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The Cut Down: How Understanding Your Conditioner’s pH Level Can Lead to Soft, Shiny Hair

August 25, 2021

4 Min read

Don’t let conditioner be an afterthought on wash day, instead make it one of the star products. Here we’ll talk more about why the pH of your hair is important, how co-washing is not equal to conditioning, and how to find the right conditioner for you. 

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Understanding your hair’s PH

A healthy strand of hair ranges from a 4.0-5.5 on the pH scale, with zero being most acidic. When thinking about healthy hair, the more acidic a strand’s pH is, the shinier, softer, and less tangled it will be.

Hair’s acidity level is important to know because how acidic vs. how alkaline a hair strand is can determine how its outer cuticles are layered. If products with an alkaline pH (the opposite of acidic) are applied to hair, they cause the outer cuticles to lift open and expose the hair’s inner cortex. Clarifying shampoos, permanent hair coloring, bleach, and relaxers are just a few examples of alkaline products that come in contact with our hair.

On the other hand, a product with an acidic pH level (4.0-5.5) helps to close and seal hair’s outer cuticle layers, protecting its inner cortex. Conditioner and deep conditioners are a couple examples of products that we use that have  an acidic pH to seal our strands and keep them protected from outside elements. What’s important to know is that hair that is damaged ( split ends, over-processed, etc.) may still feel tangled or dry after hair is washed and conditioned because of missing cuticles and gaps along the strand. That is why trimming hair regularly, using quality deep conditioning treatments and 100% natural oils can be helpful in preventing hair from becoming further damaged in the future.

Cleansing with conditioner is not equivalent to co-washing

Shampoo’s sole purpose is to strip  hair of excess oil and buildup. However,  for some hair textures, shampooing too often can leave an undesirable effect on strands. Cleansing conditioners and co-washes became an alternative to traditional shampoo in the natural hair community within the last ten years because they can be used in between washings to refresh the hair while maintaining its moisture balance. These products are formulated with specific ingredients that target not only build up on the strands but also any on the scalp without leaving hair feeling dry. Because of traditional rinse-out conditioner’s acidic pH, it does not have the capabilities to cleanse the hair of product build up and oils in the same way a product specified as a co-wash can.

Letting conditioner sit longer in hair does not replace leave-in conditioner

While rinse-out conditioner is great for your hair, leaving it on longer than the recommended time doesn’t ‘deepen’ the treatment. Most conditioners on the market have a 3-5 minute processing time, which is the manufacturer tested amount of time the product takes to  be absorbed into hair. Letting conditioner sit for longer than the recommended time period can cause excess buildup on  hair which can directly impact the results from your post-shower stylers. 

Hair still feeling dry? Enter leave-in conditioner; The perfect light weight, acidic styler that is made specifically to layer well with other styling products. Leave-in conditioner is much more versatile when styling your hair because it can be used as an extra boost in softness, as a detangler for long hair or stubborn knots, and some are even formulated with heat protection to protect against heat damage caused by styling tools.

Finding the right conditioner for you

When choosing your conditioner it is important to look for one best suited for your hair’s needs. Whether it’s a rinse out, cleansing conditioner, or a leave-in for styling, following these tips will lead you towards your best hair yet.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Faith is a NYS licensed cosmetologist with over 15 years in beauty. Starting her career as a master colorist, Faith spent years expanding her skills to include styling, editorial, blogging + media, along with working under some of the top names in beauty and fashion, such as Patricia Field and Rachel Zoe. By 2015, she stepped from behind the chair into salon management & education – always leading from the viewpoint of the stylist. This unique transition launched her into working with beauty start-ups as an industry expert to strategize their brands. Prior to her position at Prose, Faith worked alongside celebrity stylist Jen Atkin as Sales and Education specialist at OUAI haircare.

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