Have you ever experienced skin irritation, dryness and redness? Or is your skin prone to breakouts and generally looks unhealthy? It’s possible that your skin pH level is not at its optimal level.
That’s why there are many skincare products labelled as “pH balanced’ as maintaining skin pH is essential.
What is Skin pH?
The skin is the biggest organ in the human body. It is designed to fight infection and also environmental stresses. This protective ability is governed by pH levels. Our skin pH refers to the level of how acidic or alkaline it is.
What is pH balance in the skin and why is it important?
pH levels are usually measured on a scale of 1 – 14, with 1 being the most acidic, and 14 being the most alkaline. The midpoint 7, is the neutral point.
There is a thin protective layer on our skin’s surface, and this is known as the acid mantle. Our skin’s acid mantle is made from free fatty acids (commonly known as sebum) and is excreted from our skin’s sebaceous glands.
The sebum mixes with lactic and amino acids created from our sweat glands, and this creates our skin’s pH. The pH of our skin should ideally be slightly acidic, rating around the level of 5 or below.
As newborns, our skin starts off as neutral pH. Within a few weeks, that pH level will become acidic. Our skin pH increases with age. It is also surprising to find that men’s skin is more acidic than women’s skin.
Because of this slightly acidic nature of our skin, it is compatible with slightly acidic skincare products.
What pH levels are harmful to the skin?
With the understanding that our skin pH hovers around 5 or slightly below, using products that are too acidic or alkaline is detrimental and will damage our skin.
Studies have shown that mild pH changes to the skin’s pH are tolerable. For example, if you use any form of AHA or BHA exfoliant with a pH of 3.6 or a sunscreen with a pH of 7.5, will be alright for your skin.
However, if you happen to use highly acidic (less than pH 2.5), or highly alkalic (more than pH 8) skin products, it will cause greater harm to your skin.
Prolonged use of these products can lead to a myriad of skin problems. When your skin experiences these pH differences, many symptoms may arise. These can include acne, redness, eczema and sensitive skin issues.
You will also experience that common “dry tight feeling” you get from washing your face with very basic soaps. If you do not resolve this problem of skin pH imbalance, it may eventually lead to permanent skin damage.
What can affect the skin’s pH?
Your skin can be affected by numerous internal and external factors. Certain skin conditions such as dermatitis can also cause a change in your skin’s pH.
External factors that can affect your skin pH include
- Dirt and pollution
- Frequent washing
- Alkaline cosmetics
- A change in temperature and/or humidity
- Certain medication and medical procedures
Internal factors like genetics, hormones and your biological age can also affect your skin’s pH.
For example, men and women have slightly different skin pH. The higher sebum production rate in men’s skin causes their skin to have a lower pH.
Skin pH can also change during puberty, pregnancy or menopause.
How to test skin pH?
There are several ways to determine how your skin pH is faring.
At home test strips
You can get an at-home pH kit to determine the pH of your skin. For best results, be sure to use a pH kit that is meant for your skin. Kits that measure your body’s overall pH levels will not give you an accurate measurement of the pH of your skin.
Through a dermatologist
To get the most accurate reading will be to consult a dermatologist or a skin specialist. They will use a skin pH meter to read the pH levels of your skin.
A dermatologist will also recommend the best skincare products that are suitable for you.
You can also get a general idea of the pH level of your skin through observation. If your skin has acne, is red or has dry spots, then it’s likely that your skin is more alkaline. Ideally, your skin should be soft without any dry spots.
Another method would be by just answering a simple questionnaire, which can help you figure out what your skin pH is.
Continue reading below and answer 5 simple questions for a quick skin pH analysis.
Skin pH Questionnaire
Another method to determine your skin pH levels would be by just answering a simple questionnaire, which can help you to figure it out. Just continue reading below and answer 5 simple questions for a quick skin pH analysis.
1. After cleaning your face with your regular cleanser, how does your skin feel?
A) Soft, dewy and clean
B) Skin feels abit taut and dry
C) I do not feel that my skin is completely clean/Has an oily feel to it
2. Are you experiencing any skin sensitivity lately even when using your regular skincare products (eg. moisturiser, cleanser, makeup)?
A) Not at all. I am very happy with my existing skincare products
C) Oh yes! I feel like my skin is super sensitive to everything lately
3. Do you experience dry skin often?
A) Not at all
B) Fairly often
C) It happens very rarely
4. Has your skin been feeling more oily lately and are you experiencing more breakouts?
A) Not at all
C) Yes, very often nowadays
5. Is your skin feeling red and irritated more often than not?
A) Not at all
B) My skin feels this way only after applying my skincare
C) Yes, my skin feels red and sensitive all the time
If you answered mostly A’s:
Congratulations! Your skin is at its optimal pH. You are using products that are suitable for your skin. Maintain this winning combination and your skin will thank you.
If you answered mostly B’s:
Your skin is too alkaline at the moment. This means that your skin’s pH is too high. The acid mantle of your skin is being stripped of its good protective lipids.
Because your acid mantle is being worn away, your skin is now exposed to bacteria, sunlight (UV) and other everyday toxins. You should check your skincare products, and try to use more pH neutral products instead
If you answered mostly C’s:
Your skin pH is too acidic right now. Your skin symptoms would be frequent acne breakouts and greasy-looking skin. Because of your skin’s greasiness, you might be tempted to use more cleansing products and exfoliators in order to get rid of the greasiness.
But this will have an opposite effect on your skin whereby it will trigger your skin to produce even more oils to counteract the cleaning. Again, go through your skincare products, and try to switch them to gentler, more pH neutral products.
How to Restore Skin pH levels?
Now that we have explained the basics of skin pH, optimal skin pH levels, and how to analyse our own skin pH, we can look at ways to restore skin pH levels and achieve great looking skin.
First off, do not panic if your skin pH balance is “off”. Also, do not overcompensate on your pH levels. This means if your skin is too acidic, you do not have to use more alkaline products. The same goes for skin with high alkaline pH levels. You do not need to use more acidic products to balance out.
1. Pick pH-balanced skincare products
To get great skin back to that perfect balance, just focus on skincare products that are pH balanced. This means that the products you select should be rated around pH level of 4.5 – 6. This will ensure that your skin’s acid mantle will remain in great health and protect your skin.
2. Use gentle skin cleansers regularly
To rebalance your skin, start with a gentle cleanser. You can choose cleansers that have pH levels at 5.5, which ensures that your skin will not be stripped of its moisture. Once you choose a cleanser, whether it is commercially made, or homemade, always ensure that the cleanser is suitable for your skin. Once you start on a good gentle cleanser, your skin should feel refreshed, clean and soft. It should not make your skin feel dry or sting you.
3. Incorporate an exfoliant into your beauty regime
Exfoliating your skin at least once a week is beneficial to your skin. Exfoliation can leave your skin looking brighter and improve the absorption of topical skincare products. Try gentle exfoliation with natural abrasive products like a loofah, pumice stone, microneedles, cleansing scrubs and pumice stones.
If you want to consider the use of chemical peels or microdermabrasion, do consult your skin doctor first. It is recommended that these treatments be done monthly for best results.
4. Use a skin toner
After cleansing and exfoliation, your skin will not automatically be at the right pH level. This is where the use of a toner is important.
Most toners will be ever so slightly on the acidic side and this will bring your skin pH level back to the optimal level. Avoid toners that contain alcohol as this may actually strip your skin of moisture because alcohol is an astringent.
5. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise
This is the last step of your skincare regime. Applying a good moisturiser is key to replenishing water back into your skin. An effective moisturiser will help rebuild and enhance your skin’s acid mantle. You can use moisturisers with good oils such as argan oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil. These oils work well with our skin’s natural oil secretions.
6. Antioxidants and sunscreen for your skin
Antioxidants applied topically, are important in maintaining the acid mantle in two major ways. Firstly, they strengthen cells to ensure that they can work optimally. Secondly, they also protect cells from environmental oxidation (free radicals). The effective antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and green tea.
Sunscreen should also be used daily, in order to protect the acid mantle. It shields the skin cells from UV damage and enhances the skin’s ability to protect itself.
7. Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to maintain your skin pH as it helps to keep your skin hydrated by reducing transepidermal water loss and thus, retain moisture. It also helps your skin recover from inflammatory skin conditions and promotes collagen production. Additionally, Vitamin C also helps to protect against sun damage caused by UV rays.
Skin pH and acne
Acne can be a nightmare that is hard to deal with. A balanced pH level can help to keep acne under control.
The acid mantle on the surface works to protect our skin. If the acid mantle is disturbed and is either too acidic or too alkaline, this can cause skin issues such as dryness, acne and rosacea.
When skin pH levels drop lower than the normal 5.5, the skin will become oily to try to balance itself out. This causes pores to dilate and become clogged with excess oil and dirt, providing an ideal environment for acne bacteria to fester.
On the other hand, if the skin is leaning toward alkalinity, it may feel dry, dehydrated, and tight. Fine lines and wrinkles may even appear. Dry skin acne can occur due to the build-up of dead skin cells on the surface layer of the skin.
Skin pH and ageing
As we grow older, the acid mantle on our skin will start to weaken. This causes the skin to be more prone to damage from external factors as well as moisture loss.
Collagen and elastin production also decreases causing discolouration, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles.
All this causes an imbalance to the skin pH. As it will be hard to restore the natural pH of the skin if the imbalance continuously ignored, a good skincare routine is important to keep the skin as healthy as it can be.
Now that we have a better understanding of human skin pH and its role in maintaining our youthful skin, it is simply logical that we should take good care of our skin and its acid mantle.
Auditing your skin care regime, and making sure the products you are using are not chemically harsh, nor pH imbalanced is a great way to start. Even with damaged or dry skin, the key here is to maintain optimum skin pH conditions so that your cells can repair themselves.
Even if you have been using products that were not pH optimal for your skin, getting it back to tip-top condition is not hard if you know what to do and what to look for.
Take care of your skin by using a cleanser, exfoliant, toner, moisturizer, antioxidant and sunscreen and your skin will thank you.
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