Skin & Nails

Why Knowing Your Skin's pH is Important

With all of the magazines and TV commercials touting the latest skincare product, it’s easy to believe that a jar of miracle cream will solve all of your skin issues. And like a true skincare and product junkie, I’ve definitely bought into my fair share of gimmick and hype. No doubt about it, products can definitely help, but for me, nothing is more important than knowing the science behind my skin, and using that knowledge to get my glow on, for real.


I’ve struggled on and off with adult onset acne since my mid-twenties, but by far my worst experience was when I moved to Vietnam almost two years ago. I had painful, cystic acne breakouts that would not go away. I had tried everything, and my skin just seemed to get worse. Around the time that I’d pretty much resigned myself to having awful skin again, I read a blog post by Kerry from Skin and Tonics. In her post, she discussed how she eliminated her acne and skin sensitivity by balancing her skin’s pH. I researched, and decided I would give this whole balancing my pH thing a try.

We’ve all heard about pH in school, but as a refresher, the pH (or the potential of hydrogen) is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is, on a scale from 0 to 14. Water has a pH of 7, so it’s neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic, and anything above 7 is alkaline, or basic. The pH of your skin should be between 4.5-5.5, but really the goal is to have a skin pH of 5.5. This is important because a lot of us use products that completely raise the pH of our skin, which can result in irritated, hypersensitive, acne prone, or dry skin.

How do you know if your skin’s pH is a mess? It’s pretty easily determined just by looking. Skin with a balanced pH is smooth, plump, and slightly dewy, not oily.  If your skin is too basic or alkaline, it’ll look dry, oily (typically at the same time!), and you’re more than likely to be suffering from some sort of breakout. If you want to be completely sure, please see a physician who can test your pH for you.

Our skin has a protective layer called the acid mantle. It’s a thin, slightly acidic and protects you from bacteria, pollution, and other toxins that can penetrate the skin. When your acid mantle has a too high pH, it can cause major harm and damage to your skin. Like I said earlier, the best pH for your skin is a 5.5. Anything higher causes your skin to stop being effective at defending itself against bacteria, allowing them to penetrate the skin, causing breakouts.

Diet, the environment, smoking, and age can all contribute to your skin’s unbalanced pH, but usually people have acid mantle disturbance because of their cleanser. Most commercial cleansers and soaps have a pH that is entirely too high. Ingredients such as sodium laurel sulfate (or SLS), a common foaming agent in most cleansers, have a pH of 9! When you wash your face, does it feel dry, stripped, and too clean? Not good. Your cleanser is likely too basic and is causing damage. Using a cleanser with a high pH basically washes off your acid mantle, leaving you wide open for a host of problems. Long-term use of damaging, high pH cleansers can prevent your skin from maintaining its ideal pH. This is how people can end up with perpetually dry, oily, acne-prone, or hypersensitive skin.

Armed with my new knowledge, I stopped using my problematic cleansers and switched to using low pH cleansers only. And as miracles would have it, my skin cleared up. Once my skin cleared, I started using acid treatments, and incorporating oils into my skincare routine. I haven’t had a single major breakout since last year. I don’t have skin sensitivity of any kind, and my skin is plump, dewy, and smooth!

So how can you balance your skin’s pH?

Use the Right Cleanser

Ditch the harsh soaps and chose mild cleansers with a pH of 5.5. My favorites are the su:m37 miracle rose cleansing stick, acwell bubble free balancing pH cleanser, and the CeraVe hydrating cleanser.

Check the Ingredients

Ingredients like baking soda and lemon may seem to be helping your skin, but in reality, both are potentially damaging. Baking soda has a pH of 9, and lemons have a pH of 2. Frequent use of either can cause damage to your acid mantle, sometimes permanently changing your skin’s pH. I used to be an avid baking soda fan, and I definitely don’t use it anymore.

Get Tested

Test the pH of your current skincare products. You can find testing strips pretty much anywhere, but these on Amazon come highly recommended. If your products are above 6, it’s probably wise to find other options.

Add A Little Acid

Incorporate mild acid treatments that can help make your skin more acidic. As I mentioned in my previous article, I’m a huge fan of AHA products. If you’re into the natural skincare route, using diluted apple cider vinegar as a toner is a great option as well.

Keep It Greasy (With Natural Oils)

Use oils in your skincare routine. Oils are my life. I cleanse with them, add them to my existing moisturizers, or use them alone. My skin always looks super radiant the day after I use oils!

Balancing my skin’s pH has been absolutely crucial in eliminating my acne and keeping me acne free. I’m so glad I made the switch! Now go forth, and get your glow on!

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m just a woman who loves skincare, and wants to share my tips and tricks on what has worked for me personally. Please see your physician or dermatologist before beginning any new skincare regimen.     

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