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Our skin is our largest organ. Just like our heart, brain and digestive track, it needs certain conditions to function optimally. Skin is unique in this way because we can easily see its response to the things that we put into and on our bodies. Certain disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis trigger distinct and recognizable signs in our skin.
Your skin is your barrier to the outside world. And while it may look simple on the surface, it’s anything but! It is a large and complex organ that has a variety of functions. Just like everything else in our bodies, our skin has a pH. The pH is a measure of how acidic or basic something is. Without going too heavily back into high school chemistry, it’s all related to the balance of hydrogen ions. The more acidic, the lower the pH and the more basic, the higher. Neutral pH is around 7.
The outermost layer of our epidermis is called the stratum corneum. It’s a thin layer, but it has big impact on our skin’s function. The outer surface of the stratum corneum is called the acid mantle. Just like it sounds, it maintains a low pH. The acidity of this layer is the reason why it works so well as our first line of defense from environmental organisms and threats like bacteria, viruses and fungi. A major component of the acid mantle is sebum or oil. It mixes with a variety of other things in to keep a lower pH and effectively do its job.
Now back to an earlier point…what you apply to your skin, including soaps, cleansers, lotions, toners and even medications can all alter and affect the acid mantle and change its pH. So, if you have a skin disorder like acne, the things that you put on your skin play a big role in how it functions.
Many of us have been led to falsely believe that oily skin is bad. Oily skin leads to acne. Oily skin causes clogged pores. Oily skin means dirty skin and on and on and on. Early on, we somewhere learn that if you have oily skin (especially oily skin with acne), you need to scrub it and use products to dry it out. Harsh soaps, astringents and scrubs are marketed to acne sufferers as the magic cure. But if you’ve been reading closely, you understand sebum/oil is an important part of normal, healthy functioning skin. So, when you remove it, especially harshly, you’re forcing your skin to make more to replace it. So, if you’re oily, you’re going to get oilier. And in most cases, your skin is not going to like this. You may see redness, dryness and flaking. This all means that your acid mantle is gone and your skin is in overdrive trying to replace it.
Remember that acne (as with eczema and psoriasis) is an inflammatory skin disorder. If you irritate something that is already inflamed, what do you think will happen. Yep—you’ve just made your acne worse and become your own worst enemy!
At Celibre Medical, we see many patients who’ve fallen into this vicious cycle of trying to dry out the skin. We don’t blame them at all! It’s advertised and practically preached to us from our teenage years that using these irritating products on our skin will help us. We work with our patients to educate them that nothing could be further from the truth! Proper, gentle skincare goes a long, long way in calming the inflammation of acne and helping it get better. Not only will this help your skin look better, it will make it feel better too.