Stating The "PH" Facts

Hair care industry booms despite questionable economy

I’m pretty self-conscious when it comes to my hair. And who isn’t? The existing myriad hair product lines, shampoo, deep conditioners and everything in between, are proof that hair care is a very important practice in the modern day regime. Hair products can be found anywhere from high scale salons to local drug stores.

To be honest, I am what is called a “product junkie.” I have so many hair products, I could open a salon. And even with the economy taking a backslide, I tend to find myself at Sally Beauty Supply or staring at the hair care aisle at Wal-Mart. And I am not alone.

According to an article on PRWeb, a report issued by the Global Industry Analysts suggests the hair care industry is due to reach $42.5 billion by 2010. And although consumer demand for conventional products is growing, there is also a growing demand for natural and salon-based products, such as aromatherapy oils, proteins and natural plant extracts.

To me, it looks as if consumers are not only spending bigger, but spending smarter.

Lately, there has been a boom across the Web of sites and blogs catering to the natural and organic industries. Hair care blogs and sites like Naturally Curly, MotownGirl and Mane & Chic as well as various hair care forums like Long Hair Community and Long Hair Care Forum, seem to have steadily grown in popularity. One could speculate that visitors have flocked to these sites in search of more information when it comes to their precious tresses.

Sites like these are jam-packed full of information. Trends like “co-washing,” or using conditioner to wash the hair, Ayurvedic remedies and wearing one’s natural hair texture are facts that can be found on just about any hair care site.

It can be said that this downpour of valuable information was triggered from a long drought of information about the various hair types and textures, as well as a need for consumers to be better represented in the hair care industry. Nowadays, practices like washing hair with shampoo every day—a common Westernized trend—is gradually becoming odd. (Good, because I was tired of washing my hair every day. Sheesh!)

With this positive shift in the industry comes an age of knowledge. Consumers are open to more options and some have even opened themselves to a more natural, organic means. Personally, I’ve found this route to be not only ideal, but cost-effective.

Back to “basics”; science, groceries and fabulous hair

Eggs, mayonnaise and vinegar may sound like an egg salad dish to some, but for those who know a thing or two about great hair care, the best hair products can be found at the grocery store. All it takes is a little knowledge of chemistry, most importantly, a keen understanding of pH.

Potential Hydrogen (pH), better yet, the pH scale, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is a measurement of the two extremes of chemcial compounds: acids and bases. The pH scale ranges from zero to 14, determining how acidic or basic a chemical compound is.

A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic, and a pH greater than 7 is basic. Each whole pH value below 7 is ten times more acidic than the next higher value. For example, a pH of 4 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 5 and 100 times (10 times 10) more acidic than a pH of 6. The same holds true for pH values above 7, each of which is ten times more alkaline—another way to say basic—than the next lower whole value. For example, a pH of 10 is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 9.

Pure water is neutral, with a pH of 7.0. When chemicals are mixed with water, the mixture can become either acidic or basic. Vinegar and lemon juice are acidic substances, while laundry detergents and ammonia are basic.

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

(Got it? Great. I promise you this has everything to do with hair care.)

Our hair as well as the products used also have a pH (as does most things). Hair has a pH of anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5, according to the Salon Web Web site. With that said, we now have to understand what pH does to the hair. Hair has cuticles that protect the hair shaft, and these cuticles react differently to acidic and basic compounds. Like scales, they open and close, and can be damaged and ripped away.

According to a Science NetLinks document, cuticles swell up when they come in contact with basic compounds (i.e., soap), while they shrink and harden when in contact with acidic compounds (i.e., vinegar, lemon juice). According to the activity, alkaline (basic) compounds were not ideal for washing the hair because the cuticles swell up and become rougher, and that detergent was better for use on hair.

However, according to the Chemical Land 21Web site, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) has a pH of 9-10, making it a basic compound on the pH scale. SLS is a well known detergent in contemporary shampoos and body washes. Companies like Herbal Essences and Pantene use Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in a variety of their shampoos.

Pop Quiz: What do most people do after shampooing?

Answer: They grab their conditioner bottle.
So, say, after using one’s favorite shampoo (more than likely with a SLS base), conditioner is next. Otherwise, the hair would be rough and dry. After all, the shampoo is a basic compound, right? Conditoner, in my opinion, was created to smooth the hair with fruit extracts and emollients, thus neutralizing the hair’s pH and pretty much fix what shampoo “basically” ruined (get it?). They make hair feel silky, smooth and look shiny and great, right?

However, conditoners tend to contain dimethicone, a silicone compound and very effective agent when it comes to sealing in moisture (from personal testimony). The win/lose situation when it comes to using dimethicone is that it is non-water soluble. According to an article on The Beauty Brains, dimethicone needs to be washed with shampoo. The article also states that co-washing (remember that trend I mentioned?) would not be enough to remove dimethicone, and would encourage buildup.

I’m sure consumers would more than likely reach for a SLS-based product to wash it out. Sure, dimethicone seals in moisture, but one would have to go back to the harsh means of washing the hair in order to remove it.

This is the start of what I call Chronic Dryness Syndrome (CDS). The hair is chronically dry because it is chronically washed with shampoo and then coated with products based with non-water soluble cones like dimethicone. No one is saying cones are bad. They do what they are designed to do—seal in moisture. However, if one truly wants to eliminate the dryness that occurs from the hair’s imbalanced pH level, one must stop using products that require basic compounds to wash off.

How to eliminate dry hair, forever

Well, maybe one can’t completely eliminate dry hair, especially in my case having naturally dry hair. But with better hair care practices, one can combat dryness.

Many people have what is called “porous” hair. It’s like a sponge; this type of hair absorbs ambient moisture just as easy as it loses it. When water comes in contact with it, it swells. But when the hair has been dry for a period of time, it becomes dry and brittle.

According to an Associated Content article by Audrey Sivasothy, all hair is naturally porous. The article states poor porosity refers to hair that is resistant to chemicals and “does not readily absorb moisture.” It can be said that the opposite of this is hair that easily processed by chemicals and readily absorbs moisture, as well as loses moisture.

The latter is what happens when a person washes their hair and applies all kinds of moisturizing products, yet the hair still feels dry at the end of the day. More moisturizing products are applied, inevitably causing product buildup. Then, come wash day, one must reach for the harsh, high pH shampoo again. Once again, the never ending cycle of porous, dry hair continues. The question is, how does one stop it?

Think about conventional skin care. Proactiv, Neutrogena and various other skin care companies have a system. This system usually consists of a cleanser, a toner and a moisturizer. The cleanser…well…cleanses, the toner balances the pH of the skin while closing pores and the moisturizer moisturizes (but of course!). And even home remedies, using witch hazel and regular soap do the same. Many skin care companies cater towards balancing the skin’s pH levels. One would think hair care would be the same.

So, applying the same methods one would typically use to care for skin, chronic dryness could be fixed.

Cleansing: For instance, removing the SLS, and opting for Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) (detergent compounds that have a lower pH of 5-6 on average) would effectively cleanse the hair without raising the hair’s natural pH to a basic level.

Toning: After washing the hair, one could apply either a conditioner that contained water-soluble cones. This would allow one to continue to use products without risking buildup or hair drying out. These water-soluble conditioners (particularly natural and organic ones) can be easily washed away without use of harsh, basic shampoos. Or one could use an acidic rinse. Tea and apple cider vinegar are acidic in nature and are well known as home remedies for clarifying the hair. These will smooth the cuticle that has been opened by basic compounds like SLS and can be diluted and applied to the hair and rinsed out (and rinse well when using vinegar or risk smelling really strong).

Moisturizing: Like conventional conditioners, many moisturizing leave-in conditioners tend to contain creamy emollients, as well as dimethicone and petrochemicals like mineral oil and petrolatum. These also must be removed with detergents like SLS. If one opted for a moisturizer that contained water-soluble cones and non-petrochemical oils (jojoba oil, for instance), SLS and other detergents can be avoided.

And, of course to beat the cycle, one can just kick the shampoo to the curb. Castile soap and other organic shampoos are much milder and keep the hair at it’s natural pH. This ultimately could nip things in the bud by keeping the hair’s pH regular from the jump. ♠

Tinea M. Payne, is a Senior Print and Web journalism major. She is editor of her own opinion blog, Black Aviators where she dishes her opinions on politics, society, and her journalism/editorial career. She will be a regular feature on UrbanCurlz and I am looking forward to her informative articles.
3 Responses:

Thanks for this insightful post!

I appreciate your opinions. I will look forward to reading more of Tinea. Thanks Urbancurlz for keeping us informed.

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