You may have come across the term, pH balanced, on your personal care products. What is the meaning of pH balanced and why is it so important for your skin?
The Chemistry Behind pH
pH refers to a number scale used to rank the acidity or basicity of a water-based solution. The number on the scale depends on the concentration of hydrogen ions measured in the water. If there isn’t any water, then pH doesn’t apply.
While you’re probably used to pure water written as H2O, you can also think of it as an equal number of H+ and OH–ions. On the scale this is a neutral pH of 7. When other substances dissolve in water, the ions may no longer be equal. If H+outnumbers OH–, the pH is acidic and falls between 0 and 7. If OH–outnumbers H+, the pH is basic and falls between 7 and 14.
You may have also heard the term alkaline. This means basic, and the two words can be used interchangeably. It comes from the observation that alkali and alkaline earth metals on the periodic table form basic solutions when dissolved in water.
The Skin’s pH Levels
Skin contains enough water to measure pH on its surface. The skin’s pH value varies slightly depending on the body part, but usually has a value close to 5. The eyes are an exception with a pH closer to 7. This means your skin’s normal pH level is slightly acidic.
The skin’s pH comes from a thin surface layer of sebum and sweat called the acid mantle. As the skin faces normal, daily aggressors, the acid mantle provides a barrier and maintains an optimal pH balance. When the skin encounters pH extremes, such as very acidic or very basic, it might not be able to sustain its natural pH or protective barrier against moisture loss, pathogens, and irritants. If your pH balance is too alkaline, your skin tends to look dry, flaky, red or irritated. It may also be prone to developing eczema, acne and other inflammatory skin conditions.
pH Balanced Skin Care Products
We can easily measure the pH of skin care products since they are mostly made of water. The perfect pH is product-specific and strikes a balance between the pH needs of the skin and the product’s stability and intended use. You may see “pH balanced” on skin care products. This implies that the manufacturer has formulated their product to a target pH level. The chosen pH value typically meets criteria that is not extremely acidic or basic, is close to the skin’s normal pH (around 5.5), and it gives the product great performance. Well-formulated products will usually meet these criteria whether they state pH balanced or not.
What to Look for in a Product
While the pH of a product is important, the quality of ingredients is equally as important when it comes to caring for your skin. Avoid products with fragrances, essential oils and harsh chemical irritants. Instead, look for products that protect the skin’s acid mantle with:
- Gentle pH
As a general rule, it’s best to stick with slightly acidic or neutral pH values.
- Gentle ingredients
When a product contains mild, gentle ingredients, it won’t break down or strip away the sebum and sweat in the acid mantle.