You might have seen skincare products recently advertising themselves as “pH balancing” or ‘pH-friendly” – but what is skin pH, and why does it matter?
In this article, I’m going to explain how the skin’s pH impacts the skin, how to achieve a healthy skin pH and why yours might currently be out-of-whack.
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What Is Skin pH?
The skin’s pH determines the skin’s level of acidity or alkaline. You might be wondering what “acidity levels” have to do with the condition of your skin, but your skin pH is actually important when it comes to maintaining a healthy skin barrier.
Your skin’s pH levels will determine whether or not your skin’s barrier will be able to fend off bacteria, maintain healthy wound-healing functions and maintain natural hydration.
What Causes Skin pH To Change?
When it comes to your skin pH, what you put in your body and what you put on your skin are both important deciding factors.
There are many things that can influence the day-to-day fluctuation of your skin pH, including the food you eat, the skincare products you use, and sun exposure. Even everyday chores such as washing your face, doing the dishes or using soap when washing your hands can contribute to your skin’s pH level.
How Can I Test my Skin PH?
You can test your skin’s pH at home using skin pH test strips that you can find on Amazon for under $20. You can also visit a dermatologist for a skin pH analysis, although this will be significantly pricier.
How Does PH Affect Skin?
It’s simple. If your skin pH is too high, you might find that your skin is overly dry and flaky. This is because it’s too alkaline, with your skin being regularly stripped of its natural oils and lubricants. If you are dealing with dry skin and trying to prevent acne breakouts, I recommend trying the Ordinary’s Mandelic acid to reduce dehydration and dryness in the skin.
If your skin pH is too low, your skin barrier and your skin’s natural wound-healing capacities can become impaired. This can lead to acne, redness, skin inflammation and other unwanted problems.
What you’re aiming for is a skin pH of around 5 (or just under 5). Anything higher or lower is considered imbalanced – although there are obviously levels of severity to this. A skin pH of 10.5 is much more severe than a skin pH of 5.5.
What Is The PH Of Oily Skin?
A skin pH of 4 – 5.2 would be normal for someone with oily skin.
What Is The PH Of Dry Skin?
Dry skin tends to have a higher skin pH, and tends to situate itself over 5 on the pH scale.
What Is The Skin pH of Skin With Fungal Acne?
Someone with fungal acne might find themselves with a pH of around 5.5 to 7. Malassezia (the fungus that causes fungal acne) can’t thrive in highly acidic or alkaline environments, so if you’re dealing with acne and have a super low (or super high) skin pH, it’s unlikely to be fungal acne.
What Type Of Skin pH Causes Acne?
If you have highly acidic, low skin pH, you’re more likely to suffer from acne and a range of other inflammatory skin conditions. This is because your low pH interferes with what we refer to as the skin’s “keratinocyte function”.
Put simply, the keratinocyte function manages wound healing, and a weak pH means that your skin barrier is unable to prevent bacteria from forming pimples on the skin. Without going into extensive scientific detail (I don’t want to bore you here) having a skin pH that is too low can weaken your skin’s barrier, making it vulnerable to bacteria and acne.
Best Natural Ways To Restore Skin pH
The best way to fix your skin’s pH is by taking a varied approach. This means tackling your diet, skincare routine and other daily habits:
I’m going to talk about skincare in greater detail further on in this article, but there are a few basic rules to follow when it comes to creating a pH-friendly skincare routine. The most important of all is to avoid harsh ingredients and harsh cleansing methods (such as scrubbing or using abrasive cleansing products.)
Sun damage can also impact your skin’s pH, so I’d recommend incorporating a daily sunscreen into your morning skincare routine. Make sure to pick an SPF suited to acne-prone skin, such as a lightweight gel.
Don’t underestimate the power of natural methods to help restore your skin pH. Some experts recommend using apple cider vinegar (diluted with water) as an at-home toner to help restore the skin pH to an ideal leve.
It’s also a good idea to take a look at your diet when trying to restore healthy pH levels to your skin. Foods rich in antioxidants such as oranges, pomegranates, berries and leafy greens are all great for the skin’s pH. Probiotics and healthy fats are also helpful, such as avocados, olive oil and seeds. As for drinks, green tea and water are best bets.
How Does Gut Health Impact Skin pH?
As I always say, your diet is going to play a major role in the management of your skin, and this applies to your skin pH too. What you put into your body is as equally important as what you put on it, so it’s impossible to restore your skin pH to a healthy level while eating an imbalanced or unhealthy diet.
For example, a diet rich in sugar, carbohydrates and dairy products can increase your body’s production of sebum. An increase in the production of sebum can throw off your skin’s pH by interfering with the acidity of your skin. This throws off your skin pH, which can lead to more breakouts and a slower healing time for existing blemishes and pimples.
How To Maintain Healthy Skin pH
So, now that you know what a skin pH is and how to restore it, how do you maintain it?
Besides following a healthy diet, one easy way to try to restore a healthy skin pH is to use gentle, pH-friendly skincare products. Using pH-friendly products will prevent your skin’s pH from being thrown off in the future, which will help you manage breakouts and other skin problems in the long run.
Here’s everything you need to know when putting together a pH-friendly skincare routine:
pH-Friendly Skincare, Simplified:
- Avoid harsh, stripping ingredients when it comes to cleansers and toners.
- Use acids sparingly (never every day – you need to give your skin regular breaks).
- NEVER mix different acids – you should only be using one active ingredient per day. Mixing them together can cause irritation and throw off your skin pH at the same time.
- Prioritize natural ingredients where possible.
- Don’t use super hot water to wash your face (and also be careful not to take long hot showers, as your skin is going to be under a constant blast of hot water which can both dry it out and yes, throw your skin pH out of whack.)
- Don’t use vigorous movements when washing your face – don’t rub your face with harsh towels or scrubbing brushes if your skin pH is off. Use gentle circular movements when cleansing, and pat – never rub – your skin dry.
- Check the pH of every skincare product – it should be between 5.5 and 7 to be truly pH-friendly.
Best Type of Moisturizer to Help Skin pH
When it comes to a pH-restoring moisturizer, you want to look for a hydrating product with a pH of around 5.5. Natural oils are great for restoring skin pH, as they’re lightweight, soothing and aren’t filled with harsh chemicals.
Jojoba oil and coconut oil are often cited as the best hydrating oils for the skin, but they’re both highly comedogenic and will clog your pores if you have acne-prone skin. Instead, I’d recommend using a 100% natural argan oil, such as this one by The Ordinary.
Best Type Of Cleanser To Help Skin pH
When cleansing the skin, you want to be super gentle and avoid any harsh, stripping ingredients. I’d personally avoid harsh “acne-clearing” washes if your pH is out of whack – stick to cleansing balms and gels. As always, make sure to check that your cleanser’s pH doesn’t sit outside the 5.5-7 mark.
I really love Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser, as the formula is gentle enough to not throw off the skin’s pH, while still being effective enough to clean the skin and even remove make-up. It uses Vitamin B-5 to condition the skin, too, so you won’t be feeling tight and dry immediately after use.
Best Type Of Toner to Help Skin pH
When it comes to restoring your skin pH, your toner is one area of your skincare routine where you need to be careful. Many toners contain active AHAs, BHAs and other acids that can heavily throw off your skin pH if overused.
For a gentle toner that works well for sensitive skin, I’d recommend something with a 5.5-7 pH score, and it’s purifying, pore-reducing and designed specifically to help acne-prone skin. If you want to further optimize your skincare routine, Paula’s Choice has a wide variety of acne-safe products, including facial washes, moisturizers, serums, and much more.