How to restore your skin’s pH levels

A clear, glowing complexion is a balancing act – and it’s all in the pH. DANIELLE FOX discovers why it’s important and how to get yours back to the magic number


When it comes to our complexions, there are so many things we have to think about, from dryness and breakouts to pigmentation and aging. And now the experts are giving us something else to worry over: the pH value. According to dermatologist Dr Philippa Lowe, the pH of our favorite cleansers, toners and moisturizers can have a major effect on our skin, whether we realize it or not. And chances are, it’s not for the better.

While your skin’s pH can bounce back from any slight variation pretty quickly, it’s when it gets taken to an extreme that you start to see issues. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14: 0 is acid; 14 is alkaline; and water, which is neutral, is 7. “Skin at its best, and in perfect balance, has a pH of 5.5, but when it alters from its magic number it can start to trigger inflammation, making us more vulnerable to infections and harmful bacteria, which then fast-tracks skin conditions such as rosacea, acne and eczema,” says Lowe. While pH has long been a major focus in Asian skincare, particularly in South Korea, it’s only now being adopted further west. Here’s what you need to know…

Your skin will tell you what it needs

“Keeping skin’s acid mantle – the thin protective barrier, made up of fatty acids – at the optimal pH of 5.5, is the ideal sweet spot for skin-barrier function,” says Lowe. The best way to work out the pH level of your skin? By its behavior: dry and fragile means it’s alkaline, while irritated, acne-prone skin indicates that it’s overly acidic.

What’s good for your body isn’t good for your face

Nutritionists might argue that an alkaline state is great for your body, but dermatologists see no benefits for skin. A study published by the British Journal of Dermatology found that women with more alkaline skin experienced more fine lines and crow’s feet over a period of eight years.

The right cleanser is key

Products that are too alkaline – many soap bars have an alkalinity well over 9 – damage the skin’s acid mantle, making it vulnerable to pollutants and infections. To maintain a healthy balance in the skin, use mild cleansers, micellar waters and alcohol-free toners. “Even tap water in certain areas has a pH of around 8 and can in fact raise the skin’s pH,” says Lowe.

Rethink your toner

Toners are meant to balance out pH levels yet they can be a real skin stripper, with some dermatologists claiming they can be overly astringent and drying on all but the oiliest of skins. But there is an alternative: Japanese skin softeners bridge the gap between a cleanser and moisturizer, adding an extra layer of protection to the skin and, unlike old-school toners, prevent any feelings of tightness.

Age = Higher acidity levels

“With age, skin naturally becomes more alkaline,” explains Lowe, “which is why it tends to becomes dry, brittle and more susceptible to wrinkles.” Many anti-wrinkle products are often around pH 3.5, making them perceptibly more acidic than skin, but this helps stimulate cell turnover to brighten the complexion.


3 items

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.