Achieving the perfect balance for your skin can be a challenging task. Navigating through the various factors, such as lifestyle and environment, to ensure that your skin achieves an optimal pH level is a learning journey, which is rewarding in itself.
What is pH?
We’ve heard the term used in many skincare commercials, thrown around in beauty communities and plastered on various products, but what does pH actually stand for?
pH refers to ‘potential of hydrogen’ — it is the measure of acid-alkaline ratio of a substance. The scale used to measure pH level ranges from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline).
How Does it Affect Our Body?
The overall health of your body, including your skin, thrives when you maintain optimum pH levels. The acid mantle, which is the thin, protective layer on the skin’s surface, defends our skin from all kinds of damage caused by the environment and other variables. Made up of sebum, the acid mantle needs to maintain a slightly acidic level of 5.5. This will ensure its optimal performance in combating toxins and bacteria, while also keeping the skin moisturised.
Our lifestyle and environment play key roles in the balance of our skin’s acid mantle. As we get older, our skin becomes affected by everything that we come in contact with and this essentially causes our acid mantle to break down.
When our pH level is too alkaline, our skin becomes dry and sensitive, paving the path to a number of skin conditions. With the pH level being more alkaline, your acid mantle is weaker, and therefore not strong enough to shield it from bacteria and other irritants. Dry patches, excessive oiliness, redness and rashes, eczema, acne, sagging skin and wrinkles are signs that your acid mantle is damaged. On the other hand, when the skin becomes too acidic, it causes inflammation and breakouts.
What is the Perfect Balance?
To keep our acid mantle functioning at its peak, it is best to maintain a pH level of 5.5. So, as long as your skin’s pH level ranges from 4.8 to 6, you’re good. It is important to note that different parts of your body function at varying pH levels. Even though your skin requires a favourable acidic level of 5.5, your blood functions at its peak, when pH levels are between 7.35 and 7.45.
There are several factors that affect the pH level of your skin. Age is one of the common culprits that causes your acid mantle to weaken. When your skin deviates to more alkaline levels, wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation and other issues arise. Prolonged exposure to the sun also leads to the breakdown of your skin’s barrier, making it more susceptible to skin issues like pigmentation, acne and dullness.
Your skincare regime can also play a large role in tipping the pH balance of your skin. Washing your face with hot water, scrubbing too hard, long showers and harsh cleansers are factors that can lead to the breakdown of your acid mantle. Soaps and other body-washing agents generally have a higher pH level, sometimes up to a pH level of 9. Using these on the skin will greatly affect pH balance and leave your skin vulnerable.
Your diet is another factor that largely contributes to the health of your skin and its pH level. A highly acidic diet of caffeine, sugar, processed grains and alcohol will inevitably affect your skin.
Keeping the Balance
Just as there are a number of ways to deplete the strength of your acid mantle, there are even more ways to reverse the damage and restore your skin’s pH to optimal levels.
Avoid using harsh cleansers and soaps on your skin. As mentioned before, these products have a higher pH level and therefore can damage your skin. Use products that are pH-balanced and wash your face with lukewarm or water at room temperature.
Another quick fix to restore your skin's pH level to optimal levels is to wash your face with apple cider vinegar (ACV), which aids in regulating pH levels of the skin. Dilute ACV with water before using it on your skin.
Our skin's ability to produce natural oils and sebum takes a plunge as we age, damaging our acid mantle as a result. To replenish lost or depleted moisture in your skin, moisturisers and oils that are gentle on your skin should be used. Some of the best natural moisturising oils are jojoba, argan, coconut and olive oils.
Retinoic acid, alpha and beta hydroxy acids and amino fruit acids can aid in maintaining the acid balance in our skin, when used properly. However, when not used properly, these acids might end up stripping the natural defences of the skin. If your skin reacts badly to the acid — becomes red, sensitive or feels dry — stop the use of these products immediately.
It’s a no-brainer that you need to use sunscreen if you are spending long hours in the sun. Besides protecting your skin from UV rays, sunscreen is a key ingredient that helps to maintain the pH levels of the skin.
Apart from using products that will repair your skin, one of the best ways to sustain your pH levels is to adhere to an antioxidant-rich diet. These include green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, and fruits, like banana, berries and watermelon. Steer clear of processed foods as they will mess up the pH levels of your skin by making it more acidic.
Healing From Within
With the combination of a healthy diet and skincare products that revitalise the health of your skin, you can support and sustain the natural pH level of your skin, without too much effort. Just remember to keep a keen eye on what you consume and apply on your skin.