I ON BEAUTY Chapter 28: Understanding Your Skin’s pH Balancing Act

05/30/2017 04:55 pm ET

After reading a natural-home-remedies beauty blog, a girlfriend recently told me that she was thinking of trying baking soda as a facial exfoliant. This “skincare tip” has been making its rounds on the internet for years now, and it is horrible advice. While baking powder does have a million practical uses for the home, it should never be used as part of a skincare routine.

This is why.

Experts know that a fundamental secret of flawless skin lies in its delicately balanced pH level. Though it fluctuates slightly, the skin’s pH should fall somewhere between 4.5 and 5 to support a healthy protective barrier (known as the acid mantle) that keeps moisture locked in and bacteria locked out. With a pH of 9, baking soda degrades this barrier and creates an environment that allows bacteria to thrive. Skin with an unnaturally high pH level will also become dehydrated, and suffer premature aging with slower regeneration.

But it doesn’t take a chemical like baking soda to knock your skin’s pH out of whack. Do you frequently fall asleep before removing your makeup? That will do it, too. Read on to learn how you can protect your skin’s natural pH balance.

Protect your skin’s natural pH balance

1) Soften your shower. Hard water is more alkaline and harsher on your skin. Installing a water softener will reduce the mineral content of the water, lowering its pH to protect your skin.

2) Skip soap. For a more gentle shower, decrease the water temperature slightly and toss out your traditional soap, which strips skin of protective oils and raise its pH level. Instead, opt for a gentler glycerin-based soap during shower time.

3) Choose a facial cleanser with alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids. These “eat” away dead skin through a chemical process rather than through physical exfoliation, which means you won’t be over-scrubbing that acid mantle.

4) Use a pH balanced toner after cleansing. While there are pH balanced facial cleansers on the market, most of us rely on a properly balanced toner to our skin’s pH into harmony after each cleansing ritual.

5) Peel in moderation. Since Jennifer Lopez revealed glycolic acid to be her antiaging staple, its popularity has only increased. At-home chemical peels are readily available in drugstores and online, and sometimes in scary concentrations. Overusing these products actually lowers your skin’s pH too much, which can result in oiliness and breakouts.

So if you have an arsenal of skin care but are still struggling to improve your complexion, it might be time to look beyond the labels and break out some pH strips. Available at most drugstores and online, these strips let you test the pH of your skin care products so that you gain a better understanding of how they interact with your skin.

Check back soon for more insight into the science of skin care.

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