If you think that the tiny word ‘pH’ is associated only with high-school chemistry classes, think twice. Whether you realize it or not, pH has a lot more to do with your beauty. Adhering to the pH scale during routine skincare is more important than you ever imagined. The pH levels of your favorite cleanser, toner, and moisturizer also have a significant impact on your skin, and swapping them out for some more pH-balanced counterparts is always a better decision. But how to find the right pH-friendly beauty formulations to make the skin look and feel better? Well, we are here to help you out. Let us take a closer look at how pH affects the skin, why to follow a perfectly pH-balanced skincare routine, and how to check the pH balance of cosmetics.
What is pH?
In chemistry, the term ‘pH’ refers to ‘potential of hydrogen’ or ‘power of hydrogen,’ which signifies the activity of hydrogen ions in an aqueous solution. It is mainly used to determine the solution’s acidity and basicity or alkalinity levels (1). The higher the pH value is, the more basic or alkaline it is in nature. Conversely, if the value is low, it is acidic. The pH value is usually measured on a numeric scale of 0 to 14, also called the ‘pH scale.’ While a value of 7 is considered neutral, anything below it is acidic, and anything above it is non-acidic or alkaline. (2) In cosmetics, pH denotes the degree or level of acidity or alkalinity of a particular product. Therefore, the pH scale is an essential aspect to consider while choosing different cosmetic products.
Water is pH-balanced as it has a pH value is 7. On the other hand, lemon is acidic with a pH value of 2~3 and ammonia is alkaline with a pH value of 11.6.
What is the pH of Our Skin?
Researchers have found that understanding and maintaining the pH of our skin is critical to its overall health and appearance. So, how are pH and our skin linked to each other? Being a very delicate organ, the human skin performs most efficiently and effectively only when it has an ideal pH level. The surface and uppermost layers of healthy adult skin are naturally acidic. Though the ideal skin pH is 5.5, it generally ranges from 4 to 6, with an average of 4.7. Studies have revealed that the pH of skin varies from one body part to another. For example, your face, hands, chest (to some extent), etc., are more alkaline than your armpits (3), buttocks, genitals, etc., as they are more exposed and hence, are more capable of maintaining their natural acidity.
After the birth, the skin pH of babies remains neutral or around 7 (4). It starts turning acidic after a couple of weeks and declines rapidly as they get even older. Also, the pH of men’s skin always tends to be more acidic than that of women’s skin.
How Does pH Affect Our Skin?
There is nothing called ‘perfect skin’ as we all have unique skin issues. However, when the skin’s pH level remains balanced at 5.5, it works to its optimum. This is because our skin has a protective film over it called ‘acid mantle’, which works in perfect alignment with its natural ingredients like ceramides, cholesterol, enzymes, sweat, and sebum. This balances the pH of the skin, seals moisture in it, keeps it firm, and protects it from external threats so that it can stay healthy, glowing, and free from infections.
But as we grow old, this acid mantle diminishes naturally, thus throwing the pH balance out of whack. If the skin becomes less acidic, it turns dry and aged (5), while too acidic skin appears red, inflamed, and itchy (6). There are also many other factors, including acne, air pollution, wrong skincare products or cosmetics, sebum, sweat, poor diet, tap water, detergents, excessive sun exposure, frequent cleansing of the skin, season changes, etc., which take a toll on skin’s pH level. As a result, we suffer from various skin conditions, such as acne, inflammation, rosacea, sensitivity, eczema, and many more.
Observing your skin carefully will give you a general idea about its pH level. Soft, smooth, and hydrated skin is known to be pH-balanced rather than red, irritated, acne-prone skin with dry spots. You can also use at-home pH kits available in the market to determine the pH of your skin on your own. Moreover, a dermatologist may also help you figure it out through liquid pH-testing.
Why is the pH of Cosmetics Important?
As we mentioned earlier, choosing the wrong cosmetics may lead to the disruption of the skin’s pH, and it is one of the most common mistakes that we ever do. Most of us feel tempted to pick up a lot of skincare products just by hearing about them or seeing their advertisements. We hardly notice the actual chemical configurations and the pH levels of the products. But each cosmetic has a pre-determined pH level, which does not always suit our skin. If we use too acidic or too alkaline skincare products and cosmetics every day, the acid mantle gets disturbed, and the skin fails to maintain its natural pH balance. Doing this repeatedly reduces the performance of skin and increases water loss from it, which worsens a lot of common skin disorders like dryness, scaling, irritation, itching, inflammation, sensitivity, redness, eczema, oiliness, breakouts, acne, blemishes, etc. Consequently, healthy skin becomes visibly and progressively damaged. Hence, using the right pH-balanced skincare products or cosmetics is essential.
Mild pH disruptions in the skin caused by slightly acidic or slightly alkaline cosmetics are temporary. In such cases, the skin usually bounces back to its natural pH condition within an hour or so. In fact, slightly acidic cosmetics may stimulate the production of key substances in the skin that help it stay hydrated, smooth, and supple.
What is the Right pH for Cosmetics?
So, how to use cosmetics without causing any harm to your skin’s pH? Well, focus on a ‘pH-balanced’ or ‘pH-optimized’ beauty routine, and you will be all set to level out the acidity of your skin. When buying cosmetics or skincare products, you must ensure that their pH levels are similar to your skin’s acid mantle. In other words, the pH of your cosmetics should always be at a level of 5.5 pH for healthy skin.
How to Check the pH Balance of Cosmetics?
These days, many brands are focusing on the common pH range that falls between 4 and 7 to ensure a balance. But still, many products lack proper mention of pH levels on their labels. If you want to figure out the pH balance of your favorite cosmetics, the following techniques may help you out:
pH strips are readily available in the market, and you can instantly test your products’ pH levels with them. They come with an instruction manual to make the entire process easy for you. All you have to do is pour a few drops of your cosmetics onto the strip and notice how the color changes. Match the color change against the table given in the manual, and you will find out the pH level.
2. Litmus Papers
You can also use Litmus papers to determine the exact pH level of your skincare products and cosmetics to avoid using any inappropriate stuff on your skin.
How to Maintain a Balanced Skin pH?
Now, here are a few crucial skincare tips that you must follow to maintain the right pH balance for healthy skin:
- Always use a gentle cleanser to cleanse your face. Also, give yourself enough time for this step.
- Do not skip your toner as it neutralizes the excess alkalinity of your skin.
- Moisturize your skin thoroughly. You may need to keep changing your moisturizers based on the season.
- It is vital to exfoliate your skin with gentle exfoliants like plant acids at least once every week
- Keep a close eye on your daily diet. For example, rather than consuming more acid-producing foods, emphasize alkaline foods that will naturally balance your skin’s pH level.
pH refers to the ‘potential of hydrogen’ or ‘power of hydrogen’, which determines the acidity and alkalinity levels of an aqueous solution. It is measured on the ‘pH scale’ of 0 to 14 in which anything below 7 is acidic and anything above it is non-acidic or alkaline. In cosmetics, pH denotes the degree or level of acidity or alkalinity of a particular product and the pH scale is an important aspect to consider while choosing different cosmetic products. Our skin performs optimally only when it has an ideal pH level i.e. 5.5. Hence, the surface and uppermost layers of healthy adult skin are naturally acidic. The protective film over the skin called acid mantle helps in balancing its pH level. But the acid mantle diminishes due to a number of factors including the selection of wrong skincare products or cosmetics. This disrupts the skin’s pH and makes it less acidic. Each cosmetic has a pre-determined pH level, which does not always suit our skin. Using too acidic or too alkaline products repeatedly reduces the performance of skin and results in common skin disorders like dryness, scaling, irritation, itching, inflammation, sensitivity, redness, eczema, oiliness, breakouts, acne, blemishes, etc. So, focus on a ‘pH-balanced’ beauty routine and you will be all set to level out the acidity of your skin. The pH of your cosmetics should always be at a level of 5.5 pH for healthy skin. You can use pH-strips or litmus papers to figure out the pH balance of your favorite cosmetics.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is 9.5 pH Water Good?
If the water is obtained from a natural source, it will contain lots of natural minerals and, hence, be safe to use. However, if it is artificially sourced alkaline water, you may not consider it good as it may contain contaminants.
What is the pH of Lipstick?
The pH value of lipsticks usually ranges from 7.45 to 7.75.
What pH is Shampoo?
Typically, the pH value of all shampoos remains between 3.5 and 9.0.
- “The Symbol for pH“, CHE.uc.edu
- “About Skin pH and Why It Matters“, Healthline.com
- “Axillary pH and Influence of Deodorants“, PubMed.NCBI.nlm.nih.gov
- “Skin pH: From Basic Science to Basic Skin Care“, MedicalJournals.se
- “Why the pH Balance of Your Skin-Care Products Matters So Much?“, Allure.com
- “Did You Know that pH Balancing Skincare is Key to Healthy-Looking Skin?“, MariecCaire.co.uk