We take a lot of time out of our daily lives in search of the “golden” middle ground. Whether it’s striving for a balance between personal and professional development, trying to attend family gatherings, or making time for a special someone while not saying no to our bosses – life seems to be a pursuit of balance. But have we ever taken a minute to think about the skin’s pH, which also needs to be balanced?
What is skin pH?
The skin is vibrant and functions well when it is in precisely defined conditions. We’ve all heard the term “pH balance” in the advertisements of most skin care brands and most often dismiss it as a marketing gimmick. But the pH is something to pay attention to.
The term “pH” stands for “hydrogen index.” In other words, it is the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. This scale was developed in the early 1900s by Danish chemist S.P.L.Sørensen to measure acidity and alkalinity. It ranges from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline).
The skin is permanently covered by an acid mantle, which acts as a physical barrier and is extremely important for the normal functioning of the skin. It consists of dead cells of the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) and secretions from sebaceous and sweat glands. It is the boundary between the external and internal environment. Its low acid environment prevents the reproduction of harmful microorganisms on the surface of the skin. Thanks to its hydrophobic effect, this layer protects the skin from damage and at the same time prevents dehydration of the epidermis. Another function of the hydro-lipid layer is protection from UV rays.
Why should we care about the pH balance of the skin?
When skin’s mantle is too alkaline, it becomes sensitive and dry. We may even experience inflammation and increased signs of aging due to a change in the activity of certain enzymes that can destroy collagen levels in the skin. This usually happens when we change our skin care products too often. When using products with a high pH (alkaline), the permeability of the skin is compromised and it becomes vulnerable to skin problems, irritants and microorganisms. Higher skin pH levels can cause skin problems such as:
Ichthyosis vulgaris – extremely dry skin
Skin infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans
Acne (The acnes type develops on the skin at a pH between 6 and 6.5)
How do we know if our skin’s acid mantle is balanced
Ideally, our skin should be slightly acidic. The pH level should be around 5, with the range being between 4.7 and 5.6. This ensures that the skin’s barrier function is active and protects against most toxins, bacteria and other external factors. It is difficult to directly measure the pH of skin and hair because it requires special equipment. However, a dermatologist can help by analyzing the surface of our skin, identifying any changes in the pH level and professionally assessing the condition of our skin.
- Excessive oilyness
- Dry patches
- Redness and rashes
- Signs of aging (fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin) at a young age
These are all signs that the skin’s barrier function is damaged. There are also several factors (and habits) that can disrupt the skin’s pH balance.
What are the factors affecting pH balance?
With age, the skin becomes more alkaline. This can lead to wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation and other problems.
- Excessive sun exposure
The sun’s harmful UV rays affect the skin’s antioxidant capacity and weaken the acid mantle, making it more alkaline and prone to problems such as pigmentation, sagging and acne. Prolonged exposure to the sun, even in the teenage years, can start this process, giving visible results in adulthood.
- Eating habbits
Diet has a direct effect on the skin’s pH level. Too much caffeine, sugar, yeast (found in bread and baked goods), processed grains, and alcohol raise the body’s acid levels and often lead to more waste products being expelled through the pores.
- Other skin care habits
Certain skin care habits can also disrupt the pH level. They include:
- Using too hot water to wash your face (or scalp)
- Rough drying of the skin and hair – rubbing is not recommended
- Excessive mechanical exfoliation – it is recommended to exfoliate the skin of the face and body with a suitable product, no more than once a week
- Excessive use of chemical exfoliants (organic acids) – despite their many benefits and with the exception of specially formulated products for daily exfoliation (mainly toners), more frequent use than once a week is not recommended, as they could increase sensitivity on the skin.
- Using aggressive washing products – they can irritate and dry the skin
- Taking long showers
How to keep the pH level of our skin balanced?
Balancing the skin’s pH requires restoring its barrier function. This also helps in maintaining the skin’s hydration levels and keeps it glowing and beautiful.
✓ Carefully choose facial cleansing products and ALWAYS use them according to the instructions
This is the first thing we should do if we love our skin. Avoid aggressive cleaning products and if you have sensitive skin, always rinse it thoroughly with lukewarm water after washing. Choose pH-balanced products whenever possible.
✓ Do not use apple vinegar without washing it off
A common myth is that using a high pH cleanser can be balanced by rinsing your face or hair with apple cider vinegar afterward. When using a product with a pH of 9 or more by people with very sensitive skin, the damage has already been done. Apple vinegar can be used to tone the skin only at a high dilution (min. 1:10) and rinsing with clean water afterwards is mandatory. The acid irritates the eyes, and if not washed off the skin can cause irritation and redness.
✓ Do not overdo the exfoliation of the face and body and apply a suitable nourishing product after the procedure.
✓ Do not overheat your skin.
✓ Have a nutritious diet.
✓ Drink more water.
✓ Use sunscreen every day, especially in seasons with a lot of sunshine.
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Българска Асоциация Трихология, Анатомия на Косъма, 2017
Photo: Craig Adderley