Natural skin care is all the buzz right now. It’s affordable and many people turn to what they find in their own kitchen cabinets, to mix up mask and scrubs etc. It’s healthy and better yet it’s affordable…BUT there’s a catch, not everything you ingest can go on your skin. To understand what will work BEST for our skin we need to understand pH in relation to the skin.
What is “pH’?
Image courtesy of Grants Pass Water Lab
pH stands for ‘Potential Hydrogen’; this is essentially a measure of acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a scale from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic and anything above is alkaline. The further out you venture from 7 on either side, the stronger the acidity or alkalinity.
The structure of the skin and subcutaneous tissue.
Image courtesy of Medical Terminology Adaptive Tutorial
The Skin’s normal pH ranges from 4.5 to 5.5, meaning it’s always on the slightly acidic side. This acidity is generally referred to as the ‘acidic mantle’ and is maintained by sebaceous glands, sweat glands etc. The acidic mantle functions are mainly protective and the most common one is killing unwanted bacteria. It also protects from sun and wind exposure as well as dehydration. The acidic mantle inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi, thus reducing the risk of acne, allergies as well as other skin problems. People that suffer from acne have been found to have slightly higher skin pH which increases their vulnerability to bacteria.
So what happens when happens when something acidic or alkaline comes into contact with the skin??
If the product is alkaline or neutral, the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of the skin) is disrupted and in successive fashion damages the barrier (protective) function of the skin. This leads to dryness and decreased antibacterial defense. A skin cleanser that’s alkaline/basic like regular soap can cause this kind of damage and the effects are cumulative.
In layman’s terms, the skin’s ability to fend off harmful bacteria is made suboptimal with the continuous use of alkaline products.
As mentioned, the skin leans towards a slightly acidic balance and thus applying a mildly acidic product can soothe the skin which allows for better moisture retention and strengthening of the skin barrier.
How much acidity is allowable? Many people tend to lean towards citrus fruits like lemon and grapefruit for DIY skin care remedies, that’s because citric acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. These acids contain glycolic acid and lactic acid and are often used as skin peels. However, the citric acid found in citrus fruits is at a higher concentration of 5-10% than that of a skin peel AND has a pH of about 2-3!!! Whoa!
The water content (80%) of these fruits is of no help either and they don’t contain any occlusive ingredients (ingredients that prevent or retard water loss). This means that they WILL DRY YOUR SKIN OUT. Yes! Water will dry out your skin.
In addition to drying out skin, products that are too alkaline increase skin sensitivity, inflammation and also inhibit the skin’s ability to ward off matrix metalloproteinases (MPPs), the enzymes that destroy collagen and cause wrinkles and sagging.
It’s therefore important to bring down the acidity of lemon juice or grapefruit juice, should you choose to use it any skin regimen.
The very best thing to do for your skin is to maintain its slightly acidic pH level. Use pH testing strips especially when you are about to start a new regimen with new products. Be on the lookout for pH-Balanced cleansers and moisturizers. Ingesting skin healthy foods also goes a long way into maintaining that delicate balance.
Want to know what your skin pH is? Stay tuned.............