Here's What You Need To Know About The Latest Korean Beauty Obsession

Photographed By Winnie Au.
While Korea has long been known as the skin-innovation hotbed, the latest focus seems to be a play on something that is far from new: pH levels. More specifically, the pH levels of the scalp. While stateside scalp health tends to focus around cleansing — the idea of conditioning before you shampoo or if you should be using a shampoo at all are hot issues — new scalp-balancing treatments may be on the horizon. And naturally, we're committed to keeping you in the know.

While certainly not a new concept — to wit: cosmetic chemists always keep pH in mind when formulating anything you put on your skin and numerous brands have made pH their hallmark — it seems to be gaining traction. That means you may start hearing the term thrown around more and more. After all, if trend patterns tell us anything, what's big in Korea will be big everywhere soon after.

Translation: This is the perfect time for a debriefing, so let's jump in.
Scalp pH: The Next K-Beauty Obsession?
"The big thing in Korea is using pH-specific hair treatments to stimulate your scalp and make your scalp very healthy, so that your hair grows fuller, faster, and thicker," Sheryll Donerson, a beauty blogger who currently resides in Thailand, tells us.

Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam, tell us that many in Korea have become focused and diligent about taking special care of their scalps to prevent premature hair loss. "There are many treatments to ensure their strands are nourished and their scalp is healthy," she tells us. "They are big believers that scalp health is important for long, strong, and silky strands. Just like the skin on your face, the scalp sheds dead skin cells and it can be covered in a film of hair products and silicon from years of buildup." Of course, we have scalp treatments, too, but the focus is more on exfoliation than pH.

Scalp pH 101
First things fist: Let's get into the logistics of what, exactly, the pH level of anything means. In terms of skin care, we've broken it down, here. When it comes to your scalp, it's not very different: pH translates to "potential hydrogen" and refers to the acid-alkaline ratio of substances. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 representing an equilibrium. Anything less is considered acidic, while anything above is considered alkaline, Francesca Fusco, MD, explains. While the ideal pH level of your skin remains a steady 5.5, hair has two separate numbers. Dr. Fusco explains that the ideal pH for your actual hair strands is 3.67, but for the scalp, it's 5.5.

So, what should the levels of your hair products be in order to maintain a neutral balance? This is where things get a tad bit complicated. A substance that is too alkaline will cause the hair cuticle to open, while a substance that is too acidic will cause the cuticle to contract. But as Dr. Fusco explains, companies aren't required to put pH values on the bottles of products. (Of course!) Ideally, one would use a shampoo with a 5.5 pH and a conditioner with a lower pH to counter the charges on the hair, she tells us.
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How It Applies To You
To help your head from completely exploding with chemistry jargon, as a general rule, Dr. Fusco says to read the labels and choose the product that is right for your hair type. If you suffer from a dry scalp, chances are, your hair and scalp are too alkaline and you should be using a product with a pH of 6 or 7 (like Clear's Complete Scalp Care Shampoo & Conditioner, which Dr. Fusco is a spokesperson for). For those with curly hair, your cuticle is already slightly open, so you should try using something that returns the hair to a slightly acidic pH level (a lot of curly girls use apple cider vinegar mixed with water as a cleansing treatment). If you have straight hair, you should use products that are pH-balanced (like Davines' Rebalancing Shampoo).
If your head is swirling with numbers, we're right there with you. As cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson told us, pH balancing definitely isn't something you should add to your list of things to worry about. Like we mentioned earlier, the guys and gals in the long white lab coats already factor these types of things in when formulating products.

"We’ve known for ages that to prevent hair from feeling dry and looking dull, we have to balance the pH with certain ingredients,” says Wilson. She notes the number one factor that impacts hair pH levels is chemical treatments. But she assuages, "Many are now ammonia-free, which results in a milder pH...and conditioning treatments can also minimize the damage.”

Our closing thoughts? Understanding and considering pH is important, but don't let it keep you up at night.

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