Skincare 101-Understanding pH-your skin and cleansers

Welcome to Science Class!  Hopefully you liked Science Class. My first understanding of pH was from my mom.  It was about a hydrangea.  I love how beautiful this flower is.  Did you know if the soil has a high pH then the hydrangea flower will be pink?  If the soil has a low pH then the flower will be blue.  No, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with the skin, but it was my first taste of what pH was.  I also thought those of you that don’t like science, would appreciate a pretty flower at least. Thanks, Mom. I promise understanding pH(potential hydrogen) is going to make a huge change in what you expect out of your skincare, what products you will use and hopefully how your skin feels. pH is simply a measuring system to compare acids and bases.  Chemists created a scale from 1 to 14, with water as a 7(neutral) many years ago.  Below is an image of the scale, some common items and where they fit on the scale. pH Basics Anything with a pH of 1-6 is acidic A neutral pH is 7 Anything with a pH above 7 up to 14 is alkaline. Examples of pH:

  • Stomach Acids are a 1-2, that’s why digestion sometimes hurts
  • Skin is naturally acidic with an normal pH range of 4.0-5.9.
  •   Women’s skin is typically more acidic than men normally.
  • Dry skin is too high in pH or alkaline.
  • Oily skin is too low in pH or acidic
  • Chronic Irritated skin is extreme low in acidic levels and have a very low pH.

The optimal place is where skin’s happy place is a pH of 4.0-5.9.   Let’s look at the skin.  The skin’s barrier is called the Acid Mantle.  The acid mantle is a thin oily film made of sweat and sebum that sits on the outside of your skin. It secrets enzymes to break down oil.  It holds in moisture, and blocks germs, pollution, toxins and bacteria. Any time you raise the pH of the Acid Mantle skin can become dehydrated, rough, irritated, flaky and sensitive.  Also, with an elevated pH you will destroy collagen which will cause wrinkles and……wait for it….SAGGING!  Isn’t that a terrible word.  SIDE NOTE:  Seriously, when is the word sagging ever positive?  Back to the Acid Mantle, ways to maintain your acid mantle is by using the correct pH in skin care products, avoiding harsh soaps, and protecting yourself from sun.  What happens when a pH that is too low?  Well, that also can cause redness and irritation in the skin.  You are looking for a cleanser with a pH of close to 5.5.  Below you can see what healthy skin looks like compared to skin that has a disrupted pH.  Do you see what is happening with allergens, bacteria and viruses on the skins surface?  Also, look at what is going on with the moisture in the skin.  Lastly, look at the nerve endings in the disrupted pH. Many skin problems occur when the pH is out of balance.  How does the pH become out of balance?  What the pH is of the products you use could affect your pH.  What you eat, stress, lack of water intake, central heat, air conditioning,  even dust all affect your pH.  Many soaps are high in pH, more alkaline.  Products high in alkaline will make your skin tight and dry, irritated, can cause more breakouts(study sited below). Good news the acid mantle can be restored!  The rebuilding takes about 14-17 days.  So if you are noticing your acid mantle is disrupted stop what you are doing to disrupt it.  Stop over exfoliating, stop using harsh products,  give it some moisture and by all means put a sunscreen on. Have you ever seen a product that the package says it’s pH balanced? What does pH balanced mean?  The term pH balanced is a marketing term.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?  Generally the product doesn’t state what its pH balance is.  Typically those products are neutral or a pH of 7. What is the pH of your product?  If it’s not labeled and most are not, start by calling or emailing the company that makes your cleanser.  The more people that ask the more these companies will understand the consumer wants this information.  I am creating a spreadsheet with common cleansers and identifying what the pH is. In the mean time, you can test your cleanser.  Just know there is a bit of guessing when you test at home but it gives you an idea of your cleanser.  The easiest way is by using the following steps:

  1. Buy some pH strips with a range of 1-14.  These are widely available online.
  2. Test your water(most water has a pH of 7)by placing a small amount of water on the strip
  3. Test the cleanser mixed with a little water if it’s a cleanser that you use water with since that’s what the pH will be like when you are using the product.  Again, place a small about of the cleanser or cleanser water mixture on the strip.

Most of us aren’t chemists so this is just how to get a general idea of your pH.  A good range is 4.2-5.6 pH. Honestly though, we have got to start expecting more from the companies that manufacture and produce our skincare.  Upon speaking with several companies it’s concerning how uncomfortable they are with the conversation about their pH.  However, as long as we the consumer still buy the product without asking any questions they can continue to create less than optimal products.  It is time for us to expect more.

I know some of you like the science behind the story, so for you:

Effects of detergent on the skin

A protective Acid Mantle  

Can a high pH cause more breakouts

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