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pH is a scale that measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale goes from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), with a pH of 7 being “neutral.”
Your skin has a thin, protective layer on its surface known as the acid mantle. It's made primarily up of sebum - or free fatty acids - mixed with lactic and amino acids from sweat to create the skin’s pH. Ideally, it should be slightly acidic – at about 5.5. The acid mantle is responsible for keeping in nutrients and moisture while blocking toxins and pollution.
When your skin is within the appropriate range and this mantle is intact, it can effectively protect itself against premature aging, bacteria, and other damage.
When your skin’s acid mantle is disturbed, it creates a suitable environment for:
Why? The skin is without its shield,which makes it prone to acne-causing bacteria and transepidermal water loss (one of the culprits behind dry skin).
So how do you throw your skin’s pH off? It happens all day, every day. Anythingthat comes in contact with your skin affects your pH in some way - including smoke, pollutants, sunlight, and skincare products (particularly those that contain harsh ingredients like alcohol, sulfates, detergents, and artificial fragrances). Even something as simple as washing your face with water can throw things out of balance.
Sounds bleak. But the problem isn’t the contact itself - it’s if your skin stays out of balancefor long periods of time. That’s when you're prone to damage from environmental stressors or the growth of bad bacteria.
Want to avoid skin problems caused by pH imbalances? The key is to restore your acid mantle and return your skin’s balance as quickly as possible.
An unbalanced pH can lead to:
A clear indication that your acid mantle’s compromised? That tight, squeaky clean feeling after you wash your face. That’s not what you’re going for, and it’s a clear sign that your pH is is in trouble.
Many skincare products are way outside your skin’s natural pH.
Most cleansers - especially those with sodium lauryl sulfate - are too alkalinefor the skin. As a result, they strip away your skin’s natural oils.
The solution? Choose mild cleansers and toners that are slightly acidic - with a pH around 5. These will help all skin types maintain the acid mantle.
If you find that your cleanser has a high pH but you likethe other things that it does for your skin, focus on the toner. Toners balance pH (that’s their whole purpose!) and help you enjoy the benefits of your basic cleanser without any of the downsides.
Many products - like AHAs, BHAs, and retinoic acid - can be too acidic. When used properly, this isn’t a problem. However, when used in excess, they can weaken your skin’s natural defenses to bacterial infection and environmental damage.
So pay attention to your skin and how it’s reacting to the products you use. If your skin starts to look dry, red, or sensitive, you may be throwing your skin out of balance - and it might be time to turn to a more balanced regimen.
Some superstar ingredients you can include:
Somewhat paradoxically, it’s acidic foodsthat you should turn to. Most environmental stressors and pollutants make our skin more acidic. Ironically, acidic foods like lemon actually become alkaline-forming in the body.
The ideal diet, then, should include lots of alkalizing foods like leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, carrots, and tomatoes. As cliche as is sounds, beautiful skin really does start from within. If you want an intact acid mantle and balanced pH, eating a balanced diet will help you.
Remember - pay attention. You’re looking for skin that feels and looks moisturized, nourished, and healthy. If it doesn’t, time to pull out the trash bags and try an overhaul.