he hydrogen potential of skin or skin pH is a measurement of concentration of hydrogen ion in the watery solution on the epidermal surface. [1] An epidermal pH between 5.4 and 5.9 is said to be normal for adults. In babies, normal values have been reported to be little lower. Men and women tend to have no differences in their skin pH. However, detergents used on skin, skin conditions like eczema etc. do alter our normal epidermal pH. Skin pH serves as a significant measure for the expected level of microbiological flora at the appropriate skin site. For example, at the site of acne, the expected pH is between 6.0 and 6.5. Propionibacterium acnes grows at this pH and not at a normal pH of 5.5. [2]

Acids present in the outermost layer of the human skin i.e. stratum corneum determine the value of skin pH. Certain external factors like sweat can make the epidermis more acidic, resultantly lowering its pH. Higher the value of pH of skin, lesser acidic it is and resultantly more sensitive it is toward acidic compounds. This sensitivity reaction may manifest as redness or burning. If your skin’s pH value is lower, it means it is more acidic but less sensitive to such products. [3]

Normal skin pH, which is slightly acidic is an outcome of various endogenous factors like NHE1, sodium/hydrogen antiporter and one or many secretory phospholipase A2 enzymes which generate free fatty acids by hydrolyzing phospholipids in our cell membranes. This results in stratum corneum’s acidification. A combination of perspiration and sebum on the surface of skin creates the acid mantle which makes the skin less susceptible to damage. This acidic pH helps the bacteria flora of the skin to stay attached to the epidermis whereas an alkaline pH assist in the dispersion from the skin. The acidic environment plays a pivotal role as it assists in discouraging bacterial colonization. In addition, it also provides a moisture obstruction via absorbing the moisture by amino acids in acid mantle. It also regulates enzymes’ activity in stratum corneum. [4]

Factors affecting skin pH

The following factors affect our skin pH:

1. Anatomical site

Studies have revealed that epidermal pH is almost similar at different sites of the body except those where skin areas rub against each other and the moisture content is high. Like our armpit, webs of our finger, submammary and inguinal folds have little higher pH than other areas of our body.

2. Age

Infants at birth have neutral skin surface pH and gradually postnatal acidification takes place. Studies have found that the skin pH remains relatively constant from childhood to almost 70 years of age. Then, the rise of skin pH takes place.

3. Genetic and ethnic factors

Skin pH, at times, varies with genetic and ethnic backgrounds. Studies have suggested that white skinned people may have higher skin surface pH than those with black skin.

4. Skin’s moisture level

Skin’s moisture level, sebum and sweat are other endogenous factors affecting the skin pH levels.

5. Exogenous factors

Exogenous factors like cosmetic products, detergents or soaps, topical antibacterials and skin irritants also tend to alter our epidermal pH. [5]

Ways to maintain your skin pH level

1. Dietary recommendations

Colorful fruits like berries and citrus fruits, certain raw foods as well as dark green leafy vegetables increase alkalinity of our blood. This promotes oxygen absorption by our blood resulting in improved digestion and clearer skin. Diet that is too acidic can cause imbalanced pH levels in our skin. Foods that you need to avoid include refined items like rice, white flour, junk food, sugar as well as packaged cheese and other commercial dairy products. Also, foods that have been cooked in hydrogenated oils, meat and carbonated as well as caffeinated beverages disrupt pH balance of the entire body and cause early skin aging and acne. Drinking water in abundance is also recommended to maintain healthy skin pH. [6]

2. Apple cider vinegar

Topical application of apple cider vinegar is said to be good for maintaining and restoring skin’s natural pH balance. It is rich in minerals and vitamins. You need to dilute it in water in the ratio of 1:8. Apply it on your skin and let it be as is for twenty minutes to one hour depending on sensitivity of your skin. It also cleans up pores and keeps skin infections at bay. You can store it in a spray bottle and use all over your body before bath.

3. Natural toner

A combination of a teaspoon of lemon juice and half cup of water can be applied on skin with the help of a cotton ball and washed off after five minutes. It not only restores pH balance of the skin, but also has a bactericidal effect and works on acne, wrinkles and fine lines.

4. Avoid skin cleansers that have high pH

Your cleanser should mildly clean your skin, replace the lipids we lose and help maintain the natural pH of skin. If your cleanser forms suds or foams excessively that means it has high pH which can be detrimental for the skin. You should go for an oil-based cleanser to maintain the natural pH of your skin. Look for ingredients like coconut oil, aloe vera and extract of arnica flower. Avoid skin cleansers that have synthetic fragrance and antibacterial ingredients as well as parabens. These not only possess harmful chemicals, but also hamper our skin’s natural microbiome. [7]

Look for serums that have natural ingredients like resveratrol that serves as a natural anti ageing agent and an antioxidant. Found in grapes, resveratrol adds glow to our skin by nourishing it and reducing wrinkles and fine lines. Chlorella extract present in green algae is also full of vitamins and amino acids and promotes skin elasticity without disrupting the natural pH of skin. It helps strengthen and lift sagging and loose skin, enhances its youthfulness and protects against harmful radiation of sun by virtue of its chlorophyll content. [8]

5. Moisturize your skin using products that have natural ingredients

Avoid moisturizers that have dimethicone, mineral oil and petroleum jelly. You should rather look for natural anti inflammatory agents like turmeric, that help maintain the natural microbiome of our skin; adaptogenic herb ginseng root extract that can help balance pH and destress your skin; blend of essential oils like ylang ylang, mandarin peel and bergamot oil; and green, black and white tea extracts. You need to moisturize your skin daily, starting in the morning to shield it from sun, wind and other pollutants. Night time moisturizing is needed for rejuvenation and healing of skin while you are asleep. (8)

6. Oils in skin care products

Avoid skin care products with mineral oil. Rather, look for those having oils that are nutrient dense like pomegranate, cranberry and raspberry seed oils that also get quickly absorbed by the skin. A combination of high quality natural oils is better than just one. If the skin care product has a rancid smell that means the oil has oxidized so you should not be using it. [9]

7. Avoid using regular soaps

These have a high pH somewhere between 9 and 10 which is very high as compared to the normal pH of our skin. So, they can increase our skin pH. Although healthy skin tends to return back to its normal pH in a span of thirty minutes to two hours, but still sudden pH changes can cause irritation in some. So, many cleansing products have lower pH. You can look for those. [10]

8. Try inhibiting oxidative damage to skin

Factors like sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, chemical toxins in the environment, smoke of tobacco, endocrine disrupting chemicals found in food, water and products of personal care etc. induce oxidative damage, skin inflammation, disturb microbiome and cause hormonal imbalance. All these affect the health of our skin.These exposures can be cut down by opting for hygienic and clean water, food, personal or beauty care products. [11]

9. Apply argan oil

The oil extracted from the kernels of Moroccan argan tree helps reinstate acid mantle’s resiliency and positively affect the hydration, softness and shine of our skin. It is rich in fatty acids, carotenoids, Vitamin E and its nonclogging properties makes it beneficial for oily skin and skin that is prone to acne. [12]

10. Look for a skin care product having niacinamide

It is a derivative of Vitamin B3 that can help normalize the pH of our skin; give a boost to the protective layer of our skin; help bring down ageing signs; and enhance the texture of our skin. A serum or a cream with around 10% niacinamide is suitable for people with sensitive skin. [13]

Do it yourself apple cider vinegar based toner to restore and balance natural pH of skin

Ingredients required
A quarter cup each of apple cider vinegar and witch hazel extract; four drops of lemon essential oil; and option ingredients like four drops of lavender, tea tree or frankincense essential oil as well as one eighth cup of aloe vera juice.

Take a spray bottle and pour all the ingredients and combine well. You need to store it in refrigerator. While using, pour a little bit in a cotton pad and apply after washing your face. To begin with, you can use it every alternate day. If it suits you and it is gentle enough on your skin, you can use it regularly.

How it works
The apple cider vinegar works to balance and restore the normal pH of skin and brings about improvement in the overall complexion of the skin. Witch hazel serves as an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent. It also helps hydrate the skin and by virtue of its tannins reduces wrinkles and tightens the epidermis. [14]

Homemade facial mask for healthy pH

Ingredients required
One teaspoon each of honey and plain Greek yogurt and half ripe avocado.

Procedure and application
You need to mix these and apply topically. Honey’s pH balancing, anti inflammatory and anti bacterial properties and Greek yogurt Vitamin C and lactic acid exfoliate and soothe the skin. Avocado gives you the benefit of naturally moisturizing the skin and supplies you with anti inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.[15]

Turmeric, Orange and Egg white based skin health enhancing face mask

You need to combine the white of an organic egg with half a teaspoon of turmeric and one teaspoon of fresh orange juice. Orange promotes healthy pH, egg white helps close or minimize large pores and turmeric has antioxidant and inflammation controlling properties.[16]

Do it yourself baking soda and coconut oil face cleansing mask for healthy skin pH

You just need to combine baking soda with coconut oil and topically apply it on your face. The combination works well even in sensitive skin reducing scarring, acne, excess oil and dirt and exfoliating dead epidermal cells. Being an amphoteric compound, baking soda helps correct the pH balance of our skin which further can help control and heal pH imbalance related skin breakouts. On the other hand, coconut oil helps in skin soothing, healing and hydration and has antibacterial properties. All these work together to reduce blemishes in skin. Combining coconut oil with baking soda helps reduce the harshness baking soda has making the paste suitable for sensitive skin as well. Though any kind of organic coconut oil can be used but the antioxidant content of virgin coconut oil is the highest.[17]

Topical application of coffee grounds for balancing pH of skin

Coffee grounds are full of antioxidants that help in skin rejuvenation; polyphenols that work on all types of skin i.e., oily, dry or normal and balances its pH; decreases cellulite; detoxifies the skin; hydrates it; and smooth wrinkles.

How to use it
You need to wash your face and pat it dry. In a microwave, warm two tablespoons of coffee grounds for five seconds and rub them mildly on your face in circular motion for half a minute. Let it be as is for sixty seconds and then wash it off with lukewarm water. You will have a rejuvenated and bright looking skin.[18]

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