If you're prone to dry, red, or irritated skin, it could be a sign that your skin pH isn't balanced. You may be surprised to learn that your skin has an ideal pH level—and when it's not within the normal range, it can lead to many different skin problems.

A Dermatologist dives into the best pH level for your skin, what happens when the pH is off, and steps you can take to balance your pH for healthy, vibrant skin.

What Is Skin pH?

As it turns out, the pH of healthy skin is slightly acidic, ranging anywhere from 4.0 to 6.0 on the pH scale—zero is most acidic, while 14 on the scale is most alkaline. This acidic layer on your skin is called the acid mantle, and keeping it within range is vital for healthy skin.

Bear in mind that a normal skin pH can vary somewhat depending on a few factors, like a person's gender, age, and ethnicity. In fact, your skin's pH level can even vary depending on the area of your body.

How Does pH Affect Your Skin?

Maintaining a balanced pH is an important part of keeping your skin healthy. The acid mantle is your first line of defense to the outside. It also contributes to healthy and vibrant skin in many other ways, like keeping bad bacteria and germs out, and maintaining the microbiome.

That said, if your skin's pH isn't balanced, it means that it's too acidic or too alkaline. The environment, your skin care products, and even consuming alcohol can throw your skin's pH out of whack. When this happens, it can lead to dry, red, or irritated skin. An abnormal skin pH has also been associated with different conditions, including eczema (atopic dermatitis), acne and rosacea, and dry skin (ichthyosis).

If your skin is healthy, that's a sign that its pH level is probably normal. If you're worried the ph balance of your skin may be off, you can test it at home with a pH test kit. Some Dermatologists and aestheticians also offer pH level testing in their offices—just ask at your next appointment!

How to Balance an Unbalanced pH Level in Skin

Knowing about your skin's pH will help you keep it balanced and healthy. Here are some steps you can take in your everyday routine to help maintain the proper pH levels in your skin:

  • Be gentle when washing your skin. Wash with lukewarm water, and don't wash more than twice a day. Avoid soaps and harsh cleansers, and stick to mild and pH-balanced cleansers, like the EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser.
  • Use a toner. Using a pH-friendly toner like the EltaMD Skin Recovery Essence Toner can help you maintain a healthy pH level. Keep in mind that toners can make some skin conditions worse (like rosacea). Talk to your Dermatologist if you're not sure about using a toner.
  • Moisturize regularly. Always use a moisturizer after washing to help restore a healthy skin barrier. Stick to products with ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid or ceramides, like the EltaMD Skin Recovery Light Moisturizer.
  • Don't exfoliate too much. Exfoliation can be beneficial, but there's a fine line between the benefits and downfalls of exfoliating. Start slow, only exfoliating once a week, and see if your skin can tolerate it. From there, either gradually do it more often or stick to once a week. It's best to avoid physical exfoliators, like scrubs or brushes, which can be harsh on sensitive skin.

Your Skin's pH Is a Balancing Act

Maintaining the pH balance of your skin is an important part of being healthy. When the pH balance is abnormal, it can lead to skin problems that are bothersome in both appearance and feeling, like dryness and irritation. Therefore, it's important to be aware of your skin's pH levels so you can adjust your skin care routine accordingly. Armed with this knowledge, you can maintain healthy, beautiful skin all year long.

Author

  • MARIA ROBINSON, MD, MBA

    Maria Robinson, MD, MBA is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with over ten years of clinical experience. Dr. Robinson has a special interest in nutrition and integrative dermatology and believes that education is the foundation for good health. Through her writing, she strives to empower people with accurate health information so they can make positive decisions that lead to healthy and vibrant skin.