A Top Dermatologist Explains The Importance of Skin's pH Balance
High school chem class taught us a lot—from those elements on the periodic table to the connection between protons and electrons—but what we could have really benefited from was a chapter or two on the importance of our skin’s pH. I mean, frankly, if our teacher would have equated basics and acids to skin care, we probably would have gone home with higher marks. Need a quick pH refresh? Keep reading to discover why you should be paying attention to your skin’s pH balance.
WHAT IS THE PERFECT PH BALANCE OF SKIN?
pH stands for potential hydrogen and it measures the level of alkalinity or acidity of a substance—everything from our skin, to the products we use, to the water that we wash with. For the most part, our skin sits slightly on the more acidic side of the scale at a 5.5. The reason for this is to ensure that our acid mantle is functioning properly—meaning that it is maintaining its moisture and not experiencing breakouts. When choosing a new skin care product, or experiencing a breakout, having basic knowledge of the skin’s pH balance can come in handy for a number of reasons. Number one being that you may be able to tell whether a product is altering your natural pH level and in turn, not working out for you or your complexion.
To find out more on this matter, and what to do if our pH levels become unbalanced, we turned to board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com expert, Dr. Dendy Engelman. See what she has to say about why the skin’s pH level is so important, how products may have an effect on the pH level, and what happens if our levels shift and become unbalanced, below.
WHY PH MATTERS IN SKIN CARE
“It is essential to understand the skin’s pH level in order to protect the outermost layer of one’s skin, the acid mantle,” explains Dr. Engelman. “If not balanced, the acid mantle will no longer be able to fight off infection, as well as the environmental stress factors we face every day.” With your skin being exposed to daily environmental aggressors—think: UV rays and pollution—a weakened acid mantel can allow those aggressors to wreak even more havoc. And what exactly do we mean by havoc? Anything from dull-looking skin to visible signs of aging. By protecting your skin’s pH balance, you can help maintain your skin’s health and youthful appearance.
HOW SKIN CARE PRODUCTS CAN AFFECT OUR SKIN’S PH BALANCE
“If the pH balance in a product is too alkaline, the product can be over-drying and cause the skin irritation, as well as little protection against bacteria growth and breakouts may occur,” says Dr. Engelman. “If the product is too acidic, it could potentially strip away natural oils and cause disruption to the lipid barrier of the skin.” Finding the right products for your skin is key to keeping your pH balance in check. This is especially true for mature skin types. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, at around the age of 50, your skin’s pH levels change. This leads to your skin becoming more easily irritated. That’s why learning how to maintain the proper pH balance at a young age is incredibly beneficial.
HOW TO RESTORE THE PH BALANCE OF SKIN
“There are a couple of ways [to balance it again]: by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes eating leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes, carrots, and soybeans. And, by using products that have a balanced pH level or rebalancing the pH with a toner.”
As Dr. Engelman mentioned, apply products that are too alkaline or too acidic can cause your skin to become dry and uncomfortable. Think about your current face wash. After applying it onto your skin, do you feel a squeaky clean tightness? That could be an indication that your cleanser is over-drying your skin. Reaching for a gentle cleanser is great option, as is finding a balancing toner. After washing your face, sweep a cotton pad soaked in a toner onto your skin to help restore your skin’s pH balance along with removing any lingering impurities that can clog your pores.
PRODUCTS TO HELP RESTORE AND PROTECT YOUR SKIN’S PH BALANCE
Vichy Mineralizing Thermal Water
When it comes to a product that can help balance the skin’s optimal pH levels, we turn to Vichy’s Mineralizing Thermal Spa Water. There can be a number of reasons why the skin’s pH levels are compromised—not all of which have to do with diet and products that don’t agree with the skin—like, exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays and other environmental aggressors and even washing your skin with hard water at home.
Formulated with 15 rare minerals—magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium, to name a few—this is not just any spa water. The Mineralizing Thermal Water from Vichy can work to restore and preserve a balanced skin pH, which, in turn, can allow the body’s largest organ to continue to fight and protect against external aggressors.
Vichy Mineralizing Thermal Water, $9.50 MSRP
L’Oréal Paris Micellar Cleansing Water Complete Cleanser
By now, you may have heard about the popular cleansing alternative, micellar water. Why opt for micellar water? Because cleansing your skin with hard water can actually be damaging for our skin’s pH balance as it tends to be slightly alkaline. To avoid rinsing your skin altogether, you can reach for a no-rinse micellar water. Formulated with gentle micelles that trap and lift impurities off the skin without harsh rubbing, micellar water is a gentle and effective way to get your skin clean. L’Oréal Paris boasts a number of micellar waters in its portfolio catered to specific skin types. With just a few sweeps of a cotton pad, your skin will be cleared of dirt, makeup and debris.
L’Oréal Paris Micellar Water Complete Cleanser, $9.99 MSRP
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Gel Facial Wash for Oily Skin
It’s obvious that cleansers are a crucial component for any skin care routine. As Dr. Engelman mentioned, you want to find a cleanser that is neither too alkaline nor too acidic, especially if you don’t follow up with a toner after washing. La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Gel Facial Wash for Oily Skin works to combat excess oil production while also respecting your skin’s pH balance. This non-comedogenic, paraben-free foaming cleanser is gentle enough for sensitive skin. It’s also formulated with the brand’s Thermal Spring Water.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser
Another cleanser to reach for if you’re looking to care for your skin’s pH is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser. This gentle, liquid formula is formulated with powerful ingredients such as squalane, apricot kernel oil, vitamin E, and avocado oil. PH-balanced and suitable for all skin types, you can treat your skin to a complete cleanse without over-drying or stripping your skin of hydration. As this product has been tested for gentleness, it even works for sensitive skin types!
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser, $20 MSRP
SkinCeuticals Equalizing Toner
As Dr. Engelman stated, toners are a great tool for balancing your skin’s pH balance. If you washed with a cleanser that threw off your skin’s delicate pH balance, a toner may be your solution. One of our favorites is the SkinCeuticals Equalizing Toner. Infused with a fruit acid blend, this toner is specifically designed to balance your skin. You can rid your skin of any traces of debris, dirt, and makeup while also protecting your skin’s acid mantle.
SkinCeuticals Equalalizing Toner, $34 MSRP
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner
Another toner you can try to ensure your skin’s pH balance stays in check is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner. Formulated with Imperata Cylindrica Root Extract and antarcticine, this toner is designed to visibly reduce excess oil on skin’s surface. This non-drying formula is pH balanced and has been tested for gentleness. Simply apply on your skin using a cotton pad for skin that feels instantly soothed and refreshed.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner, $16 MSRP
AcneFree Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner
On a budget? This witch hazel toner costs less than 10 dollars. On top of rebalancing pH levels, this toner refreshes skin, removes impurities, and reduces shine.
AcneFree Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner, $7.99 MSRP