Pantene’s Little White Lye

A few months ago I read Afrobella’s r-a-v-e review of Pantene’s Curly Hair Series Deep Moisturizing Treatment, but this cheeky little square box proved elusive until I finally found it at a Target yesterday.  The price was under $5, the packaging was cute, but when I flipped the label to check the ingredients and saw SODIUM HYDROXIDE listed, I gasped.  I pulled my mom over to read the label to make sure I wasn’t misreading it, but nope, it was confirmed, sodium hydroxide was on the label and in this product.

What’s the big deal?  Well the big deal is that sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is better known as lye, the same active ingredient in relaxers.  My mind immediately wheeled back to the scene in Good Hair which Chris Rock and his scientist buddy immersed a Coke can into a solution of sodium hydroxide only to have it be eaten away within minutes.  In addition to dimethicone (a silicone, which is the first ingredient listed on the label, meaning that it makes up the highest percentage of this product), there are also four conditioning agents, as well as four preservatives, which negate any of the benefits from the conditioners.

That all said, I am not a chemist and I have a feeling that the NaOH is probably being used to giving slip to the product.   And in general lye is not a dangerous ingredient, after all it is generally included in most soaps. The point of me bringing this all up is to underline the importance of reading product labels and being aware as consumers of what is in the products you are buying.  For me, tis the season to say ‘ho, ho, no thank you!’ to Pantene.   As a natural who seeks to remove chemicals from my daily regimen (and stay as far away from relaxers as possible) I will certainly not be trying this product.    As always, if it works for you and you have done your research, by all means, have at it!

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12 Comments

  1. The importance of reading labels! I’m sure it would cause more damage to my hair then it actually repairs. To each its own, I guess.

  2. Thanks for the heads up. BTW, I am a new follower and I love your blog.

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  4. Actually I asked this question on a forum and got this answer:

    “the sodium hydroxide is not being used to straighten your hair. It is used as a pH balancing ingredient.
    For those who don’t know, the pH scale measures how acid or alkaline something is. Water is pH neutral. If something is more acidic than water, it has a lower pH, and if it is more alkaline it has a higher PH. Battery acid has a very low pH (strong acid) and sodium hydroxide (lye – strong alkali) has a very high pH.

    Hair is at its strongest (cuticle tightly closed) in a mildly acidic environment (pH a bit lower than water). Apple Cider Vinegar is more strongly acidic than your hair would prefer. Baking soda (which is sodium bicarbonate) is more alkaline than your hair would prefer. This is why it is important to follow a baking soda wash with an ACV rinse, to put your hair back where it wants to be. It’s also why doing the baking soda after the ACV is not recommended. But I digress…

    Most conditioners would be “pH balanced” – it means formulated to be in the “hair friendly” zone. Sometimes, when the cosmetic chemist has concocted a product, it isn’t quite where it should be on the pH scale. In this instance, if the pH is too alkaline, the formulator will add small amounts of acid (citric acid is one I believe). By the same token, if it is too acid, they will add minute amounts of alkali (the sodium hydroxide) to bring it back to where it needs to be. These are very small amounts.

    The product is now in the “hair-friendly zone”. There is no risk that your hair will be straightened from this. chemical fire cream is all the way over in the other zone – extremely alkaline.

    Just thought I’d clear up the confusion. A lot of people panic when they see sodium hydroxide.”

  5. Thank you AnaNicholle for that explanation. At first glance I’d pass on the product too– not big on P&G products.

  6. AnaNicholle,
    Thanks for the explanation. I already knew this, but it’s very important to clear this up for newbies who may not know. Those of us who have been on our hair journeys for a while should know to do our research before reviewing products/ingredients. This would send a lot of newbies into a panic for no reason at all.

  7. i have tried this product as a replacement for the Pantene R&N conditioning mask. it works just as well, not better, though. it provides amazing slip, BUT it’s benefits for me were negated when used with heat. my hair doesn’t mind cones, but when heat is used, idk. so, i just put it on in the shower, don a cap while showering, then rinse and detangle.

  8. Thanks for the reminder to always read those labels Cassadie! (Oh the days when I would just run into the beauty supply store and just grab anything lol).
    @AnaNicholle…thanks for the explanation as well.

  9. Wow, I always read ingredients, and this is just a reminder to KEEP reading ingredients. I’ve never used Pantene products before, but this is definitely good to know.

    @AnaNicholle– awesome point re: using this ingredient because of pH balancing. I’ve been learning a lot about pH in hair and skin in recent months, and you explained this all very well. Thanks!

  10. I hear you Cassidie, I once tried Neutrogena’s Triple Moisture Leave in and didn’t purchase it again because the company used NaOH to keep it at a pH of 4.5. But honestly Aloe Vera can do the same thing to pH balance a product. Some companies are just too cheap to use a more natural alternative.

  11. I think it’s incredibly important for people to read ingredients listings. At the end of the day your hair and skin are integral parts of who you are, if you put harmful products on them you’re risking your health and potentially harming your body. A lot of people (irregardless of race or hair texture) don’t read product labels, know the difference between mineral oil and jojoba oil, and will buy any product that is marketed to them. I think it’s great that bloggers like yourself are sharing your knowledge with others but we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves. Corporate manufacturers will always mislead and market unhealthy products irregardless of the consequences because their priority is making money.

  12. I was wondering why my hair was falling out of my scalp. As much as I loved the Pantene line, my hair was going south. It was so long and then it started falling out–even the Pantene Beautiful Length’s shampoo and conditioner has it in it!!! I my Lord. Anyway, I tossed them out and now use Silk Elements line which is great, and my hair is back to bouncy and long. I’m telling everyone I know about Pantene..how could they put that lye in their products??? Never again, I tossed out $30.00 worth the other day!

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