Why Your Skin pH Matters

If you remember chemistry class, you remember learning about acid or alkaline levels. It turns out that these measures of pH (i.e. power of hydrogen) play a big part in our skin’s health. Maintaining the right skin pH can keep our skin healthy, protected and naturally moisturized. Here’s what you need to know about the effects of pH on your skin.

Our skin is slightly acidic.

With a pH level slightly under 5, our skin falls in the acidic range (anything below 7 on the pH scale of 1–14). We measure its pH by testing our skin’s outer protective layer, called the acid mantle, which is made up of fatty acids and oils that mix with lactic acid and amino acids from sweat.

Keeping our acid mantle near a pH of 5 means skin stays hydrated and protected from the elements, bacteria and other microbes. When our pH is out of normal range, our skin is more prone to dryness, irritations and dermatitis-related problems.

Soap and tap water are alkaline.

Keeping our skin pH at a slightly acidic level means choosing pH-balanced skin care. Regular bar soaps have a pH of around 9 or 10, and tap water is around 7, so both are quite alkaline and very drying to our skin. Washing with soap and water alters our acid mantle, and it can sometimes take hours before skin returns to normal.

To avoid the fluctuations in pH that can keep our skin surface from doing its job, choose cleansers and toners that keep our pH at normal levels.

Higher skin pH levels can contribute to acne.

Bacteria that normally exist on our skin, called Propionibacterium Acnes (p. acnes), are linked to acne breakouts. Dermatologists tell us the growth of p.acnes is dependent on the pH of skin, and a slight shift towards a more alkaline skin surface lets p.acnes thrive. In addition, studies show that higher skin pH levels can bring about repeat acne flare-ups.

If you’re prone to acne breakouts or oily skin, it’s important to keep your skin surface healthy with pH-balanced skin care that’s non-alkaline, and to avoid products that are overly drying (which can actually cause skin to produce even more oil).

Mature skin tends to be more alkaline.

As we age, skin pH levels elevate slightly and our skin produces less natural oil (sebum), leaving skin dry and prone to visible lines and wrinkles. Look for cleansers that moisturize and keep the skin barrier smooth and intact—like Paula’s Choice RESIST Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser, which is targeted towards repairing signs of aging. And firming toners are ideal for mature skin; try Eminence Organics Neroli Age Corrective Hydrating Mist, which features skin-nourishing coconut milk and collagen-boosting chicory root.