Baking Soda For Hair: A Comprehensive Look

What is Baking Soda?

I recently asked myself the question. Yes, just recently. I know the chemical compound of the thing; I could recite it in my sleep (NaHCO3). Which means that the elements are: Sodium (Na), Hydrogen (H), carbon (C) and Oxygen (O). The 3 after the O means there are 3 atoms of Oxygen per molecule.

Baking soda is otherwise called sodium bicarbonate of soda, or to be more chemically precise it is sodium hydrogen carbonate.

Where Does Baking Soda Come From?

Seriously, did God make the thing or did a scientist cook it up in some lab?

In its natural form it is a component of the mineral natron and is found dissolved in many mineral springs. Natron, which contains large amounts of sodium bicarbonate, has been used since ancient times.

The Egyptians used natron as soap for cleansing purposes and there are other civilizations that used it for various purposes throughout history.

There are deposits of pure nahcolite, which occur naturally in several places in the world. The Green River Basin in the Central US, houses a 200-billion ton nahcolite deposit. That’s quite a bit of baking soda!

Many companies commercially mine the natural deposits at the Green River Basin. Some mine it directly from the ground and sell it as is, in its natural state. While other companies extract and refine it. This refining involves the use of treating it with chemicals.

Baking soda can also be created through a series of chemical reactions known as the Solvay process. This method uses carbon dioxide, ammonia, and sodium chloride as the raw materials.

So what is it that you do get in your commercial baking soda?

Most commercial baking soda is processed. Yup. They go through all that trouble to obtain the natron, heat it until it turns into soda ash and then treat the soda ash with carbon dioxide, and put in a box to sell to you the consumer.

Not that this makes the baking soda necessarily bad, it still works especially for cleaning and washing your hair *phew* wipes brow. However, if you are health conscious and you want to use the naturally mined sodium bicarbonate there are several brands that sell the pure thing, straight out of the ground, no processing. Here is one– Frontier Natural Products and there are many others.

What does baking soda do?

Baking soda is a fine crystal and works very well as a gentle abrasive. It is used for general cleaning purposes for this very reason. It makes for a good toothpaste alternative and works great on counter tops, stove, floor etc.

Baking soda is mildly alkaline when added to water and can be used to neutralize acid. This alkalinity is the reason why it works so well as an antacid. Dissolved in water it can relieve acid indigestion.

There are so many more reasons why baking soda is an everyday necessity that can replace tons of cleaning products and other chemicals in your home, but we want to know about hair…

Is baking soda good for hair?

To answer that question we have to look at the pH factor. pH means the potential of Hydrogen and is a measure of the acidity or the alkalinity of a substance, pH is judged on a scale between 0 and 14. Anything with a pH less than 7 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and anything with a pH greater than 7 is alkaline or base (the terms are interchangeable).  When acids and alkalis are combined in equal portions, they neutralize one another.

Both strong acids and alkalis should be avoided as they will burn skin.

Water has a pH of around 7, as does Peroxide and most shampoos. Lemon Juice and Vinegar, both acids, have a pH of around 2 or 3 and baking soda, an alkali, has a pH of around 8 or 9.

Human hair and scalp oil, sebum, has a pH balance of between 4.5 and 5.5. This natural hair acidity prevents fungi and bacteria in the hair and scalp, and keeps the cuticle closed and healthy. Many of the hair products that people use disrupt the natural pH of the hair. A substance that is too alkaline will cause the hair cuticle to open, while a substance that is too acidic will cause the cuticle to contract.

When an alkaline substance is applied to hair it opens up the hair cuticle. The layers in the cuticle will no longer lie flat and will stick outward. This can cause the hair to tangle. Leaving it in this state will cause it to loose elasticity and dry out, which will lead to breakage.

Most hair products don’t contain strong acids other than some perming solutions. Conditioner has a slightly acid pH.

Mild acid has the opposite effect to alkalis and flattens the cuticle making your hair easier to comb and look shinier. Rinsing hair with vinegar after using an alkaline solution helps to close the hair cuticle.

So, baking soda an alkali will open up the hair cuticle and a mild acid will flatten it.

What to do after a baking soda wash?

It is recommended that you use an acidic substance like apple cider vinegar as a final rinse; it neutralizes the effect of the alkali baking soda and closes the hair cuticle. White vinegar is slightly more acidic and not recommended to use in your hair for this purpose.

When you use baking soda (a base) and then apple-cider vinegar (an acid), your scalp’s pH remains stable.

Both baking soda and apple cider vinegar should be diluted with water before applying directly on your scalp.

How often should I wash my hair with baking soda?

There are persons who do so every week. It is not recommended that you wash your hair with baking soda on a daily basis. Once per week is fine for oily hair. Once per month is ideal for clarifying and getting rid of product gunk.

There are also other persons who think that it is too harsh for their hair, the constant opening and closing of the hair cuticle week after week, it is theorized, can be damaging to your hair shaft in the long run.

It is better for persons with oily to medium hair types to use this as a hair wash than persons with dry hair.

Baking soda makes for a good clarifying shampoo, if your hair is loaded with products.

Do not use baking soda as a hair wash without using conditioner or apple cider vinegar to close the hair.

Please see How To Wash Hair With Baking Soda, Recipes and Steps.


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