Turns out, they were onto something. According to Annie Gonzalez, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Dove partner, baking soda can help reset the scalp’s pH level, remove buildup, soothe irritation, and leave locks looking shiny and soft.
The benefits (and risks) of using baking soda for hair
Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, meaning it helps calm skin and fight impurities. It also absorbs oil while gently exfoliating dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, which, according to Gonzalez, makes it especially beneficial to those with oily scalps.
While most hair types can tolerate a baking soda detox every once in a while, like any DIY beauty ingredient, it comes with some risks. Gonzalez notes that it can cause irritation, dryness, brittleness, and even hair breakage. In more sensitive scalps (or at higher concentrations), it can even cause chemical burns. For this reason, she suggests anyone with a sensitive scalp; a history of scalp eczema or related scalp issues; very dry, brittle, or color-treated hair; or any open sores avoid using baking soda as a scalp exfoliant.
It’s also important to note that not every scalp needs exfoliation. As Gonzalez explains, modern commercial shampoos tend to leave less residue than traditional ones, and over-exfoliation—whether on the scalp or the face—almost always leads to barrier disruption, inflammation, and acid mantle disruption.
Just like your standard exfoliants and clarifying shampoos, baking soda isn’t meant for everyday use. It should be used infrequently—once or twice a month, or (at most) once a week for those with especially oily scalps.
What happened when I tried baking soda for hair
Even with the potential risks, I was willing to put baking soda to the test. Gonzalez suggested I create a paste by diluting baking soda powder with water and massage it into the scalp, letting it sit for just a few minutes before rinsing it out.
After I tried it, I wasn’t very impressed—my results were fine, but no better than any commercial clarifying shampoo or scalp exfoliant I’ve used. If anything, my hair felt slightly dryer than usual. And the anxiety and fear I felt while using the DIY formula (Am I using this right? Will this wreck my scalp? Have I washed it all out?) definitely made the experience less than enjoyable.
“There’s this misconception that ‘all-natural’ is inherently better,” Gonzalez says. “Remember that even the natural stuff is made from chemicals and therefore form chemical reactions, especially when coming into contact with your skin.” For this reason, she prefers commercial exfoliants and clarifying shampoos over raw baking soda. She suggests Dove’s Dermacare Scalp range, which is formulated with flake-and-oil-busting pyrithione zinc and made for everyday use.
Bottom line: When it comes to scalp care, there’s more research to support baking soda as a risk and irritant than there is to support its benefits. And while I didn’t notice any particularly alarming issues arise, I think I’ll stick to the well-researched, science-backed formulas and products from now on.
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