The top layer of the skin, also known as the acid mantle, is made up of enzymes, amino and lactic acids, humectants, water and oils that combine to form a fine protective shield that keeps moisture in and toxins out. The condition of your acid mantle depends on your pH level, if it’s balanced your skin will glow with health; if too acidic skin can appear red and irritated, too alkaline and skin will be dry, flaky and show more wrinkles. When the skin is unbalanced you’re also likely to suffer from acne or regular pimples. Read on for our guide to finding a balance . . .
The Balancing Act
The optimum pH for your acid mantle or skin barrier is about 5.5; slightly acidic to prevent negative bacterial growth on the skin. Anything over 7 is considered alkaline, and with a lack of acid to fight off bacteria, skin is often more susceptible to acne. Skin that’s higher or lower will feel hyper-sensitive, inflamed and uncomfortable. The good news is that skin wants to return to its natural happy place, so treat it kindly and it will likely settle back to 5.5. There are lots of reasons skin can go up or down on the pH scale, including burning the candle at both ends, using the wrong products, over-exfoliating, excessive sun or wind exposure and eating the wrong foods. If your skin does feel unbalanced, follow our 5-steps to bringing it back into equilibrium.
1, Identify if your cleanser suits you – if your skin feels tight, uncomfortable or sensitized after daily cleansing then it could be stripping away natural essential hydrating oils, leaving you to play catch up. Replace with a more nourishing texture like a lightweight milk or gentle cream formula such as Ren Evercalm Gentle Cleansing Milk, and gently massage into skin, never rub or pull.
2, Speaking of massage, rubbing the skin too harshly with a flannel, muslin, facial brush or even a towel can upset the natural balance of oils and compromise barrier function. Be gentle and always pat skin dry with a towel, never rub.
3, Water is not always a friend to unbalanced skin, so tread carefully and ensure it is not too hot or too cold as both can irritate skin, stripping away moisture and natural oils. If you live in a hard water area consider removing makeup with a micellar water instead of washing. Micellar water was developed in France in the nineties to combat skin reacting to hard water; we like the ultra-gentle Nuxe Micellar Cleansing Water with Rose Petals.
4, Always be mindful and listen to your skin. Acid exfoliating can work wonders, improving cell turnover and collagen production but if you start to see signs of compromised barrier function, dial it down; switch to every other day, or drop it completely until skin is recovered. For gentle exfoliation we recommend the Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra-Gentle Daily Peel, not only is the formula attuned to sensitivity, there’s also a second step to the daily wipes which works specifically to neutralise pH levels.
5, Focus on building up and improving your skin’s barrier function by infusing and strengthening with nourishing ingredients like niacinamide which encourages the skin to make more natural lipids. We like Oskia Bedtime Beauty Boost which combines niacinamide with hyaluronic acid and strengthening milk peptides. Antioxidants work to fight the free radicals that deplete skin, so ensure you give your skin extra protection and include them in your routine – try a mist like Verso Anti-Pollution Protecting & Strengthening Mist and reapply throughout the day.
When we upset the delicate balance of bacteria living on our skin, our acid mantle is compromised. Just like kombucha, kimchi and other fermented foods can help bolster the living organisms in our gut, probiotic-rich skincare can improve your skin microbiome. The healthier the bacteria on your skin, the brighter, calmer and smoother your skin will look.
Probiotic infused skincare like the Aurelia range works by improving the balance of good bacteria, meaning your skin is able to calm inflammation more easily – reducing flare ups of dryness or pimples. Your skin is also able to deal with external damaging factors more efficiently if your microbiome is strong and healthy, meaning there’s less chance your skin will be damaged by free radicals, sun and pollution. Improved gut bacteria works in a similar way and there’s some evidence to suggest healthier gut flora can bolster skin function and mood, so it’s worth trying a supplement like RMS Within Probiotic + Prebiotic to rebalance from the inside out.
Once your skin is in balance, treat it kindly and respond to your environment with SPF on warm days and extra nourishment when the cooler weather kicks in. With trillions of microbial organisms living in and on our bodies (outnumbering our own cells 3 to 1), learning how best to keep them happy and well-balanced is a shortcut to stronger skin and possibly a healthier life too.