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*Originally published on July 30, 2010*
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the pH of various products and how they affect the cuticle.

We all know that the pH of relaxers is very high (frequently above 10) and can actually have a disintegrating effect on the hair. But what about other products like baking soda (8), apple cider vinegar (5 to 7) and aloe vera juice (about 3.4)?

The Natural Haven addressed this topic in a recent article. To give some reference: the pH of water is 7. Anything above 7 is alkaline, below it is acidic. The lower the number the more acidic it is, the higher the number the more alkaline it is. The pH of hair ranges from as low as 3 to as high as 6.7-6.8.

So…………pH is the topic du jour! Specifically the alkaline pH that you can find with shampoo alternatives such as castile soap, shampoo bars or baking soda.

Q1: Does pH raise or close cuticles?

There are two authoritative studies on this with pretty similar results. There is very little change to hair structure between the pH ranges of 4 to 9. Hair protein resists changes due to acid or base. Tests were performed using hydrochloric acid (powerful acid) and sodium hydroxide (a strong base).

1. Hair does not absorb noticeable amounts of acid or base between pH 4-10 ( J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 393-405, 1981)
2. The cuticle separation distance is within the same range between pH 4 -9 (J Invest Dermatol 105: pp96-99, 1995)

Q2: Do the cuticles not open at high pH?

I insist on using correct terminology. The cuticle is not a door that can open and close. It is a protein whose structure can be affected causing it to lift. Yes the cuticle does lift around a pH of 10.

Q3: Are you really saying that hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide really do not affect hair?

In the range of pH 4 to 9 yes, there is not much change to hair. In fact soaking hair in water (yep plain ole water) for a long time (circa 10 minutes is long) actually yields greater change to the step height (see above) than acid or base.

Q4: What happens outside the pH 4 to 9 range?

At both low and high pH there appear to be structural changes to hair causing it to become more dense. This is thought to be a result of the acid or base changing the protein.Very high pH can actually dissolve hair.

And since we’re on the topic of pH, I wanted to share some information I found via LongHairCareForum.com. Now to give some perspective, alot of this information is dated (1999), so I don’t know if these pH levels still maintain, but it still gives pretty sobering insight.

The information gathered came from September 1999 edition of Consumer Reports and is not reported in any particular order. Its corresponding pH balance follows the product name/description.

1. TCB Bone Strait No-Lye Relaxer contains lithium hydroxide: 12.8
2. Revlon Realistic Extra Conditioning Crème Relaxer System contains sodium hydroxide: 13.2
3. Gentle Treatment No-lye Conditioning Crème Relaxer contains lithium hydroxide, guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.0
4. Soft and Beautiful No-lye Conditioning Relaxer Regular contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.1
5. Curl Free Natural Curl Relaxer contains ammonium bisulfite: 7.6
6. Dark & Lovely No-lye Conditioning Relaxer System contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.0
7. Revlon Crème of Nature No-lye Crème Relaxer System contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.1
8. African Pride Miracle Deep Conditioning No-lye Relaxer System contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.3
9. Soft Sheen Alternatives No-lye Relaxer System contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.3
10. Optimum Care No-Lye Relaxer guanidine contains guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide: 13.2
11. Rusk Radical Anti-curl Original Formula 1 contains Ammonium thioglycolate: 9.1
12. Revlon Realistic Crème Relaxer System 1 contains sodium hydroxide: 13.3

The following relaxer pHs were taken from, “Don’t Go Shopping for Hair Care Products Without Me” by Paula Begoun.

13. At One with Nature Botanical Strongends Sensitive Scalp Relaxer, Regular w/ Herbs and Moisturizers: 14
14. Dark & Lovely Beautiful Beginnings No-mistake No-lye Children’s Relaxer System Regular: 13
15. Dark & Lovely Plus Ultra-Deep Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System: 12
16. Luster’s Pink Conditioning Super No-lye Crème Relaxer: 14
17. Raveen No-Lye Conditioning Crème Relaxer with Multiple Conditioners: 14
18. Revlon Crème of Nature No-Lye Crème Relaxer System: 13
19. Revlon Fabulaxer Multiple Conditioning No-lye Relaxer Kit: 13
20. Soft & Beautiful Just for Me No-Lye Conditioning Crème Relaxer, Children’s Formula: 14
21. Soft & Beautiful Super No-lye Conditioning
Relaxer: 14
22. TCB Naturals No-Lye Relaxer, Regular with Olive Oil, Aloe and Henna: 14

The manufacturers provided the following relaxer pH’s:

23. Dark & Lovely Beautiful Beginnings Relaxer for Fine Hair: 10.25
24. Phytospecific Index 1 Relaxer for Fine Hair: 9-12
25. Phytospecific Index 2 Relaxer for Coarse Hair: 9-12
26. Lady Velvet Lye Relaxer: 10-13

Ladies, do you factor pH into your haircare?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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38 Comments on "PH and the Cuticle"

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Excellent issues altogether, you simply won a new reader. What might you suggest about your publish that you made a few days in the past? Any positive?

Thembi

Did it ever occur to anyone that; everyone has a different biological and /or genetic make up which may or may it determine what our hair can handle or what It likes??? :))

Susanna Kvoeschen

HEY!Whats wrong with a little coo talk,you think its not going through the minds of people in the military after watching the rape of their country coupled with the lack of respect they get from Washington for all their hard work? pandora bracelet

pk

THIS all makes plenty sense. I realized my personal aloe mix (curl/coil Sculpter) made my hair less bushy and frizzy but even watching kimmytube or learning about ph. I like to think im a mini scientists even wearing my hair natural. As long as ur ingredients aren’t extremely basic r acidic ur good.

zaksmama

It’s possible that cuticle changes aren’t the whole story when it comes to hair and pH. The cuticle itself may not have lifted, but there’s more to hair texture and manageability than the position of the cuticle.

E

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Real RBN

I’m shocked at the ph for “kiddy” perms.

Mx

+1!!
I am traumatized by those numbers.

Natalie
I used to pH test all my products after reading about and watching the KimmayTube videos. I believe pH balance had a positive effect on my hair. I don’t need to test the pH of products anymore because I have found the products my hair likes and all of them are pH balanced. I use ACV and black tea as a final rinse and it does make my hair smoother. Not everyone’s hair is the same, most naturals rave about coconut oil but I can only use if it is mixed with another oil. I think it is important to… Read more »
Jami

The Natural Haven says: “In fact soaking hair in water (yep plain ole water) for a long time (circa 10 minutes is long) actually yields greater change to the step height (see above) than acid or base.”

If this is true, then does 20-minute deep conditioning treatments do damage to the hair, do frequent spritzes of water throughout the day do damage, and does wearing a plastic cap all day under a winter hat do damage to hair that has some kinda conditioner slathered all over it (if water is one of the first five ingredients)?

Carlie
This article was published in 2010. Have you guys seen kimmaytube’s most recent video on how she controls her hair with pH? She shows how taking her hair from acidic (pH 4-5) to neutral (pH 7) dramatically changes the appearance of her hair from smooth to bushy. I’m pretty sure that if the scientists’ from whom the research this article is based on saw that video they may have to rethink some things. Science is not infallible, that why its science and the way kimmaytube conducts her videos they can be taken as scientific research, just with a very small… Read more »
JJ
What I’d like to know is what type of hair were these studies done on. It is observable that some hair is weaker than other hair and could respond dramatically differently from other hair to the same chemicals. My hair feels amazing after using ACV, which as this article says is at a PH of 5 to 7, while aloe vera juice does make a difference but not as dramatic as ACV. And no I am not saying it does anything to the cuticle, because I don’t know that it does, but it makes my hair smoother and shinier (which… Read more »
Amayou

I like the idea of having a good PH balance with my hair products, I love Kimmaytubes leav-in recipe. But ultimately you have to have to see what works for YOUR hair.

June

At the end of the day that is all there is to it. If people believe ph testing worked for them, why get worked up about it?

ashley

@Nicole

Why not just use a porosity control product, like Roux, or Joico? Those would have done the same thing. Heck, I saw a porosity control from Revlon the other day for 8 bucks for a pretty good sized bottle.

*******
Good job JC, I’ve notice she’s addressing this more on her blog a few more times. Seems like there are some sad people out there that just won’t let this proof be great. #sad.

June

Isn’t aloe vera juice cheaper? Why use Roux or Joico when you can buy a large bottle of aloe vera juice for $3?!

B

Oops, I meant to say @Anna.

Sorry.

B

@Deborah

It not only staring them in the face it’s staring them in the face NAKED!

Nicole
Apparently people are really passionate about pH. Just because there are good products that lean towards the alkaline end of the spectrum doesn’t mean they don’t have other beneficial qualities or that you have to stop using them. Obviously relaxers are very alkaline, which may be a contributing factor to why they’re so damaging for most hair; but just because water usually has a pH around 7 and hair around 5 doesn’t mean you stop using water. That being said, I’ve been adding aloe vera juice to my leave-ins (Knot Today or Giovanni Direct)and actually noticed a big difference in… Read more »
Ruth

I normally don’t write a second comment on these kind of things because over the past year and a half, I’ve realized that naturals love,love,love to argue but the NaturalHaven bases her “facts” on the opinions of certain scientist, just like Kimmaytube has based her “facts” on an opinion that has been generated through a scientific observation using actual PH strips. If I were to do make a guess, do an experiment, observe, and record my results- that too could be called science. Science is never pure fact.

Annie L.

+1

Why is everyone getting so worked up over 2 opposing series of experiments which, predictably, yielded results supporting their original hypotheses?

Deborah

Thank you for the article, this proof that there is no substance behind this theory. It’s just that, a theory, and a wrong one at that.

Sadly, there are people that just don’t get it. They don’t want to. They never planned to. They will continue to blind themselves to truth and fact. I don’t know what’s more sad, that fact that Kimmay’s theory has been disproven by a SCIENTIST, or the fact that everyone is IGNORING the fact that it’s been disproven by a SCIENTIST. :ponders:

Anon

Thank you for putting up evidence against the falsehoods of certain people. The whole ph balance garbage makes no sense, it never did. Bronner Brother Castile Soap is similar to a relaxer? No sweetie, it’s not. I believe her exact words were “dangerous.” So much for not slandering products that don’t work for you…

Anna

I find it so sad that there are still people believing this “science” when they have counter EVIDENCE staring them in. The. Face. Unbelievable. SMH

Jarquisha Hollings

I’m am so excited to see that the message about pH and hair is getting out to more readers! I actually have a published article about the subject in the July 2010 issue of The Coil Review at http://www.thecoilreview.com/tcr-final/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=516:ph-balance-feng-shui-for-your-hair&catid=4:the-pieces

Ruth
I agree with the above statements. This is interesting because I watched the Kimmaytube on Youtube series lastnight and learned a lot. It makes lot of sense that PH affects our hair. I learned from Kimmaytube that water has a PH of 7, which means that even though we always say water, water, water this can cause our cuticles to be lifted so after we rinse our hair we should use something that brings the Ph of our hair back to what it is suppose to be, which is a 4.5-5.5 in order to close the cuticle again. Aloe Vera… Read more »
Fridah

See, all the hype about PH balance? It’s not even correct. But watch, more people will defend this no matter how wrong this PH balanced theory is. Isn’t that sad? this is why I go to the Natural Haven.

Like I’m really going to give up a great product if it isn’t PH balance. lol.

Yoshi3329

I knew the PH balance thing was a complete joke from the start. I glad that JC put an end to the idiocy that PH can seriously disturb the cuticle. Unlike what other pseudo-scientists believe.

JJ

But what do you say to those of us that have found that PH does make a difference to our hair? The results are there, does that mean that because we don’t have a PHD we are just believing things (as you put it)? As a scientist myself (of another kind) I know to be critical of other scientists, especially when there is opposing evidence.

Couronne de Coton

For me the pH is very important. Because I use the products that I create, I acidify them and my hair respond better than ever…

jadedpoet

I myself personally found the little curlies that kept breaking off during my 4 1/2 years of being fabulously nap-tural LOL, have really decreased. My ends are smoother and my daughter’s hair is really starting to grow IMO. It could be that using aloe vera as an added ingredient now is the key because it really seems to strengthen our hair and curb the breakage. 🙂

Robin
Kimmaytube has a wonderful 4 part series on this topic of pH and hair. She firmly believes that maintaining your hair within its natural pH range is key to preserving your strands. Her results over the past few months with her own hair have been astounding.I have taken heed to her advice and ever since I’ve been closely monitoring the pH of my products (which thankfully are all in the correct pH range of 4.0-6.0) and how I use them, my hair has been predictable in how it feels and behaves…as Kimmaytube says it will be. My hair is smoother… Read more »
Nubia

she also has test strips and all the prep work you will need if you want to follow this regime. I do not follow it, but I do use ACV rinses to close my cuticles after my wash routines.

Morag

Do you rinse our the ACV after using it as a rinse? It’s confusing to me.

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Norrell

the ph levels in perms isn’t surprising at all. How else could the product physically change hair texture without having a high ph level to do it. How does the hair look overall when the cuticle is raised versus closed?

Ivy

@ shayna, it may be possible. according to Kim on Kimmaytube (see Youtube), her highly popular leave-in mix is supposed to correct the “bushy ends” issue.

I personally haven’t taken full advantage of the mix but I did start spraying my hair with a mix of aloe vera juice and distilled water (aloe vera juice is more acidic than hair and thus might aid in “closing cuticles”). Anyway, I don’t have nearly as many bushy ends and I twist every night to prepare for my twist outs. I also seal my ends with shea butter.

shayna

I been natural for a year n a half, and I might look into it, because I think my cuticles are raised. The ends of my hair look like a bushy tail, but aren’t split. When I was relaxed my stylist convinced me that that mean I should trim them. O_O have a feeling she was wrong. Maybe that why my hair never left my shoulders.

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