You may well have seen products that claim to be “pH balanced” or “Neutral” or “restored pH balance” but have you ever wondered what that term means? pH  (potential for hydrogen) is the scale used to work out if a chemical (or mix) is likely to be a hydrogen donor – ACID or a hydrogen acceptor – BASE. Great! Now what?????

What is the natural pH of the skin?

Well, a group of scientists (some from the German Society for Scientific and Applied Cosmetics and others from industry and the Skin Investigation and Technology Institute) investigated this and published their results in the IFSCC Magazine, Vol 10 no 2 2007. IFSCC is the International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists.

Their study showed that skin pH varies. They measured using a pH meter placed on the skin over a period of time, taking three measurements each time and using the skin on the forearm.

They found that for a product to be “skin friendly” it should have a pH of 4.1-5.8.

Isn’t that a bit acid?

Yes it is. A pH of less than 7 is acid and more than 7 is alkali. The scale goes up to 12! Acid values of less than 3 would irritate most skins and alkali of over 8 would do the same. Some products are formulated to be acidic so that they do irritate the top layer which then peels off – Acid Peels, AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acids) etc.

The skin is acid for a good reason. The acid mantle acts as the first line of defence against bacteria and other bugs.

Is the skin acid all over?

Well, some parts are more so than others. The skin under the arm and the skin in the groin area has a different pH and so wasn’t tested in the above study.

Should I look out for pH balanced products?

If you have very sensitive skin it may be best for you to look for products that are in tune with the skin’s natural pH and it would also be wise to avoid or limit exposure to acid peels or peroxide containing skin bleaching products.

How can I measure a products pH?

You can get pH paper or Litmus paper from science shops or online. It is very cheap and it comes in a booklet with little strips that you can tear off and dip into the product. The paper won’t tell you the products pH but it will change colour in acid or alkali formulations and will stay the same if the solution is neutral.  We would be looking out for the products to be a little on the acid side.

The drawback of litmus paper is that it doesn’t tell you how acid a product is. What you should look out for is a very slight tinge of pink on the blue litmus paper and no change on the red.

So what happens when my skin pH  is out of balance?

Your skin needs to be slightly acid for it to do its job. When you wash the skin you strip away the protective barrier to some degree meaning that the skin has to re-protect its self. Healthy skin can sort its self out quite quickly but if your skin is sensitive, dry or otherwise compromised you can end up with problems.  Skin pH is influenced by the whole body so as with all health and beauty tips – skin care starts on the inside!

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