By Janet Thompson –
Potential of Hydrogen (pH) balance in skin is an essential part of what keeps us looking healthy and youthful, as well as makes our skin smooth and supple. But what exactly is pH balance, and how does it apply to our skin health?
What is pH?
pH stands for “potential of hydrogen.” It is a measuring system for acidity and alkalinity, or comparing the strength of acids and bases. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with water being the most neutral element at 7. Anything below that point is an acid, anything above is a base or alkaline.
The Acid Mantle
Skin is the largest organ of the body. It regulates body temperature, protects us from environmental elements, and fights off germs. Skin’s power relies on something we can’t even see – the acid mantle. The acid mantle is a thin, viscous fluid that protects our skin. It consists of two fluids: sweat and sebum. Sweat glands produce a salty, watery solution that mixes with sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands near hair follicles. The acid mantle maintains a pH between 4.0 and 5.5, a range that allows it to help skin stay healthy. Pollutants, harmful bacteria, and contaminants are normally alkaline in nature, so a slightly acid skin surface helps fight off these harmful elements and prevent them from entering into, and damaging, our bodies.
Since the acid mantle plays such a key role in how our skin functions, it is necessary to protect it. Any disruption to the acid mantle will interfere with the protective shield of skin cells that surrounds the epidermis. Cells can be dislodged from each other causing dryness, irritation, roughness, and flaking. When cells break apart, skin is left defenseless. As cells pull away, the remaining breaks leave skin exposed to bacteria. When pH is normal, bacteria usually have trouble penetrating the skin because the acid mantle creates an unfavorable environment. If pH rises, the natural prevention of infection is compromised making it easier for bacteria to penetrate under the skin and causing numerous skin problems.
It seems simple enough: Protect the acid mantle and regulate pH level to maintain healthy skin, right? Not really. The biggest mistake people make is washing skin with harsh soaps that are high in alkaline. They strip off the acid mantle, which makes your skin vulnerable to bacteria and infection. It’s better to use a cleanser that contains more acidic or neutral elements – such as alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids. The lower pH of these types of cleansers will keep skin cells tightly locked together, maintaining a natural healthy glow. They also help with cell turnover, keeping your skin looking younger and fresher.
Prolonged skin conditions like acne are usually caused by skin that has a high alkaline pH or an imbalanced acid mantle. Bacteria can continuously infiltrate the skin, creating a consecutive string of pimples. Luckily many acne treatments focus on restoring skin’s acidity, so skin can return to normal and fight off breakouts.
For those dealing with the effects of aging, it can be difficult to reverse past damage done to the acid mantle. Sebum production declines as we age, decreasing the ability of the acid mantle to protect skin and leaving skin dry with noticeable wrinkles. The key to effective skin cell replacement is through professional exfoliation and acids (chemical peels) on a regular basis. This speeds up cell turnover for a more youthful appearance.
Skin pH is a crucial part of skincare, and it’s important to understand how skin products and everyday rituals affect it. Maintaining balance is the best way to protect skin and keep it healthy. However there are a number of skin problems that might require more help than an acid-based cleanser or palm-full of sunscreen can provide. Give us a call for your personal consultation and get on track for clearer, brighter and healthier skin!
Janet Thompson is a licensed Esthetician, and owner of Spa La Vie, Organic Skin Spa, located in Wasco, IL. 630-485-2788. www.SpaLaVie.info. Janet loves helping people achieve their skin care goals — the natural way.