pH Levels & Your Beauty Products: The Guide
pH Levels & Your Beauty Products: The Guide
— You may have heard about the virtues of an alkaline diet, but skin requires a completely different approach as Tash Havos explains.
✎ Tash Havos
Contributing writer /
There are plenty of factors involved in selecting the right skin care products for you. The purity of ingredients, making sure the packaging is going to compliment your bathroom décor, whether it’s going to heal your scarring from five years ago or make you look ten years younger. We’re pretty sure pH is not on the forefront of anyone’s mind when selecting the ideal product.
Here’s how that could be affecting your ideal routine.
What is pH?
In short, ‘pH’ is a measure of how acidic or alkaline any aqueous solution is. It’s measured from 1 to 14, and the term ‘neutral’ refers to a pH of 7. The lower the numerical value, the more acidic the solution is, where the higher the numerical value, the more alkaline. In regard to our body, it’s a measure of how much oxygen is in the blood. The more acidic a solution is, the less oxygen is present.
Perhaps the most talked about topic relating to pH is diet – the alkaline diet, rather. This diet is essentially for promoting the intake of healthier, fresher alternatives and completely cutting our processed or inflammatory foods. Replacing inflammatory foods with anti-inflammatory foods aims to stabilise hormones, increase immunity response, and effectively deal with stress (Read Natalie Earle’s article “Foods to Eat for Clear Skin”). We know the vitamins and minerals associated with anti-inflammatory foods are great for our skin health, however when it comes to our external membrane – it’s a different story.
The Acid Mantle
Our skin is protected by a thin layer called the acid mantle. This is the outer most layer, and also the protective barrier to the external world – think of it like the first line of defence. This means, our skin is naturally slightly more acidic (a pH range of 4.5 – 5.5). The role of the acid mantle is to prohibit the growth of bacteria and to stimulate the activation of enzymes. When this is in healthy range, the secretion of sebum – a naturally occurring oil produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands – is produced in adequate amounts to form this acid mantle.
The acid mantle can be affected by a variety of factors. If disrupted, your skin essentially becomes unprotected, paving the way for external bacteria, pollutants and foreign substances to enter the skin. Another major result of a disrupted acid mantle is trans epidermal water loss (hello, dry skin).
Everyone’s skin is different. The needs of your skin will be different from the next, so it’s important to take note of how your skin feels after using particular products. You may have noticed alkaline products on the market, particularly in cleansers, that may make you question their benefit. A common misconception is that ultra-squeaky-clean feeling after cleansing is a measure of how effective the product is. Unfortunately, feeling dry or tight after cleansing is the best way to know if your acid mantle has been affected. The ultimate goal is to feel clean, but still moisturised.
The hidden culprit in many products are the inclusions of surfactants (particularly emulsifiers). Surfactants generally have a higher pH, and their alkalinity is what can cause conditions like acne, rosacea and redness due to inflammation, irritation, and dryness. A big one to watch out for is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS or SLES) as it has been linked to causing skin irritations by damaging our acid mantle.
Don’t get us wrong – some products are designed to increase the acidity of your skin to assist with shedding of the skin – for example to shed dead skin cells. This is known as pH-dependency. Other uses for these types of products are to unclog pores, treat acne, stimulate collagen products, and increase cell turnover.
These products are generally much more active. An example is chemical exfoliates like BHAs (salicylic acid) and AHAs (glycolic, lactic and mandelic). Another example is a professional chemical peel designed to neutralise the acidity of the skin. (Psst. interested in naturally active products? Check out our review for Andalou’s Pumpkin Honey — Glycolic Mask).
Although these products have their purpose, it’s important to not buy these products blindly due to their harsher effects on the skin. I’d recommend seeking professional advice on products or seeing a skincare specialist for any chemical treatment.
How to Pick a Product
It’s a lot of information, but to be honest, everything changes the skin’s pH. Any product that comes in contact with your skin is going to change the pH level in some way – which is why it’s important to use pH balancing products to return your skin back to its appropriate levels. Stripping your skin with products that are outside the skins natural pH range will only increase oil products, clogging pores and irritating your external membrane.
Products should range between pH 4.5 – 6, and products that are used regularly, particularly those that you leave on your face (serums or moisturisers) should be between pH 4 – 5.5.
You can purchase pH strips from your local pharmacy to test products you put on your skin (skincare and make up)!
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