Many people think of skincare in terms of skincare products and beauty routines such as face scrubbing. But the secret to smooth, young, and healthy skin may already lie within your skin itself.
Skin pH is something that most beauty enthusiasts may have heard about, but something that very few really understand. As such, an in-depth understanding of the natural pH of human skin may very well be what you have been missing in your skincare routine. To learn more about the importance of keeping your skin pH in balance, we’ll look at:
- What is pH?
- The pH level of healthy skin
- What does a balanced skin pH mean?
- What is an unbalanced skin pH?
- What upsets skin pH?
- How can you maintain your skin’s pH balance?
- How can you test your skin pH?
- Better skincare
What is pH?
pH, which means potential of hydrogen, is a numerical value used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. While 7 is neutral, the numbers below it are acidic. Those higher than 7 are basic (alkaline). Hence, a substance with a pH value of 0 is quite acidic, while one with a value of 14 is very basic. So, what is the pH value of healthy skin?
The pH Level of Healthy Skin
Healthy human skin is expected to have a pH level of between 4.7 and 6. This means that the skin is naturally slightly acidic. If your skin pH is between 4.7 and 6, then your skin has a balanced pH. Anything more or less than that indicates more acidity or more alkalinity and is regarded as unbalanced.
What Does a Balanced Skin pH Mean?
Many people do not pay attention to their skin’s pH, but it’s an important factor to consider. On the epidermis, which is the uppermost surface of the skin, there’s a protective layer known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle is made up of sebum, sweat, and dead skin cells. Your acid mantle acts as a barrier between the skin and external elements in the environment. This means that it protects the skin from the effects of pollution, harmful bacteria, and UV exposure.
The mantle is slightly acidic, and this is what is referred to when natural skin pH is mentioned. Its optimal pH level is between 4.7 and 6. Anything more or less means that the acid mantle's pH balance is off. If the skin is too alkaline, it will be tight, dull in appearance, and dry. On the other hand, if it’s too acidic, your skin will become pimply, red, and oily. It will usually appear greasy, react sensitively, and feel irritated. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the pH balance is not disrupted to avoid having unhealthy skin.
An unbalanced acid mantle means that your skin’s protective barrier has been compromised. As a result, the skin is vulnerable and exposed to harmful elements such as environmental pollution.
Note that while the mantle fights harmful bacteria, it also encourages the growth of resident bacterial flora that is useful to the skin. These bacteria fight pathogens by competing for nutrients, stimulating the skin’s immunity, and at times secreting chemicals to eliminate them. In that way, bacterial and fungal skin infections are kept at bay.
The acid mantle is also essential in maintaining both the skin’s moisture balance and a balance of natural oils. That helps to keep your skin soft, firm, and properly hydrated.
What is an Unbalanced Skin pH?
An unbalanced pH level of skin is anything below 4 (too acidic) or above 7 (too basic) on the pH scale. Each of these situations manifests in different ways.
If your skin is too acidic, it becomes hypersensitive. That makes it red, itchy, and prone to infections. Causes of extreme acidity include using harsh cleansers on your skin or excessively scrubbing it, even during exfoliation. When the skin is exposed to such harsh conditions, its upper layer is stripped off. That gets rid of natural oils, which help to achieve a balanced pH level in the acid mantle.
Skin with an alkaline pH tends to appear dry and tight. An alkaline skin pH is usually brought about by the use of cleansing products such as soap and detergents. Even water, which has a neutral pH of 7, can contribute to the alkalinity of the skin. This is especially true with tap water that has a slightly basic pH of 8 in some areas. When the skin is too basic, it has unbalanced enzyme activity. That causes inflammation, which normally leads to premature aging. It also breaks down collagen, a structural protein that keeps the skin firm, hydrated and smooth. As a result, basic skin easily develops acne.
An extreme skin pH means that the skin’s immunity is down, and conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and acne can easily develop.
What Upsets Skin pH?
Factors that affect the natural pH balance of skin can either come from within the body (endogenous) or from the surroundings (exogenous). Note that pH levels may differ in different areas on your skin. Usually, non-exposed parts such as armpits and the chest have a balanced pH. Parts such as the face and arms, on the other hand, can be slightly unbalanced due to their exposure to environmental factors.
External factors that may bring about a very basic or acidic skin pH include:
- Harsh abrasive action on the skin either using exfoliating skin brushes or washcloths.
- Washing your face too many times. Also using hot water that is warmer than lukewarm to bathe or taking a shower for more than five minutes.
- Air pollution and dirt which, on contact, can lead to an increase in the number of free radicals on the skin. Free radicals affect the functioning of skin cells, ultimately compromising their DNA and basic functions such as the production of sebum and sweat. That disrupts the makeup of the acid mantle.
- Harsh face and body products whose pH may not be of the same level as that of your skin.
- Soap and detergents, which are usually too basic compared to the slightly acidic skin.
- Sudden changes in weather conditions, which include temperature and humidity. Low temperatures and humidity both disrupt the function of the protective barrier of the skin. As a result, it becomes more susceptible to irritation and allergies.
- Skincare products that are used to exfoliate or peel off the outer skin layer, which is also the protective barrier.
When the skin’s balance is affected by these factors, the protective barrier may take hours to recover. Exposing your skin to these harmful conditions repeatedly can lead to skin damage. If you’re exposed to environmental irritants, pollutions, and other external factors daily, your skin will need more time to recover. The situation becomes even more critical if the pH balance is upset several times a day.
Endogenous factors that can disrupt the acidity level of the acid mantle include:
- Biological sex, whereby men’s skin is slightly more acidic than that of women. That can be attributed to the fact that men’s skin secretes more sebum.
- Lifestyle, which includes dietary choices. Foods also have pH levels that can disrupt that of the skin.
- Age, whereby newborn babies have neutral skin which becomes acidic after a few weeks. Hormonal changes over the course of your life, for instance, as a result of puberty, affects your pH balance.
Skin diseases can also affect your skin pH. Examples of skin conditions are atopic dermatitis, eczema, and contact dermatitis. Other ailments such as diabetes can also have an effect on the acid mantle.
How Can You Maintain Your Skin’s pH Balance?
By now, it’s evident that your skin functions optimally and is extremely happy when it’s at the sweet middle spot. Your choice of skincare products and daily routine may be having a huge impact on your skin pH. The following are tips to keep your skin pH level balanced:
Use the Right Skincare Products
Skincare products should ideally have words like “balances skin pH level” or “pH balanced.” That means the products have around a pH level of 5.5 unless otherwise specified. If skincare products sit lower or higher than that on the pH scale, this is how they will affect your skin:
- Low pH from 1 to 6—Skincare products with too low of a pH tend to irritate it.
- High pH from 8 to 14—While these skincare products may initially make your skin feel smooth, they will disturb your acid mantle and skin's pH in the long run, making your skin rough. They will also cause dryness, scaling, redness, and inflammation.
Even though the right skincare products should have a pH of 5.5, you can still choose products with a pH as high as 7 or as low as 4.5. As a general rule, slightly acidic is the most preferred option when it comes to skincare products.
Your moisturizers, toners, and cleansers contribute a lot to your skin pH. Alkaline products will not neutralize extreme acidity, and neither will highly acidic products neutralize high alkalinity. Hence, it can be hard to figure out which products have the right acidity level for your skin. Fortunately, some products indicate their pH level on their containers. If you’re unsure of the exact pH level of your favorite products, then you can carry out a pH test using litmus paper. Otherwise, you can go for mild products such as a low pH cleanser.
You can also decide to go natural. Skincare products made with natural ingredients are mild on the skin and are not manufactured using harsh chemicals. Natural skincare products also contain antioxidants that fight free radicals. That keeps the cells healthy, providing enough protection from environmental stressors. Using natural remedies to restore pH balance could be your best alternative to products that upset your skin.
Wash Your Skin Less
Washing your skin strips it of the outer layer, which includes dead cells, sweat, and sebum. That destroys the acid mantle, which usually takes an hour or two to be fully repaired. When you wash your skin too many times in a day, your acid mantle spends most of the time being restored, instead of protecting your skin. Washing your skin less keeps it intact for longer.
Brush Away Dead Skin
Dry brushing is an excellent way to remove dead skins cells and dirt from your skin and also increase the production of healthy oils. Use a dry brush on dry skin before bathing and watch your skin become not only more even and smooth, but also more balanced.
Watch Your Diet
The body’s internal pH level varies between neutral (7) to slightly basic (around 7.45). By having optimum body pH, your skin’s pH will also remain balanced. Body pH is highly influenced by what you eat or drink. It’s vital to stay well-hydrated all through the day.
You’ll also need to have an inclusive diet of vegetables, fruits, and whole foods to maintain your body and skin pH. An alkaline diet that consists of antioxidant-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocado, and broccoli is required for good skin. Low sugar fruits like berries, lemons, apples, watermelon, bananas, and pomegranate are also excellent. Include nuts such as chestnuts, walnuts, and almonds which are the best. Eat grains such as quinoa and seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin.
It’s advisable to follow the 20% acidic and 80% alkaline principle when choosing what to eat.
Ultraviolet rays from the sun can wreak havoc on your exposed skin, damaging the cell structure. The rays can also cause burns, premature aging, sunspots, and even skin cancer. Using sunscreen protects your skin from harmful UV rays.
Remember, balancing skin pH requires constantly following all these tips. It’s true that the skin can restore its own balance. However, how fast it does that, and what it needs to keep doing that may be the difference between healthy skin and angry, unhealthy skin.
How Can You Test Your Skin pH?
Smooth, healthy-looking skin can be an obvious sign of a balanced pH level. But when your skin has an unhealthy appearance, it can be hard to tell on which side of the scale it is. That’s why it’s important to know how to test your skin’s pH. The good news is that you can test it right from the comfort of your home.
First and foremost, you’ll need to buy a skin pH testing kit at a pharmacy. The kit contains strips of pH paper and a color chart. Your next step will be to place a strip of paper on your skin. The paper will react with sweat and change color. The color will let you know on which end of the pH scale your skin is.
Other tests that can be carried out with a pH paper are the urine and saliva test. By introducing these body fluids to the test paper, you’ll get a color change that you can compare against a pH color chart. While these two tests do not provide your skin pH, you’ll get your body pH, which can be an indication of that of the skin.
Better Skin Care
A good understanding of the pH of skin gives you a chance to explore more ways through which you can keep your skin youthful, vibrant, and healthy. Once you ensure you’re using the right products, maintaining a healthy diet, and living a healthy lifestyle, it becomes easier to maintain the ideal body and skin pH. In a nutshell, all you need to do is avoid harmful products, protect your skin from external pollution, practice gentle cleansing, and incorporate a healthy diet into your lifestyle.