The rise of shampoo and conditioner bars in the market makes switching to an eco-conscious lifestyle more possible than ever. With this hair care option, you get to help the environment by reducing the use of plastic while being kinder to your hair and scalp.
But, as with your skincare and personal care products, it’s best to be on the safe side by learning more about these hair care bars before you actually use them. For starters — what are they made with?
Soap, shampoo, and conditioner bars
Soap has long been known as a surfactant or surface cleaning agent that helps get rid of dirt and grease from our body, clothes, dishes, and more. To make soap, certain ingredients go through the process of saponification: fatty acids or oils are mixed with a strong base, like sodium hydroxide that has a high pH, to form salt. This salt then becomes the soap that has a pH level of at least 9.0, which is highly alkaline.
Most shampoo and conditioner bars are made the same way as soap is, with a few botanical extracts added in for luxury. But, with soap’s pH level hovering between 9.0 and 11.0, these are bound to do more harm on your hair than good.
The importance of pH level
pH means “presence of hydrogen” and through a scale from 1 to 14, it’s used to tell how acidic or alkaline a substance is (1 being very acidic and 14 being very alkaline). Body and hair bars, by themselves, don’t have pH until they come into contact with water when we use them. If they fall too far on either end of the pH spectrum once they’re activated with water, it means that they’re unhealthy for our skin and can do serious damage. A higher pH can result in dryness and a disrupted moisture barrier, while a too-low pH can be corrosive and irritating.
Our skin naturally has a pH level of about 5.5 (slightly acidic). Using products at this level maintains our acid mantle, which is a film on the skin’s surface that’s composed of lipids from our oil glands and amino acids from sweat. The acid mantle is the part of our skin barrier that acts like a shield by keeping moisture in, and bacteria and environmental stressors out. When our skin’s pH level goes higher or lower than 5.5, its “ecosystem” becomes disrupted and compromises our acid mantle, making it vulnerable to irritation and inflammation.
As for our hair, it has a pH level of around 4.5, and it doesn’t have an acid mantle to protect strands at all! That means the pH level of whatever you use on your hair stays, and can either support hair health or lead to loss of moisture, breakage, dryness, split ends, and more.
Soap in shampoo and conditioner bars
With all these said, you might be wondering if it’s healthy to have soap in shampoo and conditioner bars. Because soap is naturally alkaline, which is bad for hair that has a pH level of just 4.5, it’s not advisable. But, the good news: soap-free shampoo and conditioner bars exist!
Instead of soap, these soap-free hair care bars make use of surfactants that do the same cleansing job that soap does, but safely. Their formula is made in a way where its pH can be adjusted to the pH level maintained by our hair and skin. Surfactants contain molecules that are able to cleanse sebum and oily substances, and have them rinsed away by water — all without posing a threat to your hair and scalp.
There are different kinds of surfactants that are infused in shampoo and conditioner bars, affecting their mildness or harshness on hair. A good rule of thumb is that a healthy hair care bar should be sulfate-free. Sodium laurel sulfate (or SLS) is one of the more known surfactants with links to causing cancer, so you might want to skip it.
Ellana’s hair care line Here at Ellana, we believe in sourcing only the best and healthiest ingredients for your skin, your hair, and your life! We took the time to thoroughly come up with formulas for our shampoo and conditioner bars that’s safe, with a pH level of 4.5 (the ideal for hair), and without sulfates, parabens, talc, and silicones.