Skincare Tips: Do Skin Cleansers Affect pH Levels Of Skin? Dermatologist Explains
Studies have found that most cleansing products lead to a mild, transient increase in skin pH up to around 7 - 7.5. This transient increase in skin pH is seen equally when washing with alkaline (pH 9-10) or acidic cleanser (ph 5.3-5.4) and even with water (pH 7).
Long-term use of either acidic or alkaline cleansers do not impact the pH maintenance mechanism of skin
- Average pH of human skin varies approximately between pH 4 to pH 6
- It depends on both exogenous and endogenous factors
- Use of cosmetics and pollution can affect pH levels of skin
Skin is the largest organ in the body. It is known to have an acid mantle and this concept of acidic nature of skin surface was first determined by Heuss in 1892. Numerous studies published since then have shown that the average pH of human skin varies approximately between pH 4 to pH 6. The variation has been reported depending upon both exogenous and endogenous factors. Exogenous factors like temperature, humidity, pollution, occlusive dressing, cosmetics etc may influence pH of the skin. Endogenous factors impacting pH variability include age, body site, genetic predisposition, ethnic differences, sebum, skin moisture, sweat etc.
Do skin cleansers affect pH levels of skin?
Exposure of the skin to different products like creams, lotions and cleansers, including water, can cause a transient change in the pH, though quickly reverts to the baseline value of the skin irrespective of the skin type. The concept of an absolute “perfect pH” or “Ideal pH” of human skin would be a not a single number but a range.
Studies have found that most cleansing products lead to a mild, transient increase in skin pH up to around 7-7.5. This transient increase in skin pH is seen equally when washing with alkaline (pH 9-10) or acidic cleanser (ph 5.3-5.4) and even with water (pH 7). This short-term increase in skin pH reverts to baseline pH values within an hour or so. Studies have also found that long term use of either acidic or alkaline cleansers do not impact the pH maintenance mechanism of skin.
A similar trend was seen even in an Indian population in studies that have shown that with the use of alkaline soaps (pH 9-10), skin pH never achieved the same pH value as that of the product used, due its buffering capacity.
Soaps are now formulated with moisturisers like glycerin and other natural ingredients all of which are mild and suitable for most skin types. In fact, mild and moisturising bars with gentle cleansers at neutral pH have been shown to be extremely suitable for all kinds of skin including sensitive and compromised skin and are also known to be gentle to the skin's microbiome.
All aspects of the cleanser formulation should be considered in composite, rather than attributing any one factor to be the sole determinant of a cleansers' effectiveness and compatibility with the skin.
(Dr Mukta Sachdev is Head of the Department of Dermatology at Manipal Hospital, Bangalore)
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