Sodium Hydroxide in Hair Products, Should You Be Alarmed?

by Jarmelia of DIY Hair Care Blog

As natural hair women many of us want nothing to do with lye which is scientifically known as, sodium hydroxide. As more of us start reading product labels and becoming more aware of what we put on our hair, we start to see ingredients we wouldn’t have otherwise paid attention to. Recently, there has been much discussion about sodium hydroxide and it’s place in hair and skin products. Many naturals run from sodium hydroxide, when in fact it is actually pretty harmless in someformulations.

First, what exactly is sodium hydroxide? 
“sodium hydroxide chemical compound, NaOH, a white crystalline substance that readily absorbs carbon dioxide and moisture from the air. It is very soluble in water, alcohol, and glycerin. It is a caustic and a strong base (see acids and bases ). Commonly known as caustic soda, lye, or sodium hydrate, it is available commercially in various solid forms, e.g., pellets, sticks, or chips, and in water solutions of various concentrations; both solid and liquid forms vary in purity…..” [SOURCE]

Is sodium hydroxide harmful? 
Yes, in it’s natural unadulterated state (like straight out of the bottle) it is caustic and can burn right through your skin.

Should I be alarmed if a product I use contains sodium hydroxide?
No. The fact is, you use sodium hydroxide every single day. Say what!? Yes, if you use soap, you are using a product that has sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is used to make every single soap you buy whether handmade or storebought. You can’t make soap without lye and very few (I mean very very very few) people know how to use wood ash to make soap. In soap the lye goes through a process called saponification in which the lye reacts with the oils (lye and oil is what makes soap) and the lye neutralizes. There is no floating lye in the finished product…not so scary huh?

Look on the back of your shampoo or conditioner and you may find sodium hydroxide is in there too, maybe even in your lotion! But, why these products you ask…well, it’s there to balance the pH.

 The Natural Hair Haven explains it better:
The base (sodium hydroxide) reacts with acid to produce a salt and water. This action means if you add sufficient sodium hydroxide you can change the pH from highly acidic to low acid or neutral or basic.”

Will the sodium hydroxide eventually relax my curl? 
No! There is a difference in the amount and reaction caused by the sodium hydroxide in conditioner, soaps, etc. than in relaxers.

Here is the explanation from The Natural Hair Haven:
The difference is concentration and therefore pH. Relaxer has sufficient amounts to keep the solution basic, other products such as conditioner will have enough to keep it slightly acidic to neutral (in most cases).”

So see, no need to freak out if you you see sodium hydroxide in your beauty products, more than likely it’s not harmful. Unless the product says “Silkener”, “Texturizer”, or “Relaxer”, I wouldn’t worry about it.