Alkalinity and acidity? It turns out they’re not two concepts reserved for your eighth grade science class.They’re key factors in the health of your skin. Your skin pH denotes whether your skin is acidic or alkaline. Healthy skin is slightly acidic.
What Is Skin pH?
pH stands for “potential hydrogen.” The term is used in reference to how acidic or alkaline a specific substance is, including your skin. When the skin is too alkaline, it can disrupt skin barrier function and lead to bacterial imbalances in the skin microbiome, driving inflammation.
Skin pH Scale
To better understand how alkaline or acidic the skin is, you can look to the skin pH scale. The scale ranges from 0 to 14 — with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being the most alkaline, and 7 being neutral. The ideal pH level for the skin is just below 5.
High pH Levels are Harmful to Skin
Ideally, your skin is slightly more acidic than alkaline. The ideal range for your skin pH is 4.7–5. However, it’s important to recognize that your pH will vary depending on the location of your skin.
Areas like your buttock, groin area, and armpits tend to maintain acidity more than your face, chest, or hands. That’s because they tend to be less exposed to the elements that can alter pH.
Your pH levels also vary with age. A newborn baby will typically have a pH level of about 7. This is outside of the ideal range for an adult but normal for an infant. A baby’s skin pH will naturally decrease as they age.
As an adult, when your skin pH goes outside of the 4.7–5 range, you leave yourself susceptible to various skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and rosacea.
Most skincare products range from 4.5-7 on the pH scale. Gladskin products are all formulated to closely mimic the natural pH of the skin to promote skin health and microbiome balance.
The Relationship Between Skin pH and the Microbiome
In order to maintain a healthy skin microbiome, the ecosystem of microorganisms living on the surface of the skin, your skin pH must be in an optimal, slightly acidic state. When your skin is in the prime 4.7–5 pH range, its acid mantle acts as a barrier to colonization, making it harder for bad bacteria to overgrow.
When your skin pH is elevated, the skin barrier doesn’t function as well, opening up opportunities for inflammation-causing bacteria to grow and disrupt the balance of your skin microbiome. Alkaline skin pH can also lead to transepidermal water loss, making it harder for the skin to retain moisture.
How Skin pH Impacts Inflammatory Skin Conditions
People with eczema, acne, rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions have elevated skin pH levels and reduced skin barrier function. That can make it harder for the skin to process lipids, retain water, and stay intact. When the skin barrier is compromised, flare-causing bacteria can overgrow, sending the skin microbiome into an imbalanced state called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis results in inflammation that can cause skin conditions to flare.
Factors That Impact Skin pH
Your skin pH level can be impacted by:
- Age: As you age, your skin becomes more alkaline.
- Sun exposure: Overexposure to UV rays can make the skin more alkaline.
- Soap: Harsh soaps are far more alkaline than the skin and can throw off skin pH.
Skin care: Over-exfoliating, taking long, hot showers, and using harsh cleansers can upset your skin pH level.
Gauging Your Skin pH
You can determine your skin’s pH level in three different ways:
- Test Strips: You can purchase at-home pH testing kits that come with paper strips to apply to the skin and measure pH. When purchasing a testing kit, make sure you’re buying one specifically designed to measure pH levels on the surface of the skin. Urine and saliva test kits are used to measure the pH level of the whole body.
- Observation: You can gain a general idea of the pH level of your skin by closely examining its appearance. Soft, smooth skin is an indication that the skin is likely around an optimal pH level. If your skin shows signs of acne, irritation, dryness, or redness, these are indicators that your skin is likely in a more alkaline state.
- Dermatologist Testing: If you visit a board certified dermatologist, they can test your skin pH in-office and provide personalized skin care recommendations to help bring your skin back to a healthy pH level if needed.
How to Properly Restore and Maintain a Balanced Skin pH
If you’ve determined that your skin pH levels are outside of the ideal range, you can restore and maintain a healthy skin pH by:
Choosing a Gentle Cleanser
Soaps and other harsh cleansers are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to wrecking havoc on your skin’s pH. By switching to a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser, you’ll honor your skin’s natural pH level.
Dry skin that lacks healthy levels of oil (also known as sebum) tends to have a weakened protective barrier and more alkaline pH balance. By moisturizing, especially immediately after cleansing the skin or showering, you can help rehydrate the skin. Opt for a moisturizer that is free from fragrances, parabens, or sulfates.
Overexposure to the sun can make the skin’s pH more alkaline and weaken the skin’s protective barrier. Wearing sun protection daily will help prevent skin damage from UV rays.
Since UV rays can affect your skin through clouds and windows, be sure to apply sunscreen regardless of whether the sun is shining or you’re staying indoors.
If you do go outside for long periods of time, reapply your sunscreen every two hours — and more often if you’re in water. For the best protection, opt for SPF 30+.
Maintaining pH Is a Step Toward Healthy Skin
Maintaining the pH of your skin will help protect your skin microbiome as well as its natural protective barrier. That means keeping your skin in an optimal pH range may be helpful in reducing symptoms of various skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, and eczema. To determine the pH level of your skin, try an at-home testing kit or visit a board-certified dermatologist.