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You may have heard about water’s pH balance in 10th-grade chem class or summers spent by the pool with the pool boy balancing pH levels. Maybe even more recently, especially with big brands like Smartwater, Essentia and Life Water making it trendier to talk about water’s pH, but what does pH have to do with your skin or skincare?
Studies have found that an imbalanced pH level on the skin can be linked to aging, acne and other common skin disorders. Keep scrolling as we share everything you need to know about your skin’s pH level and steps you can take to ensure yours is optimal and working for you!
What Does Skin pH Level Mean and Why Does It Matter?
Before we tackle the pH of skin, let’s take a step back to chemistry 101. What is a pH level? It stands for potential hydrogen and measures the levels of free hydrogens in water. So basically, how acidic a substance is.
It’s measured on a scale of 1-14 with 7 being neutral and anything less than 7 is acidic, anything above 7 is alkaline. To give you some references, lemons have a pH of 2, ocean water is 8 and bleach is 13.5.
This same science applies to your skin! Your skin’s pH can fluctuate and is naturally different in different areas of your body, like your under arms and your groin.
Your skin’s pH levels matter because they can be a good indicator of how healthy your skin barrier is. In an older medical journal, Dr, Schmid-Wendtner shares that the acid mantle of the skin is key in keeping the skin impenetrable from small pathogens and preventing bacteria growth on the skin.
What Impacts the Balance of Your Skin pH?
The pH balance of your skin can be thrown off by a slew of things including skincare products, make up, diet, environment, the pH of the water you wash and shower with, and certain medications. You may be thinking wow, the skin is fickle! And you’re right, but the good news is that if you have a solid, healthy foundation, even if you use an alkaline product your skin should revert to its natural pH.
That being said, if you’re continually applying non-pH balanced products to your skin or have lifestyle habits that negatively affect your skin’s pH, you’re going to have to work harder and make some changes to get back to the optimal acidic pH level!
Most skin experts suggest that if your skincare products aren’t perfectly balanced at a pH of 5, it’s better to use products that lean towards a low pH, meaning more acidic verse alkaline.
How to Check Your Skin's pH Level
If you’re really concerned about your skin’s pH you can purchase a special instrument to get a specific measurement of the pH level of your skin. You can also ask your dermatologist to test your skin’s pH the next time you’re there. If you want a quicker test,
How does your skin feel after cleansing or showering?
How often do you apply moisturizer?
Jump to the bottom for the results. We wanted to make sure you didn’t look ahead and bias your answers!
What is the Optimal Level of Your Skin pH?
You might be surprised to learn that your skin’s natural pH and the best pH level for your skin is around 5. Lambers et al studied hundreds of participants with healthy skin and found that the average pH level was 4.7. That’s the same as coffee making it relatively acidic. If you think about it though, that makes sense because many common bacteria need an alkaline environment to grow.
Dermatologist and skin experts are starting to study and use the pH of the skin as one component of overall skin health. If your skin’s pH level is outside of a range of 4.5-6.5, it could be an indication that something more serious is going on.
What is the Skin pH Scale?
When you start research skin’s pH levels, you might stumble across pictures and phrases referring to the skin pH scale. Don’t be overwhelmed! It’s simply a nice way to illustrate that pH is measured from 1-14 and your optimal skin pH is between 4.5-6.5.
What Happens When Your Skin pH is Off?
More and more research is starting to link an imbalanced pH level to the most common skin disorders and skin complaints. Below we’ve outlined the top 5 problems your skin’s pH level could be causing:
How to Balance Your Skin pH Level?
If you currently have skin that feels relatively balanced, then keep up with your regular skincare routine! Some helpful tips to ensure your skin pH stays balanced is to follow a consistent skincare routine with:
A Gentle Cleanser: please, please, please do not just use a bar of soap! Even if your skin feels nice now, eventually your skin’s pH is going to suffer. Regular bars of soap are harsh and very alkaline which can leave your skin’s pH skewed for up to 90 minutes in the short term and more permanently alkaline if consistently used.
A Toner: Toners are a great way to counter hard tap water, aka alkaline water. Toners are typically more acidic and help remove the alkaline from your skin.
AHA’s & BHA’s: As given away by being acids, AHA’s and BHA’s tend to have pH levels lower than 5. They’re safe for frequent use and help to keep your skin more acidic. That being said, listen to your skin! If it starts to feel stripped, lay off the acids for a while.
Moisturizer: Most moisturizers fall between a pH level of 5-7, so they’re not going to skew your pH levels too dramatically and helping the skin barrier stay hydrated helps maintain its health.
- SPF: Protecting your skin from the sun is key for helping it maintain a healthy skin barrier and naturally maintaining a balanced pH level.
If you’re really struggling with your skin’s pH, it wouldn’t hurt to order some pH testing strips online and test your water and all the products you regularly use. If you find that your products are close to 5, you might want to consider altering your product lineup.
Skin Quiz Answers:
Your skin has a nicely balanced pH! Keep doing what you’re doing. If you start to notice any changes, revisit this quiz for tips on how to adjust.
Your skin’s pH is too high and has crossed into alkaline territory. You might have “hard water” and want to consider a water softener or a special filter for your shower head. Hard tap water can have a pH level of 8.5, yikes! You can also order pH tester strips to test your skincare products to see if they’re working against you.
Your skin’s pH is leaning too low. You might want to give yourself a break from AHA’s and BHA’s for a while so your skin can work to heal itself.