It’s almost impossible to open up a beauty magazine or wander the beauty aisles of a store these days without seeing something about pH balance in skin care. While you may have some vague memory of learning about pH balance in your high school chemistry class or even hearing about how it relates to gardening, you probably don’t know how it applies to your current skincare routine or why everyone’s suddenly making such a big deal out of it.
That’s why in this article, we’re going to talk about pH balance in skincare, what it means, why it’s important, and how to restore skin pH balance naturally.
IN A NUTSHELL
Main Takeaways: The pH scale runs from 1 - 14. The lower a substance tests on the scale, the more acidic it is. The higher it tests, the more alkaline it is.
Good to Know: Although your pH balance can affect the look of your skin, there are many ways to naturally restore your skin’s pH balance.
What Does pH Stand For?
As we mentioned above, you may have some foggy memory of pH as something that has to do with acidity, but if you’re like most of us, that memory is about as long gone as your school days. Just to refresh it, pH stands for Potential or Power of Hydrogen. Just as the term sounds, it means the amount of hydrogen that’s in a substance, so pH is a scale used to determine that amount.
The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14. Any substance that rates a seven or below is considered acidic. Any substance that is above seven, is considered more alkaline. Anything that rates a seven is considered neutral.
Are you still with us? Great!
So, you might be wondering, how does pH affect my skin? And why do I need to worry about this? Like a plant your skin looks its best under very specific conditions. When your pH levels are balanced, your skin can look ravishing, but when they aren’t, your skin can look dull and lifeless or even become irritated.
The skin’s pH balance hovers somewhere between about 4.7 and 5.5 for most people and when that level gets out of whack, so does your skin. You may have even heard the term “acid mantle” which refers to a little acidic layer on your skin that protects it from environmental stressors among other things and although it sounds kind of lofty, it’s basically just a mixture of sweat and sebum. When your acid mantle is damaged, your skin may respond with irritation or dryness. That’s why it’s so important to know what pH balance is in skincare so you can make sure you’re using the products that are right for you.
What Can Cause Your pH Levels To Become Unbalanced?
Just about everything, including: environmental stressors, perspiration, the sun, irritants like artificial fragrance or cleaning products, hormones, pregnancy, your menstrual cycle, tap water, certain foods, and even the phases of the moon...OK, we’re kidding about that last one, but it really is amazing just how many elements can cause your pH levels to become unbalanced.
How do you know if it’s your pH balance that’s causing your skin to act up? There are kits that allow you to check your internal pH balance (you may even remember using those little strips in school--they’re the ones that turn colors depending on your pH levels), although if you really, really want to see if your skin’s pH balance is off, the best way to do it is of course, is to see your dermatologist.
How to Restore Your Skin’s pH Balance Once It's Off
The good news is that restoring your skin’s pH balance is actually pretty easy. Mostly it’s just a matter of figuring out what’s causing the imbalance and then rectifying the situation.
First, take a look at your diet. Chances are, if your skin is off balance, it’s because you’re consuming food that’s on the acidic side of the pH scale (meaning it has a low rating like 3 or below) like refined sugar, soda, chocolate, fried food, pasta, pastry, etc.
It won’t surprise you that the healthier your diet is, the more likely your skin is to have balanced pH levels. If you feel your pH balance is off, try adding some fruit to your diet like apples, peaches, grapefruit, grapes, pears and oranges, all of which measure about an 8-9 on the alkaline side of the pH scale (lemons and limes measure about a 10!). Also, you might want to up your intake of vegetables like broccoli, cucumbers, spinach, and carrots, all of which measure about a 9-10 on the alkaline side.
The other thing you can do is to have your tap water checked. Yes, tap water! Although there are standards that determine pH parameters for healthy drinking water (the EPA sets them between 6.5 and 8.5), that doesn’t necessarily mean your tap water falls within those bounds. Have your tap water checked and if it is too far on the acidic side, look into having it fixed!
Finally, make sure you’re using the right skincare products! Have a look at the ingredients list of your favorite skincare products and see if they contain any of the “baddie” ingredients like artificial fragrances or sulfates. If they do, you probably want to stay away from those as they can cause your pH levels to become unbalanced. Some skincare products will even say what their pH levels are, but if they don’t and you’re really serious about finding out, you can actually buy a pH level reader that will tell you exactly what they are.
We hope that helps clarify exactly what pH balance is in skincare and gives you some ideas about how to restore it if yours gets out of whack.
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