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The secret to the best hair of my life

by Jasmine Garnsworthy / Friday, 21 July 2017


Jasmine Garnsworthy’s hair used to be limp and dry. Not anymore. Picture: Instagram @jasminegarnsworthy

UNTIL recently, I never had particularly great hair.

As the owner of ultrafine locks, I rotate between two hairstyles: Flat and limp, or dry and frizzy.

I carry travel-sized dry shampoo in my handbag and apply hourly. And, judging by the sheer number of women in the ladies’ room borrowing my dry shampoo, I’m not the only sufferer of sad, limp hair.

It’s why I’m sharing this: A simple discovery that actually gave me glossy, bouncy, almost shampoo commercial-worthy locks.

Here’s how it happened. After testing a bunch of new products, I called an expert to find out why two in particular delivered a clean, shiny, more manageable mane while others — including some of the more expensive formulas — left my hair frizzy, heavy, and begging to be washed again just 24 hours later.

Dr Barbara Olioso, a cosmetic scientist chemist who earns a living formulating hair and skin care, explained that it all comes down to pH.

Basically, despite what the packaging might declare about “fruit extracts” or being “sulfate-free,” the single biggest factor determining whether a shampoo will make your curls bounce like Gisele’s on the Victoria’s Secret Runway is its pH level.

For those who didn’t ace science in school (raises hand), pH is a numeric scale ranking how acidic a substance is. Anything with a level under 7 is acidic, and solutions with a pH more than 7 are labelled basic.

Shampoos at a lower pH preserve your hair and scalp’s natural oils, which exist to protect against frizz-causing damage (and do so way better than any serum ever will!).

Dr Olioso explains: “The scalp and hair have an efficient mechanism to protect itself that is based on lipids, functioning at its best at low pH. At low pH the hair cuticles are well sealed so that the hair is stronger and shinier.”

The sweet spot is around 4 to 4.5, which is a pretty acidic level. If a shampoo is neutral at 7 or above, it’s too basic for your hair and scalp and can strip it off its natural oils — a.k.a your hair’s natural defence against external factors that cause damage and frizz.

As well as enjoying glossier dresses, after switching to pH-balancing shampoos I also became less reliant on thrice-daily dry shampoo applications.

This is no coincidence: At the optimal pH, shampoo doesn’t completely remove all the natural oils, so you avoid over-drying the scalp, something Dr Olioso says causes “a vicious cycle that actually triggers more sebum production,” and is a common side-effect of cheaply-made shampoos. The more you know, people.

The good news doesn’t end there: Swapping to an acidic shampoo can change your hair after a single wash. Yep, one. Using products that are more acidic can instantly smooth out the cuticle, while also protecting each strand from external factors that might cause it to frizz.

Really, the only downside here is that determining a shampoo’s acidity level is hard, unless it’s clearly labelled on the bottle.

Some are, by the way, while others claim to be “pH-balancing” but remain shady about the product’s exact level. You could always whip out a pH test paper to find the exact level yourself, but in case science isn’t your jam, I recommend Windle and MoodleSojourn, or Acure Organics for a perfect pH — and perfect hair.