Photo Courtesy of Simply Cyn

Many women with textured hair use shampoos and rinses to cleanse their curls. Although maintaining moisture is our highest priority, it is imperative to remove the dirt and buildup that has accumulated over time for hydrated hair and a clean scalp. There are two elements to shampoo that make it an effective cleanser and we’re going to start with some basics on the pH scale.

The pH, potential of hydrogen, measures the level of acid or alkali in a substance on a scale of 1 to 14. On the pH scale, the number 7 is neutral. If the number is higher than 7, the substance is alkaline. If the number is lower than 7, the substance is acidic. The average pH of hair and scalp oil is between 4.5 and 5.5.

When searching for products, we often look at the ingredient list. But some hair products do not contain the pH on the package so we are not sure of the pH level. According to the International Journal of Trichology, “the pH level is not a mandatory issue to be printed on the product labels or specified among the product formulation.” The article also mentions that the pH level is often seen in products for professional use in hair salons and the professional products used in their study ideally ranged of 5.5 or lower. For more information on pH levels while cleansing, I reached out to Randy Schueller, cosmetic chemist and a founder of The Beauty Brains.

pH opens and closes the cuticle, which helps in the cleansing process, but is it necessary?

Schueller: “The pH range encountered while cleansing your hair is not high enough to open the cuticle. This is a myth.”

Can a cleanser work if it is not alkaline?

Schueller: “Yes. Most cleansing products (other than true bar soap) are in the middle of the pH range, which is not alkaline.”

How do surfactants affect product pH levels?

Schueller: “It depends on the type of surfactant and what else is used in the formula to adjust viscosity. But in most cases the surfactants used in shampoos do not shift the pH much higher or lower.”

Does water temperature matter when rinsing the hair after shampooing and conditioning?

Schueller: “Water temperature does not have much of an impact on the efficacy of shampoos and conditioners.”


Schueller says that the pH range while shampooing is not high enough to open the cuticle, and even though most of the shampoos that we use in our regimens are not labeled with pH level, most cleansing products are not alkaline.