Published: May 19, 2022
If you're like most people, you don't consider your skin's pH level on a regular basis. Perhaps you were taught about pH levels, acidity, and alkalinity back in school, but what application does that knowledge have for your everyday life? A lot, as it turns out.
Your skin's pH level has a significant impact on the quality and condition of your skin. In fact, maintaining the correct pH can help you eliminate acne, reduce fine lines, and regulate your skin's oil production!
Your skin's pH level is fragile—it's affected by everything from your dietary choices (did you know there are basic and alkaline foods?) to harsh cleansers to negligence in your daily skincare routine. If you're ready to make lifestyle choices that balance your skin pH and help you achieve glowing, healthy skin, check out our top recommendations for skin care products and lifestyle modifications below.
pH stands for the "potential of hydrogens," and it describes our skin's level of acidity or alkalinity. The pH of our skin is essentially its water-to-oil balance.
A balanced skin pH supports our skin in forming a healthy skin barrier, also known as the "acid mantle." The acid mantle is a protective barrier formed of a slightly-acidic film on the skin's surface that prevents water loss and protects the skin from damaging external factors like infectious bacteria or environmental factors like pollutants.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 as the neutral pH level. Any level below 7 on the pH scale is considered acidic, and levels above 7 on the pH scale are considered alkaline. To give you some context, substances like battery acid and lemon juice are acidic products and have a low pH level. Pure water (not tap water) has a neutral pH level of 7. Alkaline products like ammonia and drain cleaner have a very high (over 7) alkaline pH level.
The ideal pH balance for our skin is on the more acidic end of the spectrum, generally in the 5-7 range but typically right around 5.5 pH. If your pH balance differs significantly from this range—either in the too-acidic direction or too-alkaline direction—skin issues are more likely to occur. Undesirable skin conditions, like acne breakouts, dryness, or flakiness may occur when pH is imbalanced, and sebum production may increase or decrease.
Everyone's skin pH level varies naturally based on factors including genetics, healthy and not-so-healthy habits, skincare products, the time of year and humidity level, makeup used, and the environmental pollution we come in contact with every day.
Sebum is the oily substance that skin produces and secretes. It comprises our skin's natural oils and is what hydrates, moisturizes, and protects skin from damage.
If your skin's pH is on the alkaline end of the spectrum, with pH levels above 7, it's not producing enough sebum. People with overly alkaline skin pH may experience acne breakouts and sensitive, dry skin. Skin that isn't sufficiently moisturized with sebum isn't as resilient or elastic, which makes it especially vulnerable to fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging.
If your skin's pH becomes more acidic, below 7 pH, it will produce more sebum than necessary. This is what causes oily, greasy, acne-prone skin. Slightly acidic skin is actually ideal for fighting off free radicals and slowing the aging process, but when the skin is too acidic, it becomes oily, greasy, pimply, increasingly sensitive, and easily irritated.
Maintaining an optimal skin pH level allows the skin to enforce a much-needed skin barrier (the skin's acid mantle) by producing just enough sebum to create an ideal environment for healthy skin.
Over the years, the acid mantle starts to weaken. That's because the skin slows down its production of protective oils that compose the acid mantle, which makes the skin more susceptible to moisture loss and damage from environmental stresses. Unfortunately, poor moisture retention and environmental pollutants amplify the signs of aging.
Harmful bacteria, UV rays, and pollutants that penetrate the skin's barrier start to take a toll on collagen production and elastin production. As collagen and elastin production slows down, wrinkles start to form, discoloration and hyperpigmentation occur, and the skin doesn't bounce back from damage and impact as well as it used to.
An imbalance in the skin's pH (which weakens the acid mantle) along with natural changes that occur as we age can make the visible signs of aging worse. In order to support your skin health and choose balanced products that promote a balance of skin pH, it's important to understand the factors that affect our pH balance and what we can do to restore a favorable balance.
In order to know if an imbalanced pH is causing your skin woes, you have to first know the pH level of your skin c. If your skin is of a more acidic composition, you'll want skincare products that are slightly alkaline to boost your pH level. If your skin is of a more alkaline composition, you'll want more basic skincare products that bring your pH level down. There's no one right answer for everyone, because everyone's skin is different—a skincare routine that works for you may not work for the next person. Luckily, there are some simple ways to determine your skin's natural pH level.
No fancy testing necessary—you can learn everything you need to know just by paying attention to the way your skin reacts to certain skincare products. The natural condition of your skin can also tell you where you're at on the pH scale.
If your skin has a naturally soft texture with no noticeable dry patches or oily areas, you probably have an ideal, balanced skin pH. If your skin has a rough texture and dryness that you just can't moisturize no matter what you do, you probably have an alkaline, high pH level. If you're battling oily skin and you're constantly reaching for blotting sheets throughout the day, you probably have an acidic, low pH level.
One of the most accurate ways to determine your skin's pH level is through testing by a skincare professional. A dermatologist can use a skin pH meter to test your skin's pH level. This measurement can help you to make sense of your skin type and understand the products or lifestyle changes that will effectively balance your pH level.
At-home tests can measure your skin's natural pH level via a number of methods. Urine tests, saliva tests, and topical skin tests can determine your body's natural pH level.
Cleansing products and soaps that contain harsh ingredients like parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), fragrance, and butylated hydroxytoluene (or BHT, a synthetic antioxidant) should be avoided at all costs. These ingredients are not kind to your skin, and they often have super high pH levels that disrupt your natural oil-to-water ratio. Instead, opt for a gentle face cleanser that doesn't contain harmful SLS, silicones, or synthetic fragrances and will keep your skin balanced.
If you don't have a natural toner in your skincare cabinet, it's time to change that. The right toner can do wonders for your skin because toners have a natural ability to recalibrate the skin's pH level after cleansing.
When choosing a toner, it's important to stay away from toners that have alcohol in their ingredient list. Although toners with alcohol are more effective at killing bacteria, they do a lot more harm than good. Alcohol dries out the skin, which causes skin concerns like redness, skin irritation, flakiness, and worst of all lots of wrinkles.
Hydration is the pinnacle of happy skin. When the skin is moisturized, it's bright, supple, firm, and soft. Nothing can repair the skin quite like a good moisturizer.
As we age, our body's production of collagen, elastin, and natural oils starts to decrease (that's why it's incredibly important that we continue to modify our skincare routine to meet our skin's changing needs as we age). When our natural oil production slows down, this decrease in hydration damages our skin's acid mantle.
At any age, it's a good idea to supplement your daily skincare routine with a hydrating face oil, a hyaluronic acid serum, or an illuminating moisturizer to support the skin barrier function and maintain youthful, protected, and balanced skin.
A thorough skincare routine composed of balanced skin care products coupled with some healthy lifestyle habits can restore your skin's ideal pH level to help you achieve hydrated, age-defiant skin. Wear sunscreen, cleanse your skin every day, eat a balanced diet, and steer clear of intense ingredients to support your skin barrier function and stabilize your skin's pH level.
If your skin's pH level is unbalanced, try some of these natural remedies to achieve your perfect skin.
An imbalanced pH can wreak havoc on your skin, but luckily, restoring skin pH is fairly simple. If you're not sure where to start, listen to your skin. Most of your skincare questions and concerns can be remedied with a heightened awareness of your skin's natural reactions and the right Comfort Zone products.
Learn how to layer skincare properly for maximum effectiveness.