When most people think about pH levels what comes to mind is lakes or their backyard pool, not skincare. But pH levels actually have a big effect on the health and beauty of your skin. If your skin is often dry, flaky, irritated, or breaking out in pimples, unbalanced pH could be the reason.
So, if you don’t know your acid mantle from your sebaceous gland, read on and learn how understanding pH will help you fine-tune your skincare routine.
What is pH and why is it important?
When people talk about the pH value of lakes or pools, they’re referring to how acidic or alkaline the water is, as measured on the pH scale from 0 to 14. A pH value of 7 is neutral, anything above 7 is alkaline, and anything below 7 is acidic. pH actually stands for ‘potential of Hydrogen’.
The optimum pH for human skin is about 5.5 — less acidic than wine but more than rainwater! You can actually measure your skin’s pH with litmus paper if you’re curious to see where you sit.
It might sound strange to hear that your skin’s pH should be acidic, but it’s really beneficial as it creates your skin’s acid mantle — a protective film made up of fatty acids, lactic acid, amino acids, oils, and sebum. This mantle helps keep your skin moisturized and protects you from the elements and bacteria.
What happens when your skin’s pH gets out of balance?
Cleansing is the biggest threat to your skin’s optimal pH level. Many soaps and facial cleansers have an alkaline pH between 9-11, which can move you a long way from that healthy 5.5 pH.
Your skin does not do well in this alkaline state. The enzymes that disrupt collagen production are activated when your skin is alkaline, so you actually speed up the aging process.
It also disrupts the acid mantle, which means moisture will escape more easily, dehydrating your skin, and you’ll be more susceptible to bacteria. That opens the door to irritation and inflammation.
Your skin’s pH could also try to compensate for all this by producing too much oil. So, it goes without saying that you want a cleansing and toning routine that leaves your skin’s pH balance intact.
How do you create a cleansing routine that preserves optimal pH?
If you want to test the skin’s pH of your current cleansing and toning products, buy some litmus paper test strips. They are easy to buy on Trademe. The test strips come with a color code that lets you analyze the result. If your cleanser or toner turns the litmus paper green, then it’s too alkaline with a pH of 9 or higher.
You can add something acidic like lemon juice to try and balance this out, but an easier approach would be to switch to better-formulated products from natural skincare companies. For example, Okana’s Apple Juice Foaming Cleanser is made with real apple juice and no SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) or fragrance. SLS has a pH of between 7.5 and 8.5, so when it’s included as a cleanser ingredient it moves the pH too far towards alkaline. It’s worth remembering that SLS is often included in hand soaps and shower gels, so always read the label before you buy.
If you love double-cleansing, after using Okana’s foaming cleanser you can do a second cleanse with Okana Radiant Skin Sorbet Cleanser. It includes fresh apricot oil, macadamia oil, mango butter, and rapeseed oil. The healthy oils in this cleanser will strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, preventing dehydration. It’s one of those beauty must-haves you just have to get.
Even if you use a very gentle cleansing routine, your skin’s pH will still be affected. That’s why finishing up with toner is so important. A good toner will always be slightly acidic to help counteract the alkaline effect of soaps and cleansers.
With mildly acidic sodium levulinate — which contains the same levulinic acid bees use to protect their pollen and nectar — and sodium anisate, this toner will help get your skin back to a pH of 5.5 while also moisturizing and conditioning.
How does exfoliation affect pH levels?
For good-looking skin, exfoliating two or three times a week is essential. An exfoliator removes dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. This improves the appearance of your skin and helps speed-up skin cell regeneration.
But exfoliation often removes healthy oils from your skin and alters its pH balance in the process. So, it’s essential to use a gentle, all-natural exfoliant and follow up with a good toner.
From an environmental point of view, you should avoid exfoliators that contain polymer microbeads. These tiny plastic beads don’t break down. Instead, they enter the ocean and marine food chains, causing serious environmental harm.
Okana’s Bamboo Beads Face Scrub is made with finely ground bamboo, a natural product that’s 100% biodegradable. The powder gently and efficiently removes dead skin cells, leaving your skin soft and smooth. Best of all, it’s pH balanced so your skin feels clean when you’re done.