One of the key conversations to understanding hair health is centered around those two little letters we’ve heard so much about: pH. Let’s dive in.
What is pH?
A quick refresher to center you before we dive deeper: pH is a unit of measurement like meters, feet, or pounds. —specifically, it measures the amount of hydrogen (H+) ions in a solution or the “potential of Hydrogen.” We talk about the pH of substances by their acidity or alkalinity; more H+ results in LOW pH (acidic), while fewer H+ results in a HIGH pH (alkaline or basic). The range goes from 0-14 with 7 being the neutral mark. All things with a range above 7 are considered alkaline, all below are considered basic.
There are two important features of pH to understand: first, it is the measure of H+ ions in solution, which means it requires the presence of water to be measured in the first place. This means that anhydrous (or water-free) products like oils do not have a pH.
FUN FACT: oil cleansers that claim to be pH-balancing can’t be! The more ya know.
Second, the measurement of H+ ions is done on a logarithmic scale, which means that for every unit change of 1 on the scale (for example, from 5 to 6) translates to a TENFOLD increase or decrease. Move 2 units and the amount of H+ changes by 100, 3 units and H+ changes by 1,000, and so on. That’s the long way of saying minor changes in pH can alter a chemical environment dramatically! The pH of human blood must be kept within such a precise range that any shift outside of 7.35 – 7.45 becomes a serious medical condition.
How does it relate to my hair?
Your hair has its very own pH range which can play a significant role in hair’s overall health. Healthy hair has an optimal pH range of 4.5–5.5 and is a self-regulating environment, meaning without any outside factors introduced, your body has everything it needs to keep this ranges in check and prevent the growth of things like fungi and bacteria. Introducing something foreign or something not optimized with the same pH level as your natural range can throw the pH all out of whack. When the range is imbalanced (as can happen with many different factors that we’ll get into) hair becomes vulnerable.