Happy, balanced, healthy skin – luck of the draw, or a plain and simple chemistry equation? Solving the problem of overly oily, excessively dry, and painfully inflamed skin might be easier than we previously thought. All you have to do is arrive at the magic number to bring your skin pH back into balance.
What is skin pH?
pH stands for potential hydrogen and measures the acid and alkaline levels found in pretty much everything, including skin. pH levels range from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). The pH of water sits in the middle at 7, while balanced skin is slightly more acidic, hovering at a pH of 5.5. The pH of skin specifically refers to the pH of skin’s acid mantle. The acid mantle is a thin, protective layer on the surface of skin that protects against external influences like bacteria, allergens and pollution, and maintains moisture, too.
Skin’s acid mantle pH is the result of a combination of sebum excreted from the skin’s sebaceous glands and lactic and amino acids from sweat. It’s important we maintain the acidity of skin’s pH because it allows our skin to combat harmful microbes and damaging free radicals that accelerate the aging process.
How do you know if your skin's pH is out of balance?
Just as hormones can become unbalanced, so can skin. Skin is an extremely delicate organ (our body’s largest) that performs best within a specific environment. If skin is oily, dry, itchy, red or flaky, chances are the pH is out of whack. When skin falls out of balance, it creates a cascade of inflammation and unevenness in natural flora. Overly alkaline skin is prone to dryness and premature aging, while acidic skin shows increased redness, inflammation and oiliness. No, thank you.
What unbalances skin's pH levels?
As we age, skin becomes more acidic in response to lifestyle and environment. Air, water, sun, pollution – everything that comes into contact with skin can break down the acid mantle, disrupting skin’s natural ability to protect itself. Using the wrong skincare products also plays a big role in throwing off skin’s pH. For example, bar soaps and foaming cleansers often raise skin’s pH too high into alkaline territory, leaving skin feeling tight and dry. On the other hand, acid-based exfoliators and peels strip skin’s natural oils and disrupt the lipid barrier, exposing skin to bacterial infections and environmental damage if not used properly.
How do you bring your skin's pH back into balance?
When it comes to balancing pH, there are many things that are out of our control – water hardness and pollution levels to name a few. However, we DO have control over the skincare we choose. The most important thing to remember when designing a skincare routine is to select skincare products that sit at the magic number: a 5.5 pH level. At this level, products are actively working to support skin’s natural defenses.
Step 1: Cleanse
You know that tight, squeaky clean feeling post cleanser? It’s actually a sign that your cleanser is too alkaline. Skin that is too alkaline can be more susceptible to acne and infection because a certain level of acidity is needed to inhibit bacterial growth on the skin. The solution? Use a pH balance facial cleanser that’s right around a 5.5 pH level. Think of this step as laying the foundation – without it, the other building blocks of a skincare routine can’t work effectively.
Step 2: Treat
Next, choose treatment serums wisely. Aside from looking for an ideal pH level, scout out topicals with vitamins A, C and E. As antioxidants, these vitamins are able to fortify skin cells against environmental stressors and oxidation.
Step 3: Moisturize
As we age, the amount of oil skin produces decreases, thus weakening skin’s barrier and ability to protect itself. The right pH balanced moisturizer can help to rebuild this important barrier. Select a moisturizer with jojoba and olive oils, as they complement skin’s natural oils rather than compete against them.
Step 4: Protect
Last but not least, layer on sunscreen in the AM to keep skin’s pH in check throughout the day. Sunscreen defends the acid mantle by shielding skin cells from sun damage and supporting skin’s ability to arm itself against environmental aggressors.