Not all soaps are created equal. First there’s the eye-catching kind, the ones your grandma kept in a polished glass jar taking pride of place on a bathroom window ledge. Only to be used for extra-special guests and… grandkids. I mean of course ‘eh. Next there’s the novelty breed, seashells and seahorses, cuddly, but in real life very dangerous bears and rhinoceroses – yes, if you find one of those, you’ve hit jackpot. And right now there’s beauty bars, what looks like a soap without being called a soap – the daughter who’s married and moved out.
However, when it comes to your skin there’s 1 important question to ask before using, and it’s this… what’s the pH of this soap I’m holding?
With 1 simple piece of pH information downloaded to your memory bank you’ll automatically know the answer to this question – can I use handmade soap/beauty bar soap/Dove soap on my face?
Because my friend, the answer is not simply yes and no. It switches like a chameleon changes colour and the key to being one step ahead, comes from understanding the pH of soap, what it means for your skin and why it’s important.
Ready? Set? Let’s go…
What the Heck Is Soap pH?
Go shop an ASOS haul and you need a handful of basic information. Shoe size, leg length, waist width, top size in the morning and top size after Chinese takeaway. Oh yes. Only when you receive the right sizes is an ASOS haul exciting. Clothes that fit – perfect.
You can think of soap pH exactly like this. You want soap to fit your skin and to do this, you need to learn its measurements.
…and no, don’t worry, I’m not going to make you tape-measure your face.
Instead I’m talking about skin pH and your something called your skin’s acid mantle.
There’s a handful of things your skin needs to stay healthy – pH balance is one of them.
If you’re here reading, thinking what the heck, this is far too science sounding for me, do not fear my friend. This is super simple.
pH is a ruler from 0 to 14. It measures how acidicy or how alkaliney something with water is. Both can burn, but one will acid burn and one will alkaline burn. Lemon has a pH of about 2, water about 7, hard water over 8.5 and soapy water, well it can have a pH of over 11.
What’s the pH Balance of Your Skin?
The pH of what you use on your face matters a skyscraper sized amount. Why? Because you guessed it my fellow skin savvy, your face also has a pH aka a pH balance.
Over the years what scientists, dermatologists, doctors and healthcare professionals thought ideal skins pH balance was has changed.
p.s. and the advertising you see/pH claims on bar soap labels, well they’re still catching up!
- Science used to say pH 5.5 was the perfect skin balance
- Science now says a skin pH under 5 is perfect
- And even newer learnings say a skin pH of 4-4.5 could give you ideal skin health
Why the change? Well imagine asking someone if their hungry right after eating a 5 course Friday night banquet. The answer’s a sure-fire no, but ask again in 2 hours and the new answer might be yes, I’m ready and raring for dessert.
Lots of people measure skin pH after washing. Remember water is pH 7? And if you live with hard water, yours might even be over 8.5. Well water alone can immediately change your skin pH. New learnings have been made on skin that hasn’t been washed/cleansed/moisturised/buffed/exfoliated/in contact with detergent washed clothes for a day+. When you look at skin pH here, you get a much better understanding of what true natural pH balance really is.
It’s one of the 4 huge reasons why your should stop washing your face so much.
Can You Use Soap On Your Face?
Old school soaps have a pH which is extremely alkaline which by the way I promise to share the new kind of very soon. The kind which might be OK to use on your face. Using an old school bar soap on your face would be like trying to tell 2 repelling magnets to love each other.
Old school bar soap can have a pH balance of over 12.
And here’s the catch. Using an alkaline soap on skin instantly changes your skin’s pH balance. Teasing it from happy to I’m not sure if I’m happy. The more you use said alkaline soap, the longer it takes for your skin to return to pH healthy. Meaning use an alkaline soap too long and your skin could permanently become pH unhappy.
But this is the detail. What does using an alkaline soap with a horrible pH balance do to skin? My friend, this is what;
- Causes dryness, chronic dryness and dry, dehydrated skin types
- Provokes dry skin patches
- Makes skin flake, peel and crack
- Creates irritation, redness, sensitivity and itchy skin
- Leaves skin feeling tight – hint, it’s not a good thing
- Stops healthy skin bacteria sticking to your skin
- Helps problem skin bacteria e.g. acne bacteria breed
…It’s not a pretty picture. When your skin has a perfect pH balance, its acid mantle is healthy and it can therefore work like good skin’s supposed to. Which means your skin can lock in water. Your skin can resist irritating and ageing impurities like pollution particles. Your skin can help prevent eczema flare-ups, acne breakouts and more. However, if your skin’s pH balance is out, your skin’s protective acid mantle temporarily goes off-line and suddenly every bullet point on our above list is a very real possibility.
What’s the pH of Soap?
All soaps are different. There’s grandad soap, auntie soap, father soap and the godfather soap. What I’m trying to say is this. Soap is a family with all different kinds of family members. Some have an alkaline soap pH, some sit on the soap pH fence aka pH 7 and others have an acidic soap pH.
You my friend, ideally want to find a soap with a pH level as close to healthy skin pH as possible. Because of the way bar soaps are made and the fact they need to be kept hard, it’s very unusual to find a bar soap with a pH balance perfectly matched to extra-healthy skin pH aka below 5.
What you will find instead are some soaps with a pH balance of 5.5-6.5.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 16 January 2018
While not ideal, if you want to wash with soap, you should be sure to use one which can answer the questions, What is the pH of soap? With a red-hot answer of ball park pH 5.5-6.5.
Why the difference? Well if you use soap with water or for that matter, any cleanser with a lot of water, you’re instantly going to change the pH of the formula. Remember how your water’s pH 7? It’s like mixing together paint – you get a different colour.
You can test this at home with pH strips like these. However for most of you fellow skin savvies this is a commitment too far. I get it! And for you lovelies I have a pH of soap list below. Pint it, bookmark it, keep it.
pH of Soaps List
If soap is the price winning, beauty solution for you, make sure you’re using one of the acidic pH soaps at the top of this list. Or if you have a soap already sitting on your bathroom sink, do the control+f thing to type in its name and see if it’s listed below.
And in complete transparency, because that’s what we do here;
- Soap pH level highlighted in bold are confirmed by the manufacture/brand
- Soap pH underlined are recorded by published scientific papers
- pH levels not underlined or highlighted are shared by independent websites
Here you have it my friend… the information you need to choose a kind-to-skin bar soap;
- AHAVA Soaps, 5.5
- Sebamed Cleansing Bar & Sebamed Clear Face Cleansing Bar, pH 5.5 – best for price
- Avène, Ultra-Rich Cleansing Bar With Cold Cream, pH 5.5 – best for price
- Vanicream bar soap, pH 5.5
- Gallinée Cleansing Bar, pH 5.8
- Drunk Elephant JuJu bar, pH 6.34
- Drunk Elephant Pekee bar, pH 6.51
- Embryolisse Gentle Dermatological Cleansing Bar, pH 6-7
- Neutrogena Extra Gentle Cleansing Bar, pH 6-7.5
- Dove Beauty bar, pH 7
- Dr. Bronner Liquid Soap, pH 8
- Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Bar Soap, pH 8-9
- First Aid Beauty, Ultra Repair Gentle Cleansing Bar, pH 8 to 11
- Estée Lauder Nutritious Micro-Algae Cleansing Bar, pH 9
- L’Occitane Shea Butter Extra Gentle Soap range, pH 9
- Neutrogena Cleansing Bar for Acne-Prone Skin, pH 8.7-9.2
- Cussons Imperial Leather Original Soap Bar – pH 9.4
- Dial soap, pH 9.5
- Camay soap, pH 9.5
- Sainsbury’s Pure soap, pH 9.5
- Pears soap, pH 9.8
- Lux supreme cream bar soap, pH 10
- Zest soap, pH 10.0
- Burt’s Bees Tomato, Carrot, and Lettuce soaps, pH 10
- Palmolive soaps, between pH 10. to 10.6
- Simple bar soap, pH 10.3
- La Roche-Posay Lipikar Pain Surgras, pH 10.35
- Dr Bronner’s All-One Castile Bar Soaps, pH 10-10.5
- Nivea creme bar soap, pH 10.5
- Lifebuoy soap, ph 11 – 11.25
- Dettol soap, pH 11.26-11.34
- Johnson’s baby soap, pH 11.9
- Lux with glycerin, pH 12.38
Awaiting pH feedback;
- Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Cleansing Bar for Face & Body – likely very alkaline
- Clearly Natural, Essentials, Pure and Natural Glycerine Soap
- The Body Shop soaps – coconut/shea butter/olive oil – The Body Shop team did not want to share their exact pH range, however they did say, ‘We can advise that the pH of our bar soaps are all higher than 6.5.’ this could mean they’re pH 7 or more likely pH 9+.
Note: I’ll be adding to this soap pH list as more pH levels are investigated. Be sure to come back for updates. Oh and if you have a bar soap you were brought up on or one you hear defeats all don’t-use-bar-soap rules, drop me a comment with its name below and I’ll add it to my find out it’s soap pH list.
What’s the pH of Soap: Final Words
There’s one uber important learning from the above pH of soaps list and it’s this. Just because a soap says sensitive, baby or gentle, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s pH balanced. Take Johnson’s baby soap as an example, independent teams of scientists in 2016 tested it to have a soap pH balance of 11.9.
Not so skin friendly.
Be savvy. Know your bar soap pH. Avoid dry skin and be happy.
Are you a bar soap lover? Which do you use? Want to know the pH of a soap not on the pH of soaps list above? Drop its name in the comments below and I’ll be sure to try find out…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.