You may not have heard the term ‘pH’ since school, but if you’re after a clearer, more radiant complexion, the latest beauty research suggests it may be time to get science-y. Everything from our skin to the products we use and even the water we wash with has its own pH level, determining how acidic or alkaline it is. With studies suggesting pH levels can play out on your skin, causing everything from wrinkles to rosacea, we went straight to the experts to find out more. Read on to discover why getting your pH right could be key to a clearer complexion...
What’s pH all about?
The latest wave of beauty research suggests your skin’s pH is more important than you might think; when it’s out of whack, your complexion pays the price, creating everything from fine lines to dull, dry skin. As Markus Goess-Saurau, founder of alkaline skincare brand Sönd, explains: “Both our body and skin require a balance between alkaline and acidity for our acid mantle (the barrier that keeps moisture in and germs and toxins out) to work properly.” pH ranges from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline).
Got you. So what kind of pH should healthy skin have?
“The outermost layer of our skin naturally has a pH of 5.5,” explains Goess-Saurau, “so keep it within this range and your skin should be problem-free. Around 5.5 really is epidermal heaven.” It’s this slightly acidic environment which supports the growth of the skin’s natural bacteria and fungus, which is necessary for proper skin health. Plus, it’s the ideal environment for your skin’s enzymes, which maintain hydration and turn over dead skin cells.
What are the signs your pH is out of balance?
If your skin is plagued by severe dryness and lines, this could be a tell-tale sign that your acid mantle is too alkaline and falling prey to bacteria. If your skin is inflamed, oily, prone to breakouts or painful to touch, that could indicate it’s too acidic, although Goess-Saurau tells us it’s much more common for skin to become alkaline than acidic. According to a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology that tracked women’s skin over an eight-year period, those with an alkaline pH developed more fine lines, crow’s feet (wrinkles around the corners of your eyes) and were more prone to sun damage than those with acidic skin.
So where are we going wrong?
A whole host of lifestyle factors can affect the pH of your skin – the biggest culprits being diet and using the wrong products. Acid-producing foods include red meat, dairy, refined carbs, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods – an excessive amount of these over time will likely affect the complexion. When it comes to skincare, using the wrong cleanser is enemy number one. “Washing with the wrong cleanser can strip the skin’s barrier,” explains Goess-Saurau. “Harsh soaps and foaming cleansers tend to be alkaline, and it’s not as though you can wash it away and your skin snaps back to its original pH. It takes hours to recalibrate, which leaves your skin red, overly oil or overly dry in the meantime.”
How can we bring pH back in balance?
While cleansers are the biggest offenders when it comes to affecting pH levels, they’re also the easiest way to lower your pH when necessary. We rate Fresh’s Soy Face Cleanser, from £11.50, a blend of cucumber, rosewater and amino acid-rich soy proteins designed to re-balance delicate skin. When it comes to moisturisers, you can’t go wrong with Sönd’s hot-off-the-press alkaline range, while Darphin’s Exquisâge Beauty Revealing Cream, £65, will strengthen the skin’s protective barrier by feeding skin probiotics. To gently bring skin and body back into neutral pH territory, try adding Kiki Health’s Alkaline Infusion, £27, to smoothies and juices.