I am about to bring out two rounds of new products…. the first of which are formulated for skin that is really sensitive. The kind of skin that reacts to almost everything, feels tight and even sore all the time. The only skin care products that can be used on this kind of skin are the pharmaceutical creams and washes that do no apparent harm (in the short term) but certainly don’t do anything to help heal and repair the skin and reverse the crippling sensitivities.
In this blog I wanted to write about the pH of the surface of our skin and our “acid mantle”. What is it? And why is it SO important? Especially for super sensitive skin.
You have probably heard the terms “acid mantle” “pH balanced” or “stripping the skin” but you may not be aware of exactly what it means or just how important an aspect of skincare this is.
Our acid mantle is an acidic layer on the very surface of our skin and is made up of various secretions. Lactic acid, amino acids, fatty acids and water are just a few. These combine to create an acidic environment of around pH 4.5-5.5.
For a long time it has been thought that the only function of our acid mantle was to protect us from external bacteria and fungi (who thrive in an alkaline environment but are killed in an acidic one).
However, we now know this function, although very important, is only just a small part of what this acid environment does. And this is where it gets interesting for people who have very sensitive skin or any kind of dermatitis or eczema.
Our acid mantle is also responsible for the homeostasis of our entire stratum corneum. ie the proper functioning of the surface layer of our skin. This includes the process of how living skin cells die off, reach the surface and are shed, also the activation of enzymes responsible for synthesizing our skin’s natural fatty oils, and repairing and healing the skin after any damage, such as a cut or allergic reaction.
So oil production (think dry, flaky, itchy, wrinkly skin conditions) and skin repair, SO important in super sensitive skin. Well, all skin really…
Just like our entire body, our skin is awesome at restoring itself when things get out of balance, to a certain point. If fact, our skin can fairly happily restore the pH by about 2 pH factors. So, for example, when we get water (about pH 7) on our body say from having a shower, swimming in a lake etc our body, with no big issue can restore the pH back to the acidic pH 5 it needs.
The bad news is that almost all products we use to wash with have a higher pH than 7. Soaps and detergents (body washes and foaming face washes) are often much more alkaline (pH 8 and above) which makes it much harder for the skin to restore the pH back to the acidic 4.5-5.5, which is optimal for all the important functions above. The pH of the skin on our face tends to be lowest on our face and our stratum corneum (the surface layer) on our face is thinnest, meaning that it is much more sensitive to any changes.
So what can we do to encourage a healthy acid mantle?
Firstly, as with anything to do with our bodies a proper diet with healthy plant oils, exercise and a clean active lymph system is the best start. And secondly, making sure what we are using topically is not too alkaline.
The main culprits (most alkaline) are soaps and foaming face washes. When used on a regular basis our skin struggles to restore it’s pH balance. You may immediately feel dryness, or itching, and over time your skin will become dry and sensitive and be more prone to infections (think acne).
So, what to use instead… Use products that are naturally slightly acidic. All plant oils are acidic, with acid values of less than 1 mg KOH/g and hydrosols (distilled plants) have differing pH’s depending on the plant but they are almost all in the range of 3.5-6 – again exactly what is in harmony with the skin.
So, back to my new products… They will complete the entire range (cleanser, flower water, moisturizer and repair balm) of unscented products which help to restore and maintain the correct pH level in the skin. So help to heal rashes, and dryness and ultimately reduce the sensitivities in skin.