Should Skincare Products Have a Neutral PH?

If you walk into a pharmacy you’ll find pH-neutral products on the shelves. If you would like to know whether special pH-neutral products are really necessary or that it is just another marketing trick then read on…

Our skin has a natural protection layer, which is called the acid mantle. It is composed of sweat, sebum and dead skin cells. It is called the ‘acid mantle’ because it has a pH value between 4.5 and 5.5. Let’s take a trip back to school and chemistry lessons; we know that something is acidic when its pH level is lower than 7 and alkaline when it is above 7. There is a reason why the skin is acidic, this layer of acid helps maintain the skins strength and hydration. It dispenses with the bad bacteria and accommodates the good bacteria. Once again nature coming to the rescue! It is important that skin remains acidic, as research has found that skin with a higher pH is not only duller and more easily irritated, but also more likely to be wrinkled… And that, of course, is something we don’t want!

It is therefore important that the pH level of the skin is maintained, but it isn’t always that easy. Dieting (an undernourished body will not make enough essential fatty acids), skin conditions such as eczema, washing with water and, last but not least; using cosmetics can mess with your skins pH level. By letting your skin come into contact with alkaline products the pH level will rise temporarily. If the pH level of a product is lower than 7 then you don’t need to be concerned, but if it is around pH level 8 or higher this it is not good for skin. When you think that the water in many houses in the Netherlands has a pH of around 8 then you realise that too much showering or bathing can cause skin problems. And, as well as this, if you count the many old fashioned soaps which have a pH of around 9, then you can understand how much damage to your skin is possible if you regularly wash with soap and water. Even though, just as a lizards tail, your skin regrows, this can take up to 14 hours. There is a big chance that you have already caused even more damage to your acid mantle in that time. Just think how often you wash your hands during the day. On average that will be at least 3 times in 12 hours. There is not enough time for our skin to heal itself between washing.

When do you need to take action?
If you have dry irritated skin then ask yourself whether your skin has too high a pH. I have a fine machine in my research centre which can measure the pH of a skin, but that is not so easy for you of course.

What you, yourself, can do is to measure the pH of your tap water with a piece of litmus paper. Your skin may be affected by alkaline water. It is also important that you don’t over wash your skin; if you have dry skin then wash your face once a day. Even though, as a rule, the pH level in creams is under 7, have a good look at your cleansing products. These often have a high pH. Throw that old fashioned bar of soap in the bin and if you aren’t sure about the pH level of a product, then just send an e-mail to the manufacturer. You can also test your products with a litmus paper.

It is apparent that people with a skin condition have a problem with products which have a high pH. If you have sensitive skin, then you could look at products with a neutral or acid pH, but don’t be drawn towards products with the term pH neutral, as this can still have a pH level of 7… while it is better to have a product around 5.5 (the same as your skin).
Using an Exfoliant containing Salicylic Acid or Glycolic Acid can also lower the pH level of your skin while at the same time making your skin smooth and radiant. You can read more about this here. Oh, and one last thing, did you know that men’s skin is naturally more acidic than women’s? How unfair is that!

Regards, Jetske

(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

You can also read the blogs:
‘Dry Skin; Check Your Tap Water’,
‘Skin That’s Too Clean’,
and ‘Kids Need to Get Dirty’.