The pH of hair

Hello all, 

I know it's been a while since I've written so I decided I would get to actually writing something worth reading. Something that I think is important to understand when dealing with the hair is the actual science behind it, it's composition and what you're putting on your hair.  To start off, we'll begin with a brief explanation of hair structure: 

Hair is composed mainly of keratin, the same stuff you're nails are made out of, and has three basic parts: the medulla, the cortex and the cuticle. Your hair has a shaft, which is the part that projects out of the scalp or body, and the root is the part of the hair that is embedded within your skin.  When your hair is visible, it is already dead, you do not have "live" hair if you will, sticking out of your legs and head and face.  The cuticle is the shiny outside part that everyone sees and says "Oooo shiny hair!" or "yikes you need a haircut"  the cuticle is the main part of the hair that you can affect directly and immediately.  By that I mean, the cuticle is what is first altered by bleaches, or hair masques, or shampoo, etc. etc.  If you want to affect your hair's healthy from the inside out, that's when vitamins and water and healthy eating habits are useful.  They do affect the cuticle as well, but not on the immediate basis that other products affect. I'm not going to go into the medulla and the cortex because the cuticle is what I focus on mainly anyway. 

Hair needs to be pH balanced; it's neutral, meaning it has the same amount of acids and alkalis, which balance each other out.  I know it sounds weird to say that your hair needs to have acid, but interestingly enough, it's the acid in apple cider vinegar and lemon juice that makes your hair so healthy.  We'll get into that in a moment. 

Have you ever looked at the ingredients in your shampoo or conditioner?  You'll notice that Ceytl alcohol is often an ingredient, which is an vegetable (can be) derived acid that is meant to help keep you hair balanced.  You'll also notice, if you're familiar with the pH balances of other items a lot of alkaline materials in your shampoo, such as SLS.

So what happened when you expose your hair to alkaline or acidic products?  Well, when you wash your hair with shampoo, usually it feels a bit dry and rough, yes?  That's because the SLS or whatever alkaline based shampoo product you use actually opens the hair cuticle.  Now with soap based products, such as shampoo bars or SLS free shampoo, this helps your hair release the dirt buildup and rinse away with the soap product.  With SLS, because it is a detergent it will still open your hair cuticle due to its alkalinity, but it will actually rid your hair of the dirt instead of just releasing it.  Most shampoos that are SLS free will have more cleansing ingredients.  SLS doesn't need that because of its detergent properties.  

So now that you have put an alkaline product on your head and you have open hair cuticle, what next?  That's where the acid comes in.  When you apply a commercial conditioner, more often than not they use the cetyl alcohol as an acid base and when your hair is exposed to that acid, it closes up and creates that smooth and shiny surface. The first image shown is hair with closed cuticles, the second image is hair with open cuticles. 


So now that we have a very, very, very basic idea of why hair needs both alkaline and acidic products, this helps me to understand just exactly what my hair is missing and what it needs.  If I notice my hair is tangling a lot and looks dull, chances are rinsing a little bit of diluted acid based something or other through my hair will help it.  If my hair isn't getting clean or I'm finding a lot of buildup, I can probably use baking soda - an alkaline - to open up my hair cuticle and help release that buildup of product. 

If you want to know more about commonly used "hair" items and their pH balance please refer to this site.  Ida has compiled excellent information on pH balance.

Now that we know a little bit about pH and how it affects our hair, what about other issues we see like breakage, or hair loss?  You can administer several tests to help you understand your hair and it's needs a little better. 

1. take a strand of hair from your head and place it in a bowl of water.  If it sinks that means that there are "holes" or damaged ends in your hair and it's taking on water.  If it floats it means that your hair cuticle is intact.  
2. Gently pull on a single strand of your hair.  If it breaks immediately then you are in need of moisture.  Start running coconut oil through your hair the night before your wash it.  Adjust the amount of oil needed depending on the length on your hair.  If your hair strand stretches a lot and then when it breaks it curls up on itself that means your hair is lacking protein and is weaker than most.  An easy fix for this is to take a raw egg, mix it up with some honey and rub that through your hair and leave on for two hours.  Wash out like normal.  The protein in the honey and egg will help fortify your hair in it's weak condition, but the honey will also balance out the protein of the egg and leave your hair soft.  Do not apply egg to your hair too often as the protein if over applied can leave your hair feeling brittle.  
3. If you wash your hair and your ends dry within an hour then chances are they are thirsty and you should apply oil or mayo to them before you wash.  
4. Are your nails brittle and cracking and your skin dry?  Chances are you have a deficiency in some way and need to start eating differently or drinking more water.  The first signs of unhealth comes from your hair, skin and nails.

Please keep in the mind, the above tests are simple ways to evaluate your and each person's head of hair is different.  If a person has really fine hair then their hair will dry faster than someone who had a lion somewhere in their ancient heritage.  

When making hair masques to aid your hair's health it is also good to keep in mind what makes a great masques.  Typically when I make mine, I have a 75/20/5 balance.  75% moisture 20%protein 5%acid.  This is a great generic formula, but always feel free to change it up depending on what you feel your hair needs. If it needs a ton of moisture, than skip the protein and add more oil, that type of thing.  

Here is a list of ingredients to help you start working towards making your own hair masque recipes: 

Oil - coconut, vegetable, olive, argon 
Mayo - I only use the kind that's made with olive oil, but you can use the generic as well.  DON'T USE MIRACLE WHIP!! As yummy as it is on your sandwiches, the extra sugar isn't good for the locks. 
Honey - Honey is a humectant and will attract moisture, but please keep in mind that you need to rinse it all out because your hair will be sticky if you don't and it is also a natural peroxide, so over time and extended use it will lighten your hair 

Mayo - I put mayo in here too because it technically has the protein in it, but I still prefer to keep it in the moisture group 
Avocado - same story with the avocado 

Acids, from least to most acidic
Lemon Juice 

Please keep in mind that this is a very basic list, but an excellent way to get started.  If you have darker hair and want to keep your hair darker, I would recommend using the coffee.  You can also use green tea, but I haven't tried this method.  

I know that sometimes our bodies just don't do what we want, regardless of whether or not we're putting the right stuff in them.  Things happen; sickness, stress, pregnancy, it can all affect you regardless of how well you're taking care of yourself.  Making yourself a homemade hair masque can not only be good for your physically, but sitting back for a while and just giving yourself a coconut oil head massage or sitting down and watching a chick flick while letting egg protein soak into your hair can be a great health benefit for you emotionally and mentally which will in turn help your hair to be at its best. 

I hope this was useful and not all just redundant information, and if you have questions feel free to ask!   

*I also want to take this moment to share two blogs with you.  The first is by a woman who has been struggling with health problems that have been affecting her hair's for a long time.  She has pushed through it with tons of grace and happy attitude and I love reading about her life and how now she is finally able to work on getting her body as healthy as possible:  Long Haired at Heart

The second blog is one that I found a few months ago and aside from the amazing hairstyles, this gal has experimented a lot with different hair treatments and masques. It's so awesome to see someone with beautiful healthy curly hair that is taking care of it all the way down.  Definitely check her out: Sarah's Place for Long Hair

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