How Skin pH Level Affects Acne


man washing his face with water

If you’re struggling with acne, you should probably take the time to find out the pH level of your face wash products. There are numerous factors which influence your skin health, however skin pH is one of the least well known.

While most people are worried about the effect that their diet or lifestyle habits have on their facial skin, they barely think about reading the labels on the skincare products they buy.

Yet the pH of those products could be having a major impact on the health of your skin, so it’s time to find out more about skin health and pH are connected.

What Is The Acid Mantle And What Is Your Skin’s pH?

The potential of hydrogen (better known as pH) of any given substance indicates its alkalinity or acidity. The scale runs from 0 up to 14, with the most acidic substances having a lower number and the most alkaline substances have a higher number.

A neutral pH is 7. While distilled water has a pH of 7 (or neutral), soap usually has an alkaline pH level of somewhere between 9 – 11. Meanwhile, your skin’s pH should normally range between 5.4 and 5.9 i.e., it’s slightly acidic.

Your skin’s acid mantle is the pH of its outermost layer. This layer is responsible for strengthening the skin barrier, something which is vital for preventing excessive water loss from your skin while also limiting the amount of foreign substances and bacteria entering the skin.

The acid mantle is also responsible for speeding up the skin barrier’s recovery when it is damaged, improving the integrity of your skin and helping to shed dead skin cells, which helps with age spots and wrinkles. It also creates an acid environment to guard against the growth of skin bugs which could be harmful.

Why Does Our Skin Have An Acidic pH?

Healthy skin has an acidic pH for a number of reasons:

  • The sweat glands are on the skin. They produce sweat which is around 80% sodiumchloride and 11% lactate. Lactate causes the skin’s pH to drop.
  • There are free fatty acids in the skin which is produced by breaking down the fat molecules on the skin, making it more acidic.
  • The sebaceous glands of the skin produce sebum to lubricate the skin. Sebum production increases the number of free fatty acids thus causing an acid pH.
  • The Na/H antiporter proton pump. This boosts the skin’s hydrogen ions concentration and this decreases the skin’s pH.

How Does pH Affect The Skin?

pH has a number of effects on the skin’s hydration, permeability, flora and integrity. The higher your facial pH, the more chance you have of experiencing acne.

However, if your skin pH can be maintained in the 4 – 4.5 range, your skin flora can be maintained at normal levels while the skin stays well protected from bacteria.

womans skincare

When the skin’s pH is acidic, fewer wrinkles form, and when you apply an acidic skin product, the barrier function of your skin improves while surface roughness is reduced.

If your skin is alkaline, however, it will be poorly hydrated and have low lipid levels.

pH Levels And Acne

Acne affects around 50 million people in the USA alone, many of whom are younger than 25. Skin pH has a role to play in the development of acne. Skin which is prone to acne breakouts has a pH which is alkaline and this makes the chance of acne developing higher in a number of ways:

  • The skin’s outer layer has impaired barrier functionality and this makes it more vulnerable to bacteria which cause acne.
  • The natural substance called dermicidin which fights off bacteria can only work properly at a pH of 5.5. If your skin pH is higher than this, the dermicidin is less effective and this causes the acne causing bacteria to become more active.
  • Fewer free fatty acids are produced by the sebaceous glands. These are essential to achieve the perfect skin pH.

How Do Skin Treatments Affect pH?

If you only use water to wash your face, your skin’s pH will actually increase. This just goes to show how using soap could damage your skin even more.

Your skin pH will increase if you use the wrong skincare products and this could result in skin problems like acne.

It’s therefore best to choose skincare products which are acidic and which have a lower pH as this is more like your skin’s own natural pH level. Choosing products which contain ingredients such as lactic acid, retinol, glycolic acid, kojic acid or ascorbic acid is always a good idea to maintain your skin’s optimal pH balance.

It’s important to avoid certain other ingredients which are known to potentially cause damage to your skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate, strong fragrances and alcohol can all be harmful, so you should take care to avoid any skincare products which have any of all of these ingredients named on the label.

Choosing The Right Products To Care For Your Skin

It’s clear to see that the pH balance of your skin can be affected by the acidity of the skincare products that you choose to use on it. Therefore, it’s important to make the right choices when buying products to use, especially if you have skin that is prone to acne and breakouts.

You should work towards keeping your facial skin at a slightly acidic pH level as this helps to replenish the skin and reduce the chance of skin conditions like acne from developing significantly.

You can maintain the right skin pH by using micellar water, soap-free cleansers and toners  with under 10% acidifying ingredients (including lactic acid, retinol, glycolic acid or ascorbic acid).

Always avoid using products which contain ingredients like SLS which are known to cause irritations and breakouts.

With this information in mind, you should now be well informed about the connection between your skin’s pH balance and the skincare products that you choose. If you have problem skin, the answer could lie in switching your skincare products to ones that give you a better pH balance.


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