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What Does pH Mean To Curly Hair?

pH, I’m sure we’ve all heard the term, but do you know what it is or how it affects the healthy state of your hair. When was the last time you picked up a product and wondered what its pH was? Should we even care about pH?

If these questions never crossed your mind, there is no need to start worrying now. If you’ve been agonizing over pH, you can calm your worries as well.   You’ve both landed in the right spot because that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss today.

A while back, I posted a question asking what you wanted to know to more about concerning curly hair care. Today, we are taking a look at one of those questions and determining what we need to know about pH to have healthy, happy strands.

What is pH

By its most simple definition, pH is the measure of ions in a solution. Ions can be classified as positively (cation) or negatively (anion) charged. It is necessary to point out that only items that contain water can have a pH, so items like oils and alcohols do not fall on the pH scale.

The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. It ranges from 0-14, with 7 being a neutral pH. More acidic solutions will have a pH between 0-6.9, and alkaline solutions have a pH between 7.1-14. As a point of reference, tap water (without any significant mineral build-up) will have a pH of 7. To find out where other items fall on the pH scale, check out the picture below.

what does pH mean to curly hair
where common items fall on the pH scale
What does pH mean to curly hair

A healthy hair strand should contain water. It also includes a protective layer called the acid mantle, which is a thin layer of film coating the strand that has a pH between 4-5.5. When your hair and scalp are maintained at this pH, your hair is at its strongest, the cuticle layer is closed (sealing in moisture), and bacteria and fungi will not grow.

what does pH mean to curly hair
What does pH mean to curly hair

Hair maintained at a slightly acidic pH will lack frizz, retain moisture, allow the strands to pass freely without tangling, and have a healthy appearance. When the hair approaches a more alkaline state, it will become frizzy, lack shine or sheen, and not easily retain moisture.

How do hair products affect the pH of my hair?

All water containing products will fall somewhere on the pH scale. These include shampoos, conditioners, dyes, and straighteners. More acidic products (low pH) will cause the cuticle layer to constrict, locking in moisture and contributing to a sheen or shiny appearance. Alkaline products (high pH) will cause the cuticle layer to lift and make the hair appear dull and feel brittle.

For this reason, most shampoos are usually slightly alkaline, causing the cuticle layer to lift and water to move freely into the inner layer of the hair strand. Conditioner, being more acidic, will then close the cuticle layer sealing in moisture.

Products like dyes and hair straighteners will be more alkaline and often contribute to a raised cuticle layer and more porous hair strands. When using these types of products, it is necessary to return the hair to its natural acidic state (through the use of conditioners or neutralizing shampoos) to prevent significant breakage or hair loss. Any severely high or low pH of the hair strands will cause the hair to be damaged.

How does this affect my hair care routine?

I some cases, the pH of your hair care products may be displayed somewhere on the product labeling. More often, the pH is not easily identified or present at all. No need to worry, most products are pH balanced to help maintain the natural pH (4-5.5) of the scalp and hair.

While you don’t have to, pH strips are also available at your local drugstore so that you can test the pH on your own. The drawback is that you would have to commit to purchasing the products to test it, and it’s not necessary. If you want to ensure that your products are correctly balancing each other out, you could use products from the same line or brand, again that is based solely on preference.

Best practice would be to make sure that your product line up contains a shampoo and conditioner that you are using them routinely and that any drastic shifts in the pH of your hair are quickly restored to the natural pH of 4-5.5.

For more great tips on how to achieve and maintain healthy natural hair, visit us today and let’s start a curly conversation.