Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for nature-friendly labeling. Want me to buy something? Label it “Organic.” Want me to stop buying it? Tell me it’s filled with harmful chemicals. 

This is why, when I first heard about the “no-poo” (no shampoo) hair-washing method of using baking soda and apple cider vinegar, I was intrigued. I mean, the “ingredients” list in hair products is scary! Why would I not choose the “simple”, “natural”, “healthy” alternative? 

As it turns out, there are a good many reasons not to use the baking soda/vinegar “no poo” method, and we’ve got the science to back it up. pH (potential of hydrogen) is a measure of acidity or basicity on a 0-14 scale (is this triggering any horrific memories of chemistry classes from ages past?). A pH of less than 7 is acidic, while a pH of greater than 7 is basic.  7 is neutral (like water!). 

Well, it turns out that having proper pH levels is extremely important for your hair.  Now, I know this sounds kind of gross, but your hair and skin are coated in a thin layer of oil, salt, and water with a pH balance of 4.5-5.0, meaning it’s a little bit acidic. This acidity is super great because it prevents fungi and bacteria from taking up residence on your body. (Believe me, that’s much more gross than a little oil and salt water!) 

Baking soda has a pH of 9.5, which is extremely basic (and considering what it does to your hair, you could call it a basic bitch hardy-har-har). Diluted apple cider vinegar has a pH of 3.0-4.0.  When you wash your hair with baking soda, you’re basically taking it on a pH roller coaster—but not in the “ooh, fun!” roller coaster way, more like the “holy shit I’m gonna die!” kind of roller coaster. 

Because that’s what your hair ends up doing. Baking soda will make your hair dry out, wear out, and fall out. Of course, at first your hair will feel all soft and nice. But don’t be fooled: that’s actually just the proteins in your hair breaking down. 

Now a bunch of pro-“no-poo”-ers claim that, once you dilute the baking soda with water it reaches a more hair-appropriate pH. I’m sorry to say it, but that’s just wrong. No getting around it. 

Most online tutorials call for a ratio of 1tbsp baking soda per 2-4 cups of water. However, this leaves the pH at 9.5. In fact, a blogger at kanelstrand.com who did a DIY baking soda-basicity experiment wrote that “to get a neutral mixture of baking soda and water (pH 7) you need to dilute 1 tbsp. baking soda in 20 cups of water, then take 1 tsp. of the mixture and dilute it in 1 cup of water.” And 7.0 is still more basic than your hair should be! 

Basically, the baking soda/vinegar “no-poo” wash is like chemically dyeing your hair. Every single time you wash it. This leaves your hair frizzy, dry, and brittle. Over time it will grow increasingly prone to breakage (NOOOOO!! NO MORE SPLIT ENDS!!!!) and tangling. 

Unfortunately, the acidity of the vinegar doesn’t neutralize it. It just takes it through the second half of the pH roller coaster, damaging your hair and scalp further. 

I guess nature-nuts like me are going to have to find some other way to combine cleaning our hair with saving the environment! 

Have any eco-friendly hair-care tips?  Comment below!  


Images courtesy of meta.metaebene.me,  hohcopelandwj.files.wordpress.com, gutsytraveler,  kanelstrand.com, and sheknows.com.  

Tagged in: science, No-Poo, No Shampoo, Hair Care, Hair   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.


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