Skin’s acid mantle
Healthy skin should have a slightly acidic balance (known as its “acid mantle”) because it:
- Protects the skin from drying
- Delays wrinkling and other signs of aging
- Buffers the skin from the wind and elements
- Keeps bacterial and fungal infections at bay
- Reduces breakouts
Natural maintenance of skin pH
The acid mantle is formed by the interaction of the natural oil we secrete (sebum), our sweat, and beneficial bacteria that live on the skin. Together, they create a slightly acidic environment on the surface of the skin that helps keep it healthy.
Threats to the acid mantle
However, the acid mantle can be compromised by the products we expose it to, and it requires more support as we grow older. These are the main ways in which the acid mantle can be lost:
- Harsh detergents and alkaline soaps
- Lower sebum production as we grow older
When we wash, we rinse oils from our skin and switch its pH to the alkaline side. The time it takes for the body to restore its acid balance varies, depending, among other things, on our age – it takes longer as we get older.
Commercial soaps tend to be highly alkaline and often have free alkalis still in them that react with the oils on the skin to strip away its acid mantle. The result is drier skin that ages more quickly and is less able to withstand infection. Skin care products containing alcohol can also shift pH away from its healthy, slightly acid balance.
How to maintain healthy pH
Moisturizing with natural plant oils helps to restore the acid mantle. So do pH-balanced toners. They compensate for the alkalinizing effect of cleansers and soaps, restoring the acidic environment on the skin.