Is Baking Soda Too Harsh for Natural Hair?

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By Jc of The Natural Haven

This post comes courtesy of a reader’s question. Baking soda  was for a time a popular alternative to conventional shampoos but the tide began to turn as naturals began to seek out low pH products. There are two sides to the baking soda story and here are the facts for you to weigh out

1. Irritation

Pro:  Shampoos contain surfactants which remove oil from skin and hair and cause irritation. For example a clarifying shampoo rich in SLS can be very irritating even within the ideal pH range of 4-7. Although pure baking soda has a higher pH, it may not be as irritating as it is not cleaning by removing oil. Soap and shampoo bars also have an alkaline pH and some naturals will find them gentler than shampoos.

Anti:  There is a relationship between high pH and skin irritation. Although some shampoos can be irritating, switching to a different one may be a solution. Baking soda at pH 10 is likely to irritate skin in some individuals because of the pH.

2. Hair damage

Pro:  Skin and hair only changes mildly when exposed to alkaline soap or baking soda. It will also normally recover back to normal unaided quite quickly within 45 minutes to 3 hours (British Journal of Dermatology, Volume 76, Issue 3, pp 122-125, 1949). Although shampoo is within the pH range of 4-7, it does contain negative charges from surfactants which may lift the cuticle. Whether you choose to use shampoo or baking soda,  a hair conditioner is useful to correct this potential damage.

Anti: Outside the pH 4-9 range hair can experience structural changes (for examples cuticle lifting externally and some changes to the inner fibre) (J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 393-405, 1981). Although no study specifically shows that this happens when baking soda is used, it is a possible outcome.

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19 thoughts on “Is Baking Soda Too Harsh for Natural Hair?

    • I too used to do this with success (baking soda rinse followed by ACV rinse). I was also a big user of (diluted) Dr. Bronner’s for years. However, lately, and largely by accident, I’ve found that using products that are close to hair’s natural pH seem to be making a difference.

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  1. Not for me. I love baking soda, it’s makes my hair soft, shiny, and gorgeous. I get a deep conditioner, regular conditioner, 2 tblspns of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, two tblsns of honey, two- three tbspns of baking soda, run it all through my hair, let it set for 2 hours and my hair is just amazing. ;)

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    • I am going to try this, I added baking soda to my shampoo to remove excess color my hair soaked up last night and my hair is SHINY AND SOFT!!!! Ok! I used to look at other people’s natural hair like what are they using, how come my hair is always so frizzy and dull. No more honey. Add the above, which I will NOT be shampooing on a regular I’ll just b.s. it, to my Curly Twists conditioner and BOOM! I am set.

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  2. Many of my natural friends are opposed to using baking soda but I’ve found that nothing else takes away the buildup from my hair. I’ve tried ACV and all kinds of shampoos and nothing cleans better than baking soda. One thing to note though is that I get buildup on my scalp very easily. It is a lot less now since I started using all natural organic products but if I don’t wash my hair for two weeks and only only use conditioner to cowash, I end up with an itchy scalp and a lot of build up that takes up to 1-2 hours to get out using shampoo and ACV. I don’t use baking soda often, I only use it when I haven’t washed my hair in a while and I need something quick, easy, and cost effective to clean my hair. I make sure to never leave baking soda in my hair for more than 5 seconds and then rinse it out and quickly to apply conditioner. Anything more than a few seconds can turn drastic. To avoid using baking soda I try to shampoo my hair on a weekly basis, followed by conditioner and deep condition it bimonthly. I haven’t had to use baking soda in a while and I would advise caution when applying to hair. My friend tried it one time and said it was too harsh. I guess it just depends on your hair and how it would react.

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  3. I used to use castile soap but now I use Shea Moistures African Black Soap Purification Masque as a hair wash. It removes buildup without stripping my hair. Plus My scalp feels clean all week.

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  4. During my first year of being natural, I used baking soda all the time. With the pH craze that has taken over the natural scene, I immediately speed using the alkaline baking soda. It’s nice to know that baking soda has its exceptions and its effectiveness ultimately depends on the head of hair. Great insight!

    peace & love,
    Angel Renee’
    http://www.DelightfullySwank.blogspot.com

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  5. I use a mix of 1 part Baking Soda, 1 part water, 1 part Conditioner and 1 part Olive oil as a deep conditioner twice a month. I have thick coarse hair so i leave it on for about an hour or so and it does wonders for my hair!!:))) I also add a couple of drops of lavender to mask the odd smell:))

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  6. Pingback: 5 Great Shampoo Substitutes | Black Girl with Long Hair

  7. Thank you for saying how long it took for the hair to return to normal after being exposed to alkaline products. I often wondered if it was neccesary to close the cuticle back with something acidic after raising it. I’m low porosity and have just discovered that adding a pinch of baking soda to products has done WONDERS for my hair. Like my hair literally hangs longer because its FINALLY properly moisturized! I raised the ph of my conditioner to co-wash and of my leave in with baking soda and I am in love with my hair again! :)

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  8. I use baking soda almost every wash (when i’m not using an oil treatment).

    I use baking soda in it’s natural form, as a solid. i gently scrub it to the scalp and let it be for 5-10 mins. To balance the pH i use vinegar. I use a solution of vinegar + water after washing off the baking soda. AS the final wash i squirt about a 1/4 of a lemon to 300 ml of water. Since i’m currently living in Middle east i use drinking water to wash my hair ( the water here is horrible – it’s desalinated water)

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  9. Thank you for the post. I recently(yesterday) made a hair mask with Olive Oil and Honey. I don’t seem to get the oiliness out of my hair. So I am wondering when using coconut/olive oil as a conditioner, is there a secret to it?

    I have now tried BS and WV(white vinegar) rinse for the first time.. It didn’t remove the oil from my hair. But.. My hair is really soft and manageable though. I just hate the smell of the Vinegar, how big of a difference will essential oil make to the smell? Is there a natural alternative to the Vinegar?

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  10. AdeleR,
    Half a lemon as a replacement for a tablespoon of vinegar is a very feasible option. It conditions and softens, as well as the bonus of the lemon’s innate oils nourishing your hair.
    Cheers!

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