Talking about pH level takes us back to seventh-grade science class. Unfortunately, there must have been an oversight in Mr. Carlson’s lesson plan because the topic of pH-balanced skin definitely wasn’t stressed enough. Luckily, Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist, is willing to pick up where our education system left off.
Why exactly are we discussing pH levels? Because, according to the reports of more than 130 clinical studies, achieving the perfect pH is the secret to beautiful skin. “A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology by Greg Hillebrand, PhD, revealed that patient's skin which was too alkaline (their pH balance was too high) developed more fine lines and crow's feet than those with acidic skin (their pH was balanced),” Dr. Nussbaum says.
Keep reading to find out more about your skin’s pH!
Meet the Expert
Dr. Marnie Nussbaum is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist with expertise in anti-aging correction and prevention.
The Ideal pH
There is a magic number that leads to a lifetime of happy skin. “Balanced skin is achieved when skin maintains the ideal pH of 5.5,” Dr. Nussbaum says. “At this slightly acidic pH, the skin is optimized to seal in hydration, while protecting us from free radicals, pollution, and environmental irritants.”
How do you know if you’re off-balance? Generally, skin that isn’t behaving can be traced to pH problems. Dr. Nussbaum says that skin issues like eczema, redness, dry patches, acne, oiliness, psoriasis, and premature signs of aging all indicate that your skin’s pH is off-balance. That means your skin’s barrier is damaged, and its exposure to the elements exacerbates everything from dry skin to clogged pores.
How Did It Get That Way?
If your skin is off-balance, Dr. Nussbaum says it's because you've been too hard on it. Most likely, you've been scrubbing too aggressively, using too much hot water, and using harsh cleansers.
Oh, and your washcloths may be a problem, too. Washcloths are generally too abrasive to use for cleansing the gentle skin on your face. Even if you're not using them to wash, vigorous drying could be to blame. But, don't count all washcloths out. If you enjoy using a white washcloth to ensure your skin is makeup-free post-cleansing, try using an Eve Lom Muslin Cloth ($22) since the cloth's purpose is to cleanse and dry the skin without disrupting its pH.
Washing with hot water (that's anything warmer than lukewarm) is also a big no-no and aids in stripping your skin's protective layer, while showers longer than five minutes could also be depleting your skin's moisture levels. Finally, if your cleanser isn't soap, alkali, and surfactant-free, you're stripping your skin's acid mantle, which causes pH to rise.
How to Get It Back on Track
"When we correct our skin's pH balance, what we're doing is bringing the skin barrier function back to its optimal state of equilibrium. [Once this happens], [the skin barrier] can effectively absorb the hydration our skin needs, and repel things that irritate the skin, thus minimizing the above-mentioned conditions," Dr. Nussbaum says.
The first step to getting your skin back on track is stepping away from harsh ingredients and switching to balanced products, which will heal your skin. "Going back to basics (with a balanced face wash and lotion) for a few weeks can calm skin problems, and prep skin for more targeted treatments."
Balanced and Beautiful
What can you expect out of balanced skin? According to Dr. Nussbaum, your skin will appear healthier overall. It will look and feel adequately moisturized and have a healthy glow, which is what we're all hoping our skincare products will deliver. Once balance is restored, your products will work better too.
"If your skin isn't properly balanced, those powerful ingredients won't have the opportunity to really penetrate the outer layer of skin, and they even can become irritating due to a broken-down skin barrier," Dr. Nussbaum says. "You want to apply your moisturizers to a surface with the right pH so they can actually work."
Keep scrolling to shop the products that will get your skin’s pH balance back in order!
Naturium's gel cleanser is formulated with skin-brightening vitamin C and offers a formula that keeps the skin pH-balanced.
This soap-free, dermatologist-developed wash is ideal for the face and the body, even for those with the most sensitive skin.
For some, toners are optional. But if you're looking for an alcohol-free toner that balances, your search is over.
Formulated with plant extracts like camomile and linden, this alcohol-free toner works well for even those with dry skin types.
An oil-balancing moisturizer can be hard to find, but leave it to Shiseido to create an option that is non-comedogenic and paraben-free.
Hillebrand GG, Liang Z, Yan X, Yoshii T. New wrinkles on wrinkling: an 8-year longitudinal study on the progression of expression lines into persistent wrinkles. Br J Dermatol. 2010;162(6):1233-1241. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09709.x
Ali SM, Yosipovitch G. Skin pH: from basic science to basic skin care. Acta Derm Venereol. 2013 May;93(3):261-7. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1531.
Tarun J, Susan J, Suria J, Susan VJ, Criton S. Evaluation of pH of bathing soaps and shampoos for skin and hair care. Indian J Dermatol. 2014;59(5):442‐444. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.139861