What is the pH of Hair and Scalp?
It can sometimes feel like everyone is talking about pH levels and pH balanced products, making you paranoid that you need to know this as well. And when the talk shifts to scalp pH and dandruff, it can make you sit even more upright in your chair.
What is pH?
The pH scale is a measure of the hydrogen-ion concentration. It basically tells you if something is acidic or alkaline, with the scale going from 0 to 14. Water is considered neutral and has a pH value of 7. Anything below 7 is considered acidic and anything above 7 is considered alkaline or basic. For example, bleach is supposed to be alkaline with a pH value between 11 and 13. Lemon and Vinegar on the other hand have an acidic pH value of 2.
A litmus paper is used to tell if a liquid or material is acidic or alkaline. You might have seen these in your school labs. A blue litmus paper will turn red if it’s acidic, and a red litmus paper will turn blue if it’s alkaline. If it’s neutral, the colour will remain the same.
What is the pH of scalp and pH of hair?
The human skin is a fascinating ecosystem that works in different ways to protect you. In general, the pH levels on the surface of your body are on the acidic side – below 7. The hair pH value is 3.67, which is highly acidic. The scalp pH level is slightly higher at 5.5.
The hair strand requires a slightly acidic level, as it allows the cuticle layer to contract. If the hair strand is too alkaline, it forces your hair cuticle to open up. This allows any moisture to escape and causes frizzy hair. That’s why if you have curly hair, your cuticle is generally open, and you might require a slightly acidic product to close it up.
Sebum and pH of scalp
One of the biggest contributors to this acidic nature is the sebum that is produced on your scalp. Your body is covered in sebaceous glands that secrete oil or sebum, which is a vital cog in protecting your skin and hair. It is slightly acidic, having a pH value of 4.5 to 6. Along with the sweat, it forms the acid mantle of your skin.
This acid mantle exists to prevent any harmful pathogens from attacking your skin. It can keep bacteria, viruses and microbes at bay. It also coats the hair and skin, blocking any moisture loss. Additionally, this acidic nature contributes to the cuticle closing up. But this acid mantle can be disrupted by products, pollutants, and exposure to the elements.
It becomes that much more important to maintain the sebum levels of your scalp and hair, as a sudden change in the pH levels can lead to issues like dry scalp, dandruff, inflammation, etc.
What is dandruff?
Before we move deeper into pH levels, it’s important to understand the cause of dandruff. This hair and scalp ailment is caused by overactive oil glands and a naturally occurring fungus known as Malassezia Globosa .
Sometimes the oil glands on your scalp can get triggered into producing excessive amounts of sebum, which is food for the fungus. This fungus breaks down the oil into oleic acid, which half of the world is sensitive towards. If your body reacts to this oleic acid, it can lead to dandruff in the form of severe itching, redness and flaking of dead skin cells. That is why people hunt for a shampoo for oily scalp.
Scalp pH and dandruff are invariably linked because of the effect it has on oil secretions.
pH disruption on hair
Some might start thinking that since the pH level of your scalp is acidic, you should just use products that are acidic. But there is a reason why products are called pH ‘balanced’. It’s about finding the right balance, not going to either extreme.
- Alkaline products – Using alkaline products on your hair opens up the cuticle layer of the hair strand and makes the hair porous. This increases friction between the hair fibres and causes cuticle damage. It eventually leads to frizzy hair and fibre breakage.
This is generally used in hair colouring, as the alkaline substances soften the cuticle and open it up, allowing the colouring pigments to be deposited within. But this is also accompanied by other chemicals which close up the cuticle layer, to keep the colour inside.
- Acidic products – Although using products that have acidic pH values is better than alkaline, it doesn’t imply that we use extremely acidic substances. Lowering your hair pH levels too low can cause your cuticle to contract and close up. This can potentially change the texture of your hair and even cause damage to the strands. Constant swelling and de-swelling of the hair can even lead to Hygral fatigue, which can cause brittle and weak hair.
pH disruption on scalp
Since the pH level of your scalp is slightly closer to neutral, it is affected in a different manner as compared to the hair.
- Alkaline products – The biggest impact this has on your scalp is the breaking of your acid mantle and drying up of the scalp. Alkaline products like baking soda are often used as a method on how to remove dandruff, because it can get rid of the oil. But this removes the protective sebum layer, allowing for microbes and germs to attack the skin.
An alkaline scalp also has unintended consequences. By drying out your scalp, it sends a message to the body to produce even more oil as compensation. This excess oil can build up on the scalp and end up aggravating your dandruff.
- Acidic products – Acidic products have a larger impact on the scalp as compared to the clean hair. If your scalp pH levels become too acidic, there is a chance of inflammation occurring. It can lead to redness, acne, increase in greasiness, irritated skin, sensitivity, and breakouts of itching.
What should you do?
You must remember that every single manufacturer in the world keeps an eye on the pH levels of their product. They build their product because they know what your scalp might need. Trying to keep a track of every pH value can become complicated and an overload of information.
If you feel that your pH levels have been disrupted, you can always try home remedies like Apple Cider Vinegar or Lemon juice. Both of these are acidic in nature and can help restore the pH of scalp and hair. These can work on your dandruff and control oil levels. But be careful with the quantities and always dilute them.
For dandruff, you’re better off using a shampoo like the Head and Shoulders Neem , which is clinically proven to give you up to 100% dandruff protection. And when it comes to your pH levels - be informed and use a good scalp shampoo to keep all your troubles away.