July 18, 2008

The BIG Shampoo Review - - Understanding Shampoo -- pH scale

I never know where to start - - again its the whole "chicken and egg" predicament.

But am going to start on the pH scale as I feel it is so very important to understand in relation to shampoo and hair care products in general .

Potential Hydrogen (pH)

Understanding what pH is and how is affects the skin and hair is essential to understanding most of the services that you get in a Salon or that you perform on your own noggin. This will be a brief overview of pH and how it works so then I will go right into pH and shampoos. I'm using a couple textbooks to help me with this, as much as I understand it, I tried writing my own post on the subject and ended up trashing it, my version was so confusing, I gave it to my neighbor to read and he had the most confused look on his face. So we will go with this and see how it works. Its not necessary to fully understand pH, but I would like you to at least have an idea what it is for future reference.

Having the proper pH shampoo makes ALL the difference in the world, as far as tangling and the hairs condition at the end of the shampoo. Many of you have complained about a particular shampoo that is Sulfate-free - thinking the sulfate-free is the cause, which couldn't be farther from the truth. The cause of very tangle-y hair prior to shampooing is:............ improper pH ! the solution? A different shampoo, I'm afraid, is the only answer to that problem.

Water and pH

First we need to understand a bit about ions. An ion is an atom or molecule that carries an electrical charge. Ionization is the separating of a substance into ions. These ions have opposite electrical charges... An ion with a negative electrical charge is an anion and an ion with a positive electrical charge is a cation. Now Ions are at the base of that T3 Dryer that is such a big hit now which I will go into on a different post.

In pure water, some of the water molecules naturally ionize into hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions. The pH scale measures those ions. The hydrogen ion (H+) is acidic..the hydroxide ion (OH) is alkaline. pH is only possible because of this ionization of water. Only aqueous solutions have pH, Non-aqueous solutions (oil and alcohol) do not have pH . . . without water there is no pH.

In pure water, every water molecule that ionizes produces one hydrogen ion and one hydroxide ion. Pure water is neutral because it contains the same number of hydrogen ions as hydroxide ions, meaning it is neither acidic nor alkaline. Pure water is 50 percent acidic and 50 % alkaline.

The pH Scale

The terms "parts hydrogen" or "potential hydrogen" are used to describe pH. In fact, the term pH originates from the French term pouvoir hydrogene , or hydrogen power" and means the relative degree of acidity and alkalinity of a substance. Notice that pH is written with a small p and a capital H ( which represents the hydrogen ion, H+) the symbol pH represents the quantity of hydrogen ions.

The pH values are arranged on a scale ranging from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 indicates a neutral solution, a pH below 7 indicates an acidic solution and a pH above 7 indicates an alkaline solution.

The pH scale is a logarithmic scale. this means that in a pH scale, a change of one whole number represents a tenfold change in pH. A pH of 8 is 10 times more alkaline than a pH of 7...a change of 2 whole numbers indicates a change of 10 times 10 or a one hundredfold change. A pH of 9 is 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 7.

Pure water, with a pH of 7, is 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 5. Since the average pH of hair and skin is 5, pure water is 100 times more alkaline than your hair and skin, even though it has a neutral pH.

Pure water can cause the hair to swell by as much as 20 percent.

pH and Shampoo

Understanding pH levels will help you select the proper shampoo for yourself . Remember, the amount of hydrogen in a solution, determines whether it is more alkaline or acid, is measured on a pH scale that has a range from 0 to 14. A shampoo that is more acid can have a pH rating from 0 to 6.9 , , , a shampoo that is more alkaline can have a pH rating from 7.1 to 14. The higher the pH rating ( more alkaline), the stronger and harsher the shampoo is to the hair. A high pH shampoo can leave the hair dry and brittle. Now why shampoo's don't have pH ratings on them instead of all the other words and BS I will never know, this is the one true scientific - tried and true method of knowing if the shampoo is going to work correctly- there are also some others.

The Chemistry of Shampoos

To determine which shampoo will leave your hair in the best condition, I must explain some of the chemical ingredients regularly found in shampoos. Most shampoo's share many ingredients in common. It is often the small differences in formulation that make one shampoo better than another for a particular hair texture or condition.

Water is the main ingredient in all shampoos and commonly is added at the rate of 30-40% of the formula.

Generally it is not just plain water, but purified or deionized ( ions removed) water. Water is usually the first ingredient listed, which indicates that the shampoo contains more water than anything else. From there on, ingredients are listed in descending order, according to the percentage of each ingredient in the shampoo or formula. This is how it is 'supposed' to be done but I would guess 8 times out of 10 it is not. Regulating hundreds of thousands of beauty products would require every single agency of the government shutting down and helping the FDA, it is virtually impossible.


The second ingredient that most shampoos have in common is the primary surfactant or base detergent. These 2 terms, surfactant and detergent mean the same thing: cleansing or "surface active" agent.

A surfactant molecule has two ends" a hydrophilic or water-attracting "head" and a lipophilic or oil-attracting "tail". During the shampoo process, the hydrophilic head attracts water, and the lipophilic tail attracts OIL. this creates a push-pull process that causes the oils, dirt, and deposits to roll up into little balls that can be lifted off in the water and rinsed from the hair ( see the photos).

Other ingredients are added to the base surfactants to create a wide variety of shampoo formulas. Moisturizers, oils, proteins, preservatives, foam enhancer's and perfumes are all standard components of shampoos.

25 comments on "The BIG Shampoo Review - - Understanding Shampoo -- pH scale"
  1. so we would need to email or call a company to find out what the specific shampoos ph is? or can you just buy ph test strips and test these out yourself at home?

  2. What is the best range on the acidic side of the PH scale to have a shampoo be in to get the best results?

  3. YAY Fun to learn..

    Joico Color Ensure~ has 4.5-5.5 on the bottle. However I do NOT recommend this shampoo as I may be allergic to it & have tried many shampoos. This shampoo hurts my scalp. It makes it sore for days after! so sore that I do not even wish to put my head on a pillow. I wish I knew what I was allergic to in it? (Other People's keratin? lol)... Pantene proV smooth also kills my scalp.

    I love shampoo foam inhancers I think. I want so much foam I could take a bath in my shampoo! Like Paul Mitchell Awapuhi.

    Do MSDS sheets show the pH of products?

  4. Mrs. M
    Great, I thought I lost everyone's interest. Thank you. KC

  5. anonymous,
    I would highly suggest calling the companies and asking them the pH of 'whatever' shampoo...know why?

    That will give them the kick-in-the-butt they need to start printing it on the bottle, as they should.

    These companies KNOW that pH is important, again I blame them for wanting to keep the public 'in-the-dark'.
    I want to educate you, they want to keep you dumbed-down. Which is ridiculous, we are naturally a 'smart' breed I feel. Eventually we begin looking for the REAL answers not what they want us to know.
    I have a pH meter ($50.00) which I suppose is unnecessary unless you are a tech-y nut like me. There are pH Strips, I will get some and test them against my meter to see how accurate they are, although i would imagine they are close enough for this situation.

    I will let you know on this - in the coming weeks.
    So glad to hear you interested in this , an important subject.

  6. anonymous,
    An acid-balanced shampoo is one that is balanced to the pH of skin and hair (4.5 to 5.5)this is the range I look for.
    the higher the pH rating (more alkaline). the stronger and HARSHER the shampoo is to the hair.
    A high pH shampoo can leave hair dry and brittle, so I would stay away from this range.
    This is the entire solution to finding a great shampoo, but without explaining the pH 'story' prior to this, I never wanted to just throw that out there.
    Now I have told the story, YEE HAW.

  7. Splurby,
    Do you happen to have that shampoo handy? I would love to have the ingredient list, to see if I could figure out what it is that made you so sensitive... are you normally a sensitive type person?

    I would never recommend Pantene Pro V,those mass produced shampoos are unfortunately made with the cheapest and lousiest ingredient list possible I have found. I try to encourage all clients to spend a couple extra bucks on their shampoo, I find they will on their make-up and skin care and not so much on their hair care.

    But boy do I try to explain the difference, and trust me it is huge.
    Am not sure what "foam enhancers" are, although the terminology is not what I like to hear. Foam means suds - - - Suds usually means SLS.
    All the gentle - more natural and more organic-type surfactants just do not have that much suds, its just something we have "learned to like" . . . like salt or butter.

    We need to learn to "unlike" it for the good of our hair.

    I've recently ordered that new WEN system of hair conditioner-cleanser. I read thousands of comments about how much people like it and its based on a completely different principle. Not using a surfactant ( which means - no suds !!)
    so stay tuned for the report on that...from everything I've read...its very encouraging...if you don't want to waste the $$, I should have the report to you in 2 weeks time. Very encouraging.

    1. Do you have the Wen report yet!

  8. KC,

    I am very interested in this, however it is a bit confusing for me. So do diff types of hair need diff amounts of acidic side of the PH scale to get the best results? In this case wouldnt everyone just have to go through a trial period? Also, I have been using a shampoo from the Organix line (available at Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens etc... I feel my hair is dryer now after this last week than before. Organix free of sulfate so this peobably mean the PH level is no good for my hair. In this case would my old shampoo (Kerastase) be better? Even though it does have sulfate. Does one thing cancel out another? Do I even make any sense?


  9. Shaeden,
    No, I am in th emiddle of writing my next post which I hope will clarify what I have been trying to say with all of these latest posts.
    In my opinion the worst choice you can make for your hair is to use a shampoo with SLS ALS or any of the sulfate's. There is too much damage done by this ingredient. It truly is not that hard to find one shampoo that is the proper pH and is SLS-Free.
    I had many people asking for an inexpensive line of SLS-Free shampoo's so I found the ORGANIX line and felt they were an OK line to recommend. There are a lot of people using that line, with no complaints.
    Shaeden your hair is very damaged, and I guarantee you it is not from that 1 shampoo, its from all the others things you have done wrong over the years. You need to be in the stage of REJUVENATION right now, so a better - even more gentler shampoo might be the best thing for you right now.
    Is that possible for you to get?
    One of the worst things one can do is to use hair care products, colors, shampoos just because you have them 'on-hand'...
    You really need to figure out:
    Your type of hair currently, and purchase a super gentle - pH balanced shampoo and just STICK with it while you go through this period of rejuvenation for your hair.
    Is that possible>?
    I would suggest using John Masters organics Shampoo . . . I just know what a wonderful shampoo this is and I feel fairly secure in recommending it to you.
    Persaonlly, I have never found one of my clients that have ever said anything good about KErastase products . . . they are overpriced for what they are, and are simply just L'Oreal's high end products. I do not mean to be mean and pick on them, but L'oreal just does not have the same vision for healthy hair that I do . So I would stay from them and their products.
    Let me know if this is possible - Shaeden,

  10. KC,

    I like how forward you are. Its better than me staying in the dark about things. Yes I can get a diff. shampoo like John Masters I was just hoping the Organix would work since it is the cheapest. I never would have thought that Kerastase was so bad. In many parts of the world they consider the L'Oreal brand to be amazing!! Glad I know the truth now, better late than never. Should I order the John Masters Conditioner to ? Any other treatments you reccomend?

    Thanks Shaeden

  11. so does this mean that in general acidic shampoos are better for the hair?

  12. My stylist says every shampoo sold in store garbage.Is this true or is she just trying to get me to buy her shampoo [American Crew]?

  13. ooops . . .missed a few . . . sorry.


  14. anonymous,
    If you are referring to "sold in store" as a drug store or grocery market..
    I would have to agree with her.

  15. hello kc,

    which shampoos have a ph of 5-5.5?
    thanks for your help

  16. hey KC

    which shampoos have a ph of 5-5.5 please help,
    thank you very much.

  17. how do you address the issue of ph in your house water? if the ph is too high what kind of damage will you see in your hair? And can a shampoo correct it or does the water issue have to be addressed first?

  18. That last question regarding the ph of house water is important. I would imagine none of the recommended ph balanced shampoos would do any good if the last thing you do is rinse them off with either hard water and/or high ph water.

  19. It would be nice to just have a list of high ph shampoos on the market. i am helping my son with a science project and I got phydrion papers, and the ph levels are showing 4,5,6, prell being 6. No way!!!! So I am going to try litmus papers tommorow. We as stylists know that store brand is junk. I want to prove it with ph proof that the customer can relate to.

  20. what about the ph of shower gels ??? help pleaseeee

  21. what about ph of shower gels?? help pleaseee

  22. All this information and the chemistry/biochemistry behind it is outstanding, but I've read several similar articles none of which actually provide even a single, much less of list of approved 4.5 - 5.5 pH shampoos.

    What shampoos should we use???

    Much obliged.

  23. Love malibu 2000, SEAWEED, John Masters is probably my fav....


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