Natural remedies for our hair and skin are trending these days, thanks to YouTubers, threads on natural hair forums, and the demand for non-toxic product options. And when it comes to a natural remedy to combat dryness, gently remove buildup, and grow hair, there's one ingredient that pops up over and over on curly girl hair threads: baking soda. Redditors and curly girl communities alike swear by using baking soda (followed by apple cider vinegar) to help reset your scalp's pH—which purportedly promotes hair growth, removes product buildup, and even softens hair strands.
To separate fact from fiction, we tapped scientist and trichologist Dominic Burg, as well as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche, M.D. They both break down the science behind baking soda, the effects it has on your hair, and the ingredients you should be looking for when it comes to hair and scalp health.
Meet the Expert
- Dominic Burg is the chief scientist, hair biologist, microbiologist, and trichologist for évolis Professional. He has expertise in hair and scalp biology, more specifically in hair cycle signaling.
- Dr. Anna Guanche is a board-certified dermatologist, host of the Dr. Beauty Podcast and founder of Bella Skin Institute.
Type of ingredient: Exfoliator
Main benefits: Resets your scalp's pH, decreases dandruff and scalp irritation, helps with scalp dryness.
Who should use it: Baking soda can be used on most hair types.
How often can you use it: Baking soda can be used weekly or monthly on hair, depending on texture.
Works well with: This ingredient does not work well with essential oils.
Don't use with: Apple cider vinegar can be used after applying baking soda, but they should not be mixed.
Benefits of Baking Soda for Hair
Baking soda (also known scientifically as sodium bicarbonate) is known to be an exfoliating ingredient and when used in conjunction with apple cider vinegar, can also balance your scalps pH levels.
According to Burg, your natural pH tends to be slightly more on the acidic side, but a pH that's too high (i.e., more basic than normal) causes brittleness, while a pH that's too low (more acidic than normal) damages color. Subsequently, resetting your hair and scalp's pH balance back to its normal baseline can help remedy a number of issues, including dandruff, scalp irritation, dryness, and more.
One of the biggest benefits of using baking soda in your hair is that it removes buildup: According to Guanche, "Some benefits of using baking soda for the hair include leaving it clean, shiny, and soft because the baking soda helps remove buildup of oils, soaps, and any remnants of hair care products. Baking soda helps strip any excess oils or hair products to leave the skin clean, soft, and shiny."
She continues, "Despite some claims, baking soda will not stimulate hair growth, however it does clean the scalp and hair, preventing buildup of oils and hair care products. It is important to note that baking soda has a pH of 9, which is higher than the pH concentration of our hair. When using a substance with a higher pH than the hair, the substance needs to be used in moderation because you do not want to strip the natural oils of the hair, leading to breakage and fragile hair."
Hair Type Considerations
According to Guanche, baking soda can be used on most hair types. However, it should be known that frequent use of the ingredient can cause damage. "When using baking soda on hair, there is no specific hair type that is indicated or contraindicated. The only thing to consider when using baking soda is that consistent and frequent use can cause the hair to be fragile, causing more dryness and breakage because it can strip the natural hair oils," she says. "Using baking soda in moderation can clean the scalp and hair, exfoliate the scalp, and reduce semi permanent hair dye. It will not change the rate of hair growth, which is important to acknowledge because there is misinformation on the beneficial claims that baking soda has on the hair."
How to Use Baking Soda for Hair
"You can incorporate baking soda into your hair care routine occasionally to cleanse and exfoliate the hair and scalp, particularly if you suffer from oily scalp. It should not be used daily," explains Guanche.
The easiest way to use baking soda on your hair is to mix it with water until it forms a paste. Apply it to your scalp and down the length of your wet hair. You can let it sit anywhere from one to three minutes and then rinse clean.
Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar
One of the most common ways to rinse baking soda out of your hair is with apple cider vinegar. Why apple cider vinegar?
"Baking soda and vinegar (regardless of its source) are essentially two reactive chemicals: sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3)—which is a weak base, so is alkaline—and acetic acid (CH3COOH), which is a weak acid. When you mix these together in equal proportions, you get left with water (H2O), carbon dioxide gas (CO2), and sodium acetate (CH3COONa)," says Burg. "This is a simple reaction that can be effective in simple household cleaning jobs, as the fizzing can help lift dirt. The acid in vinegar or the alkaline soda can also be effective cleaners on their own."
"Your scalp and hair pH are slightly acidic, with the pH of the scalp being 5.5 and the hair shaft sitting at about 3.7, and adding an excess of acid or alkali can push these too far beyond their capacity to rebalance themselves," says Burg. Poor pH means poor hair quality, with higher pH opening cuticles and causing brittleness, and too low pH damaging color. He also notes that "On the scalp, imbalances of pH can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria, which can lead to other problems, such as scalp irritation and dandruff."
However, there are ways to keep your hair and scalp pH in check. "The main thing we should be thinking about is the follicles: the small organs that grow your hair," explains Burg. "The follicles live in the scalp and are quite sensitive to changes in their environment, so maintaining a healthy scalp is important for hair health. The follicles produce hair in a special pattern known as the hair cycle, with specific times of growth, rest, fall, and regrowth that repeat many times in your life. This cycle can be disrupted quite easily and get out of balance, generally resulting in a short growth period and too much shedding"—which adding a homemade remedy could do.
With the right ratios, a DIY baking soda shampoo could work, but based on Burg's expertise, you'd need to get the measurements just right. If you've got an at-home baking soda remedy that is working for you, there's nothing wrong with continuing to use it. But if you find your scalp or hair not feeling like itself, Burg's tips will come in handy.
And as a general rule of thumb, Burg heeds caution that just because an ingredient is natural that doesn't mean that it's not harmful. "Some common essential oils, for example, contain allergens that can make some people react. Acids, regardless of whether they were fermented or synthesized, can still cause chemical burns," he says. "All-natural remedies are still chemical in their composition and can do damage if used incorrectly."
Baking Soda Alternatives
According to Burg, you should look for products with ingredients like green tea, rosemary, mangosteen, and lavender to soothe and promote overall scalp health. And as luck would have it, there's a shampoo that has all of those ingredients covered.
For hair health, Burg lists flaxseed oil, vitamin E, ylang-ylang oil, and baobab oil as power ingredients. Try conditioning with this formula from Renpure that's loaded with vitamin E.
Can baking soda damage your hair?
"While you may see some short-term cleaning effects, there will be a negative impact on your hair and scalp over time. Unless you are mixing the products together in the exact right proportions, you will end up with one or the other in excess," Burg explains.
What are the benefits of using baking soda on your hair?
It resets your scalp's pH, decreases dandruff and scalp irritation, and helps with scalp dryness.
What should you avoid when you using baking soda on your hair?
You shouldn't use it with apple cider vinegar, which can be used after applying baking soda, but they should not be mixed.