The acid mantle is a thin oily film that sits on top of the outmost layer of our
skin. For most people, the pH of the acid mantle is about 4.5 to 5.5. Why is our
skin naturally acidic at the surface? Our slightly acidic skin helps to fight off
harmful bacteria. Many of the contaminants that might enter our skin, such as chemicals
from the atmosphere and harmful bacteria, are alkaline in nature (i.e., they have
a pH of higher than 7). Our skin’s natural acidity neutralizes these chemicals
and bacteria, much the same way the milk of magnesia neutralizes stomach acid when
we have heartburn. Neutralizing these harmful contaminants is part of the body’s
defense system. Maintaining the skin pH at the proper level is vital to protecting
ourselves from harmful bacteria which can lead to acne, infection, or irritation.
The term pH stands for the “potential of Hydrogen". It is a measure of
the Hydrogen ion concentration of a substance. The Hydrogen ion concentration is
more commonly referred to as the acidity or alkalinity level. The more acidity in
the substance, the lower the pH, the less acidity, the higher the pH. There are
differing values of pH in the body depending on what function is being performed.
For example, the pH of the stomach is very acidic, around 1, because stomach acids
help break down the foods we eat. Our saliva and blood, on the other hand, are much
closer to neutral. Neutral substances, like water, have a pH of 7. A pH above 7
is considered alkaline (less acidic), and a pH below 7 is considered acidic.
Most of us use soap and water to clean our faces without realizing that this may
not be beneficial to us. Soapy water is highly alkaline (with a pH of 12, see chart)
while our skin is naturally acidic (with a pH of approximately 5). Soapy water is
commonly used to clean our faces because it removes the natural oils from the skin.
While this leaves our skin with that “clean feeling," soap is actually
neutralizing our skins acid pH thereby stripping away our natural defense systems.
Particularly for those of us that wash our faces 2, 3, or 4 times a day because
of a problem condition like acne, stripping away the acid mantle can actually worsen
our condition. Similarly it is important for us to know the pH of any cleansers,
moisturizers, makeup and other products we use so that we don’t remove the
protective oils and acid mantle from our skin.
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