No, you did not travel back in time to high school chemistry class – we are talking about the same pH levels you were once forced to memorise. Except this time, science actually gets fun, because that flawless skin you’ve been coveting (free from dryness, acne and irritation) boils down to correctly balancing the pH levels of your face. Turn your attention to the numbers on your skincare products and not the textbook and make beautiful skin a reality in 2018. No litmus tests required.
What exactly is pH, and why does it matter?
Bear with us as we get slightly geeky – pH stands for ‘potential hydrogen’ and it describes the acid-alkaline ratio of a substance, from the food you eat to the creams you slather onto your skin, to even your skin itself. The natural pH level of our skin falls between 4.5 – 5.5 (with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline). Our skin is in fact, naturally acidic, forming a natural defense mechanism known as the ‘acid mantle’. This a fine, slightly acidic film that lies on the surface of our skin acting as a barrier against foreign elements like allergens, bacteria, wind and pollutants.
So in order for our skin to maintain its healthy skin-barrier function, it needs stay at an acidic pH level. When it is too alkaline, it becomes dry and sensitive, and could potential age faster. In fact, a study done in the British Journal of Dermatology showed that women with higher alkaline levels in their skin had more fine lines, crow’s feet and were more prone to sun damage. But before you start piling on the AHAs and BHAs to make your skin more acidic, do note that if your acid levels are too high, you will be prone to angry breakouts and inflammation.
To tell what your skin’s pH value is, you can go full-on nerd and order a kit, or simply look in the mirror! If your skin looks healthy and hydrated, with no redness or flaking, then congratulations, your pH levels are perfectly balanced.
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What causes our skin’s pH levels to change?
Factors like exposure to UV light (this is why sun protection is crucial, people), environmental pollution, climate change, washing your face in hard water (Singapore’s is soft, so don’t worry), your cleansers and even the food you eat could cause minor fluctuations in pH levels that throw that precarious balance out of whack. While our skin actually has the ability to regulate itself (otherwise you’d have skin issues every time you step out of the shower or visit a different country), there are times where the wrong skincare or prolonged exposure to environmental stresses can cause our skin’s pH to move too far away from that sweet spot and not bounce back. This is especially true as you age (your skin gets less acidic the older you get), when your body in general just isn’t as efficient at healing and regeneration as when you were in your 20s and early 30s.