Hair Care Products and the pH Adjuster Sodium Hydroxide

by West Parsons on December 5, 2012 · 3 comments

in hair care

You already know about pH and that most if not all of store bought hair care products are formulated within a specific pH range.

Last time, I mentioned most hair care products have their pH adjusted during formulation.  Many ingredients can be used to adjust the pH of a product.

One pH adjuster of which you may want to be aware is sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is the same component used to relax hair and chemically straighten hair permanently. Sodium hydroxide is in many products. Sometimes it will be written on the back of the ingredients where you can see it and sometimes it will not appear on the ingredient’s label at all.

Sodium hydroxide is very corrosive and can burn and damage body tissue. In hair care products, when used as a pH adjuster, it is considered harmless because it turns into a salt at the end of processing.  Usually, when I see sodium hydroxide in a product, it is either the last ingredient or one of the last ingredients.

Product Ingredient Labeling In the United States
Product ingredients are listed on the back of a label in order of quantity. The ingredient that is the most prevalent will be listed first.  If an ingredient is less than 1%, it may be listed on the product ingredient label, too. The catch is that once an ingredient is less than 1% of the product, it can be listed in any order. Let’s say I have water, oil, amino acids and honey in my product. Water and oil make up 50%. But, my amino acids are .5% and honey is .4%. Although there are more amino acids in this product, I can list honey first. That is because anything less than 1% can be listed in any order. When you look at the back of this product, you won’t be able to really know if there is more honey or amino acids. The order won’t help you.

The other interesting thing is that for a product to be considered a relaxer it can consist of 1% to 10% of sodium hydroxide.  In theory, a product could be out there with up to 1% sodium hydroxide, used to adjust pH. Technically, all you need is 1% of sodium hydroxide in your product for it to be considered a relaxer.   Although I am reaching here, it is important to know and understand what is in your hair care products. I personally skip products that have sodium hydroxide in them. But, since it is considered an end product used for processing and becomes a harmless salt, it doesn’t have to be declared or written on the ingredients label. Who knows how  many products may contain sodium hydroxide but don’t state it. Be aware.  Use knowledge, not fear or marketing, to make the best hair related decisions for yourself.

SOURCE: Chicoro of Beautify Bit By Bit (subscribe to the newsletter) and author of Grow It!


AmeeraNakisha December 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm

OK. So I will be honest and state I didn’t know anything about pH before youtube last year. However, I was under the impression that to get something to the pH level you wanted, you needed, either an acid or an alkaline…no? I know ACV is not good for your hair in its pure state but when you mix it with something its adjust to the right pH level.

I guess my question is, while I wouldn’t dare put any chemicals in my hair but, if sodium hydroxide is in a product as just a pH adjuster, is it still that bad? Im new to this natural hair thing. Well I haven’t had a perm since 2006 but I only started caring for my hair last year

AmeeraNakisha December 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Oh for the record, I’m a tree hugger and try to ONLY use organic natural products anyway but Im just wondering

Equestrian89 March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm

The author is correct, usually it does turn into a harmless compound in the conditioner. Sodium hydroxide really is just there to adjust the pH. In high levels it is dangerous, but in low levels it is just fine. It is even found in water because water can ionize itself. We are exposed to low levels of hydroxide every day, so if you do find it in a hair care product at the bottom, there’s no need to fear 🙂