Hair-Care Tips

Baking Soda *Can* Clean Your Hair, but Is It Actually Good for Strands?

Rachel Lapidos

Photo: Getty Images/esp2k
If I were playing the wellness stocks, I'd invest in baking soda. Because it can do all the things like make your laundry fresh, clean your entire home, and even save your grungy white sneakers. Since it's such a multi-tasker, I've even pondered incorporating it into my beauty routine (just me?), upon learning that it's good at helping congested skin. So since hair care is always one step behind skin care, I wondered if soon, we'd be seeing the stuff in formulas for our strands as well.

How does baking soda help hair and how do you use it?

On skin, sodium bicarbonate (the sciencey term for baking soda) works to fight impurities and act as an antiseptic. Since it's good at targeting oil, it might seem like a natural connection that it would also be good at dealing with oily roots. From what the pros tell me, because of the basic pH level (which is the opposite end of the spectrum to skin), using baking soda on the scalp actually exfoliates it. "Baking soda is good to exfoliate the hair and scalp," says Alexis Antonellis, colorist at New York's Eddie Arthur Salon. According to board certified dermatologist, Hadley King, MD, "in order to make baking soda shampoo, you must dissolve the baking soda in water and apply it to oily areas."

Who should and shouldn't be using baking soda in their hair?

That said, baking soda is not always a great option for all hair types. According to dermatologist, Joshua Zeichner, MD, baking soda is most commonly used by people with oily hair, but, because "the skin naturally has an acidic pH, which is why the outer skin layer is referred to as the acid mantle, using alkaline products like baking soda can disrupt the skin barrier, leading to microscopic cracks, loss of hydration, and inflammation." Though not optimal to use all the time, Antonellis explains that ingredients like baking soda can be effective in moderation when you've spent time in the pool and have chlorine or product build up, or if you find yourself dealing with flakes.

Opinions on the use of baking soda in one's hair are dissenting and even those in the hair-care world are split on whether it's actually good to use. "I'm actually not a fan of baking soda for your hair," admits Will Johnson, owner and master stylist at cool-girl salon Whistle in New York City. "Baking soda can be damaging to your hair. Many people try using it but there are better ways to cleanse or style without being so harsh." He notes that if you do happen to use it on your lengths, be sure to rinse with vinegar afterwards to bring back the pH balance (skin naturally skews acidic like vinegar).

What are other methods for repairing damaged hair, besides baking soda?

So, if not baking soda, what should you use to repair damaged hair? According to Michael T. Murray, Chief Scientific Advisor at iHerb, "one key recommendation for improving the health of the hair is to take a special dietary supplemental form of silicon—an essential trace element required for the normal growth and development of hair. Studies show that choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid (Ch-OSA), a highly bioavailable and stabilized form of silicon. Ch-OSA has been shown to increase levels of hydroxyproline, the key amino acid required for the production of collagen and elastin—compounds that are essential to the strength, thickness, and elasticity of hair." In one study, 48 women with fine hair were given 10 mg silicon as Ch-OSA daily for 9 months. This had a positive effect on hair strength including elasticity and breakage and resulted in thicker hair.

According to Kayla McNeill, pro hairstylist and founder of Head Kandy, if you are wanting to repair damaged hair, it's also beneficial to "use deep conditioners that are rich in restorative ingredients such as coconut oil, almond oil, shea butter and honey." Founder of Arsen Gurgov Salon, Arsen Gurgov, agrees. Since baking soda is an abrasive and can be very harsh on the hair and scalp, he says to "instead, use a shampoo that's sulfate-free and gentle on your hair and concentrate it on your scalp" and to invest in a hydrating conditioner formulated for dry, damaged, weak, and frizzy hair types as these generally contain more nourishing ingredients that lock in moisture and shine.

So suffice it to say that while baking soda has so many stars in its crown, you hair might not be the very best place for it since there's so much fine print that comes with using it.

For the basics, here are the best natural shampoos and conditioners for every hair type. And this is how to choose the right hair color based on your skin's undertone

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