Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a versatile household item known for its cleaning properties, ability to neutralize odors, and even its use in baking. However, its role in hair care has been a topic of considerable debate. While some advocate for its clarifying abilities, experts in dermatology and hair care often recommend caution. In this comprehensive look, we’ll examine the pros and cons of using baking soda on your hair.
The Clarifying Agent: Baking Soda’s Appeal
One of the most common reasons people turn to baking soda for hair care is its reputation as a clarifying agent. When mixed with water, baking soda can help remove excess oil, sebum, and product buildup from your hair and scalp. This can give your locks a fresh, clean look, especially if you often use styling products like hair spray, gel, or mousse.
The Science of pH: Where Baking Soda Falls Short
The pH scale measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is, ranging from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. The natural pH of human hair and scalp is slightly acidic, generally falling between 4.5 to 5.5. Baking soda, on the other hand, is highly alkaline with a pH level around 9.
Disrupting the Acid Mantle
Using a highly alkaline substance like baking soda on your hair can disrupt the acid mantle, which is a protective layer on the surface of your skin and scalp. This layer is essential for keeping out bacteria and fungi, as well as retaining moisture. Disturbing the acid mantle can result in a dry, irritated scalp and make your hair brittle, dry, and prone to breakage.
Stripping Natural Oils
The high pH level of baking soda can also strip your hair of its natural oils. This can leave your hair and scalp dry, leading to issues like frizz, dandruff, and increased susceptibility to environmental damage.
Special Considerations: Colored and Sensitive Hair
If you have colored hair, using baking soda may cause the color to fade prematurely. The alkaline nature of baking soda can open up the hair cuticles, allowing the color to leach out.
People with sensitive skin or scalp conditions like eczema or psoriasis should avoid using baking soda, as it can exacerbate irritation and cause flare-ups.
The “No Poo” Method: Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar
The “no poo” approach to hair care involves using a baking soda scrub followed by a rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar, aiming to balance your scalp’s natural pH levels. The idea is that baking soda serves as a natural cleanser, while the apple cider vinegar works to restore the pH balance of your scalp.
Caution: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
However, it’s critical to understand that the “no poo” method may not be a foolproof way to balance your scalp’s pH. Switching between the alkaline nature of baking soda and the acidity of apple cider vinegar could actually cause a stressful yo-yo effect on your scalp’s pH levels. Before diving headfirst into this method, it’s prudent to conduct a patch test on a small section of your skin to gauge for any adverse reactions.
The Double-Edged Sword of Baking Soda
Baking soda is renowned for its scrubbing and cleaning abilities, but it’s also abrasive. Consequently, it can leave your hair and scalp parched. It’s generally more suitable for those who struggle with overly oily hair, as it effectively removes excess sebum and oil. However, for individuals with dry or normal hair types, this could lead to further issues like dryness and irritation.
|No Poo Claims
|Will it Work?
|Why it’s Bad
|Dissolving baking soda in water to dilute pH
|The pH level won’t change significantly. At most, you’ll end up using less baking soda than intended.
|Baking soda removes oil and buildup
|Repeated use can lead to dryness, especially when there’s no more buildup from commercial shampoos and conditioners.
|Baking soda and apple cider vinegar control dandruff
|Apple cider vinegar is antifungal and may help with fungal causes of dandruff, but frequent use of baking soda can lead to dry skin and potentially worsen dandruff.
|Apple cider vinegar rinse to rebalance the pH level
|Apple cider vinegar has a pH level of 2.8-3, which is lower than your scalp’s natural pH level. Using it may not effectively rebalance the pH.
|Cold water helps seal hair cuticles
|There is no substantial evidence to support the claim that cold water effectively seals hair cuticles. It’s often better to use hair oil for this purpose.
Professional Opinions: What the Experts Say
Dermatologists and hair care professionals generally recommend against using baking soda for hair care due to its high pH level and potential to cause long-term damage. Instead, they often suggest using shampoos and conditioners formulated for your specific hair type or concerns.
Conclusion: Weighing the Risks and Benefits
While baking soda might offer some immediate benefits like removing product buildup, these are generally short-term solutions that could result in long-term problems. The alteration of pH levels, potential for irritation, and other risks often outweigh the benefits, especially when there are safer, professionally-formulated products available.
If you’re experiencing specific hair or scalp issues, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider or a hair care professional for personalized advice tailored to your individual needs.
While baking soda may provide some immediate cleansing benefits, it can also have detrimental effects on your hair and scalp in the long run. If the baking soda isn’t properly balanced in your mixture, you could end up with too much of it, which can be harmful over time.
Using baking soda on your hair can help regulate your scalp’s pH levels, alleviate dandruff and scalp irritation, and even combat dryness of the scalp.
Though apple cider vinegar is often used as a follow-up rinse to a baking soda scrub, you should avoid mixing the two directly. Each serves a different purpose and should be used in its own separate step in your hair care routine.