How to Select Skin Products: Effects of pH on your skin

How to select skin care products

Are you one with red and sensitive skin that feels stingy every time you use a skin cream on it? It is likely because the pH of your skin and that of that cream are not compatible.

Our desire to have a radiant and younger looking skin has led many of us to modify our lifestyle: We protect ourselves from the sun, refrain from smoking, and avoid stress and alcohol. In our attempt, we also obsess ourselves about our skin care routines and accumulate tons of cosmetic products. However, more often than not, we are baffled. Many products leave us with skin that is sensitive, red, and dry, and this tends to get worse as we get older. To avoid these reactions, you must know how to select skin care products that are appropriate for your skin. And to know which products that will truly benefit your skin, it is critical that you understand your skin’s pH and how it relates to the pH of the products you will be applying. 

The ABCs of the Epidermis

The skin is composed of 2 layers: The epidermis and the dermis. The dermis or inner layer, protects our body from stress and strain. It is also the dermis that provides the substances for healing the skin. The epidermis is the outer layer that protects your skin and body from the outer world. The epidermis has a protective film on its surface that is called an acid mantle. This mantle in conjunction with ceramide, enzymes, sweat, cholesterol, and sebum, protects the skin surface and the other layers of the skin and body from external toxins.  If this protective barrier is disrupted by inappropriate skin products, your skin becomes permeable to harmful germs, harsh chemicals, and pollutants and this will allow water to escape from your skin. As a result, your skin will appear less hydrated and therefore less youthful.

At birth, the pH of our skin is neutral. It becomes acidic a couple of weeks after birth. The pH of the skin’s upper layer remains acidic, which makes it compatible with more acidic skin care products. The skin’s pH increases with age but remains acidic. This acidic milieu keeps the skin microbiome balanced and creates an environment that does not allow bad skin germs to multiply and thrive. Skin care products with non-balanced pH can change your skin pH, and this can lead to acne flaring, and worsen a number of conditions such as eczema, redness and irritation. 

Therefore, you must know the pH of your skin before selecting any product for your skin care regimen.

How to maintain your skin pH balanced

What is meant by pH balanced? A balanced skin pH refers to products whose pH falls within the range of normal skin pH. 

Water, amino acids, lactic acid, and sebum are among the many ingredients within your acid mantle that are gentle enough to keep your skin nice and healthy with a mildly acidic pH. They protect your skin and body against environmental assaults, keep your skin soft and supple, and fight against harmful germs. Dust, sun rays, pollutants, harsh chemical treatments, and increasing age may all alter your skin pH and compromise your mantle. When your skin pH is disturbed, this compromises the function of your mantle and this can result in skin dryness, acne formation, bacterial and fungal infections. If your skin pH is alkaline, your skin will appear tight and dry.  This condition will cause your skin to be prone to fine lines, wrinkles, irritation, and breakouts. Meanwhile, a skin pH that becomes too acidic will predispose your skin to excessive oil production which is the ideal setting for bacterial growth, acne, eczema, and other skin conditions.

If you have skin that is already prone to acne or that is sensitive, you must do your utmost to maintain the integrity of your skin barrier by using products with a pH that is in line with that of your skin.

How do you determine the pH of your skin care products?

  • Speak with your dermatologist or skin care specialist to determine what skin care products will work best and help you maintain a balanced skin pH.
  • You can measure the pH of your products with litmus strips or a pH meter tool. If the pH of a particular product is less than 3.5 or greater than 6, I recommend that you do not use them
  • Avoid using soap to cleanse your face if at all possible. Most bar soaps are alkaline with pH 8 to 11. Therefore, if your skin pH is 5.5, using such soaps will significantly alter the pH of your skin. If you must use soap, it is best to err on using soap with pH between 4 and 6.
  • Be mindful of the pH level of your cleanser, soap, creams, and all make-up products that you use in your skin care regimen.
  • If the pH is not listed on the packaging, check the brand website, or call the company to find out what the pH of that particular product is
  • Avoid direct sunlight and if you have to be in the sun, always apply sunscreen to your skin with an SPF at least 30 or above. UV rays from the sun are harmful to skin, and they can damage the protective acid mantle making your skin more vulnerable to toxins and insults which can promote aging and wrinkles.

Marie-Ange D. Tardieu, MD

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