There are so many things to take into account when caring for our skin. What causes spots? Which products/formulas/brands should I use? How do I know if a product is right for me? The list goes on… However, one thing people often don’t take into account is the pH level of their skin and the products that they are using. As mentioned in this study, “natural skin surface pH is below 5, on average, which is beneficial for its resident flora.” (Lambers et al., 2006).
For some reason, the topic of pH isn’t talked about very much in the mainstream skincare world, even though this subject is really relevant for us when it comes to potentially improving our skin. I know that I, for one, had no clue about pH levels and how these could affect my skin. It was only when I started to dig a little deeper that I realized what a difference my skin’s/product’s pH levels could have on my blemishes. pH is an important factor for maintaining a healthy and balanced skin barrier. So, let’s dig deeper and find out more.
What is pH?
pH is a figure that tells you the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale* on this scale 7.0 is neutral so the lower values are more acidic and higher values are more alkaline.
*Logarithmic scale: So, even though the pH scale runs from 0 to 14.0, it is logarithmic, meaning that each pH value is ten times the value of the surrounding numbers e.g. a pH of 3.0 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4.0, and 100 times more acidic than a pH of 5.0.
This means that even the smallest differences in pH can have a significant impact, especially when it comes to the fragile balance of your skin’s pH.
One of my favorite bloggers from Simple Skincare Science explained the pH scale is a really good way:
- pH 1 = Battery Acid
- pH 1.5 – 3.5 = Gastric (Stomach) Acid
- pH 2 = Lemon Juice!!!!!
- pH 3 = Soft Drinks
- pH 3.4 = Distilled White Vinegar
- ph 3.5 = Orange Juice
- pH 4.5 = Beer
- pH 5.0 = Tea and Coffee
- pH 5.5 = Rainwater
- pH 6.2 – 7.4 = Saliva
- pH 6.8 = Milk
- *pH 7 = Distilled Water (the focal point of this scale)
- pH 7.4 = Human Blood
- pH 8 = plain tap water in the EU
- pH 9 = Baking Soda!!!!!
- pH 9 = Seawater
- pH 9.0-10.0 = Soaps and Detergents
- pH 10.5 = Milk of Magnesia
- pH 11.5 = Household Ammonia
- pH 12.6 = Household Bleach
- pH 14 = Lye (Sodium Hydroxide)
If you ask us, this is a good enough reason for why you should stop putting lemon juice and baking soda on your face! Lemon juice is highly acidic and baking soda is highly alkaline. These two substance are not safe for use on your skin. Moreover, as you can see from the list, tap water in the EU is alkaline too. Washing your face with just water increases the pH value of your skin and is not a gentle cleansing alternative, as you might have thought. If you’re looking for a more gentle cleansing alternative, you should check this blog post by lovely Lab Muffin about the science behind Micellar Water.
What pH level is best for our skin?
So this is where it starts to get interesting. Now we know what pH is, we can better understand the way it affects our skin.
Our skin’s pH is normally acidic, ranging in pH values of 4.0-6.0. This is commonly known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle is a very fine, slightly acidic film on the surface of human skin (also known as the stratum corneum) which acts as a barrier against bacteria, viruses and other potential contaminants that might penetrate the skin.
So, without this acidic protection our skin becomes more vulnerable to bacteria, dirt, sweat and other external factors. This vulnerability can sometimes dry out skin and make it dehydrated or more prone to acne. Acidity also plays a key role in activating certain enzymes in your stratum corneum involved in the synthesis and maintenance of an effective skin barrier.
There have been more and more studies recently confirming that an increase in facial skin pH levels can go hand in hand with “a chronic state of stratum corneum instability,” meaning that the outermost layer of the skin doesn’t work as well as it should at protecting your skin from potential contaminants. In turn it can cause people to develop acne and/or continue to have acne and breakouts. So this is definitely something that’s worth thinking about for those of us with acne prone skin.
It’s easy to think that neutralizing your skin is a good idea. Water is neutral and is linked to ideas of purity and cleanliness - whereas acid is seen as damaging, or burning. However, in this case, neutrality isn't always the best for your skin. That isn’t to say that strong acid isn’t damaging - it is. But for some of us a little more of an acidic pH level on our skin can go a long way.
Key takeaway: Keeping the skin between pH levels of 4.0-6.0 can be beneficial.
Is pH important for your products?
# What disrupts your skin’s pH?
The biggest threat to your acidic mantel is your cleanser. The feeling of dry, tight and flaky skin after cleansing is a sign that your acid mantle has been compromised. Even some soap falls between the range of 8.0-11.0 on the pH scale - this is why it's really important to check the pH of your products before you use them on your face.
Here we found another interesting study from International Journal of Dermatology which concludes following:
“Most products recommended for sensitive skin have a considerable irritation effect, which is related to the pH of the product. Better regulation of advertisement specifications including the pH level and type of cleanser contained is necessary for the majority of soaps and cleansers.”
Knowing all this, it's crazy to think that things like soaps, lemon juice (pH 2.0) or cleansers with baking soda (pH 8.0) are recommended for our skin!
# Should I stop washing my face?
That being said… it’s not always black and white. Everyone’s skin is different and, as a result, the products you use should reflect those differences. It’s useful to check the pH levels of your products as it may help you to have a better understanding of which pH levels work best for your skin. However that doesn't mean you should disregard the other things like your skin type or the formula used.
You may be thinking that if your skin is naturally more acidic, then why are there more high pH (or alkaline) cleansers on the market? Well… If your skin feels tight and/or dry after use that’s a pretty good indication that your cleanser is stripping your acid mantle. The ideal cleanser should leave your skin feeling clean but also moisturized.
We recommend washing your face once or twice per day. If you’re wearing makeup, choose an oil-based makeup remover. Once you’ve removed your makeup, then you can start cleansing your face with a well balanced non-stripping cleanser (e.g. System Akvile Cleanser). You should always wash your face in the evening because our skin naturally restores itself while we are sleeping. Failing to cleanse your skin properly means that you risk leaving residues of sebum, makeup, pollution, and other nastiness on your face, which might cause new pimples and can age your skin.
“The common mistake is the belief that removing your makeup equals cleansing. That is not true. You should ALWAYS remove your makeup before starting your skincare routine.” - Akvile
Why System Akvile Cleanser is the right product for your adult acne prone skin?
We don’t like bragging, but if you are like us and you have tried everything, you know exactly what you want to have. Our System Akvile Cleanser is pH (~4.8) balanced and non stripping micellar cleansing mousse with 2% Salicylic Acid. While developing this cleanser we thought about literally everything our acne prone skin needs - cleaning, oils absorbing, makeup residues removing but not compromising on the cleansing process.
You can use our Cleanser twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. It’s vegan, fragrance free, paraben free, essential oils free and alcohol free.
So what does it all mean?
Basically, pH is just one piece of the skincare puzzle, it’s important to pay attention to, but there are other factors such as formula, skin type and lifestyle that also play a part in our skin’s health. However, by taking pH into account you may be taking another important step towards improving your skin.
Prakash, Chaitra et al. “Skin Surface pH in Acne Vulgaris: Insights from an Observational Study and Review of the Literature.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 10.7 (2017): 33–39. Print.