If you managed to make it along to at least some of your Grade 10 biol classes, you probably know that your skin is your body’s largest organ. It makes sense, then, that you’d want to keep it in tip top shape as it’s also the most noticeable organ, and an instant indicator of your overall health. Just think how a few weeks of dodgy lifestyle choices affects your complexion… Not a pretty sight.
As with all aspects of your life, balance is key when it comes to healthy, youthful-looking skin. And when we talk about skin, it’s the pH balance we’re wanting to get juuuust right. In the interest of your mug, we sat down with Shruti Sachchithananthan, Educator at Beauty EDU, to learn the ABCs of pH.
bellabox: What does your skin’s pH level refer to?
SS: The ability of our skin to fight infection and stress is affected by its pH level. pH (potential Hydrogen) refers to how acidic or alkaline a substance might be on a scale of 0-13, with 0 being most acidic and 13 being most alkaline.
Your skin has a thin protective layer called the acid mantle, which secretes oils that protect your skin. The acid mantle is made up of amino acids (protein) and lactic acids that mix with fatty acids from the sebaceous glands. This acid mantle causes your skin to sit at an acidic pH level of 5.5. (Bb: 5.5 is the ideal; anything over 7 is alkaline and is usually drier and more susceptible to lines, while anything under 5.5 is considered acidic and may be red or irritated in appearance, and more susceptible to spots. In essence, if your pH balance is off kilter, your skin’s barrier function is impaired, Doh.)
bellabox: How can you determine your skin’s pH level, and what impacts it?
SS: The pH level can be determined by using a litmus test, which can be purchased at a pharmacy (bb: But if you’re experiencing any of the above, odds are your pH level’s not a perfect 5.5…)
Ageing, lifestyle and environmental factors can all send your pH level out of whack. As we age our acid mantle tends to become weaker and more prone to bacteria and infections. Factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol cause the skin to dehydrate and cause the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to increase. Environmental factors are also at play – things like pollution, air-conditioning, lighting and radiation from the sun. These environmental factors are also known as free radicals.
The products we use on our face can also throw out the skin’s natural pH balance – most products used on the skin such as cleansers and bars of soap tend to be alkaline, which then causes the skin to dehydrate, as it strips away the natural oil produced. Most of these cleansers come with the ingredient SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) which has a pH level of 10! Ingredients such as AHA’s and BHA’s also tend to thin the acid mantle.
In terms of your lifestyle, pH can be sent out of balance for a few reasons:
Diet – if your diet is out of balance and you have been consuming foods that are heavily processed and with a high fat content, you will in turn see more breakouts that will compromise your acid mantle.
Hormones – if you are going through puberty, menopause, pregnancy or taking birth control pills, your skin will take a little while to adjust to these changes as the hormone levels may keep fluctuating. This in turn can alter the pH of your skin.
Products – products that are sold at supermarkets generally contain a number of cheap ingredients such as fragrances, talc and parabens that in the long run can be very harmful and damaging to your skin.
As a rule, if your skin appears flaky, dry and or sensitive, it may mean that your acid barrier is being compromised. This may happen only in a few areas such as cheeks, chin and forehead, which is where you will start noticing the changes first. This may also cause skin conditions such as dermatitis, rosacea and eczema.
As mentioned earlier, you may conduct a home Litmus test to confirm your pH level or consult your local GP.
bellabox: How can you balance your skin’s pH?
SS: Your skin will be most balanced when it is looked after well. The following can help with that –
Eating foods rich in antioxidants to help fight free radicals.
Making sure you apply sunscreen EVERY DAY.
Avoiding the use of harsh products.
Moisturising your skin daily with a moisturiser rich in coconut, olive and argan oils.
One skincare brand that works hard to maintain your skin’s healthy pH level is Sebamed. Developed with dermatologists, the products are all soap and alkali-free with a pH of, you guessed it, 5.5! Perfect for all skin types, they are particularly suited to sensitive skins.