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Acids and Bases: What You Need To Know About Skin's pH Levels

Posted by Nikki Wisher on Jan 25th 2022

Acids and Bases: What You Need To Know About Skin's pH Levels

Tell me if this sounds familiar: your skin has an uneven redness or a constant low level of irritation, and no matter what you do, it won’t go away. You’ve tried skin masks, soothing products, you name it – your skin just can’t seem to calm down. What gives?

The culprit may be a factor you’ve probably never considered before: your skin’s pH balance. Let’s get a quick lesson in pH 101 (I promise it will be more interesting than your high school chemistry class).

What Is pH?

“pH” stands for “potential hydrogen.” It’s a measure of how acidic or how alkaline (non-acidic) your skin is.

You might remember from those science classes of years ago that pH is measured on a scale of 0-14, with 7 being completely neutral. If your skin has a pH below 7, it’s acidic, and if it’s above 7, it’s alkaline.

Most people would assume that you’d want a neutral pH for your skin, but that’s actually not the case. You want your skin to be mildly acidic. Anywhere in the 4-6 range is generally good, but some studies pinpoint the ideal pH as being just below 5.

Keep in mind that your skin’s pH will vary in different parts of your body. Since most people are referring to their face when they talk about improving the appearance of their skin, I’ll be focusing on your facial skin’s pH for this blog.

Why Does My Skin’s pH Matter?

If your skin is too alkaline, it tends to have more redness and irritation as well as acne and dry patches. But why?

Acidity in your skin helps your body to fight off unwanted intruders like microbes and bacteria which can spark irritation. Acidity can also help your skin combat free radicals from air pollution and sun exposure. Those free radicals can damage your skin and speed up your facial aging, so trust me, you want your body to be able to kick them to the curb before they have a chance.

How Can I Tell What My Skin’s pH Is?

There might be hints that your skin’s pH is off, like redness and irritation. To know your skin’s pH for certain, though, buy some at-home pH testing strips. These strips are incredibly easy to use: just apply them to your skin and see the reading. Make sure you buy test strips that are meant for skin, though, rather than strips that test the pH of your urine or saliva.

Why Might My Skin’s pH Be Off Track?

So you’ve tested your skin and you’ve found that your pH isn’t where you want it to be. Why? Is this just a natural problem your skin has?

Probably not. Your body is built to balance your pH into the range it wants to be, but there are many factors that can mess with your pH levels. This includes pollution in the air, the products and cosmetics you use on your skin, changing humidity levels in the air as the seasons shift, detergents that touch your skin, your skin’s hydration, sweating, sun exposure, and more.

How to Improve Your Skin’s pH Balance

With so many potential culprits that can put your skin’s pH out of whack, you probably will never be able to pinpoint the reason for the problem. But the good news is that regardless of why your pH is off, there are plenty of ways to help it get back in the right range.

Get Toned

Toner is one of those products that is essential in some people’s daily routines but not everyone’s. But if you’re trying to improve your skin’s pH level, toner is a must. While toners can have a variety of goals, a primary focus for toner is to reduce the alkalinity in your skin and optimize your pH balance.

Be Mindful of How You Wash Your Skin

Overwashing your skin is a common problem that can affect your skin’s pH level. Overwashing doesn’t have to mean washing your skin too often – it can mean washing it with products that are overly harsh. Choose a gentle cleanser that’s designed to help balance your pH levels.

Take Steps to Hydrate Your Skin

If your skin gets too dry, its pH balance is the next thing to go, so keeping your skin hydrated can help to keep your skin’s acidity in the ideal range. On top of using a pH-balancing moisturizer daily, be sure to drink plenty of water. During seasons when the air is dry, use a humidifier so all the hydration isn’t evaporating from your skin.

Consult with a Dermatologist if You Have Certain Skin Conditions

It’s important to note that the advice above is all focused on skin that isn’t affected by chronic conditions. There are some conditions that may need to be controlled with alkaline skin care products, like eczema and psoriasis. If you have these or other chronic skin conditions, make sure you talk to your dermatologist instead about balancing your pH levels, because traditional advice about pH balance might not be right for you.

Hitting the Perfect pH for Your Skin

Skin pH is something that is rarely talked about, but it could be making more of an impact on your skin than you realize. If you’re fed up with skin irritation that won’t go away, a little acidity could be all you need. Start with the tips above and before you know it, you could be enjoying calmer and more even skin.