What are the benefits of using baking soda on your hair?
Popularized by the "no poo" method, baking soda is a hair fad that’s replaced commercial shampoos. People report that baking soda, dissolved in water, can remove excess oil and buildup, soften your hair, and restore shine. But the method is not foolproof — some people have reported severe damage to their hair over time.
Read on to learn what research says about this treatment and if you should use it.
What the research says
There is no evidence that baking soda can soften your hair or restore shine. There’s more research to support baking soda as a risk for hair damage and skin irritation.
The average scalp has a pH level of 5.5, and the hair shaft has a pH level of 3.67. Maintaining this balance helps with hair health, but baking soda has a pH level of 9.
Research shows that products with a high pH level can increase:
- cuticle damage
- hair breakage
Your skin also has a pH level around 5.5. One study found that an alkaline soap (pH 9.5) significantly decreased the skin’s fat content and irritated the protective layer of the skin.
Evidence to support the benefits of baking soda is mostly self-reported. It’s possible for baking soda to produce benefits at first. Ingredients with a high pH are effective at removing buildup and drying out the scalp, but long-term use can also strip your hair of its natural oils and irritate the scalp.
Evaluating the ‘no poo’ method
The no poo method recommends a baking soda scrub and a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse afterward to rebalance your scalp’s pH level.
|No poo claims||Will it work?||Why it’s bad|
|dissolving baking soda in water to dilute pH||no||The pH level won’t change. At most, you’ll use less baking soda than intended.|
|baking soda removes oil and buildup||yes||Repeated use will cause dryness, especially when there’s no more buildup from commercial shampoo and conditioners.|
|baking soda and apple cider vinegar controls dandruff||maybe||Apple cider vinegar is antifungal and may treat fungal causes of dandruff, but repeated use of baking soda can cause dry skin and more dandruff.|
|apple cider vinegar rinse to rebalance the pH level||maybe||Apple cider vinegar has a pH level of 2.8-3. This is lower than your scalp’s natural pH level.|
|cold water helps seal hair cuticles||no||There’s no evidence to support this. Oil works better as a cuticle sealant.|
The no poo method doesn’t balance your scalp’s pH level. In fact, it may even stress out your scalp when you introduce a high and low pH level so quickly together. If you do choose to use the no poo method, do so with extreme caution. Patch-test on your skin before using to see if baking soda causes any side effects.
Avoid “no poo” if
- you have dry or brittle hair
- you chemically treat or color your hair
- you use heat to style your hair
- you have sensitive skin
In general, baking soda is abrasive and can leave your hair and scalp dry. Using the powder as a shampoo is more likely to be effective for people with extra oily hair. People with dry hair should consider following the rinse with a conditioner to moisturize the scalp.
What other people say
One woman writes that a couple of years after starting the no poo regime, she noticed severe breakage in her very long hair. Another woman stated that after three years of using baking soda as a shampoo substitute, she noticed her hair became brittle and weak. She discovered that that the high alkalinity of baking soda, which is not pH-balanced, mixed with the acidity of the apple cider vinegar, caused the damage.
A different no poo convert shared a similar experience within weeks of starting the method. Some users have found that combining baking soda with an apple cider vinegar rinse actually stripped their hair.
What to use instead
The good news is that hair and skin care has increasingly improved since the no poo method. How you choose your hair care products, from shampoos to sprays, should depend on:
- hair damage (chemical treatment, blow dryers, grooming habits, and environmental exposure)
- hair strength (resistance to breakages)
- hair type, such as thin, thick, strong, curly, or straight
- scalp type
Use a clarifying shampoo: If you want to remove product buildup and oil, use clarifying shampoo. These shampoos contain surfactants such as sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate to remove product buildup. Research shows that these ingredients do not strip moisture from hair.
Use coconut oil: Coconut oil can penetrate the hair shaft and prevent hair breakage. It also works pre- and post-conditioner. Use sparingly to avoid an oily look.
Invest in a good conditioner: Conditioner helps create the sleek, frizz-free look many people want. It also seals the cuticle and create softer hair. Look for conditioners with silicones, keratin, or oils like argan or jojoba.
The bottom line
Baking soda as shampoo has more risks than benefits for long-term use. While some people report loving this natural method, an equal number of people say baking soda has damaged their hair. Overall, research does not support baking soda as a shampoo replacement.
There are many other products and ingredients you can use for hair health. You can also try taking vitamins for your overall health and for stronger hair growth.