Most people who wear their hair natural rely on pH-balanced hair care products when tending to their tresses. Why? Because shampoos and other products that are not pH balanced can leach moisture from their mane and leave hair brittle. Here, gives the 411 on why using pH-balanced products is better for natural strands. And schools us on how to know if a product is pH balanced.

But first, let’s talk a little chemistry. Simply put, pH levels range from 0 to 14. Anything with a pH from 1 to 6 is acidic, and from 8 to 14 is alkaline. Natural tresses usually have a 4.4 to 5.5 pH (pH means “potential of hydrogen”). That means untreated hair is slightly acidic. Yes, it may sound bad, but that’s a good thing. For your strands to remain healthy, your hair’s pH has to remain in that range. In other words, balance is key.

To better understand what happens to your strands when you add substances that violently shift their pH, imagine a close-up of your hair’s outermost cuticle layer. Any acidic product closes the cuticle layers of your hair. Conversely, something that’s alkaline, or basic, opens them.

Opening them allows moisture into the hair. But this also means moisture can escape just as easily. That’s why people experience extremely dried-out hair after using alkaline shampoo products (those with a pH over 6.5) or after applying chemical relaxers (they have a pH of 14—yikes!).

Obviously, it would be great to know what a product’s pH is before you use it. These simple tips will help you find balance (pH balance, that is) in shampoos, conditioners and other hair care stuff. Remember, you want to find products with a pH between 4.5 and 6.5.

Read the label. Some products list the exact pH range on the bottle. Others might say: “pH balanced” or “low pH.” If you scour the product’s label and find no pH information, consider it a warning: Don’t buy it.

Visit the manufacturer’s website. Most big companies have to fill out Material Safety Data Sheets to show that their products are safe for factory workers to handle while they’re manufacturing the product. These same data sheets often list a product’s pH and its ingredients. (Another option is to e-mail a company representative.)

Call the company’s consumer hotline. If you come up empty online or don’t have easy computer access, call to see if a staffer can give you the information by phone.

Use pH strips to test the product. As a last resort, it is possible to test a product’s pH. Use the pH test that has special plastic (not paper) strips. Paper strips can yield inaccurate readings. But really, it’s best not to rely too heavily on pH strips tests as it’s easy to make mistakes.

Click here to read about baking soda treatments and how they affect the hair’s pH.