If you’ve ever heard experts talk about skincare products, you’d have noticed how they always discuss the formulation’s impact on your skin’s pH. However, most people don’t give it much thought.
According to Cheryl Karcher, a dermatologist, people don’t care much about checking a product’s pH because they know the skin scientists have already done it for them. Since the consumers trust the smart PhDs curating these formulas, they’re not concerned about the pH.
However, pH is an important factor that determines the overall health of your skin. Karcher explains that the skin has an acidic mantle to keep bacteria and moisture out. If you’re using an off-balanced pH product, it could increase the skin’s alkalinity, making it look red or flaky.
Additionally, it increases your risk of developing inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne breakouts and eczema.
That’s why it’s important to know the basics of pH, especially to create a skincare routine suited for your skin type.
A Brief Overview of the pH Scale
pH or potential hydrogen accounts for the acidity or alkalinity of any material. The pH scale goes from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. 7 is neutral.
You’d expect your skin’s pH to be around 7, but that’s not the case. Our skin’s pH is slightly acidic as the increased acidity helps combat free radicals and harmful bacteria.
Naturally, our skin pH falls between 4 and 7. According to a 2006 study, the ideal pH should be below 5.
Kids have a high skin pH that goes down as they grow. On average, a newborn’s skin would be neutral at 7, but as they grow up, the pH falls down to 5 or 6, with 5.7 being the average for adults.
Apart from age, the exposure to the Sun and our surrounding also affect the pH. The parts of our bodies that are least exposed to the environment maintain their acidity. These regions include the armpits, genitals, and buttocks.
On the other hand, areas more exposed, such as the hands, chest, and face, are relatively alkaline. Common factors affecting the skin’s pH include:
- Skin moisture
- Sun exposure
- Tap water
- Air pollution
- Antibacterial gels and soaps
- Excessive skin washing
- Seasonal changes
Signs of Disruption In Skin pH
The thing about our skin is that it does not conceal the effects of our poor hygiene or skin care habits. If anything unusual is going on inside, it will appear on the surface. Here are some indicators that your skin’s pH is off.
Dryness and Tightness
Our skin’s natural acidity allows it to retain moisture, which in turn keeps the surface supple and smooth. However, when the pH increases, the skin becomes more alkaline, losing this ability.
As a result, you’d notice dryness. The process is more appropriately known as transepidermal water loss.
In this process, the water evaporates from the skin’s surface, leaving the dermis flaky.
Some people have naturally sensitive skin, while others increase their dermis’ sensitivity by disrupting the pH. An increase in alkalinity is also linked to heightened skin sensitivity as pH plays a pivotal role in the skin’s defense.
You know things are going downhill if inflammation is involved. Unfortunately, a change in skin pH could lead to inflammatory conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and acne.
Our skin’s pH has an active role in maintaining the dermal microbiome, which is important for regulating inflammatory markers. However, when there’s an imbalance in the pH, the microbiome also goes awry, making our skin prone to inflammation.
Kara Fitzgerald, a physician, refers to this imbalance microbiome as dysbiosis. Furthermore, she explains that a change in the skin’s microbiome is associated with conditions like acne, skin ulcers, yeast infections, allergies, psoriasis, and poor wound healing.
Plus, it could also quicken the pace of skin aging.
How to Take Care Of Your Skin?
Having the right skincare routine steps can help maintain your skin’s pH. Tiffany Masterson, the founder of Drunk Elephant (a skincare brand that promises pH-balanced products) and a self-trained expert on skin pH, has an interesting outlook on the matter.
She explains that our skincare routine could be causing skin troubles due to the ingredients present in the products we use. Some common problematic ingredients include drying alcohols, essential oils, fragrances, and cleansing agents, like sodium lauryl sulfate.
Besides disrupting the skin’s natural acidity, these ingredients also cause inflammation.
She adds that you can’t use a second skincare product to counter the harmful effects of the first one. It’s almost like eating broccoli on top of smoking a cigarette. The veggie is not going to cancel the effect of smoking on your lungs.
So, why do we expect skincare to work differently? That’s why it’s important to avoid skincare products that contain pH-altering ingredients. Here are some dos and don’ts of the skincare routine.
- Use skincare products containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and squalene. Since these ingredients support the skin barrier, they won’t disturb the dermal microbiome.
- Invest in skincare products that are good for the skin’s microbiome since they’ll enhance the microflora, protecting your skin from inflammation.
- Use a skin toner to neutralize the alkalinity on your skin.
- Don’t use hot water for washing your face or showering as it breaks down your skin’s natural lipids, affecting the barrier.
- Avoid using skincare products that contain sulfates as they’re highly alkaline.
- Don’t over-exfoliate your skin because you’ll end up disrupting the acid mantle that acts as a barrier and retains moisture.
Often, our skin care routine steps are affecting the skin pH, but we’re too uninformed to make the right decisions when buying these products in the first place. That’s why you should know the fundamentals of skin pH – as explained in this guide – to curate the best skin care routine.