Skip to content

A Refresher on Skin's pH

Most of us probably haven’t given much thought to the concept of pH since our high school chemistry final. But did you know that it’s the secret to healthy, happy skin? When your complexion is at the right pH level, it’s balanced, hydrated, and clear. When it’s not, you may experience super sensitive skin that’s prone to breakouts, dryness, and redness. 

Photo of woman inspecting face in mirror

We don’t know about you, but if our teachers explained pH in terms of skincare way back then, we would have paid a little more attention. If it’s all a big blur now, here’s a quick science lesson: pH, which stands for potential hydrogen, is a measure of acidity or alkalinity in a substance, in this case, your skin. On a scale of 1 to 14, anything under 7 is acidic (with 1 being the most acidic), 7 is neutral, and anything above 7 is considered alkaline. The skin’s sweet spot is a pH of around 5.5. It’s slightly acidic, designed to fight off infection and harmful organisms. In fact, your skin has an acid mantle around its top layer which is a fine, slightly acidic seal-like film known as the skin’s barrier function. Its job is to prevent the bad stuff from getting into your skin while locking in the good stuff. 

How pH affects your skin

When your skin is at that ideal pH of 5.5, it’s well protected and your cells inside can function the way they’re supposed to.

As a result, the skin is hydrated, supple, and balanced. But when the skin’s pH level veers too far in either direction, things start to go awry.  When skin is too acidic, it’s highly sensitive, reactive, oily, and breakout-prone. When it’s too alkaline, it’s drier, also sensitive, and shows the signs of aging more. A study in the British Journal of Dermatology showed those with an alkaline outer layer had more fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage than those with more acidic complexions.

How does the skin’s pH get off balance, anyway?

Skin does a pretty good job of maintaining its ideal pH on its own, but it can be thrown off-kilter by the products you use, outside factors such as hot water, and even what you eat. Here are the most common skin pH disruptors.

Using the wrong skincare products

It’s not just the pH of your skin that matters; the pH of the products you put on your face and body is important, too.

Products with a lower pH mesh well with your skin, with the most skin-friendly products being right around that 5.5 marks.

Certain products need to be highly acidic in order to work (think exfoliating acids), but then you should follow-up with products designed to help bring your skin’s pH back to its happy place (keep reading to find out more about these). Using overly-acidic products or abrasive treatments too often can break down that all-important acid mantle. On the other end of the spectrum, alkaline products with a high pH (think bar soap) are tough on the skin’s acid mantle, too. They strip it of the skin’s essential oils, leaving it feeling dry, tight, inflamed, and open to irritants, allergens, bacteria, etc.

Photo of hands being washed

Poor diet

Eating pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, processed grains, and alcohol can affect the skin’s pH. Indulging in birthday cake here and there or sipping on the occasional cocktail isn’t going to do it, but a consistently poor diet can throw off skin’s balance from the inside out.

Sun damage

Photodamage, the type of damage that stems from UV exposure, can break down skin’s acid mantle, making it more alkaline (and more wrinkle-prone) over time.

Age

As you get older, the skin naturally becomes more alkaline than acidic. That’s one reason skin tends to get drier (and wrinkly) with age, too.

Hot water

Long, steamy showers also strip the skin’s barrier or acid mantle.

How do you know if your pH is off?

There are over-the-counter paper strips to test your skin (just like the litmus tests you did back in chem class) or your dermatologist can test the skin’s pH for you. Even easier? Look for key signs in your complexion: Is your skin oilier than usual? Is it breaking out? Maybe your skin has become dry, red, and sensitive, or you’re suddenly experiencing skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema. These are all red flags that your pH may be out of whack and you’re experiencing sensitive skin as a result.

How to gently bring skin back into balance

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet (rich in omega fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins), protecting your skin against UV sun exposure, and dialing down the temperature of your water can all help keep your acid mantle at that ideal 5.5 level. But if you’re still using pH-disrupting products, you’re going to throw off the skin’s pH off again and again. Instead, seek out products that are pH-balanced. Perricone MD Hypoallergenic CBD Sensitive Skin Therapy Rebalancing Elixir is formulated specifically to get skin’s pH back to its optimal level. In fact, the Rebalancing Elixir has a pH level of 5.5—the skin’s happy number.  This brand new format to the Perricone MD portfolio is a facial treatment essence and is meant to be left on the skin rather than wiped off with a cotton round - different from those overly astringent toners that dried out your skin in the past. To be used after toner, this pH-balanced essence nourishes and hydrates the skin as it brings it back into balance.  It calms any irritation and redness with cannabidiol (or CBD, derived from the cannabis Sativa plant known as hemp). It also includes a mushroom complex to help to protect the skin’s microbiome (a community of bacteria that lives on the surface of the skin and keeps it healthy). The Elixir also includes an antioxidant-rich cherimoya fruit extract to protect against free radicals (unstable molecules that latch onto healthy cells and cause damage). 

Photo of Perricone MD Hypoallergenic CBD Sensitive Skin Formula Rebalancing Elixir

Use the Rebalancing Elixir after cleansing and toning, and before your serum and moisturizer, morning and night. Instead of swiping on with a cotton pad, simply add a few drops into the palms of your hands and press the fluid into your skin. It feels dewy on skin, not dry and tight. "Try the Rebalancing Elixir as a way to reinforce your barrier, balance your skin, and get skin ready to accept active ingredients," says Caires. In Perricone MD’s consumer tests of the Rebalancing Elixir, 91% said their skin felt more relaxed and balanced. 

If you want a healthy and happy skin, Perricone MD’s Hypoallergenic CBD Sensitive Skin Therapy Rebalancing Elixir will help get and keep your skin in balance.