Have you ever been lost in thought during a shower and accidentally grabbed a bottle of shower gel or body wash when you meant to get the shampoo? I’ve done it more than once and immediately freaked out, thinking that products for your skin can’t be good for your hair.
So, are all those bottles in your shower really just the same thing, and if you are in a pinch can shower gel be used for hair?
Shower gel can technically be used on hair as a shampoo substitute if indicated on the product package. However, shower gel generally shouldn’t be used on hair. While it probably won’t do you any harm, your hair and skin have different needs, and shower gel can damage your hair by stripping away its oils.
There are some people who do use shower gel for their hair and swear by it, but before you jump on that train (especially if you have thick, long hair), let’s take a look at a few things:
- Can Shower Gel Be Used for Hair?
- The Science Behind It
- Differences Between Shower Gel and Shampoo
- How To Test The pH of Your Product
- Shampoo Alternatives
- Other Common Questions About Shower Gel
Can Shower Gel Be Used For Hair?
We’ll start with the obvious—skin is a living organ while hair is not. They’re different! And while shower gel is meant for your body, shampoo is formulated specifically for hair.
Yes, both are supposed to help clean, but a good shampoo will leave oil in your hair so it doesn’t dry out. As someone who constantly battles with dry hair, this is important!
When washing, our hair and skin have different needs and that typically requires different products. We need to look at not only the ingredients involved in products but what it does to the pH levels of our bodies.
When you’re scouring through the hair and skincare aisle, you’ll see the familiar jargon on products. For dry skin. For sensitive skin. Moisturizing. Organic. Exfoliating. pH balancing.
But how am I supposed to believe it if every other product pretty much says the same thing? Marketing buzz words aside, there’s actually some truth to what they’re trying to communicate in terms of the importance of pH.
The Science Behind It
It’s been 15 years since I’ve taken a chemistry class, so let’s rewind. pH is a mathematical formula that is commonly explained as the “potential of hydrogen.”
The pH scale is used to measure acidity; in other terms, it is the amount of hydrogen ions that can be released in a solution. If something contains and releases more hydrogen ions compared to hydroxide ions, then it’s considered acidic.
The scale runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic (also known as alkaline). A pH of 7 is right in the middle, meaning it is neutral. Pure water is neutral.
So what does this all mean for your body, and why shower gel is probably not good for your hair?
Difference between Shower Gel and Shampoo
Your hair ideally has a pH level of around 3.67, and your skin, including the scalp, should be between 4.5-5.5, ideally around 5.5.
It will boil down to the specific needs of your hair, but generally, good shampoos will have pH levels that will first open up your cuticles to clean your hair, and conditioners that will close the cuticles so that your hair can maintain its moisture, health, and shine.
The pH level of shower gels is probably higher than your shampoo and conditioner (if you have some good ones), perhaps around 6.0, so depending on that, putting shower gel in your hair may throw the pH levels of your hair out of whack, causing it to be very dry, weak, and frizzy.
If I ran out of shampoo and conditioner, I’d rather skip a day or two than risk reaching for the shower gel. But if you’re now curious about the pH level of your hair products and shower gel, there’s an easy way to find out if it doesn’t tell you on the bottle.
How To Test The pH of Your Product
With the Internet at our fingertips, chances are someone has already asked the question and has figured out the pH of the product in question. It may be a matter of a simple search.
But if you’re up for a fun science activity (who wouldn’t be after that chemistry refresher), you can go to the store and pick up pH paper test strips to check it yourself.
And maybe pick up some extra shampoo and conditioner while you’re at it! If you’re now turned away from the thought of using shower gel for your hair but ran out of shampoo and/or conditioner, let’s look at some other ways to wash your hair.
Shampoo & Conditioner Alternatives
There are many approaches to cleaning your hair outside of the traditional shampoo and conditioner. As a matter of fact, some of these ingredients can be found in your cabinet right now.
If you’re feeling adventurous (or desperate), you can do a quick search, and clean your hair using:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Baby Powder
- Baking Soda
- Lemon Juice
There are SO MANY ways to wash your hair without shampoo. And if you’re not enthusiastic about that, my co-worker has fabulous hair and when asked about his secret: just water!
Now let’s see if we can answer any other lingering questions you’ve ever had about shower gel.
Other Questions About Shower Gel
Can shower gel be used for face?
Even with the mild ingredients, shower gel is generally not recommended for your face. Your face is more sensitive than other areas of the skin. Applying shower gel to your face could throw off the pH level, irritate your skin, and clog your pores.
Can shower gel be used as hand soap?
You are able to use shower gel as hand soap, but it may or may not be as effective. Hand soaps typically contain harsher ingredients, and though not proven, an antibacterial addictive that is thought to effectively kill bacteria.
Can shower gel be used as shaving cream?
While it is a common activity to shave using shower gel or body wash, several doctors advise against using shower gel as shaving cream. Because shower gel is not designed for shaving, you are increasing your chances of getting nicks, cuts, and infections when using it.
Can shower gel be used for bubble bath?
Shower gel can be used for a bubble bath, and some products are specifically labeled for both a shower gel and bubble bath. The main difference is that bubble baths typically have ingredients specifically meant to create more bubbles.
Can shower gel be used for dishwashing liquid?
Shower gel and dishwashing liquid contain ingredients with different pH levels and normally should not be used interchangeably. If using a shower gel to wash dishes, you may find it difficult to get rid of oils on your dishes and rinse off any fragrances from the gel itself.
Can shower gel expire?
If unopened, shower gel typically expires in about 3 years. You should be able to find an expiration date on the bottle. The ingredients of the gel itself and the environment of where it’s stored over time may affect when it’s no longer good to use.