Do you have dry skin with a rough texture and no matter what you do you just can’t moisturise? Or is it the inverse, and you’re bogged down by your oily skin? There’s one underlying cause of every skin condition, from premature ageing to pimples. Can you guess what it is? That’s right: Your skin PH level is bonkers.

You probably have seen PH balanced and product labels or probably heard how ads praised soaps as such. But what does PH balanced even mean? And what is the ideal skin PH? It’s all gone off centre – test tubes and lab coats now, hasn’t it?

A little background about PH

It’s time for a refresher for high school chemistry: PH is shortened from potential hydrogen. It’s a numeric scale that shows the acidity levels of substances. The PH scale goes from 1 to 14. Water is natural and has a PH scale of 7.

Litmus paper dipped in solution to show its PH level, photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer

Below 7 is acidic and above is alkaline. And what has the PH scale to do with your skin? Because the health of your skin and body is directly linked to the right balance between acidity and alkalinity.

What is the PH of the skin?

It’s generally accepted that our skin is slightly acidic. The average human skin PH is between 5-6, meaning it’s slightly acidic. It’s all thanks to the skin barrier, also called the acid mantle, that protects the skin and helps keep moisture in while guarding against germs, elements, and toxic substances.

A 2006 study suggests that the ideal may be just below 5. Keeping the skin PH at its optimal level makes your skin more resilient. It’s important for the barrier and immune function. The skin’s natural flora is sustained so that harmful germs are suppressed and moisture retention improves.

So slight acidity is skin is ideal, but the PH level is constantly fluctuating due to what you eat, what products you’re using, the environment you live in, and sleep. Your gender and age also affect the PH level.

Newborns have a relatively high PH level and within a few weeks, the level drops. Men also tend to have a lower PH level than women. For men and women, the PH level rises with age, but it remains acidic.

Depending on the area of the body, the PH level also changes. On the less exposed areas such as armpits, the skin is more likely to maintain its natural acidity.

The inverse is also true: On more exposed areas such as your face, neck, and hands, the PH level is higher and so more alkaline. The variations come about because these parts of your body are more exposed to the elements.

How do you know your skin PH is off balance?

Typically, if your skin isn’t playing ball and misbehaving, it’s giving you strong hints it has PH problems. If you disturb your skin’s PH repeatedly and to a strong degree, it can result in or aggravate many issues.

It all boils down to sebum production. Your skin produces sebum, a natural oil that moisturises and protects your skin. So, when your skin is leaning into neutral/alkaline direction, it means, it’s not producing enough natural oils.

This is when you see skin conditions like

  • Dry and flaky patches
  • Accelerated ageing
  • Increase and deepening of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Sensitivity
  • Decreased immune defence

On the other hand, when your skin PH is more acidic, it means it overproduces sebum. This is when you get oily skin that’s prone to breakouts. As men have a higher rate of sebum production, they also tend to have oilier skin that is more prone to blocked pores.

How to maintain and restore your skin PH balance?

If your skin is off kilter, it got this way, because you’ve been too hard on it. It can be that you’ve been scrubbing too much, used too hot water and for too long, used a stripping cleanser/soap, or washed too often.

The first to get your skin back on its feet is stepping away from harsh cleansers and striping toners. You want to get your skin PH in balance so that your skin barrier function is back at its optimal state.

Be sure to slather on a softener or hydrating toner after cleansing your face. If you’ve just stepped out of your shower or washed your hands slather on the moisturiser.

If you’re looking for a wholistic way to restore and keep your skin’s PH balance, make sure to feed your skin. There’s something called the gut-skin axis and it has to do with your microbiome. It’s how the health of your gut directly affects the natural flora of your skin.

How to tell the PH of your products?

Study the packaging and labels of your products. Although most skin care products don’t specifically state their formula’s PH, they will likely sit in the PH balanced range.

Otherwise, you need to do the PH test yourself and dip limes paper in every product you use. You can also go by these PH ranges that are common for the major categories of skin care products:

  • Cleansers: PH 4.5–7
  • Toners: PH 5–7
  • AHAs and BHAs: PH 3.2–3.9
  • Vitamin C products: PH 2.6–3.2
  • Vitamin A products: PH 4–6.6
  • Moisturisers: PH 5–7

Can you use skin care products with different PH levels all at once?

It’s often heard that you have to wait between using products with different PH levels. The reasoning behind it is that using a vitamin C essence before a moisturiser will somehow negate the effects of the vitamin C.

But you don’t need to wait. The manufacturers of the products will have formulated the product so that its PH range is strong enough to stay within the desired range no matter what you apply before or after. Your skin’s PH can be more easily disturbed for example just by using hard tap water.

Bottom line

Your skin tells you everything you need to know. The way it reacts to what you apply can tell you what it likes or doesn’t like (avoid the product). Also, if your skin has a nice, soft texture without dry or oily areas, congrats! It’s a big sign you have happy skin with balanced PH.

Also know, with age, our skin produces less and less natural oils. When sebum production slows down, it impacts our skin barrier which is key for maintaining healthy skin PH levels. Hence it’s a good idea to add a face oil near the end of your routine and don’t forget to moisturise.

Do you have any questions why PH levels should mean anything to you? Leave your thoughts and comments in the comments.

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