The Importance of PH for Skin (and flashbacks to Jr. High chemistry class)

PH is one of those things that many folks may remember from basic chemistry class in Junior High or High School.  It’s also one of the things the skincare industry loves to bandy about as a reason to use a toner or to sell you a product that claims to be “PH balanced”.  Like many other terms in the skincare industry there is no actual standard for what the phrase “PH balanced” means.  For shoppers that means your best plan is to get a better understanding of this issue so you can avoid discomfort or just being convinced to purchase products that are not ideal for your skin.

From youthful days in middle school you may remember pipettes and putting liquid drop by drop into a beaker to watch for a color shift, telling you the PH had changed.  This is, of course, assuming that you weren’t too busy staring at your cute lab partner or daydreaming about pizza, new shoes, or your latest drama with friends (and there was plenty of that).  The very important issues vying for our brain space may have caused some of the chemistry to float out as soon as it was unused.  Not everyone revisited that knowledge in later classes so for the sake of all we’ll go over the basics.

PH is a measure of the free H+ or OH- ions running around in solution sending off electronic charges.  You might recall that neutral PH is a 7 on the scale and anything below 7 to 0 is acidic and has H+ (Hydrogen) ions.  Above 7 to 14 is basic or alkaline and has OH- (Hydroxide) ions.  This knowledge is also handy for keeping fish alive in aquariums and growing plants, as water and soil PH can have drastic effects on living things attempting to make a home in either environment.

Your skin has a natural PH of about 4.7 to just under 5.  That is an acidic PH.  Your skin is made up of protein which in turn is made up of amino acids.  There is also a protective acid mantle on the skin that provides you natural defense against your environment.  That means there’s at least some happy H+ ions hanging out on your skin.

According to scientific evidence it is beneficial for the good bacteria and flora on your skin as well as keeping skin moisturized to maintain a PH below 5 as much as possible.
 
Not only prior use of cosmetic products, especially soaps, have profound influence on skin surface pH, but the use of plain tap water, in Europe with a pH value generally around 8.0, will increase skin pH up to 6 h after application before returning to its ‘natural’ value of on average below 5.0. It is demonstrated that skin with pH values below 5.0 is in a better condition than skin with pH values above 5.0, as shown by measuring the biophysical parameters of barrier function, moisturization and scaling.”   Lambers H, Piessens S, Bloem A, Pronk H, Finkel P, 2006

This same evidence shows that your natural defenses are decreased when your skin PH is raised too high.  Another study, The Importance of Skin PH by Gil Yosipovitch, MD and Judy Hu, MD from 2003, found that it can take up to 14 hours for skin to return to normal PH after washing with a soap cleanser.  Skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and dry skin can also cause unwanted increases in skin PH all by themselves, which soap only aggravates further.

While your acid mantle is eroded your defenses are down.  That leaves you more vulnerable to acne bacteria, moisture loss, and irritation.

While Blissoma does make 2 soap bars that are designed to be mild enough for facial use the fact remains that anyone with an irritated skin condition or who is prone to acne should use a low PH, non soap cleanser.  I generally recommend our soaps to younger individuals or just to people who have resilient skin.  If you are not prone to irritations, dryness, acne, dermatitis, or eczema then you should be able to use a bar soap without trouble.

However, if you do have skin that is prone to any of these irritated conditions you should use our Fresh Mild Rice Cleanser or Free Rejuvenating Herbal Gel Cleanser for best results.  These cleansers are both acidic PH of about 4.5, perfect to keep your skin at the acid PH it loves.

All of Blissoma’s moisturizers are made with a skin-friendly acidic PH as well to work with your acid mantle and replenish hydration.

Cleansing with soap based cleansers is one of the primary things unfortunately going wrong in the natural skincare world.  While natural liquid soaps can be wonderful products for cleaning your home and even your hands they are not ideal for your face.  You may be surprised what a simple switch to a PH correct cleanser can do to heal your skin.  Acne can be reduced just by this simple switch.

So what about that toner the lady at the department store counter is trying to sell you to “correct” the PH of your skin after toning?  Can a toner do that?  Well, sortof.  Applying an acidic product will help urge your skin back towards a happier, acidic PH if you’ve just used a basic cleanser or if you are located in an area with high PH water.  Quite frankly, though, nothing can replace your actual acid mantle except your own skin working hard to restore itself.  It’s ideal to avoid disturbing it at all when you have irritable skin.

If you are going to use a soap is there a reason to choose a bar soap over a liquid soap?  Yes, there is.  Natural bar soaps are more superfatted than liquid soaps, which means they have extra oil in them that was not made into soap by the lye reaction.  This extra oil helps deposit nourishment as the bar cleanses.  Blissoma’s facial soaps also contain portions called “unsaponifiables” which are fatty portions of the oils that cannot be made into soap and come from solid oils like Shea Butter.  These are calming and emollient for skin.  Unsaponifiables cannot be used in liquid soaps as they would still be solid or would cause cloudiness.  This is one way bar soaps are superior for moisturizing skin versus a liquid natural soap.

Cleansing in particular is one of the steps of skincare routines that is frequently done improperly.  People think washing their skin is no big deal.  Many people think moisturizer must be much more important since it is on for longer.  Unfortunately this is just not true.  If you are cleansing your skin in a way that is incompatible with your PH balance needs you are upsetting your skin for the whole day to come.  Your moisturizer cannot fix that.  

Your overall skin comfort and  health will be dramatically improved if you cleanse in a way your skin can tolerate.  For many people this means transitioning off of soap and onto acidic PH cleansers.  This is especially true for your face, which is much more delicate skin than much of the rest of your body.  You may still be able to get away with using a good quality natural soap to cleanse your body but receive dramatic benefits when you use a non-soap cleanser on your face.

Oil Cleansing Method would qualify as a routine that doesn’t damage your acid mantle.  It uses clean oil to lift dirty oil from your skin, and since oil is made up of fatty acids that acid aspect makes it really friendly. It’s not ideal for everyone though, so the good news is that most gel and cream cleansers also fall into the non-soap cleanser category.  Some people even debate the worthiness of cleansing with water at all – which in some ways is understandable if your water PH is an 8 as that would indeed be irritating.  I’m a big fan of cleansing though as a good bit of gunk can build up on your face day in and day out.  I just like to do it with a product that is soothing, not stressing, and I’m personally a twice a day girl to maintain my skin’s brightness and comfort.

I hope this information helps you transition to a happy PH for your skin.  Let me know if you try switching to a skin-friendly non-soap cleanser and the difference it makes for you.