Do We Need To Worry About The PH Of Hair?

Absolutely. Figuring out the PH of hair is a balancing act!

We’ve got the perfect cleansing and styling routine in place, but there is one factor that can alter our curl game. It’s one we rarely think about.

The PH level of our hair.

Let’s have a look at

  • What the PH level should be
  • How the wrong PH affects our hair
  • What steps we can take to keep it balanced

The PH scale runs from 0-14

ph scale

The lower numbers 0-6 are acidic

7 is neutral

The higher numbers 8-14 are alkaline.

Healthy hair falls on the acidic side between 3.5 ad 5.5. This is the point at which hair is most healthy.

The PH Level Of Hair Is Acidic. Why Is This Good?

When the PH level of our hair is acidic, the cuticle (the outer layer) of the hair strand is lowered. It contracts and sits tightly together. This is why hair is at its healthiest at this point. A flat cuticle leads to a smooth, shiny surface.

ph of hair affects the cuticle - acid makes it lie flat

Unfortunately, we often interfere with the natural PH level of our hair

The following factors are the most common culprits:

  • The products that we use
  • Hair colouring and other chemical processes
  • The water that we use to wash our hair – the minerals found in hard water will affect the PH level and push it towards the alkaline

All of the above factors will push the PH level of our hair up to the alkaline side

Why is Alkaline bad?

When hair heads towards alkaline PH levels the cuticle begins to soften and expand which leads it to rise up. This creates gaps in the cuticle between the ‘scales’ that form it. These gaps weaken the hair causing it to be more porous, dry, brittle and frizzy.

ph of hair affects the cuticle - alkaline  ph raises it

This is why balancing the PH of your hair is crucial. It is linked to your hair’s porosity level.

Porosity affects the health of your hair, its ability to retain moisture, the level of shine, frizz and the products you should use.

I have outlined why this is crucial in this post

You can take our Porosity test to find out the porosity level of your hair.

An alkaline PH level on the scalp can also affect the bacteria which lives there naturally and cause dandruff.

A change in PH level can be so impactful that it may be the real reason your hair feels dry or damaged rather than one of the other factors that we usually blame – like sulphates.

How Can We Make Sure The PH Remains Correct?

The Products that we use affect the PH level of our hair

Hair products should ideally have a PH level between 3.5 and 5.5 to help regulate the PH level of hair and keep it on the acidic side.

shampoo ph levels

Shampoos often contain alkaline ingredients which act as the cleansers.

They can raise the cuticle and this is why your hair can feel rough and tangled before you put conditioner on. Shampoos can have PH levels as high as 10. Conditioners usually have a more acidic PH level to lower it down again.

Unfortunately maufacturers are not under any obligation to display PH levels on their products.

Generally speaking, sulphate-free shampoos (ones which don’t contain anionic surfactants) will be less alkaline than shampoos containing sulphates so this is a great place to start.

Fantastic research published by the International Institute of Trichology found the following in the 123 shampoos that they tested (taking PH 5.5 as the definition of a low PH shampoo)

61.78% of all shampoos had a PH greater than 5.5

80.77% of anti-dandruff shampoos had a PH greater than 5.5

65.62% of popular commercial shampoos had a PH greater than 5.5

25% of professional products (used in salons) had a PH greater than 5.5

Interesting results!

Unfortunately, since manufacturers don’t need to label their products with a PH level, it is very difficult to access this information without doing tests.

I’m testing a variety of shampoos with PH testing strips and these are the results so far. I’m as curious as you are!

System Professional Color Safe Shampoo PH 6

Kevin Murphy Balancing Wash PH 6

L’Occitane Nourishing Shampoo PH 6

Faith In Nature Jojoba Oil Shampoo PH 6

Noughty Detox Dynamo PH 7

Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Shampoo PH 7

Aussie Miracle Moist Shampoo PH 7.5

Noughty Wave Hello PH 8

Consider Hair Colouring Processes

colour affects the ph level of hair

Hair colour formulas are usually alkaline and move hair towards the higher end of the scale. This is because they need to open up the cuticle of the hair in order to deposit the colour.

The more permanent the hair colour is, the more alkaline it is likely to be. Less permanent or quasi-permanent colours do not need to penetrate the cuticle as deeply so these can have a lower level – around 7.0-8.0. Permanent colour can be as high as 9.0-11.0.

Bleaching hair will also raise the PH level as the solution needs to be alkaline to open up the hair’s cuticle to lift natural or artificial colour.

Rinse With A Slightly Acidic Solution

It is popular to do an apple cider vinegar rinse as part of your wash routine.

Some people swear by this and others report that it has made their hair dry and horrible.

What’s going on? 

The bottom line is that apple cider vinegar is acidic and an ACV rinse will work well if your hair needs its PH lowered, due to hard water, for example.

An ACV rinse can in fact be damaging if your water is already on the acidic side of the scale.

If you have low porosity hair and live in a soft water area, for example, it is unlikely that your hair will benefit from an apple cider vinegar rinse.

The Method

If you are going to do an ACV rinse there are different recommendations on the amount you should use.

Every method involves mixing the ACV with filtered water.

The amount recommended starts from 2 tablespoons in a cup of water to 25%. Start small, you can always increase the volume.

Shampoo and condition your hair as usual and then do the apple cider rinse at the end. Pour the mixture over your hair and scalp, leave for a couple of minutes and rinse well. The smell of the vinegar won’t linger.

apple cider vinegar reduces alkaline ph of hair

Note – the apple cider vinegar needs to have the ‘mother’. The mother develops as the raw, unfiltered vinegar ferments. It is rich in protein, acetic acid and healthy bacteria. It is also what makes the vinegar cloudy. It will be clearly stated on the label if the mother is included. 

This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you buy any of the products through the links provided. It doesn’t affect the price you pay and helps to run this website. Thank you x

Willy’s Apple Cider With The Mother

Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar With The Mother

Look Out For Hard Water

Depending on where you live, the water coming out of your tap or shower can be hard or soft.

All tap water will contain minerals and chemicals. It is the concentration of these which make the water hard or soft.

Hard water contains higher levels of calcium and magnesium and is alkaline, usually falling at 8.5.

Soft water tends to have lower concentration of magnesium and calcium but a higher concentration of sodium (or salt) than hard water. It is slightly acidic and falls around 6.5 on the PH scale.

How Do You Know Which You Have? 

Hard Water 

You may experience soap scum at home- this is the result of the calcium in the water reacting with the soap. Kettles and coffee machines will need regular de-scaling due to mineral deposits. Mineral deposits can also affect water pressure as it builds up in pipes.

Soft Water

Soft water just feels softer! Gentler, more foamy and more likely to produce a good lather quickly when using soap/shampoo. There will be little or no mineral build up in kettles and good water pressure. 

What Can We Actively Do To Keep A Balanced PH Level With Hard Water?

ph of tap water affects hair

If you have hard water you can do the final rinse of your hair wash using filtered water (from a kitchen water filter). This will filter out some of the minerals and a good one will also reduce the PH level of the water. 

You can also adjust the products that you use

This is usually the shampoo.

You can use a shampoo specifically formulated to remove mineral deposits from your hair – a chelating or clarifying shampoo.

They were originally formulated for swimmers to remove chlorine from the hair but they are also effective at removing other minerals (the hard water deposits) too. The side-effect of these is that they tend to be drying as they themselves tend to have a relatively high PH of around 8. I would recommend using them occasionally and following them up with a deep conditioning treatment. 

Noughty Detox Dynamo Clarifying Shampoo

Poo Free Clarifying Shampoo With Apple Cider Vinegar

Another tip is to apply conditioner to your dry hair before you get into the shower. Then wet, shampoo and condition as usual.

The conditioner will prevent your hair from absorbing large amounts of water at the beginning of your wash.

These steps will help to regulate the PH level of your hair if you live in a hard water area.

Baby Shampoo?

Like many other curly girls I have considered using baby shampoo on my hair. I found one that was sulphate-free and thought I was on to a winner. It must be gentle, surely? People use it on their babies.

Turns out the definition of ‘gentle’ is different depending on who you speak to.

Baby shampoos almost always have a PH level higher than 5.5. This is due to the ‘No Tears’ concept. The definition of ‘gentle’ in baby shampoo is gentle on the eyes. Important for the very small who dislike having their hair washed.

The PH level of the ingredients which allow them to be ‘no tears’ is too high to conduct what adults would consider to be a gentle wash.

The priority is different.

Adults would be well advised to stay away from baby shampoo for this reason.

In Conclusion

Our hair needs to remain in a balanced PH state. Too alkaline and we cause damage, too acidic and we cause damage.

It is up to us to take care of our PH levels by watching what we put on our hair and balancing out anything which we know is too alkaline and damaging.

It is important to remember that small adjustments to your routine can help. 

Being aware of the effect PH levels can have on your hair and scalp will help keep your hair healthy and balanced. 

Lauren xx