And the truth is, excessive use any of these products, while temporarily delivering that look or feel you were going, can have long-term negative impacts on hair health. We’re not trying to use scare tactics here, all product is not bad, we just like to think a less-is-more approach really is more.
Here’s the thing: your scalp is its own environment, so is your hair—and these environments have optimal levels they need to stay at in order to keep regulating and staying healthy. This is where pH comes into the conversation. Your hair environment has an optimal range of 4.5 – 5.5 for pH balance. Your scalp has a slightly different range, around 4.8-5.5 for equilibrium.
the pH problem
Ok great, your body is already moving and shaking and regulating itself to keep those levels in check. But what you might not realize is that every product also has its own pH level. So, your shampoo has one range, your anti-frizz serum another, and so on. Now let’s think about just one routine and how many products are used back-to-back. That’s a lot of different ranges for your hair to take in at one time, and definitely doesn’t average out to that ideal range.
FUN FACT: pH that is too high actually lowers the temperature at which your hair proteins denature. This means applying products with a pH of 6+ can actually make your hair more susceptible to heat damage with styling tools! Yikes.
Hair is sensitive to changes in acidity and alkalinity (pH values) so when the environment is outside the ideal range, the cuticle scales open (the outer layer of hair) and the hair fibers swell. This makes hair susceptible to friction and frizz, lowering its strength and resistance.
Excessive product added to the hair can actually challenge the overall health of your strands over time, lowering its strength, and making it more susceptible to damage or breakage.
This is where the vicious cycle starts. Using lots of heavy conditioners and oils on hair will shorten the time between shampoos because your hair will get oily and weighed down until you cleanse again. But many cleansers are not optimized with the right pH or are formulated to be non-stripping which impact the microbiome of your scalp and hair follicles, and more time in the shower can lead to hygral fatigue. A fancy way of saying you cleanse (or over-cleanse) and your hair is left feeling dry. So, what do you do to mitigate this feeling? You add in conditioners, leave-ins, oils… and the cycle starts over again.
Everything you add to your hair makes it needier, requiring more attention and product, causing more unnecessary stress to strands and so on. The reality is that hair wasn’t made to have product sitting on top of it. Hair looking good does not necessarily translate into hair feeling good—or being healthy.
the healthy hair convo
Think about it this way: if you have a breakout, you might use a ton of product to cover it up—primer, concealer, foundation; cake it on, baby. This helps the appearance at the time but may result in more breakouts later. The better route for your skin would be to use a skin healing treatment—maybe some AHA or anti-inflammatory active serum and a light concealer, or maybe a hybrid treatment-concealer or cc cream. The occasional use of foundation and blush won’t on its own wreck your skin, but you’re better off maximizing your skin health consistently than packing on the product only in crisis!
Healthy hair is the key to breaking this cycle. And we mean health all the way down to the molecular level. By increasing the health of hair itself, you need less product. Less product causes less damage. Less damage = need for less product + styling.
P.S. Watch out for pH ranges on products (we’ll dive deeper in an upcoming Science Sunday).