An abbreviation for the Philippines, penthouse suites, and public holidays, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m writing about living a jet-set lifestyle.
Not to disappoint entirely, while I won’t stick with the luxury travel theme, I want to turn attention to the wonderful world of science. While this is, admittedly, infinitely less glamorous, the pH on today’s agenda governs the manufacture and consumption of thousands of products we use each and every day.
For most, pH is remembered from high school chemistry: this is the scale of acidity or alkalinity tested using a method called the “litmus test”.
Short for “Potential Hydrogen”, pH is measured on the pH scale from 1 to 14, where pH 7 is considered neutral, with anything less than pH 7 acidic and anything over pH 7 being alkaline, or “basic”. This scale is widely used to determine the acidity of ingredients for products in industries such as agriculture, engineering, and medicine. Being an important factor in chemistry in general, pH is of course also very important in skin care products.
Update: I just saw this video on YouTube while looking for pH related testing. The video is advertising an alkaline bottled water. While the water is sold by Jeunesse, which set off warning signals for me, I didn’t check to see if this is made by the same company that starts their crazy talk with “Welcome to Jeunesse” on their Jeunesse Global site, but it doesn’t matter. First, I agree that there’s nothing wrong with drinking water that has a pH of 9. In reasonable quantities alkaline water can be perfectly healthy, as they say in the video. But as expected, these people go too far when they suggest that Alkaline water is healthier than neutral water or slightly acidic water. Why would anyone believe that water with a pH of 7.0 (neutral) is not as healthy? What a crappy gimmick! Don’t believe any stooges selling lies about what is healthy pH and what isn’t, get the facts from reliable sources!
In the manufacture of personal care or skin care products, the pH needs to be balanced perfectly in order to attain the right characteristics. If the pH isn’t just right and a solution is too acidic or too alkaline, gels can collapse or foams will lose their airy consistency – this brings up an important point and that is that many creams have chemicals and pH levels that are not set as they are for skin health as much as they are for other reasons like appearance or even smell.
But the pH level of a product is not just important for regulating a beauty product’s physical properties. The pH of skin care products determines the effect it has when applied to skin. If the pH is too high or too low the results can be severe. In fact, even if you know about the pH scale, you may not know that the pH scale is logarithmic. This means that a pH level of 8 is 10 times more basic than a pH of 7, and a pH of 9 is 100 times more basic than a pH of 7.
We see how this works in fish tanks. If your fish are supposed to live in water with a pH of 7 but the water in your tank is reading 8, your water is 10 times more alkaline than what it should be. If the pH is 9, then your fish are living in water 100 times more alkaline than they can live in. It should be easy to see why even a small change in pH can end up killing fish, so imagine what a difference of 10 times or even 100 times of what is normal means for your skin.
According to the <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10 site here.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00344.x/full” target=”_blank”>International Journal of Cosmetic Science (Volume 28, Issue 5), “until fairly recently average skin pH was believed to be 5.5, with most scientists considering it to range between 5 and 6, depending on body zone and sex”. It is now widely accepted that the “average skin pH [is] closer to 4.7”.
While the slight acidity is said to preserve many protective functions of the skin, including killing unwanted bacteria, when the skin becomes too acidic or too alkaline its natural protective barrier is weakened. This weakening of the natural protective barrier will usually result in easily noticed problems with your skin.
Alkaline substances with a pH higher than 8 can be very irritating to the skin, as can acids with pH levels of 3 or below. With the pH of skin even affected by simple contact with water, it is very important to take care with skincare products. These products can drastically change the pH of our skin making it more difficult, not easier, to maintain the right balance for healthy, peachy-looking skin. Simply put, with the wrong product, you’re doing more damage to your skin than good, no matter how much you think a bad reaction is an “adjustment” or “peeling a bad layer”.
Let’s look at the effects of different pH levels on our skin. If our skin is too alkaline, above a pH of 6.5 or 7, it is prone to dry out and become damaged. This can lead to conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2010, it gets worse from there.
In an experiment that lasted 8 years, dermatologists found that women with alkaline skin developed “more fine lines and crow’s-feet” and were more “prone to sun damage” than those with acidic skin.
Other research has shown that using an alkaline skin cleanser can dry the skin, even after one use, with the effects getting worse with frequent use. A 2002 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that “most products recommended for sensitive skin have a considerable irritation effect, which is related to the pH of the product”.
When skin’s pH goes too acidic, the skin appears red and inflamed, and can lead to increased acne breakouts. Too far in either direction, either too basic or too acidic, results in a mixture of your face trying to bring things back into balance while leaving you vulnerable to irritation or infections.
Listed by Dr Frank Lipman in his 2009 book REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again as “chemicals you should look out for”, be careful when you see the following ingredients in your skincare products:
- Isopropyl (SD-40)
- Mineral Oil
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
- Propylene Glycol (PG)
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
While several of these chemicals are not particularly harmful, each product uses them differently and in different quantities that can become harmful. Again, to avoid damaging your skin, always read the pH factor for any products and choose products with a pH similar to your natural skin balance (with a pH of approximately 4.7).
Some products don’t tell you what their pH is, but if you are having problems with your skin, there are straight forward ways to get to the root of the problem. Women’s Health magazine has a good question set you can go through and if you’re honest about it, you can get on a path to improving your skin by way of improving the pH of your skin. They also list several product options for testing pH. Check that out here: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/ph-levels
The more you apply of a product that has an imbalanced pH, the more you will hurt your skin. It’s that simple. If you’re breaking out or seeing an unsightly reaction when you’re using a skin care product, stop using it. No matter how much you paid for it, how great you’ve been told it is, if you’re having a reaction, you aren’t developing an adaptation, growing into it, shedding your bad layer, or anything like that. If your skin is showing dryness, puffing or redness, or anything unusual, the product you’re using is hurting you and it’s time to try something else.
UPDATE: Somebody asked if the pH of a product needs to be on the bottle. No, it doesn’t. This is likely the largest reason for why so many people trying to fix their skin continue to have problems with their skin. Some people wonder why they can’t fix problems with pores, pimples, irritation, etc. but they keep applying the same creams and make up without realizing they are making the issue worse. As far as specific products and their pH: I haven’t done the research yet so I can’t comment on that. All the same you should definitely try and use pH test kits/strips to test the pH of products if you really care about your skin’s health.
UPDATE: I’ve started adding pH test results for skin care products or applications. I hope it’s helpful!