Why Your Skin's pH Matters - How to Look Younger Today
You probably noticed that some facial cleansers (especially over-the-counter soaps) can make your skin dry and tight. In some cases, you may develop a rash or annoying itching. This is an indication that the facial cleanser you are using may be too alkaline.
In other words: its pH is too high. Alkaline cleansers lead to dry skin just as surely as alien chemicals in your cosmetics will lead to wrinkles. To help you find the perfect, well-balanced cleanser that will be gentle even on sensitive skin, let’s explore what is the pH of skin and why it is so important.
You probably have seen on some labels that a cosmetic product has a pH of 5.5 or 7.0 / When you see these two letters – p and H (and the number that follows) remember that this will determine whether your cleanser becomes your skin’s greatest friend or a vicious foe. This information can help determine whether your skin will look supple and smooth or inflamed, dry and rough.
So let’s talk a little about skin chemistry and find out what should be the proper pH of healthy skin and how we can preserve it with the right kind of cleanser.
Your Skin's pH
"Skin pH" is a chemist's term meaning "Potential of Hydrogen" and is used to measure the degree of acidity or alkalinity in the outer skin layers.
It is measured on a scale ranging from 0 to 14 where the center of the scale (7) is neutral (neither acid nor alkaline). A reading below 7 indicates that the substance being measured is acidic and above 7 is alkaline.
Normal skin pH is somewhat acidic and in the range of 4.2. to 5.6. It varies from one part of the body to another and, in general, the pH of a man's skin is lower (more acidic) than a woman's.
The acid mantle is a combination of sebum (oily fats) and perspiration that is constantly secreted to cover the skin's surface and maintain a proper skin pH.
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The Acid Mantle
The acid mantle protects skin in several ways:
Antioxidant - The lipids (fats) in the mantle are sacrificially oxidized to protect the underlying skin from excessive oxidation. This is why "whiteheads" - which are un-oxidized sebum in pores - turn into "blackheads" as the sebum is oxidized.
Water Repellent - The fats in the mantle repel water from the skin just like the oil on a duck's feathers repels water. This keeps water from loosening and damaging the o uter-most skin layers and renders the skin less vulnerable to damage and attack by environmental factors such as sun and wind and less prone to dehydration.
Bacterial Inhibition - The acidic pH of the mantle inhibits bacterial growth on the skin. Thus, the skin remains healthier, and has fewer blemishes.
Maintains Protein Hardness - The outer skin proteins are made of keratin, a very hard protein, that is also used in nature to make horns on animals. Keratin must be kept at an acidic pH to maintain its hardness by keeping the protective proteins tightly bound together. More alkaline pHs soften and loosen the fibers of keratin and create gaps in the protective covering. This allows more allergens, irritants, bacteria and viruses to penetrate into the skin. Acne, skin allergies and other skin problems become more severe when the skin becomes more alkaline.
"Mild" Soaps Often Damage Skin
"Mild" soaps sold commercially often have an alkaline pH (9.5-11.0), and raise the pH of the skin, thus undermining your skin's natural defenses.
These soaps also extract protective lipids (fats) from the skin.
The high level of synthetic detergents found in these soaps strip away the mantle and loosen the protective keratin proteins.
People with skin irritation tend to have a more alkaline pH, and washing with soap can increase this alkaline state and make the skin even more vulnerable to irritation and infection.
Keep in mind that the pH system works in 10-fold multiples and each pH unit represents a 10-fold difference in alkalinity. So a soap with a pH of 10.5 has 10-times the alkalinity of a soap of pH 9.5.
Increasing Skin Cell Turnover
Adequate skin cell replacement is crucial to maintaining the skin barrier.
Good skin cell turnover keeps a constant flow of cells moving outward in the skin and a fresh supply of outer skin proteins to replace older and damaged proteins.
When you are over thirty, regular use of an exfoliating acid, such as salicylic acid or lactic acid, will speed skin cell turnover. Retinoic acid also works well but is more irritating and requires a prescription.