If you have ever heard any commercial on TV for a skin care product, then you have heard of “pH” before. So many advertisements claim “restore pH”, or “pH balanced” on their brands. What does that really mean, though? Im going to take you back to high school science class on this blog post…but you may want to LISTEN UP if you love your skin at all!
Back to the Basics:
The pH (potential hydrogen) of a substance is its degree of acidity or alkalinity, and is measured on a scale of 0 to 14. Acids or substances that have a pH below 7.0, and Alkalis have a pH above 7.0. So, the higher the pH number, the greater the alkalinity. NEUTRAL on the scale is a 7.0 as well. Every number change on the scale represents a tenfold change, and is 10 times different than the number before or after. As a point of reference, your skin and hair are approximately a 5.0 on the pH scale. This happens in the acid mantle, which is where your sweat and oil are purposely produced to create a safe barrier for the skin, protecting it from outside elements.
So how does this pertain to you?
Every product that touches your skin affects your natural pH. If a product is unbalanced, then chemical changes in the skin occur. Sometimes this can cause irritation, dryness, oiliness, or what we all want…perfectly comfortable skin. Usually products that are made well, with good quality ingredients, give the skin a comfortable balance of acidity and alkalinity. Since our skin is comfortable at around a 5.o on the pH scale, it means that we are made slightly acidic. Our skin needs acids to fight off bacteria and kill germs, and it also needs to be able to shed skin off at a rate where it can grow fresh skin cells. This is where the importance of the pH of your products comes into play. For example, if you are using a product that is too alkaline dryness, inflammation, and flakiness occurs because your skin can’t function properly. Chemical peels are a great example of an Acidic product, performed by licensed proffesionals, to significantly drop the pH of the skin in order to exfoliate at a deeper level.
For Acne prone skin:
Its a myth that you need to “dry” up your acne to make it go away! Usually these acne products that feel drying (example: Clean and Clear, Noxema) are the ones that strip away your acid mantle with alcohol and other alkaline ingredients. Dove soap is about a 9-11 on the pH scale which is way too alkaline for the skin at all. Just to put that in perspective, DrainO (pipe cleaner) is at a 14 on the scale…not too far off from cheap soap. Cheap products like this are serious de-greasers. The problem is that your skin NEEDS the acid and oil to fight bacteria! It certainly can’t fight bacteria with it’s natural protection being stripped away. Chemical peels usually work so great on people who struggle with acne, because the acids in the peels help your skin to fight bacteria without over-drying the layer of skin. So the point here is, if you have acne, do NOT use products containing a high pH. They will keep your acne right where it is, and cause inflammation and dryness on top of the bacteria that it can’t get rid of.
For Dry/Itchy Skin:
You might be using products that are unbalanced and too acidic. This is common for people who over-do it on the Retinol and Vitamin C products. It’s important for your skin type to be exfoliated, but too much of a good thing is possible. If you are exfoliating too much with acidic products, then you are stripping away more than just dead skin. Go easy on your acids! You also are more at risk for sun-sensitivity and waxing burns. If you notice that your skin is highly irritable, redness occurs all over, the flakiness never stops, and you get tiny red bumps with whiteheads…you may be using the wrong products. Look for more soothing products instead, or see an esthetician for help.
If you are curious about the pH of your products, you can buy testing strips from a drug store! It super easy, you just wipe some of the product on the strip and wait for it to change colors. There will be a chart to indicate where the color lies on the pH scale for your result. It’s pretty fun!
I had a Biologist/Skin Care Rep ask a funny question in a training, which helped me truly understand what the pH scale means. She asked , “If you were going to kill someone and dispose of a body, would you put the body in Lye or Hydrochloric Acid?” Well, most people, including myself, relied hydrochloric acid, thinking is was more powerful. Well, turns out we were wrong and would end up in prison for murder. She told us that if we really wanted to get rid of a body and completely dissolve it away, using Lye was the correct answer! Her point was that Alkalis are way more harmful than acids. So, getting that chemical peel doesn’t seem so scary now does it? I finally understood the difference in chemical reactions, and was a little creeped out too. Maybe she’s just been watching too much Breaking Bad.
Here is another article that I wrote which has more information about pH. Click here.