Your Skin’s pH and Acid Mantle

I recently posted a little blurb about pH balance in the body and wanted to add some information on the skin’s pH as well. The skin’s pH is actually “balanced” when it is slightly acidic…ranging in between 4.5 and 6. However, the skin remains more neutral through childhood and actually starts to turn acidic during puberty. As we know, change can come with “growing pains” and puberty is not always kind to the skin. This is due in part to hormonal changes and in part to the pH of the skin changing. It also explains why infants and children are more susceptible to skin infection like ring worm and excema.

The superficial layer of the epidermis, or stratum corneum, is topped with something called the acid mantle. It’s the acid mantle’s responsibility to keep bacteria out of the skin’s epidermis and regulate oil and moisture levels. The acid mantle is made up of mostly flattened dead skin cells and runs slightly acidic. The acidic nature of this protective barrier prevents bacteria from surviving on the surface of your skin, keeping you protected from external environmental factors.

Apply ingredients to the skin that are too alkaline, like soap, depletes the acid mantle. On the other hand, acidic ingredients like alpha or beta hydroxy acids will also throw pH off balance and deplete the acid mantle. This is where the law of balance comes into play.

It is generally recommended to keep most of your skincare products pH neutral and to use acidic cleansers, exfoliants or serums in moderation. Dropping the pH with an acidic product is beneficial because it will spur the skin into action. Using an acidic product is like working your muscles at the gym. You are actually breaking down muscle tissue when you work out. The idea is to break down the muscle and then rest and nourish the body so that the same muscle can build back up stronger. The same goes for your skin. When using an active acidic ingredient, your skin is broken down.

So after your skin’s “workout,” you should take time to rest the skin. This means using products with a neutral pH. The amount of work and rest required differs for each skin type or condition. Thin, sensitive, inflamed or parched skins need more rest and less work. Thick sluggish, dull, oily skins may need more work and less rest.

For example, I alternate resting and active cleansers by using a resting cleanser one day and an active cleanser the following day. I also treat my skin once a month to a professional grade exfoliation and follow that treatment with a week of resting products.

Read this great article for more information on resting vs. active products.
For further reading on the skin’s pH and acid mantle, check out this great website.

photo courtesy of

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