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pH Balance: Understanding the Science of Your Skin

by Vanessa Day

ph balance

Many of us didn’t pay attention in chemistry class or chose to forget what we learned the second we left high school. Yet, chemistry plays a huge role in our daily lives. Terms and phrases like “pH balance,” “acidic,” and “alkaline” may not be the kind of vocabulary heard in casual conversation, but when they are printed on our skincare products, perhaps we should take the time to learn about them.

pH balance in skin is an essential part of what keeps us looking healthy and youthful, as well as makes our skin smooth and supple. But what exactly is pH balance and how does it apply to our face wash? Read on to learn more about skin pH.

What is pH?

pH is an abbreviation for “potential of hydrogen,” and is a measuring system for comparing the strength of acids and bases. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with water being the most neutral element at 7. Anything below that point is an acid, anything above is a base or alkaline. The further pH shifts from 7, the stronger the solution. pH is based on a logarithmic scale, so just moving one unit up or down can force a tenfold difference in concentration. It is important, especially in the human body, to regulate pH levels, and our bodies do it naturally through a system called acid-base homeostasis. But there are products that can effect the overall pH of our skin.

Skin and pH Balance

Skin is the largest organ of the body. It regulates body temperature, protects of from environmental elements and fights off germs. But skin’s power relies on something we can’t even see. The acid mantle is a thin, viscous fluid that protects our skin. It consists of two fluids: sweat and sebum. Sweat glands produce a salty, watery solution that mixes with sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands near hair follicles. The acid mantle maintains a pH between 4.0 and 5.5, a range that allows it to help skin stay healthy. The acid mantle helps our skin in a number of ways. It acts as an antioxidant, protecting underlying skin from damage. It helps repel water so skin layers are not damaged, and it inhibits bacterial growth. It also maintains the hardness of protein. Outer skin is made of a protein called Keratin that needs to have an acidic balance to stay strong, so the acid mantle helps stave off alkaline that could break up the protein and cause problems like acne and skin allergies.

Since the acid mantle plays such a key role in how our skin functions, it is necessary to protect it. Any disruption to the acid mantle will interfere with the protective shield of skin cells that surrounds the epidermis. Cells can be dislodged from each other, causing dryness, irritation, roughness and flaking. When cells break apart, skin is left defenseless. Also, as cells pull away, the remaining breaks leave skin exposed to bacteria. Usually bacteria has trouble penetrating the skin when pH is normal, because the acid mantle creates an unfavorable environment. If pH rises, the natural prevention of infection is compromised, making it easier for bacteria to penetrate under the skin, causing numerous skin problems.

It seems simple enough: Protect the acid mantle and regulate pH level to maintain healthy skin. However, it’s a lot more difficult than that, especially when you consider the fact that almost everything we face in our day to day life can interfere with the acid mantle. Sunlight, diet, excessive sweating and even applying skincare products can disrupt the harmony of skin pH.

Protecting Skin pH

When it comes to skin treatment, the biggest mistake people make is washing skin with harsh soaps that are high in alkaline. As they strip off the acid mantle, these soaps debilitate natural defenses and extract fats that actually help protect skin. Bacteria is free to attack and can cause infection. It’s better to use a cleanser that contains more acidic or neutral elements, such as alpha hydroxyl or beta hydroxy. These will keep skin cells tightly locked together, maintaining skin’s healthy glow.

Prolonged skin conditions like acne are usually caused by skin that has a high, alkaline pH or an imbalanced acid mantle. Bacteria can continuously infiltrate the skin, creating a consecutive string of pimples. Luckily, many acne treatments focus on restoring skin’s acidity, so skin can return to normal and fight off breakouts. When selecting an acne treatment, be sure to read the ingredients and check labels to make sure it contains high acidic elements.

Sun damage can also remove the acid mantle, resulting in rashes, breakouts, infection and dry skin. The best way to protect yourself when you step outside is to apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin. And be sure to reapply it throughout the day, especially if you plan on being outside a lot. Also, applying a daily moisturizer can greatly improve pH balance, as well as rehydrate skin.

For people dealing with the effects of aging, it can be difficult to reverse the damage done to the acid mantle. Aging skin is vulnerable because sebum production declines, so the ability of the acid mantle to protect skin decreases, leaving skin dry with noticeable wrinkles. The key to battling this is effective skin cell replacement, and using an exfoliating acid on a regular basis can help speed up cell turnover. By protecting the acid mantle and increasing the flow of new skin cells can keep skin looking youthful for longer.

Skin pH is a crucial part of skincare, and it’s important to understand how it is affected by skin products and everyday rituals. Maintaining balance is the best way to protect skin and keep it healthy. However, there are a number of skin problems that might require more help than an acid-based cleanser or palm-full of sunscreen can provide. There are a number of skincare specialists that offer different professional procedures that treat both extreme and mild skin conditions. If you want to learn more about how skin pH affects you, or you want to locate a certified skincare professional in your area, contact us today. We can set you up with a personal consultation and get you on your way to clear, bright, healthy skin.

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