Wednesday, February 23, 2011

pH and Your Skin

pH balance is very important for the health of the skin. To start, a quick lesson in pH:
pH, or potential of Hydrogen, is a measure of how acidic or alkaline (basic) a solution is on a scale of 0 to 14, with 0 being acidic, 14 being alkaline, and 7 being neutral.

Now, what does this have to do with your skin?...

Skin has a normal pH between 4.5 and 6.5. This naturally acidic pH is the body's first line of defense, called the acid mantle. The acid mantle is comprised of natural secretions like sweat and sebum, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and lactic acids that protect against harmful bacteria (including the p. acnes bacteria that is responsible for acne), moisture loss, viruses and contaminants, all of which are alkaline in nature and so are neutralized by the natural acidity of the skin.

One of the main causes of damage to the acid mantle is soap and incorrectly formulated skin care. Most commercial cleansers/soaps are highly alkaline due to the lye used in creating them (lye has a highly alkaline pH of 13!). When alkalinity is combined with other irritating products, like alcohol, sulfates, fragrance or menthol, the skin is susceptible to even more damage; it takes just seconds to degrade the acid mantle enough to allow penetration of these damaging additives, and it can take up to 14 hours for the skin to rebuild its acid mantle. Using highly alkaline products on the skin damages the delicate acid mantle by raising the skin's pH. This is very damaging to the skin and can lead to inflammation, dryness, irritation, sensitivity and acne, all of which lead to damage and aging.

To solve this problem, look for alcohol- and fragrance-free cleansers and toners with a pH of around 5.5. Unfortunately, cosmetic manufacturers are not required to list the pH value of their prodcts, and simply stating that the product is "pH balanced" doesn't mean anything, because it's an unregulated term. Here's a great list of the pH values of common facial cleansers to help you on your way: . You can test the pH of the products you are using with a pH test strip, available online. I haven't been able to easily find them in local stores like Walgreens, so if you find a store that carries them, let me know!

When using an acid or chemical exfoliant, look for products with a lower pH, but remember that using something very acidic could be too active for your skin type and could lead to irritation. As a rule of thumb, always test a new product on a discreet patch of skin, like behind the ear, for a few days before using it on the face.

Damage done to the acid mantle is temporary and can be reversed by using correctly formulated products. Just take a little care to use low pH, irritant-free skin care and you'll start to see more healthy, beautiful skin!

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