The Simple Science Behind Beautiful Skin
Read Time: 2-3 Minutes
Image via Vogue India
To stay radiant and healthy, our skin must maintain a complex system of defenses to protect it from a range of damaging factors, including sun exposure, free radicals, and environmental pollutants. Our skin’s pH level — the balance of acid to alkaline — keeps this defense system strong. Several factors can throw our pH out of whack though, leading to irritation and dryness, so it’s important to understand your skin’s specific needs and how to best maintain your ideal acid-to-alkaline balance. In this post, we’ll learn more about this complex balancing act and find out why pH-balancing cleansers are so important.
What exactly is pH?
pH, which stands for “potential hydrogen” or “power of hydrogen,” is a scale used to measure acidity and alkalinity, ranging from zero (most acidic), to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 considered neutral. To better visualize this, lemon juice has a pH level of 2, water has a pH level of 7, and most bar soaps range anywhere from 8-11.
So how does pH affect my skin?
Our skin’s pH level is determined by the acid mantle — a thin, slightly acidic film composed of sebum, sweat, and lipids that provides the first line of defense against external damage. The acid mantle is the top layer of the stratum corneum (SC), the outermost layer of our skin, which acts as a barrier protecting us from harmful bacteria, chemicals, and pollutants.
If this acid mantle (also referred to as the hydrolipid film), and, subsequently, our pH level, is disrupted, bacteria and pollution can more easily reach the SC, causing irritation, water loss, bacterial infection. “When it's too alkaline, skin becomes dry and sensitive; you may even get eczema. You may also experience inflammation, which inhibits the skin's ability to ward off matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs], the enzymes that destroy collagen and cause wrinkles and sagging. Though it's rarer for skin to be overly acidic, the result is often angry breakouts (even for those of us who rarely get a pimple).” (Source: Women’s Health) Your skin will let you know if it’s off-balance — irritation, redness, dryness, breakouts and excess oil can all be signs of disrupted pH levels.
How acidic should my skin be?
To keep your acid mantle healthy, an ideal balance of acidity and alkalinity must be maintained. The skin is naturally acidic — falling between 4 and 7 on the pH scale, with an average of 4.7. This acidity allows for the growth of healthy bacteria that boost the skin’s immune system, protecting against fungi and harmful bacteria. Too much alkalinity can lead to dryness and wrinkles, while skin with a pH level below 4 (too acidic) is usually irritated or oily. Depending on the individual, most experts agree that a pH level around 5-5.5 is ideal.
Understanding your ideal pH level can truly revolutionize your skin care process. MŪN’s founder, Munemi Imai, struggled for years to find the right products for what she thought was her dry skin, layering rich Japanese toners and creams to combat dryness during New York’s harsh winters. She eventually realized that even the gentlest foaming cleansers she could find were actually stripping her skin’s barrier, leaving it feeling dry and throwing off her pH balance. Once she switched to a DIY natural plant-based oil cleanser, however, her dryness went away.
What type of cleanser should I be using?
Because our skin is naturally acidic, cleansers should work in tandem with our natural pH level, not against it. Rather than going back and forth between moisturizing and astringent products in an attempt to achieve equilibrium, stick to a gentle cleanser that effectively balances your skin’s pH level. pH-balancing cleansers allow your skin to keep up its defenses while preventing irritation. And to cut down on dryness, stick with non-foaming formulas.
Most skin types will benefit from a pH-balanced, gentle oil-based, cream, or milk formula, which won’t disrupt the skin’s pH. After cleansing, be sure to follow up with a gentle, pH-balancing toner to allow your skin to reap the full benefits of any subsequent products.
To easily maintain your skin’s defenses, try our gentle, Akwi Purifying Cleanser. This oil-based all-natural cream cleanser removes impurities and unclogs pores without stripping your skin’s barrier, and contains powerful but gentle ingredients: detoxifying Castor Oil, antioxidant-rich Rice Bran oil, and moisturizing and nourishing Argan Oil.