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Is a High pH Shampoo Stripping Your Hair Color?

While many of us remember discussions of pH in our high school or college biology classes, you often don't correlate pH to how it treats our hair or hair color.

pH is the measure of alkalinity or acidity in a substance. pH levels range from 0 to 14 with lower levels indicating acidity and higher levels indicating alkalines. A normal range of pH is 4-8 and is found to be most healthy for personal care products and pools (for those of you who have measure pH in a swimming pool). For hair products, we target 4-6 to ensure it is gentle on the scalp and hair.

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Many less expensive brands use surfactants (the cleansing agent) with high pH levels - often greater than 8. These higher levels indicate a surfactant that is stronger and generally considered more "harsh". These stronger surfactants can be found in dish washing liquids, car washes, etc where de-greasing and breaking down oil and grime are necessary for effectiveness.

Unfortunately, these harsher chemicals play havoc on your hair - leading to dryness, loss of color and damage. Additionally, high pH levels can contribute to fungus. Most scalp problems such as psoriasis, yeast-promoted problems such as scalp fungus, dermatitis, inflammation and dandruff are more susceptible to occur at more alkaline levels. This is why you will see shampoos for psoriasis or dandruff with low pH to protect the scalp and reduce irritation.

OK, so how does this effect colored hair?

High pH levels equate to how "strong" they are. Higher levels act as solvents that cut through grease - but...they also "dissolve" the color of color-enhanced or color treated hair by "melting" away the pigmentation of the dye and coloring placed in the hair.

High alkaline levels also "open up" the protein bond connections that give smoothness and life to your style. High alkaline tends to relax follicles but the consequence is risk to lost moisture, breaking, brittleness, and damage - especially if combined with heated styling tools such as a flat iron, curling iron or blow dryer.

What's best for Color Retention?

The explanation above is why sulfate-free shampoo brands are trending so well. Sulfates tend towards high pH levels and are generally not considered healthy for color treated hair.

A sulfate-free shampoo, such as sFree, is made without sulfates and/or paraben preservatives and help retain color (without stripping), and if enhanced with moisture infusion, can aid in adding hydration. So, you get a "2 for 1" benefit of color protection as well as damage protection by raising moisture content in the follicles.