoid Baking Soda
While baking soda is used to achieve lustrous hair temporarily it can leave you with long term damage. It has a highly alkaline pH level of 9 that may damage the hair by stripping away its natural oils.
e) Choose a Gentle Conditioner
A conditioner is used to bring back the smoothness and make the hair soft. Generally, conditioners are formulated with an acidic pH. Choose a conditioner that ranges anywhere between 3 to 7 to balance out the harshness of the shampoo. A'kin Fragrance Free Mild & Gentle Hypoallergenic Silicon Free Conditioner works wonders to delicately cleanse impurities in the hair and scalp with absolutely minimal damage.
Check out our article to learn more about conditioners by clicking here.
How to test pH levels of your hair products?
The most commonly used pH indicators are litmus paper strips that come along with a pH scale. It uses colour to indicate the acidity or alkaline levels of a substance that range from 0 to 14. To perform the test you must mix 10 g of shampoo in 100 grams of distilled water, stir it gently to avoid lather to form and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
Follow this by dipping a strip of litmus into the product. Take it out and wait a few minutes for the colour to change. Match the colour to the scale provided. You should look for a shampoo that has a pH of 5.5 while the right conditioner should have a pH of 4.5. The universal indicator show the following results:
We feed our hair with so many different products to bring it shine and smoothness and often overlook the basics in the process. Using the right shampoo and conditioner is so important to maintain hair and scalp heath. Keeping the pH level on track is a great way to bring balance. As we conclude, don't forget to check out our article on the importance of pH in skincare by clicking on the link here.
- Howrah Lookhmanji