Dear FutureDerm,What can you tell us about the no 'poo trend (washing with baking soda in place of shampoo, and apple cider vinegar in place of conditioner)? Is it actually better for our hair? It works well for me- but I would like to learn if it has actual benefits before I make it my regular regime.-Kendra
Hair can be thought of like a fine leather: With the improper treatment, it can become stripped of its natural oils, resulting in a dried, limp, colorless remnant of what used to be. Thankfully, like fine leather, hair can be maintained and restored. One common belief is that natural ingredients like baking soda and apple cider vinegar leaves hair softer, cleaner, and more healthy than traditional shampoo.
However, keep the following in mind:
With a pH of 9 — one hundred times more basic than water — baking soda is a known alkaline irritant (Journal of Cutaneous Pathology, 1989). According to renowned dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin, M.D., "The first principle of shampooing: Make sure your shampoo says it is pH-balanced and avoid those that are alkaline. Alkaline shampoos strip the hair's natural oils and disrupt the acid mantle, causing dehydration and leading to porous, fragile hair." (The DermaDoctor SkinStruction Manual, 2005).
Yes, it is true that baking soda helps regulate pH — keeping a substance neither too acidic nor too alkaline. When baking soda comes in contact with either an acidic or an alkaline substance, its effect is to neutralize that pH. However, as any cosmetic chemist can tell you, this effect occurs when baking soda is in solution with other chemicals. When baking soda is in water alone, guess what the pH of the solution is? You guessed it: A very basic 9, much more alkaline than plain ol' water.
Apple cider vinegar arguably has more going for it as a hair rinse than baking soda. While I can't find conclusive evidence to prove that apple cider vinegar is great at fighting dandruff, it can fight certain fungal infections. Studies have shown that apple cider vinegar is effective in fighting Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger (Thi-Qar Medical Journal, 2011). Due to the slightly acidic pH of apple cider vinegar mixed with 2-3 parts water, some experts believe it can also extend the life of hair color when applied immediately after hair dye is rinsed off.
Most hair dyes are alkaline, which opens up the hair cuticle. When hair color is applied, it can then penetrate to the hair's inner cortex, where it can react with the hair’s pigment molecules to produce a color change. Acidic solutions applied after, like apple cider vinegar, may reseal the cuticle. This flattening may not only help hair color last longer, but also flatten the cuticle, making your hair easier to comb and a bit shinier.
Still, overdoing it with apple cider vinegar can cause more damage than it is worth. Anyone who has applied lemon juice to their hair can tell you that acidic solutions will cause your hair to become lighter, drier, and more brittle over time. Those "blessed" with black hair, like myself, can tell you that the acidity will also bring out the brassy tones in your color, leaving you with lovely orange hair Zoe the muppet would envy. If you still don't believe me, keep in mind that many perming solutions have an acidic pH, breaking disulfide bonds within straight hair.
One terrible thing about using baking soda and apple cider vinegar alone on your hair is that these do not contain any oils that can be beneficial for your hair. The best shampoos replenish natural sheen to the hair which they have just stripped as a part of the cleaning process. There are a number of moisturizing ingredients in shampoos that can replenish your hair's natural oils; these include (but are not limited to): Jojoba oil (pictured above), Sweet almond oil, Squalene, Emu, Phospholipids, and Argan oil.
But by taking the "do-it-yourself" approach, you are taking away the ability for shampoos to gently replenish oils from root to tip. Instead, you're drying out your scalp, and likely replenishing oils only on the ends of your hair. Not cool.
If I hear one more "expert" say that "chemicals" are ruining your skin, hair, or the environment, I'll scream. Chemicals have prolonged many more lives than they have cut short, in the form of potent antibacterials, antifungals, antibiotics — you name it. Just one hundred years ago, the average life expectancy was 51 for men and 56 for women (Berkeley.edu). The reason we're living 25-30 years longer isn't improved nutrition or more "natural" products — it's medicine, pharmaceuticals, chemicals. That said, I'm not going to defend the deplorable actions of some companies for the last few decades, either. By including known irritants like sulfates and phthalates into some of their products, the beauty and cosmetics industry has lost the trust of many of their more health-conscious consumers.
But instead of turning to the solid research that lead to life-extending drugs and medicines for possible replacements, we instead believe somehow big pharma and major cosmetics companies are "bad." For instance, we've turned to plant extracts. Ask any natural product advocate on the street about white willow bark (pictured right) and aspirin, and she'll tell you white willow bark (pictured above) is "good" and aspirin is "bad." Yet the active compound in white willow bark is exactly the same as in aspirin. Scientists can extract the active parts of many plants of white willow bark, isolate it, and — shazam! — you have the same active ingredient as in aspirin.
My point in addressing this is one of caution: Do not trust products just because they are "natural." It may fit in more with a natural, holistic lifestyle, but you can actually be putting yourself in more danger. Some people I know dreamed of becoming a cosmetic chemist from the time they were a child. They studied hard, went through years of schooling, some got PhDs, then got tons of formulation experience, and made fantastic shampoos — and you're mixing baking soda and putting it on your scalp like your great-grandmother?! It does not make sense. New technologies and their chemicals are not all bad. Some, in fact, are fantastic for your hair.
[Read more: 3 Hair Thickening Ingredients That Really Work]
That said, I can't fight millions of dollars in marketing for all-natural products. So, if all-natural is what you seek, I have found the following all-natural products, formulated by cosmetic chemists, with replenishing oils and non-harsh non-detergent cleansers:
Avalon Organic Botanicals Clarifying Shampoo (good for once/month or so)
If you are not necessarily looking for all-natural products, please refer to How Do I Make My Hair More Youthful, Shiny, Full, and Thick? on FutureDerm.
Three take-home points:
Hope this help!
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