Did you know your skin has its very own pH level?… and did you know that pH level helps to protect your skin against everything from dryness to infections and spots? Pretty neat ‘eh! Once you know how simple it is to care for your skin’s pH, you’re going to be wondering why the heck hadn’t you heard of this before…
What Is a Normal Skin pH?
First off, let me answer the question that might be running through your mind. What exactly Is a pH anyhow? pH is a measure of how acid, or how alkaline a water based solution/cream/serum is. Water is usually the benchmark to mean neutral (something that’s not acidic or alkaline) with foods like lemon juice and citrus fruits being acidic and foods like spinach, coconut water and pretty much any green ‘health’ drink being alkaline.
Usually people associate ‘acids’ with burns but anything that is as much of a strong alkaline liquid will also ‘burn baby burn’. Also things can be slightly acidic or alkaline and you’re not going to ‘burn’ or ‘sting’ because they just ‘ain’t got the power’.
A healthy skin type is always, always acidic.
This is what keeps skin naturally healthy.
Everything we put onto our skin will have a domino effect on our skins own pH. Skin will react by trying to rebalance itself. How quickly it can do that depends on what you’ve used on it!
Everyone has a slightly different skin pH, that sits within the ‘healthy skin pH’ box of 4.2-5.5. It’s now looking like the healthiest skin pH levels are actually below 5. With skin pH experiments showing that after showering, washing, or using skincare products over time, skin naturally adjusts its pH back below 5. Skin is pretty awesome when you think about it ‘eh.
Why Is Skin pH Important?
Keeping your skin pH in the healthy range is like keeping your fridge plugged in. Your skin pH powers your skin to be able to stay healthy. These are some of the healthy skin functions that all balance on your precious pH levels…
- Skin Hydration. When skin pH is in our A* healthy box, it is in the best condition possible to hold onto water and keep it locked in. When skin is too alkaline, skin ‘opens up’ and your plumping moisture levels are released which ends in dry and tired-looking skin. That’s why water can have such a drying effect on your skin (ironically!). Water is not as acidic as your skin, which means it can increase your skin’s pH towards 7 (the pH of water, some can even be more alkaline!).
- How well Your Skin Ages. (thought I might get your attention with that one *winks*) because your skin pH is vital to keeping skin hydrated and is the first line of defence against bacteria’s, when skin pH is wondering away blindfolded, skin becomes stressed. It becomes dry which makes it unable to ‘do its thing as efficiently’ (think of slow brain from alcohol dehydration!), it becomes prone to wrinkles (from the dryness) and it is vulnerable to attack from bacteria and skin infections which lead to inflammation and more skin stress.
- Likelihood of spot outbreaks/skin being prone to acne. One of the 3 key causes to spots is a ‘bad’ bacteria’ build-up, in acne sufferers that bacteria gets the name P.acnes. When pH is out of the healthy box, skins protective bacteria (the good guys) get ‘starved’ off and the bad guys (the spot causers) get invited in.
- Protecting against skin infections. Every day our skin is fighting the good battle. Crazy to think that ‘eh, its normally so darn quiet about it. Our skin experiences bacteria, yeasts, viruses, moulds every darn day. Whether your stroking a cat or crawling through a mud bath in a new ‘bootcamp’ class you wondered why the heck you signed up for *winks*. If your pH is out of the good range, your skin defences are down my friend.
- Reduces the risk of impaired barrier function skin conditions like dermatitis & eczema. With that healthy skin pH, your skin barriers are firmly up. That means common skin stressors, allergens and irritants (that are actually found in a lot of skincare products) have less likelihood to trigger skin conditions that are provoked with a poorly skin barrier. (get a read of, ‘How to Choose Allergen Free Skincare’ to start cutting down your skin exposure).
- Reduces your risk of skin sensitivities. It’s that skin barrier again. If the bad guys can just wander on through when your skin pH is ‘outta action’, then skin gets all inflamed much more often!
- Skins ability to heal. A healthy skin pH guards wounds against infection and also means skin cells are in the right ‘mind-set’ to heal the fastest they can. All the biology is in the tick box and skin healthily and speedily heals back to normal.
How to Help Re-balance Your Skin pH
Phew, now that was a lot of positive things that a healthy skin pH helps us with ‘eh! You probably want to know what you can do to keep it in that healthy bubble of bliss. Friend, for you I have some do’s and don’ts that will help you to do just that…
First up, the Don’t or the try to ‘avoids’…
- Avoid using homemade water based skincare. You might have seen the explosion of homemade skincare hacks on Pinterest (!), baking soda is one of the keen winning pins that always seem to be popping up in my feed. At all costs never, ever use baking soda on your skin. Backing soda has a pH of around 10, yeek (that’s what skin would say *winks*). It’s also the case for other homemade skincare that you have water in, things like floral waters or homemade facial mist. Unless you have a pH meter and a pH adjuster, likelihood is the pH will be like water (pH 7).
- Avoid using soap (& don’t overuse foaming products). These are the key culprits for ‘leaning’ into your skin pH. Traditional soap is alkaline and bath products that foam, have a family of ingredients in ’em called surfactants. These guys ‘eat up’ your skin barrier, which is pretty upsetting to your skin’s pH. It takes a while to recover.
- Avoid long, hot baths or showers. Especially if you live in a hard water area, as hard water is actually alkaline (sometimes up to pH 8.5). Cooler showers and baths slow down the rate that water can change your pH at. It’s like trying to walk through snow instead of being like a warm knife cutting through butter.
- Avoid letting skin ‘air dry’. It’s the water thing again. Water increases the pH of our skin.
…and here go the things you can pro-actively do to make sure your skin pH is healthy.
- Consider switching foaming cleansers for cleansing balms/oils. Cleansing products like balms and oils that don’t have water in ’em, don’t have a pH. No water = no pH. That means cleansing with these angels is not going to affect your skin’s pH.
- Always moisturise after using water on your hands/showering/bathing. This minimises the alkalinity of any water left on your skin and it also helps to rebalance skins pH. Any good moisturiser will be pH balanced to the skin healthy range.
- Consider adding a balancing mist to your skincare regimen. This my friend is the real reason you might want to consider what used to be called a toner. Don’t go for a toner which calls itself an astringent or is alcohol based, instead go for a balancing mist/pH balancing toner, something like the La Roche-Posay Physiological Soothing Toner £12/200ml, or the First Aid Beauty Vitamin Hydrating Mist £10/59ml, which has an added boost of skin vitamins to bring to the party.
If you take a look at your skincare regimen, is it lovingly protecting your skin pH? If you’re wondering about any products you’re using and whether they could be pH culprits, shout ’em to me below and I’ll let you know…
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.