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 [sociallocker] ingredients we wouldn’t have otherwise paid attention to. Recently, there has been much discussion about sodium hydroxide and it’s placed in hair and skin products. Many naturals run from sodium hydroxide, when in fact it is actually pretty harmless in some formulations.
First, what exactly is sodium hydroxide? Warning.. about to get sciency!
“sodium hydroxide (lye) 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 (corrosive) 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]
OK, We are done being sciency. Now that wasn’t so bad now, was it?
The Question: Is sodium hydroxide (lye) harmful?
Yes, in its natural unadulterated state (like straight out of the bottle) it is caustic and can burn right through your skin.
Sodium hydroxide is frequently used as an industrial cleaning agent. It is added to water, heated, and then used to clean process equipment, storage tanks, etc. It can dissolve grease, oils, fats, and protein-based deposits. It is also used for cleaning waste discharge pipes under sinks and drains in domestic properties. (Now I know what to use when I’m out of Drain-O; my old relaxer!!!)
Should I be alarmed if a product I use contains sodium hydroxide?
No. The fact is, you use sodium hydroxide (lye) 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 store-bought. 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?
On the Other Hand (Warning: This one is pretty Gross!)
In a similar fashion, sodium hydroxide is used to digest tissues, such as in a process that was used with farm animals at one time. This process involved placing a carcass into a sealed chamber, then adding a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water (which breaks the chemical bonds that keep the flesh intact). This eventually turns the body into a liquid with a coffee-like appearance, and the only solid that remains are bone hulls, which could be crushed between one’s fingertips. Sodium hydroxide is frequently used in the process of decomposing roadkill dumped in landfills by animal disposal contractors. Due to its low cost and availability, it has been used to dispose of corpses by criminals. Italian serial killer Leonarda Cianciulli used this chemical to turn dead bodies into soap. In Mexico, a man who worked for drug cartels admitted disposing of over 300 bodies with it.
Look on the back of your shampoo or conditioner and you may find sodium hydroxide is in it; 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 (lye) eventually relax my curl?
Yes, and No, There is a difference in the amount and reaction caused by the sodium hydroxide in conditioner, soaps, etc. than in relaxers.
It Depends on the application. In a conditioner, No. But in a relaxer, yes.
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 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.
Chemical Burn Caused by sodium hydroxide (Lye)… you decide!
Thanks for reading!The post Sodium Hydroxide *AKA Lye* in Hair Products – Should you be Alarmed? first appeared on Demetrion Ware.