Did you know that water and air are simply chemical compositions?
Those probably aren’t the first two chemicals that you think of when someone mentions the word chemical.
Chemicals don’t have to dangerous or harmful. Your entire body is composed of many chemicals and the majority of the chemicals that you encounter on a daily basis are perfectly safe.
One of the least understood chemical properties within the natural hair community is potential hydrogen (pH). Even though pH balancing is often times mentioned when people are looking for new hair care products, it’s rarely well understood within the natural hair community.
Let’s begin by talking about the abbreviation for Potential Hydrogen (pH).
The term pH represents the quantity of hydrogen ions, where p represents the quantity and H stands for hydrogen ion.
An ion is a molecule or an atom that carries an electrical charge. When a molecule or atom separate into positive or negative ions the process is called ionization.
An ion that carries a negative electrical charge is called an anion. On the other hand, an ion that carries a positive electrical charge is called a cation. The pH scale is simply a measurement of these ions.
Your hair products must contain water in order for them to have a pH.
Let’s use water (H20) as an example to more fully understand potential hydrogen (pH). In H20, some of the molecules will naturally ionize into hydrogen ions (H+ acidic) and hydroxide ions (OH- alkaline).
The more hydrogen ions that a hair product has, the more acidic the product will be. Conversely, the more hydroxide ions that a hair product has, the more alkaline the product will be.
Distilled water (pure water), which is neutral on the pH scale, has a pH of 7. This means that distilled water has an equal balance of 50 percent hydrogen ions (acidic) and 50 percent hydroxide ions (alkaline). As the percentage of acidity increases in a product, the percentage of alkalinity decreases. The reverse is also true. As the percentage of alkalinity increases in a product, the percentage of acidity decreases.
To sum up what we discussed thus far, the pH scale is simply a measurement of acidity and alkalinity of a substance – like a hair product. You will notice on the pH scale above that the range starts at 0 and goes up to 14. An acidic solution will have a pH less than 7, while an alkaline solution will have a pH above 7.
The pH Scale Is a Logarithmic Scale
I don’t see this mentioned very often, but the pH scale is a logarithmic scale. This means that a change in one whole number on the scale represents a tenfold change in Potential Hydrogen. For example, a pH of 6 is 10 times more alkaline than a pH of 5.
Each subsequent move across the scale represents an additional 10 times change in pH. For example, a change of two whole numbers (let’s say a pH of 5 to pH of 7), represents a change of 10 times 10. That’s a 100-fold change.
So, a pH of 7 (ex. distilled water) is 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 5 (ex. hair). This simply means that even small changes on the pH scale represent very large swings in the actual pH of a product.
Understanding logarithmic functions isn’t really common knowledge. This causes many people to misunderstand the pH scale and misinterpret the meanings of the scale. That said, let’s discuss how the information we’ve discussed impacts your hair.
Potential Hydrogen (pH) Balancing and Hair
The concept of pH balancing is often confusing for even experienced naturals. Remember that pure water has a neutral pH of 7. This is an equal balance of hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions.
However, it’s not balanced when you compare it to your hair. The average pH of your hair is about 5. This means that a hair product with a pH of 7 is about 100 times more alkaline than a hair product with a pH of 5. The more alkaline a hair product is the stronger and harsher is can be on the hair. A hair product with a really high pH can leave your hair feeling dry, brittle and porous. It’s generally more ideal to use hair products that are closer to the pH of your hair with a Potential Hydrogen (pH) of 5.