Get a Grip on pH

Ask the Expert

By Jan Lovejoy

Originally published in Skin Deep.

Q: Can you explain the relationship between pH balance and the skin? What is pH anyway?

A: The term pH literally means potential of hydrogen and serves as a measure of acidity and alkalinity — the lower the pH, the more acidic; the higher the pH, the more alkaline. Levels of pH vary throughout the body. For example, bloodstream pH is normally 7.4, stomach pH is 1.0, and skin pH is 4.5.

The slightly acidic quality of skin helps fight harmful bacteria by neutralizing it and keeping conditions such as acne, irritation, and infection at bay. However, when the pH balance is off, this skin’s defense system is compromised, allowing for these afflictions.

To achieve and maintain proper balance, use products that resemble the skin’s pH. Most soaps, for example, are highly alkaline with a pH around 10-12 and can throw off the balance, especially with repeated use. Product information should mention pH levels. If not, call the manufacturer for more information. If you’re having trouble balancing skin, consider using aloe vera gel as a toner. The gel’s pH mimics that of the skin and can bring it back into balance.

It’s also important to keep the body’s internal pH around 7.4. This means limiting acidic-forming foods such as meats, carbonated beverages, flour, sugar, and aspirin, and focus on alkaline-forming foods like fruits and vegetables. In addition, counsel clients to drink plenty of water, get lots of exercise and rest, and manage their stress levels. If neglected, all of these factors can contribute to pH imbalance and take a toll on the complexion.