A healthy pH is your epidermal sweet spot
Without it, your acid mantle and the protective barrier will be impaired
While the term pH might sound like some mind-altering pseudo-science.
The relative success or failure of your skin’s health depends upon it.
If your skin is sensitive, dry and flaky.
Or if you are suffering from painful breakouts.
Chances are your pH is out of balance.
In this article, were going to get to grips with what this means for your skin health.
What is Your Skin’s pH?
As the founder of the Naked Chemist and a medical esthetician with over 30 years of experience, I believe two things determine the health of your skin:
- A healthy microflora that makes up your acid mantle.
- A robust protective barrier function
When your pH is out of whack, it knocks both off-balance.
This can lead to troubling conditions like breakouts, acne, rosacea, eczema, extreme dryness, etc.
This study (1) identified a critical gene that, in the right acidic conditions, can help to prevent T-cells from causing excessive inflammation in the skin.
So you can liken your pH to your epidermal sweet spot.
This is where the remnants of high school chemistry and science come in.
As a refresher: The pH scale helps measure hydrogen concentration at a range of roughly one to fourteen; anything above number seven is considered alkaline.
For the most part, you can determine the pH level of your skin by its behaviour:
To alkaline: If your skin falls on the alkaline end of the scale, it tends to be drier and potentially more susceptible to wrinkles.
To acidic: Your skin will be irritated, inflamed and prone to breakouts or acne.
So the trick is to keep the balance at around 5.5, which should conjure up desirable adjectives such as “plump” and “youthful.”
Discovery of the pH Scale
But first, let’s dive into a bit of pH history.
Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen is famous for introducing the scale for measuring acidity (pH); he was head of the prestigious Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen.
His work involved studying the effect of ion concentrations on proteins, the concentration of hydrogen ions was also relevant to his studies, so he introduced the pH scale.
He discovered that pH measures potential hydrogen, which depends on exactly how active the hydrogen ions are.
Since this discovery, the pH scale has been adopted as a standard international measure, indicating exactly how alkaline or acidic a solution is.
What has my Acid Mantle to do with my pH?
The short answer. Everything as this study (2) demonstrates.
This acid mantle creates an invisible film over your skin.
It is made up of amino and lactic acids, which protect your skin against environmental pollutants and bacterial and fungal infections that can contribute to premature ageing and inflammation.
It prevents toxins from penetrating the epidermis, your outer layer of skin, which, as mentioned above, can lead to unhealthy skin conditions.
You might be surprised to learn that a healthy skin pH is slightly acidic, as this research (3) found.
That’s right, with more acidity, your skin can combat harmful microbes and ageing free radicals.
So the relative success or failure of your personal acid mantel depends upon a well-balanced pH.
Follow the link if you’d like to discover more about the role of the acid mantle.
Can my pH be controlled through my skincare products?
The short answer is yes! That is if you use skincare products formulated around 5-6.
If the pH scale goes beyond this on either side, it could potentially undermine your acid mantle and barrier function.
Harsh gel and foaming cleansers, including many bar soap varieties, boast an alkalinity of well over nine; whilst initially, they might help your skin feel squeaky clean, they can dry it out.
Just consider the residual tightness that can come from lathering up with a foaming cleanser; you strip your skin of valuable lipids, which causes a vicious cycle making it overproduce oil.
To be kinder to your acid mantle, I’d recommend using an oil or cream-based cleanser like miracle cleanse.
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous manufacturers are only concerned with sales, and they load their products with cheap alcohol and harsh ingredients, which strip your skin, causing inflammation and breakouts.
Innocent consumers load on more of these products to stop this problem, but it’s a vicious cycle, which you can read in my soap and water debate article.
Understanding pH, acid, and alkaline
Let’s take a closer look at the pH scale:
- pH between 0 and 7 is acid. To give you an idea, powerful Hydrochloric Acid has a pH of O
- pH between 7 and 17 is alkaline; substances that are used for cleaning purposes are generally alkaline
- a substance that is neither acidic nor alkaline is considered neutral, thus making a pH seven neutral
- because pH is a scale of values, we know that the closer to 7 an Acid or Alkali is, the weaker it is
- as a substance approaches 0; the acid becomes progressively stronger
- as a substance approaches 14, the Alkali becomes progressively stronger
Where certain ingredients sit on the pH scale:
- Lemon Juice 2
- AHA/BHA 3.00 -3.5
- Distilled Water 7
- Urine 5.8
- Retinol 4.8 – 5.2
- Your skin 5.5 – 6
- Blood 7.4
- Sulfate shampoos 8.5
- Soap 10
- Depilatories 9.5
- Household Ammonia 11.9
To conclude. The naked truth
So as you can see, your skin’s pH is super important.
Why? Because it determines how healthy your skin is.
If it is out of balance, your acid mantle and protective barrier function will be the leading cause of troubling skin conditions.
Extreme sensitivity, dryness, rosacea, breakouts and acne inflammation.
Factors like the environment and your products can knock your skin’s pH off balance.
Taking care of your skin and understanding your particular skin type helps strike the balance your skin requires to stay healthy.
It is essential to remind you that your skin is a complex system, and what you put on it affects how it looks on the outside.
If your skin is out of whack, it’s probably best not to play amateur chemist; sometimes less is best.
Instead, consider seeking the help of a skincare professional who can recommend the best course of action to bring your skin back into a healthy balance.
Or contact us here if you would like advice about your skin.
Acid mantle: What we need to know
- On average, natural skin surface pH is below 5, which benefits its resident flora.