Balance: one of the most elusive of goals for our skin – and really, in life. Our body is constantly working to maintain a delicate balance for good health. Oftentimes we like to wade into ways to naturally keep you emotionally balanced but today we are taking a look at keeping the skin balanced.
What is pH?
Does anyone really know what pH stands for?
We thought so. It’s not something we generally think of outside of 7th grade Chemistry.
On a scientific level, pH (potential of hydrogen) is the scale used to describe the acid-alkaline ratio of a substance, ranging from 0 (the most acidic) to 14 (the most alkaline).
Why does it matter?
So why should this mean anything to you? Because the health of your body-and skin-is directly linked to maintaining the right pH balance.
Our skin functions (and looks) best when our pH level is in the middle ground. We call this the sweet spot. Throw off your body’s pH levels and your body will reciprocate, via wrinkles, inflammation, acne, dryness or sensitivity. You can easily disrupt your pH balance by using the wrong skincare products or by eating the wrong foods. This is why it is so important to be aware of not only what you are putting on your skin but what’s also in your diet.
Our skin is naturally designed to fight infection and environmental stresses and its ability to do so is greatly affected by its pH level. The skin’s barrier, known as the acid mantle, is responsible for keeping in liquids and much-needed moisture while blocking out germs, pollution, toxins and bacteria. This acid mantle is made up of sebum (oil) and fatty acids, which mix with lactic and amino acids to create the skin’s pH. To work its best, this acid mantle should be slightly acidic, at a 5.5 pH balance.
On a scale of 1 to 14, 7 is considered a neutral reading for your skin’s pH. When the skin is too alkaline, it becomes dry and sensitive. You may experience inflammation, which inhibits the skin’s functioning, destroying collagen and causing wrinkles and skin to sag.
Many factors can interfere with the delicate balance of the skin’s acid mantle, both externally and internally. In fact, as we age, our skin naturally becomes more acidic in response to our lifestyle and our environment. Everything that comes in contact with our skin can contribute to the breaking down of the acid mantle, disrupting the skin’s ability to protect itself. This is why it is essential to maintain balance in our bodies, whether by the skin products you use or the foods you eat.
Choosing the Right Products
From irritation to dryness, to acne and premature aging, pH levels can either resolve or cause further distress to your skin. Some skin care products claim to be pH balanced, but you can verify the actual pH of a product by using an at-home pH testing kit, available at most drug stores.
Using a cleanser that is too alkaline is one of the biggest skin-care mistakes people make. Products that are too alkaline damage the skin’s acid mantle and make us vulnerable to bacteria and infections. These products strip away oils that are essential to the skin, causing dryness and irritation. Skin that is too alkaline can be more prone to acne because certain levels of acidity are needed to prevent bacteria from growing on the skin.
Cleansers and shampoos are now avoiding the use of sodium sulfates, as these substances have an alkaline pH level of 10, which can be very irritating for your skin. You should try to find a mild cleanser or toner that is slightly acidic (close to 5). These will benefit all skin types and properly maintain the acid balance of the skin.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, products that are overly acidic can be problematic for the skin. They too can strip natural oils from the skin, disrupting the barrier of the skin. Ingredients such as alpha hydroxyl acids, retinoic acid or beta hydroxyl acids can weaken the skin’s natural defenses if not used properly, or overused.
It is important to pay careful attention to your skin when using a particularly acidic product. If the skin starts to look dry and red, becomes overly sensitive or you experience acne falre ups, you may be using products that are too aggressive for your skin.
Moisturizers & Oils
As we age, the amount of oil our skin naturally produces decreases. This influences the acid mantle and its ability to protect the skin from unwanted bacteria. Using effective moisturizers and essential oils can help rebuild this important barrier.
Oils that work particularly well with the skin’s natural oil balance include jojoba, coconut, argan and olive oils. We suggest customizing a Make Your Own Facial Serum. Add a shot of Argan Oil to help soothe and calm the skin with its rich antioxidants and Vitamin E, or Jojoba Gold Oil, which mimics natural oil, promoting a balanced look and feel to the skin.
Antioxidants & Sunscreens
Topical antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E and green tea, are very important in maintaining the skin’s delicate pH balance. They not only fortify the cells so they can function properly, they also protect cells from environmental stresses and oxidation. Since Vitamin C is naturally acidic and has a low pH, it can be safely used on the skin as long as it is not used at the same time as other acidic products.
The daily use of sunscreen also defends the acid mantle by shielding the skin cells from sun damage, increasing the skin’s ability to protect itself. Remember to apply daily even it you’re not outdoors or it is overcast outside.
Choosing the Right Foods
Diet plays an important role in regulating our internal and external pH levels. An interesting paradox exists in that food that is considered acidic before digestion becomes alkaline-forming in the body. Animal products, which are alkaline before digestion, are considered acid-forming in the body.
In general, we need our diets to be less acidic and more alkaline. This means an ideal diet consisting of high alkalizing foods, such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, tomatoes, carrots, green tea and avocado is best at keeping ourselves healthy. The body’s pH is extremely important in maintaining health and it is essential to maintain balance within your body using the tips and tricks explained above.
Any other tips and tricks you want to share? Let us know in the comments below
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fran Higgins is Source Vitál's in-house esthetician, massage therapist and aromatherapist. For more than two decades, Fran has been helping and educating customers with their holistic health needs. She brings a wide array of topics ranging from at home skin care tips, DIY aromatherapy formulas, step-by-step product protocols and much more.