As barbers we often get questions about tap water & men’s hair as clients want to know if it makes a difference. At our downtown men’s barber shop we are one of the Salt Lake City barber shops who have an appreciation for pH scale and qualities of hair when mixed with acidic and alkali water. Where does tap water & men’s hair fit on that scale and does it really matter at all?
Water is the most abundant and important of all chemicals, composing 75 percent of the earth’s surface and about 65 percent of the human body. Water is known as the universal solvent because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. Distilled or de-mineralized water is used as a nonconductor of electricity, while water containing certain mineral substances is an excellent conductor of electricity.
Water is purified through boiling, filtration, or distillation. Boiling water at 212 degrees Fahrenheit destroys most microbes and renders it suitable for drinking. During filtration, water passes through a porous substance, such as filter paper or charcoal, to remove organic material. Distillation is the process whereby water is heated to a vapor in a closed vessel. The vapors are captured and passed off through a tube into another vessel, where they are cooled and condensed to a liquid. This process purifies water used in the manufacturing of cosmetics.
Soft water is rainwater or chemically treated water that has low levels of mineral substances such as calcium and magnesium salts. Lesser amounts of such minerals in soft water allow for soaps and shampoos to lather freely. When discussing tap water & men’s hair you should know that soft water as described above is the best choice for use in the barbershop. Tap water is actually a negative choice for reasons that will be explained more later.
Hard water contains mineral substances that curdle or precipitate soap instead of permitting a permanent lather to form. Hard water may be softened by distillation or by the use of sodium carbonate (washing soda) or sodium phosphate.
When it comes to tap water & men’s hair, “pH” is the critical factor in understanding why tap water is not a good choice. The letters pH denote potential hydrogen, the relative degree of acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The pH scale measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in acidic and alkaline water based solutions.
In pure water some of the water molecules ionize naturally into hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions. The pH scale measures those ions. The hydrogen ion is acidic, and the hydroxide ion is alkaline. Pure water is 50 percent acidic and 50 percent alkaline as denoted by the number 7 on the pH scale. The range is between 0 to 14…with below 7 indicating acidic solution, and above 7 indicating an alkaline solution.
The pH scale is a logarithmic scale, which means that a change of one whole number represents a tenfold change in pH. For example, a pH of 8 is 10 times more alkaline than a pH of 7. A pH of 9 is 100 times more alkaline than a pH of 7. One number change makes a huge difference on a log scale.
The pH range of hair and skin is 4.5 to 5.5 with an average of 5.0 on the scale. That means that pure water is 100 times more alkaline than hair and skin, even though it has a neutral pH. As many Salt Lake City barbers know, pure water can cause the hair to swell up to 20 percents. This is something to consider when thinking about tap water & men’s hair.
Acids have a pH below 7.0 and have a propensity to contract and harden the hair. Alkalis have a pH above 7.0, feel slippery on the skin and soften and swell the hair. You can see on the chart above which items have acidic and alkaline characteristics and how they can affect a man’s hair. This can have a subtle but clear result in how your hair looks and feels. It helps you to understand the relationship between tap water & men’s hair.
Here is an example of benefits of alkaline water on hair. When I was in barber school, one of the instructors would bring in containers of water which had been treated to produce a very high alkalinity…..at least a 9 on the scale if I remember correctly. We would then put it into our spray bottles which we used to spritz or moisten the hair during a haircut.
It was always amazing to me how soft and manageable the hair was after being sprayed with this treated water. I would often have two spray bottles….one with just regular Tap Water…..and the other with the treated Alkaline water. I really wanted to see first hand the relationship between tap water & men’s hair.
I would switch haircuts with the different types of water. There was absolutely no comparison. The alkaline water was always far superior for use on men’s hair during a haircut. I could do a much better haircut because the alkaline water made the hair soft and manageable to work with. This answered clearly for me the relationship between tap water & men’s hair. Soft water or alkaline water is far superior on men’s hair.