Many people with Dreadlocks prefer the most natural route for their lifestyle, and soap is certainly one of them. Although Castile soaps such as Dr Bronner’s are considered natural and biodegradable they are often used as a common Soap for Dreads without understanding how they can damage your hair! This article will explain why Castile Soaps and Saponified Oils are not a good replacement for a well formulated Dreadlock shampoo!
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What you’ll learn in this article (nav links):
What are Castile Soaps and Saponified Oils?
Castile Soaps are made by combining vegetable oils and lye to achieve a chemical reaction called Saponification resulting in a soap.
Saponified Oils, or Saponification is the chemical reaction of turning fats or oils into soap using lye. The term is literally translates to”turning into soap” in Latin.
Therefore any “shampoo” which is created with Saponified Oils is actually a Castile Soap and NOT a shampoo. This is easily overlooked by consumers who do not understand or read ingredient lists.
Common “shampoos” and castile soaps that people use on their dreadlocks include:
- Dr. Bronners
- Knotty Boy
- The Vital Goods
- Most Shampoo Bars
- And many more…
Why do people use Castile Soap for Dreadlocks?
Many people with Dreadlocks strive to go the natural route and hold the assumption that Castile Soaps like Dr Bronners for Dreads are a better alternative to Commercial Shampoos. Although many Commercial Shampoos have a laundry list of terrible ingredients for your hair and other ingredients that lead to build up in your dreadlocks, that doesn’t mean that ALL Shampoos are bad. This is a typical case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
Before we get into the science and details that explain why these soaps are often a bad choice for Dreadlocks, here are the main reasons why people choose Castile Soaps over Shampoo for their Dreads:
- Castile Soaps are made with as little as 3 ingredients
- Recipes can be found online and made at home with ease
- Castile Soaps are very biodegradable and wash away outdoors without harming the environment
- They’re Vegan friendly – created with Vegetable Oils and Lye
- Can be used for a very wide range of applications as a general cleaner
How do Castile Soaps cause problems for Dreads?
PH IMBALANCES CAN CAUSE DAMAGE
The pH level of your hair and scalp is a very important aspect of Dreadlock Care. Surprisingly many products completely fail to take this crucial step of their product formulation into consideration.
Castile Soaps are typically registered around 8.9 on the pH scale. This level is far outside the range your scalp and hair should be. A high pH will open the cuticle of your hair leading to dry, brittle, and weaker hair causing damage over time.
A safe dreadlock shampoo will be formulated at a healthy pH range of 4.5-5.5 for your hair and scalp, resulting in much safer long term use.
NOT COLOR SAFE BECAUSE OF HIGH PH
The higher the pH level of the products you use (and the higher pH level of your water) will result in hair dye fading out quicker. Therefore, Castile Soaps high in pH should not be used if you want to preserve the color of your dyed hair.
LACK OF DILUTION BY THE USER
Most people using Castile Soaps such as Dr Bronner’s have no idea that they’re supposed to dilute Castile Soaps with water. Dr Bronner’s, for instance, is supposed to be diluted at a 1:10 ratio of soap to water before being used. And when it’s diluted it should be done so with purified water, since most tap water contains minerals resulting in hard water. Failing to dilute Castile Soaps properly will result in much higher pH levels. This is an extra step that is unnecessary with a properly formulated shampoo.
HARDWATER INCREASES PH LEVEL
In addition to the pH issues discussed above, water containing minerals (aka hard water) is typically higher in pH, which will exaggerate these issues even greater.
Generally speaking – the more minerals that are in your water the higher the pH will be. The cumulative effect of pH imbalance starts to become very clear when these factors are taken into account with already higher levels of pH in the products you use.
HARDWATER REDUCES CLEANSING PROPERTIES
Castile Soaps and many home-made “shampoo” recipes fall short of their ability to effectively clean hair in hard water. A good and true shampoo will contain a chelator which binds to minerals in hard water to reduce or prevent those minerals from interfering with the cleansing properties of the shampoo.
FILM AND DRYNESS
As a result of using Castile Soaps for Dreads many people are left with a film and dryness to their hair. Some people are aware of this, but many are not. We’ve experienced this on many of our clients who have no ideas it’s even happening. Lack of proper dilution will exaggerate this issue.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR RINSE (or other acid) REQUIRED
The only solution for the pH issues listed above is to followup your Castile wash with an Acidic Rinse such as an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse. ACV can do wonders for your scalp and hair, but it’s an extra step that simply would not be needed if your shampoo was created at a healthy pH level to begin with.
LACK OF CONSISTENCY
Many of these problems are applicable for a lot of situations. However, some people seem to do just fine with Castile Soaps and Saponified Oils. If you dilute your soap, use water with low mineral levels and always followup with an ACV Rinse you may greatly reduce the issues listed above. However, most people fail to take the necessary precautions into consideration. Plus the water hardness levels vary greatly across regions. All of these points lead me to the recommendation of simply avoiding these Castile Soaps entirely. Just get a good shampoo and be done with it!
SUMMARY OF POINTS AND OUR OPINION
- Castile Soaps are often too high in pH. High pH levels have been scientifically proven to open the cuticles of the hair. Open cuticles result in dryness, brittleness, damage, film on the hair, and fading hair dye.
- Hard Water will exaggerate the pH imbalance. This will greatly reduce the cleansing properties and effectiveness of Castile Soaps
- Proper dilution with purified water and an acidic rinse are all necessary steps to reduce the issues related to Castile Soaps and Hard Water
Why on earth would anyone want to go through all this work just to attempt to prevent or reduce these issues? Why not just use a real shampoo that has been formulated by professional and experienced cosmetic chemists instead? Synthetic Surfactants in real shampoos greatly reduce or even eliminate the problems listed above while being far more effective at cleaning and they also rinse out very clean without residue. The problems with most Commercial Shampoos are that they often contain additional fragrances, dyes, waxes, and other ingredients that build up and are unnecessary and even harmful to Dreadlocks. But there are a handful of shampoos without these harmful ingredients that will be very effective at cleaning your scalp.
By definition and function – Castile Soaps can hardly be considered Shampoo
When considering a shampoo for your dreadlocks your main concerns should be:
- Can it clean my scalp and hair properly?
- Does it contain ingredients that will cause damage or buildup in my dreads?
- Will it close the cuticle on my hair?
- Is it balanced for a healthy pH of the scalp and hair?
Once you understand the true science behind Castile Soaps for Dreads it becomes pretty clear that in most cases people will answer ‘NO’ to most or all of the above questions. Therefore, making Castile Soaps a bad choice for healthy Dreadlock care.
Bottom line – What are the safer and healthier alternatives?
In our opinion, Castile Soaps and “Dreadlock Shampoos” that are made with Saponified Oils should NOT be considered a healthy option for dreadlocks.
“Natural” Dreadlock Shampoos tend to use very easy homemade recipes which lack research and testing. Most of these types of shampoo makers simply do not take the negative points above into consideration. In my opinion it’s pure laziness and a terrible disservice to the Dreadlock Community who faithfully puts their trust in these companies.
Don’t blindly assume something is good for your dreadlocks just because it’s advertised as “NATRUAL”. Always do your research to fully weigh the benefits and drawbacks to understand both sides of the equation. “Natural” “Safe” “Organic” products do not necessarily correlate to being truly safe and healthy for your scalp.
We recommend a real shampoo that has been made professionally. One that has been formulated by an experienced Cosmetic Chemist and tested and reviewed by Dreadlock Professionals. Our highest recommendations are Trader Joes, Giovanni, or Free and Clear. You can find these shampoos and more info on Shampoo guidelines with our Shampoo Guide.