Product Combinations: A Lesson in pH Balance (2)

Hey Beauts!

Welcome back to the concluding part of our pH balance lesson! If you are not sure what this is about, you can read the first part here.

Let’s get right into it, shall we?

It seems like a no-brainer that a typical wash day should comprise: cleansing-conditioning-deep conditioning. But there are reasons for this, one of which is pH balance.

Shampoos & Cleansing Agents

Let’s begin from when we step into the shower to wash our hair. The rush of warm water that we rinse off with initially raises our cuticles (as I mentioned yesterday. Remember that? hot water raises, cold water closes). Then in comes the shampoo or cleansing agent. Now, depending on the pH of the shampoo that we use, we could either be opening the cuticle further, or closing it. I have read a bunch of articles on this (and you should too, if you have some time), but basically, a lot of water absorption into the core of your hair shaft happens when your cuticles are raised. The more basic your soap (i.e. the higher the pH number, the more open/raised your cuticle is, the more water is absorbed.

Liquid Shampoos versus Shampoo Bars

Shampoo bars tend to have a higher pH number than liquid shampoos. This is because:

i) Shampoo bars have a lot less water

ii) Shampoo bars are essentially soap. Soap is mostly either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. And remember yesterday, we said that the more hydroxide (OH-), the more basic the solution, the higher the pH number.

Experts on this topic say that a superb soap maker can try hard to get the pH of soap to be as low as 8, but anything lower than that and the bar ceases to be a bar and resembles mud.

Side Note: the pH of relaxer is above 10! And we know what relaxer does to our hair.

Anyway, the reason why many teachers of this topic recommend shampoos that are of lower pH (i.e. liquid shampoo) is because those tend to cause less frizz when used. But remember, we DO NOT use shampoos in isolation. Whatever form of shampoo you choose to use, remember what it is doing to your cuticle and remember that when you leave the shower to dry your hair, you want your hair back to its natural state (a closed cuticle) and you want moisture locked in (which again can only happen with a closed cuticle).

So what do we do?

Conditioners & Deep Conditioners

Hair conditioners and deep conditioners are typically of a lower pH (more acidic) than shampoos. This is because they work to close those erstwhile open cuticles, thus sealing in the moisture.

Household Ingredients

All the kitchen chemists in the house, say “aye”!

DIYs are fun, right? And they can be cheaper than buying ready made products. However, to mix ingredients in a pH balanced manner, it is necessary to know the various pH of what we use and this should drive how we use them.

Apple Cider Vinegar: You probably guessed it. This has a low pH (acidic). The Bragg’s brand of ACV has a pH of 3.075. Depending on how much you dilute it, and how pure the water you dilute it with is, the pH of what eventually goes into your hair can be higher than this number. So as is the nature of acidic solutions, you should expect that ACV rinses close the cuticle.

Baking Soda: This has a basic pH of about 8.3. So concurrent with what we have been discussing, a baking soda rinse will open your cuticle.

Interestingly though, I was looking at the instructions for the maximum hydration method, and the first step in the process is to clarify with either a baking soda rinse or an apple cider vinegar rinse. Hmmm…

Aloe Vera Juice: Depending on the brand, its pH can be anywhere from 3.4 – 4.5. Acidic again.

Bentonite Clay: This has a relatively high basicity of 8.3 – 9.7. Does it make sense now why we would usually use AVJ as the mixing agent? The AVJ works to reduce the pH of the resulting mixture, bringing it to a pH that is healthier for a hair rinse.

Yogurt: Plain yogurt has a pH of 4. Yup, acidic. And I guess the taste gives it away already.

Lemon juice: Pure lemon juice is really acidic, with a pH of 2.

So after all this information and numbers, what then?!

Personally, I think having this information at the back of my mind will help me rationalise my hair care process.

1) Always remember that your hair is happiest between a pH of 4.5 and 5.5.

2) The pH of your shampoo will usually be higher than that of your conditioners (if you are working with store bought products). Obia thinks that this means we should try to stick to a line of products since it is more or less guaranteed that the pH number of a given product line will work to achieve pH balance. However, if you’re interested, you can look up the pH of different brands of shampoos, conditioners, and leave-in conditioners as provided by TheNaturalHaven (bless her for doing the work).

3) If you’re an aspiring mixtress, having the pH numbers of your raw materials can help you decide the progression in which resulting mixes should be used for optimum results.

4) At the end of the day, the goal is to have locked in as much moisture as possible, and to have strengthened hair shafts in their natural state.

And so concludes the lesson in pH balance. Have you got any questions? Or any more knowledge to share? We would love to read from you in the comment boxes! 🙂

-Mee Mee


12 thoughts on “Product Combinations: A Lesson in pH Balance (2)

  1. Nice research/conclusion. What caught my eye was the baking soda. Lots of people do not agree with using the product. But as you said the MHM says to use it at the beginning to clarify your hair. Although it also says either that or AVC, I think what one should use will depend on your porosity. For me, with low porosity, opening up my cuticles first before treatments will be good so it can absorb the treatment better. There’s a lady that gives different concotions for the MHM depending on your hait type. You should check her out if you want. And let me know what you think please. I am considering the method but I am still doing research so this topic is really interesting for me.


  2. Really great educative posts. I also read something else worth noting. pH should not be read as just small numbers like oh 3 & 4. Or what’s the difference between 3 & 5 or 3 & 6. “Each step up or below a number on the pH scale represents a tenfold increase in alkalinity (moving up the scale) or basicity (moving down the scale)… In fact, a relaxer with a pH of 11 can be up to one million times more alkaline than hair.” – Dr Phoenyx Austin.

    She goes on to say that beyond our cuticle’s sensitivity to pH (with opening and closing), pH balance is also necessary for hair to retain its “strength and structural integrity.” So as you said, you could be doing all the right things in your regimen, with products that aren’t properly balanced- and this could still be damaging to our hair.

    I want to get pH testing strips. I read that the plastic ones are more reliable. Will see 🙂


  3. Quite an interesting piece. Tank God I stumbled into ur site, I hope to really learnt a lot here. Had my bc abt 7months ago and I am still trying to find my feet. Most of d shampoos around have rosemary extracts or oil which I react to. I will like ur opinion on Dr Bronner liquid soap if if is okay to use . Tank U


  4. This is such a great post. Kind of bad news for the lazy cow in me since it means I can no longer dc then shampoo and skip out of the shower. Sigh.
    As a mixtress (Aye!) I’ll use this to ensure my mixes make sense. The ph of Bentonite clay really surprised me; I’ll be sure to mix in something acidic.

    Yes AB, I read that too; about the tenfold difference in ph everytime the value changes by 1. Makes sense because even in the body a slight ph change is enough to disrupt enzyme action and send the body into chaos.


  5. Pls so if I want to do an acv rinse shud it be after I have washed and conditioned my hair or shud it be after washing and before conditioning. Xxx


    • Hey Tehi! I say between wash and conditioning. The ACV rinse, as I understand it is a clarifying agent, not moisturising. So you want to use it to supplement your wash, make your hair clean, etc. And then you condition for yummy moisture.


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