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Sodium Hydroxide In Skin Care: Is It Safe?

Sodium Hydroxide On Skin: How Safe Is It?

Sodium hydroxide is an ingredient found in many household products, from beauty and personal care, to cleaning products and even industrial solvents. When it comes to your beauty regime, it’s usually present in most moisturizers, makeup, shaving foam, shampoo, hair dye, hair removal, sun tanning products, and more.

But despite its universal usage, it may surprise you to learn that sodium hydroxide — commonly known as caustic soda or lye — can actually be an irritant! Thanks to its ability to dissolve grease, fats, and oils, it’s not uncommon to find this ingredient in soaps, detergents and even drain cleaners too!

But don’t panic… Here at Cel, we’ve dived into sodium hydroxide safety and the science behind why it’s deemed necessary and safe in skin care.

Fortunately, with the understanding of some simple chemistry, it is easy enough to make sense of the role sodium hydroxide plays in skin care and our favorite beauty products, and whether you should be embracing the idea of sodium hydroxide on your skin…

Sodium Hydroxide In Skincare: What Exactly Is Sodium Hydroxide?

Excuse us while we get a bit science-y for a sec! So, Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) is what is known as a soluble inorganic compound, made up of sodium (Na+), and hydroxide (OH-). What’s interesting is that the amount of sodium hydroxide you put in to a product, is not necessarily the same amount present in the end result… This is because sodium hydroxide, when dissolved in water, breaks up or ‘dissociates’. This results in separate sodium ions and hydroxide ions.

Sodium ions are relatively nonthreatening. These are the exact same as those found in table salt, in seawater, and even in your own sweat! So, when it comes to sodium ions in skincare, there’s not too much to worry about!

While the sodium ions are harmless, the hydroxide ions play a much more active role. Ultimately, this is the reason sodium hydroxide is added to so many products, due to its ability to balance pH levels.

In water-based products, high levels of hydrogen result in high levels of acidity. The addition of hydroxide can turn excess hydrogen into a neutral solution, making it safe to use. This is its main function in your beauty products!

When adding sodium hydroxide, most of the hydroxide ions will neutralise and turn to water, meaning that the levels of hydroxide in the solution is decreased and should no longer pose a threat to your skin. Meanwhile, the sodium ions simply float away!

Sodium Hydroxide Safety: Yes, It’s Safe!

OK, OK, enough of the science lesson! Yes, if you see Sodium Hydroxide on the ingredients list of your favorite cleanser or skincare product, there’s no need to be alarmed! It’s FDA approved, and usually present in skin care to maintain a safe pH level in the product itself.

However, if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth avoiding sodium hydroxide in your skincare products wherever possible – after all, it’s hard to tell the quantities when looking at a label!

And, What About Sodium Hydroxide In Hair Products?

There is almost always no need for concern when it comes to sodium hydroxide in haircare products as most of the time the same rules apply as they do with sodium hydroxide in skin care.

To ensure that all of our skin care and hair care products can be used by all skin and hair types, we've avoided this ingredient, meaning that no matter how sensitive your skin is, you can trust that Cel products shouldn’t cause irritation!

You can read more on What’s Inside Our Products here.


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Rachel Cleverley

Part writer, part skin-care enthusiast, I can usually be found blogging away with the latest facemask or eye cream on! With specific interest in how our health and fitness can affect our beauty routine, and how science can boost regular, drugstore products.