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5 Things You Need to Know About Your Skin's pH Balance


You know the milk in your refrigerator that requires chilling at the perfect temp or else...curdsville? Believe it or not, skin is the exact same way. There is an ideal equilibrium that needs to be maintained to keep things, well, fresh. The familiar phrase "pH balanced" actually means something important when it comes to overall skin health—it's not just a marketing lure. To elaborate, it involves a little chemistry. Don't worry, we'll explain.

It's All About That Base

A pH (abbreviation for potential hydrogen) number, which can fall between between 0 and 14, indicates whether a chemical is acidic, neutral, or basic/alkaline. The acid mantle, a protective scaffold (invisible to the naked eye) lives around our outer layer of skin, and operates best at a pH of about 5.5. This built-in barrier secreted from oil glands acts as a shield against bacteria, viruses, contaminants, and other potential irritants that can penetrate the skin. At the same time, it traps in moisture and preserves nourishing lipids and proteins. Anything or any product that disrupts the acid mantle's pH can cause reactive, easily inflamed, rashy skin. As the pH creeps above 6.5, for example, risk of skin infection goes up drastically. It matters for wrinkles too. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that over an eight-year period, women with more alkaline skin (a higher pH number) had greater numbers of fine lines and crow's feet than those who had a more optimal skin pH.

Soap Opera

Quite simply, the combo of skin and soap equals drama. Standard shower soaps are made up of alkaline detergents, which raises the acid mantle pH while stripping the skin of essential, hydrating fatty acids and proteins. That tight, squeaky clean feeling? That's a skin 9-1-1 calling out for more moisture, stat. Those who prefer cleansing bars over body washes should choose a non-soap option such as the Dove Beauty Bar to incorporate into their daily routine.

DIY Don'ts

DIY beauty remedies are a dime a dozen and easy to find on "Google U." Lemons, for some reason, are the darlings of many DIY pundits, especially when it comes to concoctions surrounding skin lightening. The reality is that lemons can really mess things up. They're way too acidic and literally eat away at our protective barrier. Citrus belongs in a cup, not in a homemade cream. Another example? Baking soda. There are plenty of household products that can dub as expensive, department store exfoliators, but despite the multiple DIY recipes suggesting it online, baking soda is not one of them. It has a basic pH much higher than where healthy skin should live, says Annie Chiu, M.D., attending dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. To avoid reactive skin, keep the orange box in the fridge and away from your face. Want a radiant glow? Try a sugar scrub instead.

The "S" Factor

Then there's all the other stuff that happens to our skin—the environmental irritants that muck with our barrier. Sun, smoke, and smog can all weaken the acid mantle, leaving a dull, aged, reactive complexion. For additional protection, seek out antioxidants, which can help fortify the skin and minimize resulting free radical damage. Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is a good bet. Just a dab in morning, under your favorite broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 or higher, can go a long way in the name of ultraviolet and pollution patrol.

An Optimal Routine: The "pH"acts

For optimal skin health, avoid soaps, harsh astringents/toners, fragranced products, and even natural ingredients that are too acidic or alkaline. Mild, gentle, non-soap cleansers, antioxidants, sunscreen, and nourishing lubricants can keep the acid mantle and your skin in check. In other words, keep it simple to keep your skin's radiance.




Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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