Maintaining the Ideal pH: Create beautiful skin that will last a lifetime
Have you ever read, “pH balanced” on a product and wondered what it meant? From irritation, dryness, to acne, let’s discuss how pH levels can either resolve or cause further distress to your skin.
Our skin is naturally designed to fight against infection and the environment. The pH level of the skin refers to how acidic or alkaline your skin is. On a scale from 1 being the most acidic to 14 being the most alkaline, 7 is considered a neutral reading for your skin’s pH. Our skin has a thin, protective layer on the surface, often referred to as the acid mantle. This acid mantle is made up of sebum (free fatty acids) that is excreted from the skin’s sebaceous glands, which then mixes with Lactic and Amino Acids from sweat to create the ideal pH, which should be slightly acidic at about 5.5.
Many things can interfere with the delicate structure of the skin’s acid mantle externally and internally. As we age, our skin becomes more acidic in response to our lifestyle and our environment. Everything that comes in contact with our skin (products, smoking, air, water, sun, pollution) all contribute to the breaking down of the acid mantle and the skin’s ability to protect itself.
Our diet also plays a role in determining our internal and external pH levels. It's important to note that a food's acid or alkaline formation in the body does not comply with the pH of the food, itself. Foods that are considered acidic before digestion (like lemons) become alkaline-forming in the body. Most animal products, which are alkaline prior to digestion, are considered acid-forming in the body. According to Dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf, “We need our diets to be less acidic than alkaline, otherwise internally, we become too acidic.” An ideal diet consists of regularly alkalizing foods such as leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes, carrots, and soybeans.
Maintaining the Acid Mantle – Optimal pH Skin Care
The acid mantle is a form of protection, but if your pH level is too alkaline or too acidic, this mantle is disturbed, skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema , and rosacea may result. A skin care product may claim to be pH balanced, but you can verify the actual pH of a product by using an at-home pH testing kit (available at most drug stores). A physician can also determine your skin’s surface pH level and saliva tests can accurately indicate your body’s overall pH level.
Most cleansers, including bars and detergent soaps, are too alkaline for the skin, stripping away natural oils and causing it to become dry and irritated. Skin that is too alkaline can also be more susceptible to acne because a certain level of acidity is needed to inhibit bacterial growth on the skin. You may have noticed that many cleansers and shampoos are now avoiding the use of Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which has the approximate alkaline pH level of 10 and can be very drying and irritating to the skin. Choosing mild cleansers and toners that are slightly acidic (close to 5) will assist in properly maintaining the acid mantle and benefit all skin types.
At the opposite side of the spectrum, skin treated with products that are overly acidic can also be problematic because they can over-strip natural oils, which can temporarily disrupt the lipid barrier of the skin. Ingredients such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Retinoic Acid, Beta Hydroxy Acids, and Amino Fruit Acids, if not used properly, can weaken the skin's natural defenses to bacterial infection and environmental damage. Most over-the-counter products are buffered, making them suitable for everyday use - however, it is still important to take careful note of your skin when using any acidic product. If your skin starts to look dry or red, or if it becomes sensitive or breakouts increase - you may be using too strong of a product or applying it too often.
Choosing Good-for-Your-Skin Oils & Moisturizers
As we age, the amount of oil or sebum produced naturally from our skin decreases and influences the acid mantle and its ability to protect the skin. Using moisturizers will help build this barrier. Oils that work well with the skin’s natural oil secretions include Jojoba, Coconut, Argan, and Olive Oils.
Antioxidants & Sunscreens
Topical antioxidants (Vitamin A, C, E, & Green Tea) are important in maintaining the acid mantle in two ways. They fortify the cells so that they can function optimally, and they protect the cells from environmental stresses and oxidation. Vitamin C in the form of L-Ascorbic Acid is acidic by nature and formulations will have a low pH, so while not being considered a pH balancing antioxidant, can be used safely and beneficially on the skin as long as its not used at the same time as other acidic products. SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is a serum based Vitamin C that will brighten the skin while prevent future damage. The daily use of sunscreen defends the acid mantle by shielding the skin cells from sun damage and increasing the skin’s ability to protect itself. There is a large varitey of sunscreens for all skin types but it is important to remember that it should be woren daily even if you're not outside.