Skin pH: What Is It And How To Restore It?

Have you ever experienced skin irritation, dryness and redness? Or perhaps your skin is prone to breakouts and generally looks unhealthy? There is a possibility that your skin pH level is not at its optimal level.

This is why we see many skincare products in the market that are labelled as “pH balanced’ as maintaining skin pH is very important.

skin ph
Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

What is Skin pH?

The skin is the biggest organ in the human body. It is designed to fight infection and also environmental stresses. This protective ability is governed by pH levels. Our skin pH refers to the level of how acidic or alkaline it is. 

What is pH balance in the skin and why is it important?

pH levels are usually measured on a scale of 1 – 14, with 1 being the most acidic, and 14 being the most alkaline. The midpoint of 7, is the neutral point.  

There is a thin protective layer on our skin’s surface, and this is known as the acid mantle. Our skin’s acid mantle is made from free fatty acids (commonly known as sebum) and is excreted from our skin’s sebaceous glands. 

The sebum mixes with lactic and amino acids created from our sweat glands, and this creates our skin’s pH. The pH of our skin should ideally be slightly acidic, rating around the level of 5 or below.

As newborns, our skin starts off as neutral pH. Within a few weeks, that pH level will become acidic. Our skin pH increases with age. It is also surprising to find that men’s skin is more acidic than women’s skin.

Because of this slightly acidic nature of our skin, it is compatible with slightly acidic skin care products.

What pH levels are harmful for the skin?

With the understanding that our skin pH hovers around 5 or slightly below, using products that are too acidic or alkaline is detrimental and will damage our skin.

Studies have shown that mild pH changes to the skin’s pH is tolerable. For example if you use any form of AHA or BHA exfoliant with a pH of 3.6 or a sunscreen with a pH of 7.5, will be alright for your skin.

However, if you happen to use highly acidic (less than pH 2.5), or highly alkalic (more than pH 8) skin products, it will cause greater harm to your skin. 

Prolonged use of these products can lead to a myriad of skin problems. When your skin experiences these pH differences, many symptoms may arise. These can include acne, redness, eczema and sensitive skin issues. 

You will also experience that common “dry tight feeling” you get from washing your face with very basic soaps. If you do not resolve this problem of skin pH imbalance, it may eventually lead to permanent skin damage.

How to test skin pH?

There are several ways to determine how your skin pH is faring. Of course, the most accurate reading will be to consult a dermatologist or a skin specialist. They will use a skin pH meter to read the pH levels of your skin.

Another method would be by just answering a simple questionnaire, which can help you figure out what your skin pH is. Just continue reading below and answer 5 simple questions for a quick skin pH analysis.

Skin pH Tester

1. After cleaning your face with your regular cleanser, how does your skin feel?
A) Soft, dewy and clean
B) Skin feels abit taut and dry
C) I do not feel that my skin is completely clean/Has an oily feel to it

2. Are you experiencing any skin sensitivity lately even when using your regular skin care products (eg. moisturiser, cleanser, makeup)?
A) Not at all. I am very happy with my existing skin care products
B) Sometimes
C) Oh yes! I feel like my skin is super sensitive to everything lately

3. Do you experience dry skin often?
A) Not at all
B) Fairly often
C) It happens very rarely

4. Has your skin been feeling more oily lately and are you experiencing more breakouts?
A) Not at all
B) Sometimes
C) Yes, very often nowadays

5. Is your skin feeling red and irritated more often than not?
A) Not at all
B) My skin feels this way only after applying my skin care
C) Yes, my skin feels red and sensitive all the time

Did you answer mostly A’s?
Congratulations! Your skin is at its optimal pH. You are using products that are suitable for your skin. Maintain this winning combination and your skin will thank you.

Did you answer mostly B’s?
Your skin is too alkaline at the moment. This means that your skin’s pH is too high. The acid mantle of your skin is being stripped of its good protective lipids.

Because your acid mantle is being worn away, your skin is now exposed to bacteria, sunlight (UV) and other everyday toxins. You should check your skin care products, and try to use more pH neutral products instead

Did you answer mostly C’s?
Your skin pH is too acidic right now. Your skin symptoms would be frequent acne breakouts and greasy-looking skin. Because of your skin’s greasiness, you might be tempted to use more cleansing products and exfoliators in order to get rid of the greasiness.

But this will have an opposite effect to your skin whereby it will trigger your skin to produce even more oils to counteract the cleaning. Again, go through your skin care products, and try to switch them to gentler, more pH neutral products.

Tips to restore skin pH levels
Now that we have explained the basics of skin pH, optimal skin pH levels, and how to analyse our own skin pH, we can look at ways to restore skin pH levels and achieve great looking skin.

First off, do not panic if your skin pH balance is “off”. Also, do not overcompensate on your pH levels. This means if your skin is too acidic, you do not have to use more alkaline products. The same goes for skin with high alkaline pH levels. You do not need to use more acidic products to balance out.

1. Pick pH-balanced skin care products

To get great skin back to that perfect balance, just focus on skin care products that are pH balanced. This means that the products you select should be rated around pH level of 4.5 – 6. This will ensure that your skin’s acid mantle will remain in great health and protect your skin.

2. Use gentle skin cleansers regularly

cleanser
Shiny Diamond from Pexels

To rebalance your skin, start with a gentle cleanser. You can choose cleansers that have pH levels at 5.5, which ensures that your skin will not be stripped of its moisture. Once you choose a cleanser, whether it is commercially made, or homemade, always ensure that the cleanser is suitable for your skin. Once you start on a good gentle cleanser, your skin should feel refreshed, clean and soft. It should not make your skin feel dry or sting you.

3. Incorporate an exfoliant into your beauty regime

Exfoliating your skin at least once a week is beneficial to your skin. Exfoliation can leave your skin looking brighter and improve the absorption of topical skin care products. Try gentle exfoliation with natural abrasive products like a loofah, pumice stone, microneedles, cleansing scrubs and pumice stones.

If you want to consider the use of chemical peels or microdermabrasions, do consult your skin doctor first. It is recommended that these treatments be done monthly for best results. 

4. Use a skin toner

After cleansing and exfoliation, your skin will not automatically be at the right pH level. This is where the use of a toner is important.

Most toners will be ever so slightly on the acidic side and this will bring your skin pH level back to the optimal level. Avoid toners that contain alcohol as this may actually strip your skin of moisture because alcohol is an astringent.

5. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise

moisturise
Breakingpic from Pexels

This is the last step of your skin care regime. Applying a good moisturiser is key to replenishing water back into your skin. An effective moisturiser will help rebuild and enhance your skin’s acid mantle. You can use moisturisers with good oils such as argan oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil. These oils work well with our skin’s natural oil secretions.

6. Antioxidants and sunscreen for your skin

Antioxidants applied topically, are important in maintaining the acid mantle in two major ways. Firstly, they strengthen cells to ensure that they can work optimally. Secondly, they also protect cells from environmental oxidation (free radicals). The effective antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and green tea.

Sunscreen should also be used daily, in order to protect the acid mantle. It shields the skin cells from UV damage and enhances the skin’s ability to protect itself.

The Conclusion

Now that we have a better understanding of human skin pH and its role in maintaining our youthful skin, it is simply logical that we should take good care of our skin and its acid mantle.

Auditing your skin care regime, and making sure the products you are using are not chemically harsh, nor pH imbalanced is a great way to start. Even with damaged or dry skin, the key here is to maintain optimum skin pH conditions so that your cells can repair themselves.

Even if you have been using products that were not pH optimal for your skin, getting it back to tip-top condition is not hard if you know what to do and what to look for.

Take care of your skin by using a cleanser, exfoliant, toner, moisturizer, antioxidant and sunscreen and your skin will thank you.

References:
The Ultimate Guide to pH and Your Skin, [online] Available at: https://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/skincare-advice/myths/the-ultimate-guide-to-ph-and-your-skin.html [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Easy Ways to Test Your Skin pH Level, [online] Available at: https://nayelle.com/test-your-skin-ph-level/ [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Medically reviewed by Vincent J. Tavella, Written by Kristeen Cherney, March 2019, About Skin pH and Why It Matters, [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/whats-so-important-about-skin-ph#Whats-the-best-way-to-maintain-healthy-skin-and-balanced-skin-Ph? [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb,  Written by Adrienne Santos-Longhurst, October 2018, What Does It Mean to Exfoliate? Why You Should and How to Start, [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/meaning-of-exfoliating#physical-exfoliation [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Madeline Galassi, Aug 2019, I Realized My Cleanser Was Sabotaging My Skin—Here’s How, [online] Available at: https://theeverygirl.com/ph-level-cleanser/ [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Anna, 2018, Balancing Act! pH Balance of Skin, [online] Available at: https://www.skincarerx.com/blog/concerns/balancing-act-ph-balance-skin/ [Accessed 08 June 2020]

Peach & Lily, July 2015, TONERS AND PH LEVELS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW, [online] Available at:  https://www.peachandlily.com/blogs/news/51233029-toners-and-ph-levels-what-you-need-to-know [Accessed 08 June 2020]

How to Balance Your Skin’s PH for a Great Complexion and Faster Healing, [online] Available at: https://www.eraorganics.com/blogs/damage-skin/whats-the-secret-to-healthy-skin-balance-your-skins-ph-levels [Accessed 08 June 2020]

WRITTEN BY

Coreenna Ong

Head of Research

Coreenna Ong has more than 20 years of extensive experiences in research and development, conceptualization, formulation, production process development and bring to market skincare products in the beauty industry. Ms Ong is currently the Director, Research and Development at Recherché skincare.

Recherché is a Singapore cosmeceutical skincare brand, with its products clean, green, plant-based and specially catered for Asian skin. It is also the pioneer in developing edible skincare actives to specifically address skin concerns.

Within just 2 years, Ms Ong’s research has led Recherché to win several awards and accolades for its products.

Ms Ong’s research focuses on harnessing the latest formulation technologies, knowledge and techniques to distil and extract nature's essence, and then apply them synergistically for maximum results.

She has authored 2 best-selling Beauty and Wellness books with Marshall Cavendish. The books had multiple runs and remained popular and in print circulation for several years. They are currently available in the Singapore National Library collection.

Ms Ong was also a Beauty columnist for Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore's largest Chinese-language newspaper publication, with huge regional presence. As its weekly expert contributor, she shared the latest research and technologies from the Beauty industry, and addressed the many skincare issues and concerns of the newspaper's readers regionally, including offering beauty tips, quick fixes and insider knowledge.

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