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Last updated: April 07, 2020

The Truth About Hair pH from @lisalovesbalayage

@lisalovesbalayage Lisa Walker Hair pH Level Scale And Porosity Chart Acidic Neutral and Alkaline Color
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The Truth About Hair pH from @lisalovesbalayage

Call us Bill Nye, because we are about to drop some serious science knowledge! You know pH levels of hair and products affect color retention and hair condition, but do you know WHY? We learned all about it from Lisa Walker, aka @lisalovesbalayage, and Matrix Technical Directors Leah Sterk and Lenny Strand, so keep reading!


We caught this juicy education at Matrix Destination 2020, the brand’s massive education extravaganza that happens every two years. It’s a three-day event that brings 2,000 hairdressers to Orlando, Fla. to connect with Matrix artists and industry influencers, and we were lucky enough to see Lisa, Leah and Lenny at the Color with ME class.


Products Used


What is hair’s pH?

Remember that the pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is, and it ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. Hair has a pH of 4.5 to 5.5, meaning it is acidic.


In order for haircolor to work, it has to penetrate the cuticle. Alkaline substances help the cuticle soften and swell, allowing haircolor or other materials to enter the cuticle. With us so far? Good.


Why does haircolor acidity matter?

The more alkaline a substance is, the more the cuticle swells. We loved this analogy from Lisa:


@lisalovesbalayage Lisa Walker Hair pH Level Scale And Porosity Chart Acidic Neutral and Alkaline Color

Think of the pH of the hair like a gas tank gauge. A half-tank is neutral. Hair is at a quarter-tank—slightly acidic. Anytime we “add gas,” or apply haircolor, we’re putting the hair in an alkaline environment to soften and swell the cuticle. 


In recent years, acidic color has been growing in popularity, and many people think acidic color “closes” the cuticle. But Lisa explained that’s not true. Acidic color may be acidic, but it’s still less acidic than hair, meaning it is alkaline to hair. So it softens and swells the cuticle to a lower degree than alkaline haircolor.



When should I use alkaline color versus acidic color?

Lisa, Leah and Lenny gave a great breakdown of how different types of Matrix haircolor products affect hair pH, and Lisa posted great info on her Instagram, too. Here’s what you should know:


Color Sync: the original Color Sync is an alkaline demi. This will swell the cuticle the most and allow for the greatest shift in color. Lisa uses this for more saturated, full coverage, or when the underlying pigment is strong or uneven. Think of this as coverage versus blend.


Sheer Acidic: The Sheer Acidic Blonde line, made for Levels 8 and up, and the NEW Sheer Acidic Brunette line for Levels 2 to 6 are the opposite of the original alkaline Color Sync. These will only slightly soften the cuticle, meaning no shifting of the base and a translucent finish. Lisa uses these acidic demi shades on hair that is damaged or porous or when she wants to make sure there’s no chance of shifting the base.


Matrix Sheer Acidic Toners Color Swatches Sheer Nude Violet Ash Steel Tones
Matrix Sheer Acidic Toners


For even more clarity, here’s a pic Lisa posted to her IG to break down the difference:

@lisalovesbalayage Lisa Walker Acidic Alkaline Clear Demi Permanent Color Chart
Instagram via @lisalovesbalayage


The picture below shows a range of Matrix color products and the hair levels they can be used at, and here’s what you need to remember: the less shift you want, the less alkaline the product should be. Also, YES, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: Matrix is releasing Level 11 Power Toners! Stay tuned to BTC for when these will be released!


Matrix Color Sync Acidic and Alkaline Toners


Want to learn more about acidic versus alkaline products and more haircolor theory? Tap here to learn how to choose the right toning formula!



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