Good question. You may be wondering why the pH of skincare is becoming an increasingly hot topic, with brands regularly promoting their products as ‘pH-balanced’ or ‘low-pH’. So, is pH in skincare another marketing concept or an important factor in maintaining beautiful skin? The truth is that the pH of your skincare could be very important and have a major impact on how your skin looks and feels, particularly depending on the order in which products are applied.
Going back to high-school chemistry class (again) what does pH mean?
pH (that’s potential hydrogen) is a scale which measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral, below 7 acidic and above 7 is alkaline or ‘basic’ (yes, we enjoy that too).
The acid mantle
Your skin is protected by a fine film often referred to as the ‘acid mantle’ – its first defense. This layer, made up of ceramides and fatty acids, has a pH of around 4.2 to 5.5, and is on the acidic side of the scale to protect you from common skin-invading bacteria, which tend to flourish in a more alkaline environment. It is important to keep the skin’s acid mantle healthy and balanced so that damaging bacteria, which has the potential to cause or encourage acne or promote dull and dry skin for example, is kept at bay.
Protecting your skin’s pH
Your skin is able to remain at this optimum acidic pH level naturally and does not need ‘balancing’, however it can be compromised by using skincare products that are too harsh or by UV rays.
It is important to consider the pH of ingredients in the products you are using, for example if they include a lot of alcohols, exfoliating acids which could be too harsh and acidic, or if they are just plain basic, such as ordinary soap which is often very alkaline, leaving that tight ‘squeaky clean’ feeling you do NOT on your face! The mantle also becomes increasingly alkaline naturally with ageing.
The reality is that any product which comes into contact with your skin is likely to affect its pH, at least for a period of time. This can be addressed by intuitively observing how your skin reacts and addressing it with a low pH cleanser or a balancing (which often means low pH) toner or serum if necessary, particularly if these products are applied earlier in your routine and closer to your acid mantle.