It’s common to see the words “pH-balanced” on the packaging for personal care and skin care products. But do you know how pH applies to the products you use on your skin? More importantly, should you even care? We believe you should – and here’s why:
A Brief Explanation of the pH Scale
The pH scale is a system of measurement used in chemistry to indicate a substance’s degree of acidity or alkalinity. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline (basic). At the center of the scale, at 7, is where you’ll find neutral solutions, such as pure water, which is neither an acid nor a base. Because of the effects acids and bases can have on the objects with which they interact, the pH scale is a very important concept in many sciences.
The Acid Mantle
Skin is naturally coated in a thin layer of mild acids that form a protective barrier. Called the “acid mantle,” this layer on the surface of the skin is secreted by the sebaceous glands and prevents the growth of bacteria on the skin, as well as the entry of pathogens into the blood stream. The acid mantle also keeps our skin smooth, hydrated, and flexible.
Because of the acid mantle, the natural pH of the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) is acidic, sitting slightly below 5 on the pH scale. Most individuals will find, however, that their skin pH tends to be a bit less acidic, falling somewhere between 5 and 6. This is because various factors impact the acid mantle, including use of soaps and other products that touch our skin, environmental factors, diet and more. As the acid mantle deteriorates, the skin experiences increased trans-epidermal water loss and, with that, becomes prone to dryness and irritation. In cases where the acid mantle has been significantly diminished, the skin is also more susceptible to issues like eczema and dermatitis, as well as infections. What’s more, collagen begins to break down, leading to wrinkles and sagging.
The pH Scale and Your Skin Care Products
Products that are pH-balanced feature a pH level similar to that of the skin and, as such, do not significantly impact the acid mantle. In general, this is a good thing, as constant use of products that are too acidic or alkaline could damage the skin. Certain products that fall outside the skin’s pH range can be beneficial, however. For example, facial cleansers and body washes that are slightly more alkaline than the skin can effectively lift dirt, makeup and oil from its surface. Exfoliators that are significantly more acidic than the skin can effectively thin the keratin layer (dead skin cells), thereby improving skin function and aesthetics. An example is Lexli AloeGlyC®, a facial exfoliator with a pH range of 2.1 to 2.3. Because of the high concentration of pharmaceutical-grade aloe vera in AloeGlyC, the risk of redness is significantly minimized.
The simple rule to follow is this: avoid, or at least minimize, the use of products that are significantly more alkaline than the skin, such as soap, which has a pH ranging between 9 and 10, and hand sanitizers, with a pH around 7. Best results come from using products with a pH of 6.5 or less. Also, be careful to not over-wash the skin and to do so with a mild cleanser specifically formulated for the face. Finally, while exfoliation is one of the most effective ways to achieve more beautiful skin, slowly work up the frequency with which you implement this step to allow your skin time to adjust. While many individuals can eventually tolerate twice-daily exfoliation with a chemical exfoliator, like AloeGlyC, some can only implement this step every other day.
Finally, if you’re curious about the pH of your skin care products, consider purchasing pH test strips. By simply dipping this type of paper into your skin care formulation, you can quickly determine where it falls on the pH scale.