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

xx.

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Product Combinations: A Lesson in pH Balance (1)

Hey beauts!

Do we remember when AB took us back to school with her Hair Basics series? I actually liked those posts. Personally, it helps for me think in a logical sense, especially because I have a love for all things human biology. (I was that person that dreamed about anatomy class and spent all my free time in the dissection room, peeking into open body cavities).

Last week Thursday, I was one of the ladies that were treated to a pre-valentine’s dinner with Obia of Obia Natural, organised by Jullian R Addo of Bella Kinks. The highlight of that entire evening for me was when Obia came up in her beautiful red dress, and held up cards as she taught an entranced room of naturalistas all about pH and why it matters. I am going to attempt to do a recap for you. Please, please, don’t get put off just yet. You WANT to have this information and I promise you, it’ll be one of those ‘Aha’ moments!

WARNING: No pictures ahead :(.

What is a pH, anyway?

Potential Hydrogen. Potentiation of Hydrogen. Power of Hydrogen.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. What we need to know is that pH is a measure of how much Hydrogen ions are contained is a solution. The more hydrogen ions that a solution has, the more acidic that solution is. The less hydrogen ions, the more basic that solution is.

Remember how when we learnt about H2O, we went around referring to water as H2O? That’s because water is the most common example of when a solution is neither acidic, nor basic. It’s just right; it’s neutral. So usually, when we talk about pH balance, we mean a solution that is synonymous to water.

Solutions (because we think of them as liquid), usually have both hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH-). So an acidic solution = more H+, less OH-; and a basic solution = less H+, more OH-.

Is this making any sense so far?

Now, there is a pH scale that is used to measure how acidic, or basic a solution is.

1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10       11       12       13       14

most acidic                                Neutral                                                        most basic

What does this have to do with me and my hair though?

Hair has a pH that ranges from 4.5 – 5.5. This is the pH at which your hair is its healthiest. Of course, because you and I are different, some people might have a hair pH of 4 or 6, but typically this is the expected pH of healthy hair. For those of us who took some classes in agricultural science, we know that one of the characteristics of good soil for plant growth is that it should have a good pH that will promote growth. The same thing goes for our hair.

Ooookaayy… Now what?

The products you put in your hair have pHs too! And these alter the pH of your hair, and the structure of your hair!

As a general rule of thumb, bases open your cuticle and acids close your cuticle. Just like hot water opens your cuticle and cold water closes your cuticle.

Pause. This cuticle thing, I can’t see it. Why should it matter? Well, you actually can. The cuticle is the outer covering of your hair shaft (or strands). It’s what makes our hair strong and protects it from damage. But it is water resistant. So in order to get any moisture in, those cuticles have to be opened (or raised). So this means that in caring for your hair, you want to begin with products (and water) that open up your cuticles. Then, you want to end with products (and water) that close your cuticles i.e. locks in the moisture.

Ok. I’m going to let you sit on this for today. Tomorrow, we will look at our common household and store brought products, and determine if we use them in a pH balanced manner.

– Mee Mee

xx.

HAIR BASICS: TEXTURE x DENSITY

Hey there. This is another post in the Hair Basics series, a bunch of posts about the fundamentals of hair. What it really is and how it functions. You could continue the Understanding Hair 101 class here 🙂

Hair texture and density are two properties that get mixed up a lot, but they really are different things.

Do you believe that all big afros or natural heads are “full” or “thick”? Just because someone has got a lot of hair does not mean that the person’s strands are thick.

Hair texture refers to the width/size of your hair strands, and Hair density is simply how much hair you have.

HAIR TEXTURE

– The size of your strands.
– Determined by the cortex.
– Types: Your hair texture may be fine, medium, coarse.

The thicker your strands are, the stronger they are. Fine hair is the most fragile, and coarse hair the least. Thick strands I read, are easier to detangle.

How can I determine my texture?

I don’t want to go there but in trying to determine mine, I read something that simplified the matter. Sorry ladies. The hair that grows in your nether region is coarse. Compare how similar or how different the hair on your head is to that and the texture of your hair will be revealed to you.

Can one person have different textures?

Yes.

My strands for the most part are fine. Not thick at all. Then I have some in the centre of my head that are more coarse than the others.

Here’s a short slideshow showing a coarse strand and a fine strand (both mine)- can you see the difference?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

HAIR DENSITY

Basically, it’s the population of Hair City. A measure of how many strands are living on your head.

Types- Your Hair density may be High, Medium, Low.

Technically, you can only measure your hair density if you partition your hair into 1” x 1” sections and count the number of strands per section- like the average number of strands/follicles per square inch area. You don’t have to do that.

What’s my Hair Density?

It’s best to check for your hair density when it’s dry. All you have to do is this- Let your dry hair hang loose. Can your scalp be seen? If it’s difficult to see your scalp or no scalp can be seen at all, your hair is high density. If it’s very easy to see scalp, your hair is low density, and if you can see only some of your scalp, medium density.

Again, I must stress this:

High density hair is usually called thick by other people- because of how it looks or feels as a whole. However, it does not mean that your individual strands are thick. You can be high density with fine strands (like me) and low density with thick/medium strands.

What to do with this information?

Again beware of sweeping generalisations. Some people say fine hair is easy to moisturise and doesn’t need a lot of moisturising but so far my own fine hair hasn’t been easy to moisturise. A moisture plan has got a lot more to do with hair porosity I believe, than the way it feels. *side-eye* at those people.

  1. The simple advantage of knowing your texture is that you have a better idea about how to handle your hair. If you attack your high density hair with all your might and a comb or brush just because it looks thick, you will be doing mad damage if you have fine texture strands.
  2. Choosing products- a High Density head does not need volumising products. Heavier products may be desired instead, to weigh the hair down a little. The very opposite is the case for Low density hair.
  3. Styling- low density heads may prefer smaller twists or braids, styles that don’t show a lot of scalp. High density heads may prefer bigger braids or twists and layered styles.

CAN I CHANGE MY TEXTURE/DENSITY?

No. You have not grown any hair follicles since you were born. Even weeks before you were born. Follicles are responsible for your density and your hair cortex is responsible for your hair texture.

So anything that claims to volumise or decrease the look of your hair- thin it or thicken it (that is, reduce or increase its density) or thicken your individual strands- is really just promising to make it appear so. APPEAR is the key word. That’s all it’s doing. It’s not changing the structure of your hair. It is what it is. Accept your texture and density and learn to work with them- consider them in building your regimen, in styling- and if you want thicker or thinner hair for any purpose, just google. There are so many temporary thinning or thickening products or practices you could try. 🙂

So tell me, how densely populated is your Hair City? And the individuals that live up there, how thick are they?

x

HAIR BASICS- POROSITY

Hey you. This is another post in the Hair Basics series- a bunch of posts about the fundamentals of hair. What it really is and how it functions. You could continue the Understanding Hair 101 class here 🙂

Porosity, adj

The property of being porous.

Porous, noun.

Easily penetrated.

——————————————————–

WHAT IS HAIR POROSITY?

Hair Porosity refers to your hair’s ability to be penetrated. absorb and (not) retain moisture.

WHY IS THIS RELEVANT?

Good hair is healthy hair. Healthy hair is basically well moisturised hair.

When you moisturise, if your hair isn’t accepting it, your money and time are spent in vain. If your hair accepts all the moisture and lets go of it almost immediately, that’s like pouring water in a basket- still a waste of your time.

WHAT DETERMINES YOUR HAIR POROSITY?

Remember the structure of hair?  The Cortex is the power house; it determines what your hair looks like. Any hair product that promises strength, or moisture or conditioning, everything really, is supposed to get to your cortex for it to work. But sometimes, it’s not so easy to get to the cortex and sometimes it’s too easy. Why is that?

Ask the cuticle. Your hair cuticle is the gateway to your cortex and it does what it does. You have to learn how friendly or unfriendly your cuticle is and befriend it, work with it to get the desired results. Your cuticle determines your hair porosity. Stay with me now.

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF HAIR POROSITY?

There are three levels of Hair Porosity.

  1. Low Porosity. Lo-Po hair has really tight, compact cuticle and so it’s really really difficult for moisture to get through. On the bright side, if you can succeed to get moisture in, it retains the moisture really well.
  2. High Porosity. Hi-Po hair is like a sponge. It absorbs moisture, products pretty well, maybe too much- but it does a bad job at retaining moisture.
  3. Normal Porosity. If you’ve got Nor-Po hair, you’re lucky. It can absorb moisture but doesn’t overdo it and it retains it as well.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Well, this isn’t a secret you should keep. Most hair products are designed for Nor-Po hair. However, I have good reason to believe that there are more Hi-Po and Lo-Po people in the world than Nor-Po people. Sucky, I know. Knowing your porosity can change everything. It can help you make adjustments- it can help you filter the information and products you’re assaulted with whenever you care to look.

HOW CAN YOU KNOW YOUR POROSITY?

It’s really simple.

  1. Put some water in a bowl.
  2. Take a strand of your hair- a clean, freshly washed, product-free strand and leave it on the surface of the water.
  3. Observe how long it takes for the strand to sink to the bottom of the bowl, if it goes down at all.

If your hair quickly sinks to the bottom, you’ve got High Porosity hair.

If your hair doesn’t get to the bottom in like an hour, or it’s still floating on top, you have Low Porosity hair.

If your hair gradually makes its way down- not too fast, not too slow, congrats, you’re a lucky one! Normal Porosity.

MY POROSITY

As I strongly suspected, my hair is super-duper Low Porosity. I placed my hair in a bowl of water, I checked an hour later- still floating on top. I went away, hopeful- and came back another hour later- still on top! O_O

OKAY, I KNOW MY POROSITY.  NOW WHAT?

When you know better, you do better- this is what the Hair Basics posts are all about.

Remember what I said about sweeping generalisations on the basis of Hair Typing? One myth or general rule I’ve read so many times is that highly textured hair a.k.a. Kinky hair is highly porous. My hair is SO kinky, yet I’m the opposite of highly porous. My cuticles cannot possibly be any less porous!

Another general rule I was observing since my big chop is- wash natural hair with cold water only. I’ve been doing a little Lo-Po research lately and it has been recommended by a few Lo-Po naturalistas, that light heat is good for Low Porosity hair. Washing with lukewarm water instead is advised. I’ve done this a few times since I read that and so far I haven’t noticed any difference but time will tell.

Having introduced the three levels of Hair Porosity, I’ll go on now to discuss them in a little more detail.

NORMAL POROSITY

Hey, lucky one.

Pros:

  1. Your hair absorbs moisture really well.
  2. Your hair retains moisture really well.
  3. Most products were made for you.

Any cons? No. All you have to do is moisturise and seal with a light hand, as you feel your hair requires.

If you don’t moisturise enough, your hair will be dry. If you do too much, you could have build-up too. It’s just that your hair naturally knows the moisture balance, so go with it. Don’t do too much, or too little. Just listen to your hair.

LOW POROSITY HAIR

Your cuticles are not just united against moisture, they are united against everything, really- and this works both ways, good and not so good.

Pros:

  1. Retains moisture really well.
  2. Lo-Po hair is highly resistant to damage from chemicals or heat- any form of over processing really- and this is a big pro.
  3. Lo-Po hair doesn’t need a lot of protein treatments- except your hair is breaking or showing any signs of damage, put down the mayo. Don’t follow that person that does a protein DC every two weeks. Too much protein and your hair is going to look dull because it’s just ugly dead protein lying there atop your hair shaft.

Cons:

  1. Serious difficulty in absorbing moisture.
  2. Lo-Po hair may be prone to build-up because the product isn’t getting in, it’s probably just sitting on your hair, weighing it down- except you’re doing the right things.

Since I discovered my hair is Lo-Po, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on this and basically- since the cuticles are so tight, the key to working with Lo-Po hair is stimulating it to raise its cuticles. When the cuticles are raised, they open up to receive the goodness you have to offer. I will be trying the things mentioned in this article I found on Curly Nikki and will report on any difference I experience.

It is advised that the basic regimen for Lo-Po hair involves

  1. Water-based leave-in moisturiser
  2. Humectants
  3. Seal in with a light oil.

The idea behind a light oil is this. Humectants draw moisture from the atmosphere into your hair. A heavy oil can render this useless as it is too much of a barrier. Some people say Coconut Oil may be too heavy for Lo-Po hair since the cuticle does such a great job at retaining moisture.

Note to self: The basic Lo-Po regimen is the simple moisturise & seal regimen that I’ve been doing. Coconut oil has been alright so far but I should probably try a lighter oil- like Jojoba or Grapeseed- just to test the theory. My moisturiser contains glycerin, a humectant- but as I’m using less of the lotion, I should probably mix more humectants into my routines.

HIGH-POROSITY HAIR

The good news is, unlike some of us, you have no problem absorbing moisture. The bad news is, your hair lets go of this moisture really quickly. Also, High-Porosity hair is very prone to chemical and heat damage, so you have to be really cautious and avoid this.

Some are born with Hi-Po hair. Some have Hi-Po hair thrust upon them (or bring it upon themselves)

Some people are born with Hi-Po hair and some people’s hair becomes Hi-Po along the way because of over processing. There are some treatments designed for High Porosity and the idea behind them is to make the cuticles tighter, and more compact.

Also, some say that a cuticle once permanently altered is altered forever. So if your cuticle is wide open because of chemical or heat damage, it might not be a bad idea to cut your hair and start growing it out again.

A Hi-Po hair regimen involves a lot of sealing! And at this point, I’m pretty sure you know why. The cuticle in Hi-Po hair is elevated in some way, making it easy for matter to go into and come out of the hair shaft. As it has no problems absorbing, the idea is to make exit more difficult. More sealing is required than with Lo-Po or Nor-Po hair.

A Hi-Po regimen according to the good people at naturallycurly.com

many high porosity naturals, after washing their hair, apply a leave-in conditioner, then a thick water based moisturizer followed by a heavy butter. By layering your products, you are providing your hair with the moisture it needs from the leave-in and moisturizer, and ensuring that the moisture remains near the hair shaft by using a heavy butter or oil to act as a protective layer to prevent the moisture from being lost to the atmosphere. High porosity naturals may also find it necessary to moisturize often and some high porosity naturals moisturize once or twice daily.

So now. What’s your hair porosity? Please do the test and google accordingly, for more information on your porosity. You might need to make some adjustments- raise or shut your cuticles- as your hair requires.

How long have you been aware of your porosity, and has this knowledge made you follow a particular routine for your hair? 

Low Porosity is new to me, so this is one more discovery in my hair journey. This is now the journey towards happy, healthy, kinky 4C low-porosity hair. : )

xx

HAIR BASICS- HAIR TYPING 3

Hello you! We are still learning about the fundamentals of understanding hair and today, we conclude the lesson we started on Monday on the system of Hair Typing. So far, we know that

1. hair may be classified into 4 groups, according to naturally occurring curl patterns.

2. We’ve got Type 1- Straight hair (no curl), Type 2- Wavy hair (not straight but not really curly either), Type 3- Curly hair (well defined loopy S pattern of curls) and Type 4- Kinky hair (less defined curl pattern. Ranges from a slight S pattern to a zigzag pattern to tightly coiled hair with no visible curl definition).

3. Yes, it is possible to have more than one hair type.

If you missed the last post, please read it here. If you’re new, the blog is currently in session, going back to school, trying to understand the very fundamentals of hair- what hair is, how it functions, why it acts the way it does, you are welcome to join the Hair Basics series.

Q: IS ANY TYPE BETTER THAN OTHERS?

A: No.

Yes I know, in Nigeria and beyond, people feel like the looser your curls are, the better. For one too many people, Good Hair = Loose curls. There’s a documentary I should find and put up a link to. I came upon it when I was transitioning and I was really shocked that people seriously think like this and it’s not just bants. A woman actually cried tears of joy (And relief?) when she saw that her baby didn’t have “nappy hair” like her, but “good hair” like his daddy. The occasional celebrity comment (hey Brandy) or random guy tweeting about wanting “good hair” for his kids. Or relaxed girls saying things like “The Natural hair thing is not for everyone.” Or even the random unnecessary comment you see in a problem solving forum from fellow naturals on a problem that has nothing to do with them- “Oh my 3C hair is like butter.” “Sectioning? My hair is so soft, I don’t need to section when I wash.” Who said you section because hair is soft? Who asked you sef? :s

Haha this should probably be a post on its own. Please please PLEASE do not listen to any of that. Do not let anyone intimidate you or oppress you. People of all hair types have bad hair days. All hair types get tangled and messy and have the potential to break combs. No hair type is better than others. If your hair is tightly coiled, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do- it’s being good. Just get to understand the features of your hair, and soon you’ll be on your way to figuring out what your hair needs. Give your hair what it needs and IT WILL cooperate.

Q: OKAY EKENE. HERE, HAVE SOME SPRITE. IS IT POSSIBLE TO PERMANENTLY CHANGE YOUR CURL PATTERN?

A: No.

In the post on Hair Structure, I tried to present the anatomy of hair; what it’s made of and how it functions.

Our hair keeps growing. The bit you’ve relaxed or processed or whatever might change your cortex (for a long or short while) but the hair that keeps growing out your follicle is never going to change. The external message never gets to the heart of it where the growth process begins, in your follicle. It’s not permanent if you have to do touch-ups and do this thing or rub that thing every now and then.

Q: PLEASE TELL ME AGAIN WHY THIS IS RELEVANT?

A: I used to think Hair Typing was really important. It is clearly not unimportant but let me just say, it’s not the beginning and the end.

Appreciating the different curl patterns certainly helped me be reasonable with my expectations. For instance, kinky hair tends to shrink, sometimes as much as 75% of its actual length. If I didn’t know this, I’d probably be frustrated that my teeny weeny afro only looks like half its real size or length when it’s not stretched out. I also think it’s going to be helpful when I start styling because kinky hair do what kinky hair do, and curly hair do what curly hair do. For this, I really love that the good people at BGLH feature fab naturalistas hair/styling stating their hair types.

Please beware of sweeping generalisations! Hair typing is largely based on the outside look of hair. There are other features of your hair- porosity, density, thickness and elasticity- that truly affect what goes on on the inside. These factors and their relationships with each other are the real big guys, who push the buttons to determine what exactly you should use on your hair and what to do to your hair, the nitty gritty. These things cut across all hair types and not knowing them will affect you more than knowing your hair type will. Don’t just lean on what you’ve heard about Type this or Type that. It is your business to figure out what works and does not work for your hair.

Next week, we’ll be moving on to a very very very VERY important fundamental, Hair Porosity.

Till then, my people. What do you think about hair typing? What’s your hair type? Share!

x