Acid mantle, you can be forgiven for thinking it is the name of a psychedelic pop band.
In reality, we all have one – a protective mantle all over our skin.
It’s a film of amino acids and delicate microflora that protects your skin from premature ageing, breakouts, acne, and irritation.
The relative success or failure of your own personal acid mantle depends upon its pH level.
But what exactly does that mean? And is there anything you can do about it?
Understanding the acid mantle
This protective acid mantle – also referred to as the “hydro-lipid film” – is a protective and slightly acidic film that sits on your skin’s surface, acting as the interface between you and the world.
In the 1920s, Marchionini and Schade identified the acidity of the skin, which they called the “acid mantle”. They also 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 have to admit it’s pretty cool; there is a unique micro-flora made up of strange 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 powerful bactericidal effect
- secretions also come from our natural moisturising factor
All of which helps to keep your skin gorgeous 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 always inflamed. Every product that I use just stings, so I have to be really 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 started to get worse 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 the reason why you are advised not to use soap on your skin. Most soap has an alkaline pH of well over nine. Though your skin might feel squeaky-clean, in reality, it is stripping and drying your skin out – the article; the soap and water debate does a good job of discussing this topic further
The Anatomy of the acid mantle
Your skin’s acid mantle is made up of the following:
- 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, preventing bad 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 bad bacteria, known as pathogens
Sadly, like all things in life, there are always going to be things that upset the status quo, and the acid mantle is no exception; our world is full of different environments, some of which – unfortunately – can hurt our skin. 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, and the intercellular lipids between our cell walls are designed to keep this barrier intact, break down, and create dry skin conditions. Bacteria, allergens, and foreign bodies find a passageway through your skin, causing havoc; once they hit the bloodstream, they create inflammation, allergies, and breakouts.
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, which is at a range of one to 14; a neutral pH is 7; anything above creates an ALKALINE environment. Anything below creates an ACIDIC environment. Skin that falls on the alkaline end of the scale will often be drier and more susceptible to wrinkles. A skin that’s too acidic will often appear red, irritated, and more prone to breakouts.
If your skin is healthy, it should 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 have a real tendency 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 while irritated.
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.
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 good 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 nice and healthy.
Our Ceramide Barrier Repair Balm has been designed to rebuild your skin; it can be layered underneath Fortify and Bio Lipid Complex, which are both designed to restore your barrier function’s integrity. Rich in lovely ceramides and fatty acids, they balance missing ingredients and keep healthy microflora intact, helping to return your skin to a youthful, healthy glow.
So as you can see, a lot is going on within your skin, and you need to pay close attention to ensure your skin is not too acidic or alkaline. If you are trying to treat your skin right, the correct pH is really nothing more than a balancing act.
While all this information is useful if your skin’s truly impaired, it’s probably best not to try to play amateur chemist; instead, consider consulting your dermatologist, who will give you the most accurate reading where your skin is concerned.
On a final note, we are going, being honest here; we rarely knock competitors, but we often meet skincare manufactures 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 do have a responsibility to understand skin science truly. Otherwise, how can we possibly expect to formulate products that get our customers’ desired results, which is essentially healthy, balanced skin?
If you would like to know more about the acid mantle, the following article discusses its role in more detail and is an excellent technical read.