How to Know if Your Skin’s pH is Out of Whack

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You may have heard the words “pH balanced” thrown around when it comes to your body, products, diet, and more. But here’s a news flash: Your skin’s pH matters, too — a lot. Just like everything else in life, balance is key. But before you start going down a rabbit hole of information (and analyzing every skincare product you use), we’ll give you the 411 on everything you need to know about skin’s pH and how to keep it right where you want it to be.

What exactly is pH in skin?

Let’s go back to pH basics: pH stands for potential hydrogen, a measure of the element’s activity in a substance. “Every part of the body has an ideal pH level, and the pH scale goes from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral; lower is acidic, and higher is basic (alkaline),” explains Mehmet Oz, M.D., a medical expert. “The skin’s pH maintains the balance of acidity and alkalinity that protects us from germs, the elements, and toxic substances while keeping us keeping us hydrated and storing nutrients and minerals.”

What is the optimal skin pH level?

The ideal skin pH is between 4.5 and 5.5 for women, which is considered acidic, “but you don’t have to measure it to have healthy skin,” Dr. Oz notes. The skin’s pH is constantly changing based on your diet, sleep, the products you are using, and environment you live in. Your skin type also plays a role in its pH. “The pH of oily skin tends to range from 4 to 5.2, while the pH of dry skin is typically above 5.5,” says Onyeka Obioha, M.D., a dermatologist in Los Angeles.

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How does pH affect skin?

“pH has a huge impact on your skin’s barrier function, moisture retention, and microorganism environment,” says Dr. Obioha. If your skin’s pH is too alkaline — think nine and above — the lipid layer of skin can be compromised, resulting in dryness and irritation. “Keeping pH at its ideal level also prevents overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria, propionibacterium acne,” she explains.

Why is the ideal pH of skin acidic?

“An acidic pH is optimal for proper cell turnover, hydration, and skin barrier function,” says Dr. Obioha explains. “Skin is a protected by the acid mantle, a thin film on its surface composed of lipids from oil glands and amino acids from sweat that serves as a barrier, and a breakdown in this barrier leaves skin susceptible to inflammatory conditions, dehydration, and accelerated aging.” An acidic pH helps keep your skin balanced, healthy, and radiant.

How can I test my skin’s pH?

Skin pH can be tested with at home kits such as La Roche-Posay My Skin Track. And Dr. Obioha recommends becoming familiar with your skin — what works to keep it soft and supple, and what irritates it and causes inflammation. “One way you can tell if your acid mantle is being stripped (and your pH balance is off) is how it feels after cleansing — it shouldn’t feel tight or dry.”

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How else would I know if my skin pH balance is off?

“Some signs that skin’s pH is out of balance can include acne, dryness, and conditions like psoriasis,” Dr. Oz says. Alkaline skin symptoms include dryness and accelerated aging, like an increase in fine lines and wrinkles. If you have a decrease in pH and it becomes more acidic, skin can become inflamed, Dr. Obioha adds.

What’s the best way to restore the pH balance of my skin?

Healthy habits are the key to maintaining a good skin pH. Choose a gentle skincare regimen, avoid harsh cleansers, wash no more than twice daily, and consult a dermatologist to recommend products for your skin type, Dr. Oz recommends. Opt for non-soap cleansers, Dr. Obioha adds, as they are less drying. “Avoid over exfoliating with alpha and beta hydroxy acids and alcohol-based toners,” she advises.

Are there natural ways to restore skin’s pH balance?

If you’re looking for natural ways to restore your skin’s pH balance, make sure to “give skin the nutrients and minerals it needs by including fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens and berries) in your diet to boost antioxidant levels, and hydrate with at least eight glasses of water per day,” Dr. Oz suggests.

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    How can I tell the pH of my skincare products?

    Check the packaging. “Many skincare products don’t list pH levels but may say ‘pH balanced’,” Dr. Obioha explains. “Most have an acidic pH, unless the product is formulated to treat a specific medical condition, such as psoriasis, where the pH products target an alkaline pH level.” If you are unsure about the pH of a product and can’t find it on the label or the brand’s website, consult a dermatologist to find out if that product is right for your skin.

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