This Is How pH Affects Your Skin

While active skincare ingredients are fine in moderation, our obsession with them may actually doing more harm than good, reports founder of Clean Beauty Talk, Yadira Galarza Cauchi.

The term ‘acid mantle’ sounds like something that you might find in a vintage retro shop or mechanic, but it’s actually a part of your face. Let’s discuss.

Also known as the hydro-lipid film (stay with us) or the skin’s protective barrier, the acid mantle is a naturally-secreted layer that sits on the surface of the skin protecting it against the environment. In short, it guards against free radicals caused by the sun, pollution, bacteria and viruses. The acid mantle also secretes enzymes to break down excess sebum that balances oiliness to keep our skin soft and healthy.

What does pH have to do with this? Well, if the pH levels of acid mantle are out of whack then the skin’s protection is compromised. The consequences of this include excess dryness, oiliness, acne and inflammation. If you’re experiencing any of the above, you ought to pay pH some attention. (Hint: this next part is where you should be recalling everything you learnt in high school Chemistry).


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PH stands for Potential of Hydrogen. It measures the acidity or the alkalinity of a solution. The lower the number the more acidic. The higher the number the more alkaline. 7 is neutral and anything above, up to 12, is alkaline. Our skin is naturally slightly acidic, operating at 5.5. pH for healthy, happy, glowing skin.

So how are you meant to know or measure where your skin’s at on the scale? Speaking to Crystal Patel, Director at Clinica-Lase in Melbourne, she told me, “Whilst you can purchase pH strips to test the acidity/alkalinity of your skin and body, it isn’t necessarily the best way of assessing where you sit since it can vary (constantly) and be affected by products and other external factors.”

“A more holistic approach to determining your overall skin pH level is to observe its texture and appearance. If your skin is dry, cracked or flaking it is likely too alkaline, whereas if it is oily, inflamed, red with frequent breakouts it is likely too acidic,” she adds.


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So how does one maintain the ideal 5.5 pH? For the most part, Patel says that the best way to balance pH levels is to try and maintain overall body pH levels. What you put inside is just as important as what you put outside, hence the rise of alkaline diets to tackle both gut and skin inflammation.

“A good alkalising diet [helps] avoid our internal mechanisms becoming too acidic. Foods to choose include leafy green vegetables, low sugar fruits, nuts and whole grains whereas things to avoid include sugar, dairy, yeast, alcohol, and caffeine,” advises Patel.

“It’s also important to choose a skincare routine that has been specifically prescribed for your individual skin needs. This should be pH balanced (check the label), contain antioxidants, appropriate acids, and be detergent and chemical free.”

Naturally then, it’s all about balance.

Try these products to keep your skin pH balanced:
Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser
Skinstitut Multi-Active Mist
Caudalie Moisturizing Toner
ASPECT Exfoliating Clay Mask
Dermalogica Ultra Calming Cleanser
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner

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