Skin pH and the Acid Mantle

When you think of your skin, we bet you think of it as just a “covering” or a “barrier” for the rest of your body, right? Well, your skin is one of the most complex, fascinating organs of your body. Yes, it IS an organ! It’s true that it does provide protection for our inside from the outside environment, but your skin is actually very capable of doing SO much more!

It serves as fluid and temperature regulator, an endocrine gland (vitamin D), an alarm system (pain and heat) in addition to an immune system regulator. The skin is really a fascinating organ. And the better you take care of it, the better it will take care of you! One of the things most people don’t realize is that in order for your skin to work properly, you need to use products on it that encourage and build up its natural, protective ability.  Without getting too heavy into a chemistry lesson, we’d like to explain how and why this is so important.

The very outer layer of our skin is known as the acid mantle. It isn’t really a layer per se, but rather a protective “film” that has a very specific and important function for our overall health. As the term “acid” might imply, the pH of this layer is vital to its function and effectiveness. Let’s quickly review what pH is:

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 acidic the substance, the lower the pH; conversely, the less acidity, the higher the pH. There are different pH values of things in the body depending on what their function is. For example, the pH of the stomach contents 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.

So the acid mantle is a thin, oily film that sits on the very outer layer of skin cells. Its pH is around 4.5 to 5.5. It maintains this acidity in order to protect us from harmful bacteria which thrive and grow in alkaline environments. In fact, many of the harmful contaminants in the environment are alkaline in nature. The acid mantle helps neutralize these potentially harmful invaders. That’s right, our skin works hard every day to keep us from becoming a toxic, walking petri dish!

So why is this important for you to know? Because the way that you take care of your skin can affect its ability to function properly. Most of us use soap and water to wash our skin, but soap is highly alkaline (pH closer to 10 to 12). By doing this once or twice (or more!) a day, we strip away our acid mantle which lowers our skin’s natural ability to fend off environmental threats. That “squeaky clean” feeling is actually your missing acid mantle! Pay attention to how your skin feels after cleansing. Tight and dry means that you’ve just washed away an important part of your skin’s protective ability…not good! Likewise, there are other products that we use each day, such as astringents, sunscreens and moisturizers that can affect the acid mantle if they are not specially formulated to protect and encourage its existence. Your skincare goes way beyond the way is smells and looks!! Know what you are using on your skin and consult a skincare professional to make sure you are using things that help, not hinder your skin!

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