Ah, the acid mantle.
Now you can be forgiven for thinking it is the name of a psychedelic pop band.
We all have one – a protective mantle over our skin.
It’s a film of amino acids and delicate microflora that protects your skin from premature ageing, breakouts, acne, and irritation.
Your personal acid mantle’s relative success or failure depends upon its pH level.
But what exactly does that mean? And is there anything you can do about it?
Understanding the acid mantle
Your protective acid mantle – also called the “hydro-lipid film” – is a slightly acidic film that sits on your skin’s surface; it kinda acts like an interface between you and the outside world.
In the 1920s, Marchionini and Schade (1) identified the acidity of the skin, which they called the “acid mantle”. They found that this mantle discouraged the growth of fungi and bacteria.
It wasn’t until much later that it was discovered that chronic alkalisation could knock this acid mantle out of balance, which can lead to inflammation, acne dermatitis, and many other atopic skin conditions.
As far as skin structure goes, we must admit it’s pretty cool; there is a unique micro-flora made up of abnormal secretions covering the entire surface of your skin.
- the oily secretions originate in the sebaceous glands
- the water phase is from perspiration in the sweat glands, which exhibit a potent bactericidal effect
- secretions also come from our natural moisturising factor
All of this helps to keep your skin gorgeous, glowing and healthy.
How do I know if my acid mantle is out of balance?
If your acid mantle is not functioning correctly, questions you may have about your skin are:
- My skin is constantly inflamed. Every product I use just stings, so I must be careful with what I use.
- I have to keep my skincare routine very simple. I use products for sensitive skin, but my skin is always red.
- My skin is constantly dry and flaky and always looks irritated.
- I’ve always had delicate skin, but it worsened in my mid to late ’30s.
If you’re still finding the term “acid mantle” a little technical, let us try to help by giving you another scenario.
Have you ever washed your face with soap or an astringent cleanser and experienced sensitivity or a tight, dry feeling? That was your acid mantle being stripped and knocked out of balance.
This is why you are advised not to use soap on your skin. Most soap has an alkaline pH of well over nine, and although your skin might feel squeaky clean, it is stripping and drying your skin out – the article, the soap and water debate, does an excellent job of discussing this topic further.
The anatomy of the acid mantle
Bear with us as we get a little skin sciency here.
This study demonstrates that your acid mantle skin is made up of the following (2).
- lactic acid
- urocanic acid
- fatty acids
- pyrrolidine carboxylic acid
- eccrine glands, which secrete amino acids
Friendly secretions that help with skin metabolism
They protect against environmental assaults and secrete enzymes that break down excess sebum in your skin.
They prevent harmful bacteria and viruses from entering the bloodstream, keeping your skin soft and supple so it stays free from cracks and abrasions.
They boost the immune system, which produces antigens close to the skin’s surface; these antigens retard the growth of harmful bacteria, known as pathogens.
Sadly, like all things in life, there will always be things that upset the status quo, and your acid mantle is no exception.
Unfortunately, our world is full of different environments, some of which can hurt us.
Dust, sun damage, pollutants, central heating, air conditioning, harsh treatments, and astringent products contribute to stress in the skin, which breaks down our cell’s natural defence mechanisms.
Our skin’s barrier function gets knocked out of balance. The intercellular lipids between our cell walls designed to keep this barrier intact begin to break down, creating all sorts of inflammation.
Bacteria, allergens, and foreign bodies find a passageway through your skin, causing havoc; once they hit the bloodstream, they create inflammation, allergies, and breakouts.
This is why acid mantle repair is essential if your skin is out of balance.
The importance of your skin’s pH
This is where your remnants of high school chemistry come back into play.
The pH scale is the crucial factor for determining healthy bacteria and the level of acidity to recap.
It measures the hydrogen concentration at one to 14; a neutral pH is 7; anything above creates an ALKALINE environment. Anything below creates an ACIDIC environment.
As this study shows, if your skin falls on the alkaline end of the scale, it creates a disturbed barrier (3). Your skin will be drier and more susceptible to wrinkles; however, if it is too acidic, it may appear red, irritated, and more prone to breakouts.
If your skin is healthy, it will have a pH of around 5.5; this will register only slightly acidic and conjures up desirable adjectives such as plump” and glowing. It really is the epidermal sweet spot, so to speak.
But did you know there is a good reason why your skin is slightly acidic? It is because pathogenic bacteria thrive under alkaline conditions.
This is why your skincare products must be formulated without strong astringents, which tend to upset the delicate microflora and can throw your acid mantle of balance.
You can determine your skin’s pH level by its behaviour; again, acne-prone means it’s too acidic. If your skin is dry and flaky, it means it is alkaline.
It never hurts to remember that your body is a system, and the things you put on it can hurt it.
So how do you reach equilibrium with your complexion and maintain a healthy balance on your skin? It’s important to avoid harsh treatments such as micro-needling and astringent ingredients, opting for gentle, neutral products instead.
A Skincare routine for your acid mantle
To be kinder to your acid mantle, especially on your face, consider an oil-based cleanser, such as miracle cleanse – a gentle oil-to-water cleanser that protects as it cleanses.
Toners are also healthy pH promoters and suitable options to include.
Ideally, the ingredients within an acid mantle cream must be gentle enough to keep your pH levels balanced, that is, if you want your skin to remain friendly and healthy.
They are carefully formulated with the perfect ratio of skin-identical ingredients like ceramides and fatty acids to balance missing elements in your skin whilst keeping your acid mantles healthy microflora intact, helping to return your skin to a youthful, healthy glow.
To conclude. The naked truth
Healthy skin equals the delicate microflora that makes up your acid mantle intact.
To achieve this, your skin can’t be too acidic or alkaline; the correct pH is nothing more than a balancing act.
While all this information is helpful if your skin is genuinely impaired, it’s probably best not to try to play amateur chemist; instead, consult a skin specialist who will give you the most accurate reading where your skin is concerned.
Finally, whilst we rarely knock competitors, we often meet skincare manufacturers and chemists who have never heard of the acid mantle, let alone know how to repair it.
Yet, as manufacturers of good quality skincare products, we feel we have a responsibility to truly understand skin science.
Otherwise, how can we expect to formulate products that get our customers’ desired results, essentially healthy, balanced skin?
If you want to know more about the skin’s acid mantle, the following article discusses its role in more detail and is an excellent technical read.
The Acid Mantle: A Myth or an Essential Part of Skin Health?
Skin pH: from basic science to essential skincare.
- Skin pH: From Basic Science to Basic Skin Care