If there is ever a topic you need to understand as a naturally curly girl, then pH balance is one of them. The potential of hydrogen, also known as pH, is the measurement of how alkaline or acidic a substance is and significantly controls how the cuticle layers of the hair react to products. Measured on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 14, substances with a pH between 0 and 6.9 are acidic, 7 is neutral, while substances between 7.1 and 14 are alkaline. For example, relaxers rank higher on the scale with a pH normally around 13, pure water is neutral at 7, and apple cider vinegar (undiluted) is on the opposite side of the scale around 3. What does this mean for you? A higher pH substance or product on the scale opens the cuticle and lower pH closes the cuticle.
Why is the hair cuticle so important?
Cuticle layers play a very important role in the health of your strands since it is the first barrier of protection against the inner cortex of the hair shaft. To further explain the importance of pH balance I contacted chemist and CEO of Obia Natural Hair Care Obia Ewah to lend professional and scientific knowledge about the importance of pH in hair care products.
According to Obia, pH is particularly important for people with naturally curly hair because it is a way to close the cuticle without the use of heavy oils and creams, using lighter products instead. Since the pattern of naturally curly hair makes maintaining a closed cuticle more difficult, using products that are properly pH balanced is an alternative way to close the cuticle besides other methods like temperature. Closed cuticles prevent damage and breakage, reduce dryness and frizz, and seal moisture. Since healthy human hair as a pH between 4.5 and 5.5, the goal is for your hair to maintain a pH around that level.
pH balance and products
If you ever wondered why we shampoo first and condition next, the answer also lies within pH balance. Obia states that clarifying shampoos contain a higher pH, normally around an 8, opening the cuticle to infuse water and immensely cleanse in order to remove buildup, which is the purpose of a clarifying shampoo. However, if nothing is done to lower the pH afterwards, then the cuticle remains open, leading dry hair and potential damage. This is where conditioners come into play, as they are formulated with a lower pH to restore the moisture balance by closing the cuticle after shampooing. Furthermore, leave-in conditioners should have the lowest pH, which is why it is used as the finishing product in most regimens. Again, the goal is for the hair to main its natural pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. Aside from a clarifying shampoo, seek a moisturizing shampoo with a pH close to 4.5 or 5.5 as well.
Obia also notes how pH also plays a significant role in continuous co-washing. A healthy hair regimen should include a clarifying shampoo at least once a month.
How can I ensure my hair is properly pH balanced?
Using products that explicitly state they are pH balanced is the most effective way to ensure your hair is properly balanced; however, Obia also shares these effective options:
- Use pH-testing strips. While this option might seem like a lot of work some women prefer testing their products at home with plastic pH testing strips, saving time and money on purchasing products. You might as well tests your products with pH strips before using them, so you can return them if you want to.
- Use an entire hair care collection. Using products from the same hair care line has more benefits than just a bundle deal sale. If formulated correctly, the hair care line should be created from high to low in pH based on the order of how the products are used for optimal hair care. Ever wondered why a certain product flakes when mixed with other brands? Obia also warns of mixing products from different lines because they might not be formulated to work together. An adverse reaction, like flaking, could occur when mixing a leave-in conditioner from one line with a twisting butter from another line.
- Contact the company directly. If the pH is not explicitly listed on the product label, contact the company directly through email to ask if the products are pH balanced or to inquire about the pH level of a specific product within a collection.
- Pay attention to how your hair feels. More than usual tangles and single stranded knots is a first sign of products that are not pH balanced. If your cuticles remain open, it has greater potential for tangles versus hair with smooth closed cuticles.