Keep skin beautiful with a balance pH level

Aya Ueto Kose Softymo
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*


  1. Cyndi says:

    This is a very informative post! However, I thought toner with witch hazel is soothing? I have always used Simple toner which has witch hazel and it is fine with me. I love it actually LOL. Should I change my toner? What cleanser do you recommend? I think most cleanser have SLS in it. At least the ones sold in Malaysia

    Cyndi: I should have qualified that it can be drying and irritating especially for those with dry and/or sensitive skin. Otherwise, it should be fine for most skin types. If the toner has worked well for you, then there’s no need to switch. My toner has witch hazel and it works for me too although the more soothing ones would be those containing Chamomile for example.

    It’s true most cleansers come with SLS unless you pick those from natural or organic formulas. Hmm…as for recommendation, a bit hard for me to tell you offhand. Have you tried Cetaphil? It is very gentle and is recommended by dermatologist for those with sensitive skin but I would think it should suit most other skin types too. It still has SLS but I understand the concentration is very low, like 1%.

  2. Cyndi says:

    I have acne prone and sensitive skin, but the toner seems okay for me. It has chamomile inside too. I will try out Cetaphil then. Thank you!!!

    Cyndi: Sounds like Cetaphil might work for you. But read my newest entry about the product to get an idea of users’ comments.

  3. Sydney says:

    I have been struggleing with acne for quite a while but i have finally found some products that work for me and my skin is acne free now. During my battle with acne i decided to use Cetaphil and it was horrible it burned my face and made my skin worse, i would not recommend it to anyone.

    Sydney: That’s a shame…I suppose it just depends on individual skin type and like all products, one that work for others may not work for all.

  4. Madeline says:

    A couple of months after we moved to Kansas, I developed a patch of acne on my chin. Now it has turned into a rash in the crevices on my face along my nose and mouth. The water is very hard here and I wonder if the rash was caused by the PH being unbalanced. What facial regime do you recommend I use to clear up the rash and balance the PH? My skin type tends to lean towards dry. Thanks!

    Madeline: I can’t be sure of why your skin condition has changed so drastically. If everything else remains the same, then it’s probably environmental. But you do not have problems on other parts of your body? Could be hormones due to stress of change? If you suspect it’s the water, are you able to substitute with mineral or distilled water for the time being to wash your face? This can help you determine if it’s the water.

    Have you also tried using pure shea butter? It’s good for dry skin and is effective for skin rashes too. You can also try aloe vera gel to relieve your skin rashes.

  5. Madeline says:

    Thank you for your suggestions. In answer to your question, lately I have also had a problem with heavy dandruff and even more recent a couple of small bumps (acne) on my scalp, backs of my shoulders and back, as well. I started using Head and Shoulders and that cleared up the dandruff pretty well but I continue to get a bump here and there on my scalp, backs of shoulders and back. I have never had a problem with acne. Even in my teens my skin was very clear. I’m very thankful that my skin waited until my mid-late 30’s to have problems, but this is kind of out of control. Like you, my thinking is that it could be environmental as we moved from a very humid southern coastal climate to a very dry midwestern climate with hard water. I’ll let you know how the distilled water and shea butter work. If you have any other suggestions now that you have more information, please feel free to let me know. Again, thank you. – MWH

    Madeline: It sounds like the move has caused you to have dry skin. Btw, did you notice your acne developing more after you change the shampoo. I’ve heard of many who suffered from acne due to their shampoo too. I hope you can get some relieve from the shea butter. I’m quite hesistant to suggest others although you may like to know that some carrier oils like jojoba is good for acne too.

    Update: I wanted to tell you that you might be interested to get one of those facial mist like the Evian Brumisateur. Because your skin is dry, it means it’s constantly in need of moisture. You can mist on your face a few times a day to keep it hydrated.

  6. Madeline says:

    The shea butter worked great over the weekend until Sunday night when I used Aveeno facial wash to clean my face. Ever since, the rash has been very angry. I’m going to discard the Aveeno and use a mild soap with heavy shea butter as a moisturizer and if that doesnt work then I guess it’s time to see a dermatologist. Thank you for all of your suggestions. The shea butter really helped the rash feel better.

    Madeline: I’m so glad the shea butter worked for you! Your skin could have become sensitive and maybe products with certain chemicals have adverse effects for you. Mild soap is good. And yes, I recommend you consult a dermatologist too cos it sounds like something that requires treatment.

  7. Anita says:

    Wait a minute, I use Witch Hazel, and it’s not drying or irritating on my face at all! #k8SjZc9Dxk#k8SjZc9Dxk
    Btw, do you know what ph level extra virgin olive oil is? Yes/no, thks anyways.

  8. Yue zebg says:

    I have really oily skin and black heads plus i get some acne on my forehead and temples what prodcut do you guys recommend?

  9. MrsRance says:

    Cetaphil gentle cleanser also contain SLS. So I guess it’s not safe after all, isn’t?

  10. sesame says:

    The % is low and it is okay. In fact, you’ll notice that it doesn’t foam.

  11. MrsRance says:

    Ahhhh what a relieve :)) so glad that is safe. Thank you for the reply, Sesame.

  12. Rita says:

    I was wondering if you have any tips my skin is acne prone i have some spots but mostly scars from previous pimples my scars fade over time but is there any way to speed up this process? Also how do you regain the normal ph balance in your skin?

  13. Sesame says:

    You need to exfoliate your skin and use vitamin C if you can.

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