Potential hydrogen, or pH, is a scale that refers to the acidity level of any given substance. In the world of skin care, the topic has caused a good deal of confusion. What is pH? Why is the acidity of my skin important? What do I do to change it? Today, we’ll explore exactly why the pH of your skin is critically important, and what you can do to keep your pH in balance.
The pH Scale
The pH scale determines the acidity or alkalinity of a substance from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Numbers 1-6 are acidic, while number 8-14 are considered alkaline, or nonacidic.
Despite the fact that the number 7 is neutral and perfectly balanced between acidity and alkalinity, healthy skin should actually be slightly on the acidic side. While experts can’t agree on the exact number, it usually hovers somewhere between 4 and 6.
pH’s Effects on Skin
Our skin does a remarkable job at blocking environmental harm and fighting infections, and this is, in large part, due to pH. The outermost layer of our skin—the epidermis—has a thin protective layer on its surface. This is called the acid mantle. The acid mantle is comprised of a thin, oily substance that our skin naturally produces, called sebum. As sebum combines with the acids in our sweat, the pH of our skin becomes mildly acidic. The acidity of the acid mantle helps combat harmful factors like damaging microbes and free radicals.
Maintaining the slightly acidic pH of skin is important, as skin that becomes too disrupted with heavy acids or strongly alkaline ingredients can develop certain disorders. Dryness, an influx of breakouts, redness, and sensitivity are all common signs that the pH of your skin is imbalanced.
Luckily, skin is resilient. When our pH becomes imbalanced, our skin does an impressive job of correcting itself. Unfortunately, as we age, our sebum production slows, hindering the acid mantle’s ability to protect the skin. Luckily, there are certain products to help keep our skin’s pH stable.
Products’ Effects on pH
Think of washing your face with a bar of soap (which are typically quite alkaline), and getting that “squeaky-clean” feeling. That squeaking sound is caused by too much acidity being pulled from your skin, leaving it vulnerable. While your skin will work to re-stabilize that acid mantle, it can take awhile, and the interim period can bring dryness and irritation. This is why it’s important to avoid harsh soaps and cleansers and opt for something that’s pH-balanced and gentler.
Similarly, acid-spiked exfoliants, like certain AHAs or BHAs, can have intentionally low pH levels, leaving them too acidic. A pH that’s too low can also over-strip the oils in our acid mantle, weakening our skin’s natural defense system. Exfoliation should be limited to 1 to 3 times per week, as to not disrupt the skin’s pH.
As mentioned before, moisturizers can help level out pH by helping to repair the damaged barrier of skin. Equally important are antioxidants. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, as well as green tea, work to fortify cells on both the epidermis, as well as providing protection from sun damage and oxidation.
Finally, sunscreen is essential to ensuring that your skin’s pH stays in balance. The sun can do a great deal of harm to the acid mantle, which in turn leads to larger problems, like sunburns, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. Apply sunscreen regularly and liberally to keep skin protected.
Indian Journal of Dermatology, October 2014, pages 442-444
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, October 2006, pages 358-370
Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, July 2017, page 33-39
The Journal of Dermatology, September 2018, pages 1044-1052
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, July 2006, ePublication
As the summer comes to a close, we anticipate the cooler coming days—the sweaters and scarves, the changing leaves, the extra hour of sleep. But as we change into our autumnal wardrobes, it’s important that we change our skin care routine as well. The skin’s physiology takes major notice of the change in weather, and often appears looking duller and more tired.
Here are 5 simple ways to prepare your routine for the changing season:
1. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Summer is naturally more humid than fall. Humidity helps to moisturize and protect the barrier of our skin. As the humidity drops, our skin either becomes dry, or begins overproducing sebum (an oily substance produced by the sebaceous gland). This can either lead to skin becoming way too dry, or too oily, leading to an influx of breakouts. The solution: use a hydrating moisturizer frequently. Pick something with a high concentration of Hyaluronic Acid, as the ingredient is known to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water.
2. Exfoliate twice per week
Our skin gets more sun exposure during the summer months. As a result of that, we tend to accumulate a buildup of dead skin cells. In preparing your skin for the changing weather, exfoliate twice per week to clear the skin of any impurities. Be sure to use a gentle exfoliator, as harsh ones with large particles can leave micro-tears in your skin.
3. Carry Hand Cream
Again, this time of year is particularly drying for our skin, and nothing is affected more than our hands. Fall also brings with it flu-season, which means we wash our hands more often. This, coupled with the dry air, makes hands feel brittle and dehydrated. Carry a deeply-moisturizing hand and cuticle cream, and apply as regularly as needed. Hands show age faster than any other part of our bodies, so it’s important to keep the well-nourished.
4. Keep Using Sunscreen
Despite the fact that the days are cooler and there is greater cloud coverage, sunscreen is still as important as ever. Beach season may be over, but sunscreen season isn’t. By skipping sunscreen on cloudy days, our skin is left vulnerable, often resulting in the most severe sunburns. If you live in regions that experience icy autumns and winters, sunscreen is equally important again, as the reflections from ice can inflict the same damage as the sun.
5. Eat more squash
Pumpkins and fall have become nearly synonymous. And while jack-o’-lanterns and lattes are certainly valid uses for pumpkins, eating them is likely more beneficial. Squash is a wonderful addition to your diet for a number of reasons, but it’s impact on skin health is really remarkable. Squash contains high levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A inside your body. Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is one of the most effective nutrients we can give our skin, as it stimulates the production of new, healthy cells, and can be used for anything from acne to anti-aging treatments. So this season, do your skin a favor and try some new squash recipes.
Thin skin is skin that bruises, breaks, or tears easily. Sometimes referred to as “crepey,” skin can start to develop a resemblance to tissue paper over time. Though it can be caused by genetics, medications, and sun exposure, most commonly, thin skin happens as we age. Typically, it is most prevalent in the face, arms, and hands, which can cause veins, tendons, bones, and capillaries to become more noticeable.
Our skin is made up of three parts: the hypodermis, the dermis, and the epidermis.
- The hypodermis is the innermost layer, comprised of tissue, fat, and sweat glands.
- The dermis is the middle layer, made up of fibrous tissue containing nerves, collagen and elastin. This layer accounts for 90% of the skin’s thickness.
- The final layer—the epidermis—is our outermost layer, acting as a barrier against grime and bacteria.
As we age, collagen production greatly decreases in the dermis, causing skin to lose elasticity, sag, and wrinkle more. On top of that, the epidermis loses its thickness, weakening the barrier between your skin and the outside world.
What to do about thinning skin
While it is not possible to fully reverse thin skin, there are a myriad of ways to help improve it and make it less likely to break.
- Sunscreen - While aging is the main culprit behind our skin losing its thickness, sun exposure can rapidly speed up the aging process. Always apply a broad spectrum sunscreen to ensure that you’re safe from UVA, UVB, and infrared rays. Apply it liberally and daily for optimal protection.
- Moisturize - Well-hydrated skin is more flexible and malleable. Using products with ultra-moisturizing Hyaluronic Acid can be greatly beneficial, as the ingredient has been shown to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Dry skin becomes brittle and immensely more likely to crack or break, so be sure to keep your skin hydrated.
- Retinol - Otherwise known as Vitamin A, retinol has shown significant results in preventing the thinning of skin. Retinol works to boost collagen, stimulate cellular regeneration, and normalize the physiology of the skin. By ridding the skin of dead cells and creating healthier new ones, skin begins looking plumper and fuller.
- Drink More Water - Most of us don’t drink nearly enough water, and dehydration shows more in our skin than anywhere else. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses per day will not only help your skin stay supple and hydrated, but can also improve your overall health.
- Eat a Balanced Diet - Incorporate more natural foods into your diet. Consumption of fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils are essential for great skin. Leafy greens and anything with high levels of vitamin C have also proven to be effective in keeping skin looking youthful.
On top of this, certain lifestyle choices can help keep skin durable. Avoid smoking, copious alcohol consumption, and tanning beds, as all three can be dehydrating and harmful for skin. If your skin has been feeling thinner and more brittle only recently, check the products you’re using—get rid of harsh products and opt for gentler, more mild ones. Wear protective clothing, like long sleeves and pants, to cover more vulnerable areas.
When to see a doctor
Because thinning skin is a natural part of the aging process, it is typically unnecessary to see a doctor. If bruising occurs frequently and randomly, you may want to seek medical advice.
As we said earlier, certain medications may be the source of thinning skin. A doctor can advise possible alternatives, or whether or not you should stop using the treatment.
Unfortunately, there is no current prescription for thin skin, so if your skin is feeling particularly delicate, protective measures like sunscreen, moisturizer, and long sleeves may be the most helpful option.
Journal of Aesthetic Dermatology, January 2018, pages 13-18
Cell Transplantation, May 2018, pages 729-738
Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, August 2018, pages 521-534
Trends in skin care are constant and ever-changing. Recently, we’ve seen collagen-boosting smoothies, bespoke formulas, LED lights to blast blemishes. But the current craze may be the simplest of all: do nothing.
One of the fastest growing trends in skin care is skin fasting—the theory that taking a several-day break from using skin care products will help detoxify your skin. The idea is that skin care products are helping “aide” your skin, and that over time, your skin becomes dependent on them. Skin fasting advocates claim that by breaking from your daily routine and using nothing on your face, your skin essentially goes through a detox and learns to stabilize and maintain itself.
While the theory is certainly intriguing, the science behind it is a little shaky. Here’s what we know so far.
Can it Detoxify Skin?
The short answer is no. You’ve likely heard the phrase, “let your skin breathe.” While skin does account for a very small percentage of our respiratory activity, it is not accountable for our breathing. This can be confusing, because many manufacturers claims that their products are “non-comedogenic,” meaning the products won’t block pores. Blocked pores cause acne breakouts, not suffocation. In fact, your skin does not have the ability to use or absorb oxygen.
What’s more is that the skin is not responsible for the breaking down of toxins. Toxin breakdown is a function of the liver and kidneys, which is why the idea that skin will be able to detox by taking a break from serums and moisturizers is a myth.
Can it help with dry skin or acne?
One of the key arguments of skin fasting is that, due to the use of moisturizers, the skin slows its natural production of sebum. Sebum is the oil that all of our bodies produce to prevent moisture loss. This is just not true. Aside from the fact that it’s been well documented that both dry skin and oily skin benefit from the use of moisturizers, the idea that your body will begin producing more oil because you stopped using a product has no scientific standing.
Acne-prone skin is not recommended for skin fasting. If you’ve recently starting using an acne treatment and aren’t seeing results, or feel that the acne is worsening, you’re better off giving that product more time to properly purge your skin of impurities than to stop using it. If you’ve been on a treatment for some time and are unsatisfied with the results, consider trying a different treatment. Finally, if you are using a treatment that you feel is working for you, the worst thing you could do is to immediately stop for the sake of a skin fast. To be effective, acne treatments should be applied consistently, without random multi-day “fasts”.
So, why is skin fasting so popular?
This is a good question, and almost an impossible one to answer. Skin fasting can have benefits, but not in the way that it’s currently being sold.
If your routine has gotten out of hand and you find yourself layering 15 different products concurrently, a skin fast can help offer perspective. Chances are, not all of those products are working in tandem, and taking a few days off can help before starting up again with a more concise routine.
Or if you’re using products that aren’t helping your skin, a skin fast can help you recognize that. You may stop using a moisturizer and notice an improvement, but it’s not because your skin is detoxing— it’s because the moisturizer wasn’t agreeing with you.
Finding a routine that works for your skin is important. Once you’re satisfied, keep it up. If you’re skin is happy with what you’re doing, there’s no proven reason that you should take a break.
International Journal of Pharmaceuticals: X, March 2019, ePublication
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2019, ePublication
Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2017, pages 253-256
Mediators of Inflammation, October 2017, ePublication
Skin care advice is everywhere. We’ve all seen the articles claiming that you can “Change Your Skin with This One Simple Trick.” And we all
have friends that swear by certain products, secrets, or routines. Unfortunately, skin care is not one size fits all, but that doesn’t mean figuring out what works for you has to be a chore. It also doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.
Here are 8 simple dos and don’ts that are perfect for every skin type and routine.
Do Wear Sunscreen: The first rule of skin care is sunscreen. Nothing damages your skin more than the sun’s rays. Too often people apply creams and serums and decide to skip the SPF, which can greatly deplete the effectiveness of your products. Worse yet, certain products leave your skin more vulnerable, making it all the more susceptible to sun damage.Always, always wear sunscreen.
Do Cleanse Daily: This may sound obvious, but it’s better to clear your skin of the bad than to layer up on the good. If you skip cleansing, even the best creams in the world can’t do anything because they can’t penetrate the barrier of dirt and debris. Use a gentle cleanser both in the mornings and evenings for best results.
Do Research: Education is never a bad thing, and your skin is too important to leave to chance. Like we said at the opening of this article, there is a lot of skin care advice out there. The world of online skin care influencers is massive, and some of them are giving advice that could potentially do more harm than good. If you hear something that sounds surprising or bizarre, it’s good practice to do a little research. Plus, having more knowledge of common ingredients will help you understand what works for your skin, and what doesn’t.
Do Regularly Clean Your Phone and Pillowcase: Nothing spends more time against our face than our phones and pillowcases, and because of that, it’s imperative that we keep them clean. Flip your pillow over once per week and wash it at least every other week. Not only will this help prevent your skin from breaking out or looking dull, but studies have shown that we sleep better on clean linens. Similarly, you should clean your phone daily and avoid pressing it directly against your face when on phone calls.
Don't Take Hot Showers (too often): It’s hard to deny that a really hot shower can be a luxury. And while they can be relaxing, they can also be detrimental for your skin. By stripping away natural oils and proteins, hot showers can leave your skin dry, red, and dehydrated. Allowing for a hot shower every now and then won’t do much damage, but for daily purposes, try to use only warm water.
Don't Over-Exfoliate: Exfoliation is important. It helps strip the skin of dead cells and debris, but moderation is key, especially as we age and our skin gets thinner. Exfoliating more than twice a week can end up damaging healthy skin cells below the surface. Be sure to use a gentle exfoliating scrub, as harsh scrubs have large particles that car tear at the skin’s surface, creating blemishes.
Don't Try DIY Skin Care: There is a rising trend of “skin care at home.” While some of these recipes may be effective, and it may sound like fun getting to mix things together, we advise against it. Not only are the formulas you purchase created by trained chemists, they are also created in sterile environments, meaning they won’t end up laden with bacteria. Leave the formulations to professionals, as there is much less likelihood of accidentally harming your skin.
Don't Give up: Be patient! In the world of skin care, most products take time to see results. Whether it’s a cream that treats acne, or an anti-aging serum, improvement is seldom immediate. Many products work to help create solutions on a cellular level, so give them enough time to really work. And if you haven’t found a routine that works for you yet, don’t give up. Everyone’s skin is different, so keep trying things and dialing in what works best for you.