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



Heyyy you guys 🙂

It only makes sense to start our discussion at the very very beginning- the very thing that we are here for. The definition of hair itself- the anatomy of it, the parts of it. That’s what we’re doing in this post, looking at the structure of hair.

Our hair strands grow out of numerous tiny pits buried in our scalp. These little pits are called follicles. All the hair on your body come from follicles. By week 22 of your stay in your mama’s belly, ALL the follicles on your body had been formed. You haven’t grown any follicles since.

Hair has two separate structures- the structure in the hair shaft (this is the hair we see) and the structure in the follicle.


At the base of the follicle is the dermal papilla, a vessel that is fed by the bloodstream with nutrients to produce new hair.

The bottom part of the follicle surrounds the papilla. It is called the hair bulb and this is the part where living hair grows. And I say living because hair is a dead cell; the bulb is the only part nourished by the capillaries in the dermal papilla. Also present in the follicle is the sebaceous gland. It produces the sebum, which is natural conditioner for the hair.

The follicle is guarded by two sheaths, the inner sheath and the outer sheath. These two protect and mold the new growing baby hair shaft. Simply put, the only living part of your hair is the part in your roots, in the bottom part of the follicle. When your hair grows, the shaft has grown out of the bulb, so it’s like pushed out and up to join the string of dead proteins. It’s like the chain of dead proteins just gets longer. A new living baby protein starts cooking in a hair bulb in a follicle.




Hair is made of a dead hard protein called keratin, the same protein that is present in your nails. Keratin is strong, resistant to wear and tear.

Each hair shaft or strand has three layers- the cortex, the medulla and the cuticle.



MEDULLA: this is the innermost layer. It is only present in large thick hairs.

CORTEX: this is the middle layer. “The main the main.”  Everything about your hair- the colour, strength, curl pattern, thickness and texture is determined by the cortex. Relaxers, hair dyes and other chemical treatments work on the hair above the scalp by penetrating the cuticle to get to the cortex. There they manipulate the bonds within the cortex to get the desired result- be it straightening the curl pattern or changing the hair colour. Every single thing you apply on your hair has to get to the cortex to be of any effect. If you’re straightening your hair with a flat iron and the heat does not get to the cortex, you are wasting your time. And if too much heat gets to your cortex, that’s damage for your hair. Permanent dyes target your cortex, but non-permanent hair dyes just try to get stuck somewhere between your cuticle and your cortex.

CUTICLE: this is the outermost layer. It is thin and colourless, it protects the cortex.

The cuticle is the gate to the cortex. Some people’s cuticles are overprotective and won’t let the nutrients in. Some people’s cuticles are wide open and let too much in, but some people’s cuticles understand that there has to be a balance. It’s important to understand your own cuticle and how to get it to open or close when you need it to.

So do you now see how important it is for you to figure out the right diet and routine for your hair? It is your responsibility to manage what goes or does not go through your cuticle to your cortex. It is your responsibility to make sure anything goes through it at all. All the money you spend and effort you put in on your hair will be useless if you are not on good terms with your cuticle and if your cortex is not getting the nutrients it needs.

Are you still with me? Is any of this making sense? Next post, we’ll be revisiting the matter of Hair Typing, one of the several properties determined in the cortex and in that post (and subsequent posts) you’ll be appreciating the anatomy discussed in this post more.


P.S. We will soon be back to the Cuticle. It’s starring in one of our Hair Basics movies coming up soon- Porosity! ^__^