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pH - The Balancing Act!

You spent the day at the beach with your skin exposed to UV rays, wind and blowing sand; now your skin feels dry and flakey! You ran out of your favorite toner, so you borrow your BFF's and then BOOM, your skin breaks out! OMG, what just happened? Didn't the label say for "combination" skin types? Oh wait, you have super dry skin!

It turns out that there is a bit of chemistry involved.  Yes, that’s right! Chemistry, one of the most dreaded courses of any hard science major (unless you’re a chemistry major that is), plays a role in healthy skin and how it reacts to the skin care products you use.  Today we focus on the chemistry and effects of pH on our skin and in our skin care products.

Potential hydrogen, AKA pH, is a measure of the degree to which a given substance is considered acidic or basic, including your skin and the skin care products you use.  On the pH scale of 0-14, 0 represents extreme acidity (battery acid), 7 is neutral (pure water) and 14 represents extreme basicity (drain cleaner).  Optimal skin pH falls between 4.5 and 5.5 on the pH scale, which means it is slightly acidic and is the result of a naturally secreted, thin, protective film made up of oils, fatty acids, lactic acid, amino acids and the skin’s own natural moisturizing factor. 

The skin's pH from acidic to neutral and basic

The acid mantle of the skin is the first defensive barrier against foreign assault, protecting you from allergens, environmental pollution, bacteria and wind.  It’s more than a mere fence or line drawn in the sand to separate “inside” from “outside”, or “here” from “over there”.  While our skin does work to protect against such external assaults, its most important task by far is to protect us from a terrible threat coming from the inside.  This hazard of all hazards, peril beyond measure, is the escape of our precious body water.  The skin becomes more acidic in response to the environment and our lifestyle as we age.  All things that come in contact with our skin including products, air, water, sun, pollution and smoking contribute to the breakdown of the acid mantle, thus disrupting the skin’s ability to protect itself and function properly.  

Natural skin pH levels vs. disrupted pH levels

The Effects of an Optimal Skin / Acid Mantle pH

Hydration: When skin is within its optimal pH range, moisture is locked in. When skin is too basic, the skin releases its plumping hydration concentration resulting in dry skin that appears grey, dull and tired looking.

Age delay: Optimal skin pH is vital to maintaining skin hydration and the first line of defense against damage. When skin pH is outside of optimal range, it becomes dehydrated, stressed and unable to function effectively. The dryness and dehydration contribute to fine lines and wrinkles, and the skin is now prone to attack from external invaders, which can lead to inflammation and infection.

Acne breakouts: Optimal skin pH provides an environment for our protective bacteria to thrive and block out the acne bacteria P. acnes. Skin that is too basic can be more susceptible to acne because a certain level of acidity is needed to inhibit P. acnes growth on the skin.

Skin barrier function: That optimal skin pH range that we keep talking about, well it keeps the skin's barrier intact thereby reducing the potential damage posed by free radicals, allergens and irritants.

Our genetics, hormones and biological age also affect skin's pH. Do you suffer from acne breakouts when it's "that time of the month"? In this case, your hormones are influencing the pH of your skin and the acid mantle.

pH Balance and Skin Care Products

Ideally your skin care products should be within your optimal skin pH range with the products you regularly use (cleansers and moisturizers) ranging between 4.0 – 6.0. Bar soaps are basic (8.0-11.0) and therefore, are a no, no for face washing unless they are pH balanced and labeled as such. Exfoliating products containing alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) will be slightly more acidic to create an increased acidic environment to facilitate skin desquamation (shedding).

pH Balance and Higher Education Skincare products

pH Balance and Higher Education Skincare

Higher Education Skincare products are formulated to work synergistically with the skin's natural pH to help restore the skin's natural defenses, increase skin's strength and tolerance while reducing sensitivity and dryness. To choose the pH balanced regimen for your skin type, click here.


Vitamin Infused Hydrating Lotion