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Why do some lotions and creams have sodium hydroxide in them?!

edited December 2013 in Ask the Beauty Brains

Why do some lotions and creams have sodium hydroxide in them? Isn't that a 'burning' type chemical that is used to make soap?

Why would you want to put that on your face or body?


  • Sodium hydroxide (or NaOH as we chemists call it) is there for one reason: to adjust pH. 

    While NaOH is damaging to skin and hair when used at high concentrations and at high pH, when used at low levels at neutral pH, it doesn’t cause any problem at all. That’s because sodium hydroxide is basic (hi pH) and it will react with other ingredients that are acidic (low pH.) For example, when sodium hydroxide is mixed with hydrochloric acid (which is very powerful) the result is water and regular table salt. 

    Neutralized hydroxide is not harmful at all. 
  • Why is there sodium hydroxide in cuticle softener and remover?
  • Cuticle removers use a higher level of sodium hydroxide to soften the cuticle. This is different from the example I gave above where it's only used to adjust ph.
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