pH Levels : The Key to Great Skin

There’s one condition to blame for everything from zits to wrinkles, but most women don’t even know they’re suffering from it: an out-of-whack pH level. The fix: Determine your skin’s status so you can even things out-and score a radiant complexion

Published: February 6, 2013  |  By Karina Giglio

key-to-great-skinYoga classes, life coaches, spiritual retreats, work-from-home Fridays—what haven’t we tried to reach that most elusive of goals: balance? But as we’re busy searching for that middle ground in our lives, we don’t give a thought to what it means for our skin.

Turns out, our skin functions (and looks) best in a middle-ground sweet spot too. Throw off its pH levels—by using the wrong products or eating the wrong foods—and your dermis will let you know it’s pissed. . .via wrinkles, inflammation, extreme sensitivity, or acne. (One thing this means for skin-product label readers: The phrase “pH balanced” is far more than a marketing slogan!)

Let us explain—in case you snoozed through pH day in chemistry class: Introduced back in the early 1900s, pH stands for “potential hydrogen” and is used to describe the acid-alkaline ratio of a substance, which ranges from 0 (the most acidic) to 14 (the most alkaline).

Why should this mean anything to you? Because the health of your body—and skin—is directly linked to maintaining the right balance between acidity and alkalinity.

“The skin’s barrier, which is known as the acid mantle, is responsible for keeping in lipids and moisture while blocking germs, pollution, toxins, and bacteria,” explains Patricia Wexler, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. “To work its best, the acid mantle should be slightly acidic, at a 5.5 pH balance. When it’s too alkaline, skin becomes dry and sensitive; you may even get eczema. You may also experience inflammation, which inhibits the skin’s ability to ward off matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs], the enzymes that destroy collagen and cause wrinkles and sagging.”

In fact, according to a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology that tracked women’s skin over an eight-year period, women with an alkaline stratum corneum (the skin’s outermost layer) developed more fine lines and crow’s-feet—and were more prone to sun damage—than those with acidic skin.

Though it’s rarer for skin to be overly acidic, the result is often angry breakouts (even for those of us who rarely get a pimple). When skin deviates too far south of that magical 5.5 number, it’s also stripped down to the point of being red, inflamed, and painful to touch.

Thankfully, equalizing your skin is significantly easier than balancing your life—without a therapy session in sight. First, determine your skin’s likely pH level by taking our quick quiz, then learn how to get it back on track. All it takes is a few simple and inexpensive tweaks to your beauty routine and your diet.