Protecting the Skin’s Acid Mantle
We all want glowing, smooth, healthy skin. We wash every morning and night hopeful that each of the products are cleansing our skin and washing away dirt and makeup. But what if the soaps that we are using are harming us instead of helping? Maybe the “squeaky clean” that we all hear about is hurting the protective layer of our skin.
What is pH?
pH is a scientific scale from 0-14 that measures the acidity and alkalinity of a solution. A number less than 7 represents increasing acidity and a higher number indicates increasing alkalinity. Anything that is measured at exactly 7 on the scale is considered neutral. Proper pH balance is important for our overall health.
What is the Acid Mantle?
The acid mantle is a thin protective outer layer on the skin that is made up of fatty acids, oils, and amino acids. It is slightly acidic with a pH of 4.7-5.9. This protective covering prevents damage from things such as wind, cold, and bacteria.
The skin is the largest organ in the body so taking measures to protect it is important for not only our skin, but our internal health as well. According to the World Health Organization “Dermal (percutaneous, skin) absorption is a global term that describes the transport of chemicals from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into the systemic circulation. Dermal absorption can occur from occupational, environmental, or consumer skin exposure to chemicals, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products.”
When harsh soaps and moisturizers are used, it disrupts the delicate pH balance which can strip away the acid mantle. According to one study published on the US National Library of Medicine website “the compartmental pH is crucial, for example, in pigmentation, ion homeostasis, epidermal (stem) cell behavior, and so on.”
Why PH Balanced Skin Care is Important for Healthy Skin
Maintaining the natural pH level of skin is vital for maintaining moisturized skin, protects against infections, and prevents damage from harsh environments. Studies have shown that skin that is kept below a pH level of 5.0 is much healthier than a higher level. Acidic skin keeps the beneficial bacterial flora attached to the skin. As previously mentioned, the acid mantle that is meant to serve as a protective layer for our skin is composed of oils and fatty acids. When these oils are constantly washed away with harsh soaps, we increase our exposure to harmful bacteria and irritants. A study evaluating the pH of soaps took samples of skin care products and labeled them according to pH value. Most of the samples had a pH measurement from 9-10. It further states that “only 3.125% of the soap samples tested had a pH corresponding to that of skin pH and another 3.125% had a neutral pH.” Using personal care products with natural based ingredients and lower pH values are key to maintaining healthy skin.
What Happens if I Use Skin Care That is Not pH Balanced for My Skin?
A study conducted by the Department of Pediatrics from the University of Vienna, School of Medicine in Austria sampled body cleansers with varying pH levels on infants. The study revealed that “the increase of the skin pH irritates the physiological protective 'acid mantle', changes the composition of the cutaneous bacterial flora and the activity of enzymes in the upper epidermis, which have an acid pH optimum.”
By continuously using skin care products with high pH levels, you will be stripping away the acid mantle each time you wash your skin and increasing the chances of infection, skin irritation, and skin damage. In addition, there is a greater likelihood of increased breakouts and acne.
Dry skin will also be a result of using soaps and cleansers with high pH levels. The higher the alkalinity of a product, the harsher it will be to the skin which will prevent the skin from retaining its moisture; and that moisture is important in achieving the radiant glow that we all wish for.
How Do I Restore and Protect My Skin’s pH Levels?
Most companies that produce skin care products do not list pH levels on their packaging. So how do you know if the pH level of a cleanser is too high? The majority of products that line the drugstore shelves, even the ones that say “gentle”, have ingredients that are nothing more than harsh detergents that we are applying to our body daily. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the very definition of soap is “a cleansing and emulsifying agent made usually by action of alkali on fat or fatty acids and consisting essentially of sodium or potassium salts of such acids”. To achieve healthy skin, we should skip the harsh soaps completely and use all-natural products that contain gentle ingredients found in nature.
By understanding the importance of protecting our skin and maintaining proper pH levels, we can begin to make informed choices on the skin care products that we use each day. Say goodbye to “squeaky clean” and say hello to beautiful and healthy skin.
Be happy, be healthy, be well