First, a little throwback to high school chemistry. pH or power of hydrogen refers to the acid-alkaline balance of any substance – the food you eat, skin care products you use or your skin itself. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the most alkaline, and 7 being neutral.
Why should you care? Because, the health of your vital organs & skin is directly linked to maintaining the right balance between acidity and alkalinity.
Skin's Natural pH:
Our skin has a natural barrier called the acid mantle, with a pH that hovers between 4.5 and 5.5 (acidic). Being slightly acidic helps the acid mantle keep in the good stuff like lipids and moisture, while blocking out the bad stuff like pollutants, allergens, bacteria and germs. When the pH balance of our acid mantle is disturbed, it manifests itself through the following symptoms:
Symptoms of Too Acidic skin:
- Feels oily after cleansing
- Feels irritated
- Is sensitive and reactive to products
- Prone to breakouts
Symptoms of Too Alkaline skin:
- Feels tight and dry after cleansing
- Looks dull with dry patches
- Prone to premature signs of ageing like wrinkles and fine lines
- Rarely appears plump or dewy
pH of Skincare products:
When our skincare products are either too acidic or too alkaline, it throws our natural pH off balance, disrupting the efficacy of the acid mantle, and causing a plethora of other skin problems. Additionally, our skin will not reap the full benefits of the products we use.
So, the pH of our skincare products must ideally be as close as it can to our natural pH, between 4.5 and 5.5. Conventional cleansers, and soap bars have a pH of around 9! That squeaky clean feeling after using face wash? Yeah, that isn’t good for you! That’s your skin telling you that it’s too alkaline, dry and prone to premature ageing.
While diet plays the major role, the right skin care product can help you achieve, what I fondly call, “Goldilocks Skin” --- when you hit that epidermal sweet spot of neither too acidic nor too alkaline.
pH Balanced Skin - Where to Start?
Let’s start with the first product we put on our skin and the biggest offender when it comes to throwing our pH off balance – Cleanser
You may have noticed a lot of brands now make “SLS-Free” facewash and shampoos. This is because SLS or sodium laureth sulfate approximately has alkaline pH level of 10! You would be doing your skin a huge favour by picking a cleanser marketed as “pH Balanced’ or “Low pH” or “Soap-free” or “pH Neutral”. Try one of our in-house favourites like this, this, or this!
Be it your toner, moisturizer or serum, any product you apply should fall between the pH ranges of 4.5 – 6.0. This way, your acid mantle is balanced and your skin is happy and healthy!
Side Note: A few exceptions
- Exfoliating products that contain AHA/BHA (alpha/beta hydroxy acids) as they are low pH dependent (acidic) to assist with the shedding of dead skin. If you use acids, a pH balancing toner is recommended to re-balance your skin
- Topical anti-oxidants like L-ascorbic acid (a potent form of vitamin C) are also low pH dependent.
While many factors such as our diet, sun damage, lifestyle, and ageing itself, can disrupt the delicate balance of the skin’s acid mantle, let’s control what we can. It is imperative that the skincare products we use every day, fall well within the optimal pH range.
If the pH information isn’t clearly mentioned on a product, you can either contact the brand or try an at-home test with litmus paper. YAY to brands like Cosrx that clearly state this information on their website!
Until next time, your friendly neighbourhood skincare addict @redlipsgoldskinned