Skin — it’s our body’s largest organ and our first line of defense against the world around us. It’s also something we often take for granted. We tend to think about our skin mainly when something goes wrong — a breakout, a rash, a wrinkle, or a burn.
But the health of our skin is influenced by countless factors, many of which are beneath the surface and not always visible to the naked eye.
One of these invisible factors is the pH of our skin. The term “pH” may conjure up memories of high school chemistry, but don’t worry, you don’t need to crack open your old textbook to understand it!
In simple terms, pH measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is. It is an essential piece of the complete picture of our skin health, impacting everything from moisture levels to the skin’s ability to ward off harmful bacteria.
Understanding pH: The Basics
Before diving into the specifics of skin health, let’s take a moment to understand what pH means.
pH stands for “potential of hydrogen.” It spans 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline).
This scale is logarithmic, which means each unit represents a tenfold difference. So, a substance with a pH of 2 is 10x more acidic than a substance with a pH of 3, and so on.
The pH Scale
Here’s how the pH scale breaks down:
- Acidic: A substance with a pH less than 7 is acidic.
- Neutral: A substance with a pH of 7 is neutral. This means it’s neither acidic nor alkaline.
- Alkaline (or Basic): A substance with a pH greater than 7 is alkaline or basic.
In our bodies, different parts maintain different pH levels to perform their specific functions effectively.
For example, our stomach is highly acidic, with a pH of around 2 to help break down food, while our blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH of approximately 7.4.
And what about our skin?
The Role of pH in Skin Health
Our skin is a complex ecosystem teeming with diverse microorganisms, known as the skin microbiome.
Our skin’s surface, or the acid mantle, is slightly acidic with a natural pH between 4.5 and 5.5. This slightly acidic environment is necessary to maintain the skin’s protective barrier and support the healthy microbiome that helps ward off harmful bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens.
A balanced skin pH helps keep our skin healthy and hydrated, reducing the risk of conditions like dryness, eczema, and bacterial infections.
Generally, a pH between 4.5 and 5.5 is ideal for most of the body’s skin. This slightly acidic environment supports the function of enzymes that contribute to skin hydration and barrier function, and it helps keep the microbiome balanced.
But remember, everyone’s skin is unique, and the “ideal” pH may vary slightly for different individuals. Therefore, a personalized approach to skincare, including appropriately pH-balanced products, can help you maintain skin health.
Testing Your Skin’s pH
There are two methods available to measure your skin’s pH.
At-home testing kits are becoming increasingly popular. They usually include pH strips or a handheld digital device. To use the strips, you apply them to your skin, let them sit for a bit, and then compare the color change against a pH scale provided with the kit.
Alternatively, you could opt for a more professional approach. Dermatologists use advanced tools and technologies to measure your skin’s pH accurately. This approach is the best option if you’re experiencing skin issues or want a more precise reading.
How to Interpret Results
Once you’ve tested your skin’s pH, the next step is understanding the results.
If your skin’s pH is in the ideal range of 4.5 to 5.5, that’s great news! Your skin is likely well-balanced, helping to protect against environmental threats and maintain moisture.
If your skin’s pH is below 4.5, it is overly acidic, which could lead to skin being excessively oily and prone to breakouts.
On the other hand, if your skin’s pH is above 5.5, it is overly alkaline or basic, which could mean it is dry and more susceptible to signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines.
How to Balance Your Skin’s pH
Now that we understand how to measure and interpret skin pH let’s discuss how you can balance it.
The first step in balancing your skin’s pH is to be mindful of the products you use.
Many skincare products, especially soaps and facial cleansers, can be alkaline and disrupt your skin’s pH balance. When choosing skincare products, look for those labeled as “pH-balanced” or with a stated pH close to the skin’s natural pH.
Remember that the pH of the product can affect how your skin reacts to it– Products with a lower pH (more acidic) can help exfoliate and brighten skin, while those with a higher pH (more alkaline) may be more moisturizing. NeoStrata Restore PHA facial Cleanser is a great place to start your balancing skincare routine. This soap-free formulation gently exfoliates while cleansing and removing make-up without drying the skin. MEG-21 Moisturizing Facial Toner protects against aging, balances and moisturizes skin to freeing it of dead skin cells and irritants, leaving your complexion smooth, radiant, nourished, and refreshed.
Your lifestyle can also impact your skin’s pH.
While our stomachs are designed to handle a wide range of pH levels, what we eat can still impact our overall health, including skin health. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods can help maintain your skin’s natural pH balance.
Stress, too, can disrupt your skin’s pH. Your body produces more cortisol when you’re stressed, making your skin oilier and lowering its pH.
Try incorporating stress-management techniques into your daily routine, like meditation, exercise, or deep breathing exercises.
In some cases, seeking medical treatments to balance your skin’s pH might be necessary, especially if you’re dealing with specific skin conditions like acne, eczema, or rosacea.
Your dermatologist might recommend treatments like chemical peels, which use acids to lower skin pH and promote cellular turnover, or prescription creams that can help restore the skin’s natural pH balance.
Balancing your skin’s pH is part of a comprehensive skincare routine, but it is not the only factor to consider.
Take the next step towards achieving your best skin by scheduling an appointment with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Briden for a comprehensive understanding of your skin and personalized recommendations.