I have been seeing quite a number of skincare products on the market promoting themselves as pH neutral. The Lavera range of toners which I reviewed yesterday for example, are neutral pH 5.5 formulas that promise to balances our facial pH level after cleansing. So what exactly is this skin pH level and why is it important to maintain a balance by choosing cosmetics and skincare products that have a pH value close to that of our own skin?
What is our normal skin pH?
pH refers to the balance of acid and alkali in our skin. That is, how acidic your skin is. Normal skin pH is said to be somewhat acidic and in the range of 4.2. to 5.6 and it varies from one part of the body to another (source).
What is acid mantle and its connection to pH?
When we are talking about the pH level, we are really referring to the pH of the acid mantle. Acid mantle is a fine film consisting of sweat and sebum with a slightly acidic pH on the surface of the skin that helps our skin to remain healthy with fewer blemishes. In fact, the acid mantle plays a very important role as an integral part of the barrier function of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin) because it is this natural acidity that protects our skin against all elements, such as microorganisms, wind, pollutants, bacterial and fungal infections (source).
What causes pH to become imbalance?
Environmental stress like UV rays and pollution as well as changes in diet and hormones can cause the acid mantle to break down and make our skin more alkaline. You may also like to know that each time you wash your skin, the balance of acidity in our skin is distorted due to the alkaline in water and the cleanser and it can take half an hour or longer for the normal pH level to be restored. And the bad news for older skin is that it can take up to 8 hours to regain its acidity.
Why do we have to maintain skin pH level at 5.5?
In addition to the fact that our skin is more proned to damage and infection when the acid mantle breaks down, low levels of acid can cause our skin to become over drying. Moreover, pH imbalance is widely known to be the most critical cause of acne. Hence, maintaining the skin pH at the natural pH no greater than 5.5 is vital to prevent acne, infection, irritation and more importantly, slows down skin aging. And I believe that maintaining the pH balance level is even more essential for those with sensitive skin.
How to maintain a balance skin pH?
This is why it is important that we choose cosmetics and skincare products that have a pH value close to that of our own skin so as not to alter the skin’s natural protective capabilities. So for those who think that a cleanser is just a cleanser and will not have lasting effects on our skin, think again. As a thumb of rule, these are the most common advices I came across when I was looking for information on how to maintain a balance skin ph level:
- Use a mild cleanser or a pH 5.5 cleanser
- Use an alcohol-free mild toner to restore the acid balance
- Avoid using soaps which tend to be alkaline
> read the ingredients and check the formulation
- Avoid over washing as water has a pH of 7
- Avoid alcohol content in your skincare
- Avoid using products with harsh chemicals like SLS
- Take food which contain alpha-hydroxy acids
> like apples, blackberries, tomatoes and any citrus food
How to tell if a product is really pH balanced?
What I was more curious about however was how do we know if the product really is pH balanced? I mean, unless the product says so, how can we determine their pH balance when we purchase the product? And even if they claim to have a pH level of 5.5, how do we know if that’s not just their words. For example, I learnt that toners containing witch hazel are drying and irritating, yet Lavera Calendula Toner which does contain witch hazel is said to be a neutral pH 5.5 formula? So is it really neutral?
I dug around but I couldn’t really find a clear cut answer to this althought I eventually figured out that the easiest answer to this maybe to use the pH litmus indicator test strips! *laughs*