When I first started my blog, I did a series on how to grow out your natural hair. The secret to “growing” long natural hair is this: just keep your hair from breaking. Most of us have hair that grows. The problem is that our hair breaks at a rate equal to its rate of growth. Naturals should focus on length retention: making sure that we hang out to the growth we achieve.
This post has been updated from the original version to include more information, and hopefully be a lot more helpful. Below are some other posts I did in the series that I’m going to update in the next few weeks:
Today though, I want to share something that used to make a HUGE difference in how my hair felt and behaved. I experienced hardly any breakage after adding this step to my regimen. My hair didn’t feel dry halfway through the day, it was smoother, and it felt a lot healthier. I also had a much more defined curl pattern, and my ends didn’t look as dry.
The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. The scale ranges from 0 to 14. Highly acidic substances have a lower pH, while more basic substances have a higher pH. Water is a neutral substance with a pH of 7 (neutral substances are neither acidic nor basic).
The ideal pH for our hair and scalp resides between 4 and 4.5 (acidic). However most shampoos and conditioners are higher on the pH scale (basic). As you can see from the above chart, soapy water has a pH of 12. Baking soda, which many of you may use to clarify your hair (I used baking soda when I first started my healthy hair journey) also has a high pH of 8.
Studies have shown that substances with higher pH readings (bases) raise the cuticles of the hair, making our strands more susceptible to damage. When our cuticles are raised, our strands may also appear rough and dry.
Strands with raised cuticles lose moisture more easily, which leads to dryness and breakage. However, you can counteract the damage that basic hair products cause to your hair by following your wash/conditioning with an acidic rinse. This will seal the cuticles, allowing your strands to retain moisture and keep from drying out!
I used to rinse my hair with Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) a few years ago. However, I started using aloe vera juice instead (thanks to Kimmaytube), and the results were AMAZING! Aloe vera juice has a pH of 4, which is perfect! And aloe vera juice doesn’t have a strong odor, which meant I didn’t have to do a final rinse with water (which just raises the pH all over again). After watching this other video from Kimmaytube, I was much more attentive to the products I put in my hair and the order in which I applied them. I definitely saw a difference in my hair then–it was so much more manageable, and I had a much more defined “curl pattern,” which we all know by now has been no easy feat for my hair!
I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I’m buying pH strips to test all my hair products, but it’s good to be aware of the chemical make-up of the products you use in your hair. It made a difference for me, and it may make a world of difference for your length retention too! To get started, try this leave-in recipe I modified from Kimmaytube–you can modify it to include any the moisturizer/oils you currently use. Just remember to put the leave-in in your hair while it’s wet or damp. That’s the only way to get your raised cuticles closed and smooth again:
- 2 tablespoons of your preferred creamy leave-in
- 2 tablespoons of Whole Leaf Aloe Vera Juice
- 2 teaspoons of Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, melted
I haven’t used this recipe since 2011, but I want to try using it again. I think paying attention to pH, along with my LOC method for maintaining my curls all week will definitely help me retain even more length. I straightened my hair last week for the first time in months, and it is LONG. But I think it could feel a bit healthier. Once my hair is curly again, I’m going to start using this creamy, low-pH leave-in again, along with the LOC method, and see what happens!