I have visited numerous blogs raising the question, "Are you still natural if you color-treat your hair?" or similar questions. Some curl enthusiasts agreed that if you chemically alter your curls (including color), you are no longer natural. Others felt as long as you preserve your curl texture you are still natural. After reading a couple of posts I noticed a theme, texture vs. alteration.
Being a researcher by nature, I had to dig a little deeper before I could formulate my decision. By definition, the term "Going Natural" means to stop chemically processing (relaxing) your hair. As you can see on the PH Scale above, lye (an active ingredient in relaxers) has a PH level of 14. Now, while coloring your hair is a chemical process, the coloring process does not go to the extreme of straightening your curls. As many of us were taught in Chemistry class, water has a PH level of 7, which is neutral. Hair and skin have an average PH level of 5 (slightly acidic). So, let's take this a step further. To permanently color hair, the hair cuticle has to be opened for color to enter, and then closed. Hair has to be raised above a PH level of 5.5 to open the cuticle, lowered below 4.5 to close the cuticle, and treated to return to the ideal PH level. Some hair dyes use ammonia to open the cuticle, while more natural dyes will use a substance with a PH level closer to neutral. However, in order to maintain structural health of your hair, the substance you add to your hair cannot deviate too close to either end of the PH scale.
Many curly divas choose the co-wash method to maintain their tresses. Co-washes include washing hair with conditioner only and occasionally using clarifying treatments to rid your hair of product buildup. This method helps preserve naturally produced oils in usually dry curly hair. Many clarifying treatments consist of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Both of these substances are acidic and in essence lower the PH level of your hair. When you rinse the clarifying solution out of your hair with water (PH level of 7), the water then raises the PH level. Even something as simple as leaving lemon juice in your hair and going to the beach can lighten your hair. In other words, anything you put into your hair (i.e. water, baking soda, lemon juice, Apple cider Vinegar, etc.) can raise/lower the PH of the hair or chemically alter your hair's PH level in some way, unless the substance is the same PH level as your hair.
If you ascribe to the reasoning that color chemically knocks you out of the naturally curly circle of friends, then technically speaking no one is natural (unless you do not wash or treat your hair, which I would not suggest). Everyone has processed hair for the sheer fact that doing hair requires some sort of a process, whether you shampoo, condition and repeat as needed or do something more extensive to your hair. Hair is another way to express yourself. Some choose to color while others do not. As long as you take care of the hair on your head, it really shouldn't matter what another curly lady chooses to do to express herself.