As with all things in life, balance is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The same goes for the ingredients you put on your skin. Below, Dr. Barbara Sturm is breaking down the importance of balancing your pH level (which is affected by the amount of acidity and alkalinity in your system and in the products you use). The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Your skin’s ideal pH lies in the 4.5-5.5 range. Read on to learn how to maintain a skincare routine with well-balanced pH value.
Can you explain the importance of alkaline vs. acidic levels in skincare?
“When it comes to skincare, it’s actually not a matter of having a product that is the most alkalizing but rather a product that keeps the pH value of our skin leveled and healthy. Our skin has a pH value of approximately 5.5, which is slightly acidic. Our skin’s acid layer provides protection against pathogens and environmental stressors and builds and maintains the lipids in our skin. This pH value can change due to influences such as age or how we take care of our skin. For example, if we wash our face with tap water (which has a pH value of 7-8), our skin becomes more alkaline and drier, and therefore less protective. Most soaps are even more alkaline with a pH value of 9-10. In order to protect and strengthen our skin, it is beneficial and important to use pH-value-friendly products, such as my cleanser, which has a pH value of 5.2 and therefore maintains rather than strains the skin’s pH.”
Is the ideal skin pH the same for the rest of the body?
“No, the skin and body are different when it comes to ideal pH. The ideal skin pH is just below 5, or slightly acidic. The ideal body pH (which means blood, not stomach) is 7, slightly alkaline. Too much acidity or alkalinity is not good for your skin or body—proper pH balance is the goal.
Regarding skin, products that are too alkaline can increase skin sensitivity and inflammation and also inhibit the skin’s ability to ward off matrix metalloproteinases (MPPs), the collagen-destroying enzymes that lead to wrinkles and sagging.
For the body generally, alkalinity can have positive benefits—alkalinity in your body also promotes cellular regeneration of your body’s defenses against free radical damage and inflammation. If our body is not alkaline enough, our ability to fight disease is impaired and calcium is leached from our bones. Fatigue, jaundice, increased heart rate, rapid and shallow breathing, and sleepiness can result.”
Can you explain how alkaline and acid levels in your skin and body are connected to inflammation?
“Too much acid in the body decreases the supply of oxygen. This decreases the cells’ ability to repair and collect nutrients. Therefore, alkalinity in the body assists the function of the immune system. This is because too much acidity in the bloodstream reduces the body’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses. Without the oxygen, bacteria and viruses can thrive the most in the bloodstream. Alkalizing is a necessity to eliminate the probability of disease. By consuming alkaline foods, your body is able to reduce inflammation. On the other hand, the body has to work to restore the pH balance after we consume acidic foods. That entails releasing alkaline-rich minerals into the bloodstream (like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium). If these minerals are not available, the body has to pull them from our bones, teeth, and organs. This paves the way for a compromised immune system, cellular damage, general fatigue, and greater susceptibility to viruses and disease.
In skin, excess acidity, among other things, leads to a free radical cascade, causing inflammation and dysfunction. Skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, eczema, and rosacea can result.”
Is there a way we can make sure we have an optimal amount of alkalinity, internally and externally?
“Our diet may have some effect. Counterintuitively, some highly acidic foods like lemons increase alkalinity in the body, and alkaline foods like meat increase acidity. Focus on eating whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, and beans (especially lentils). Leafy greens, cucumbers, lemons, melons, and chia seeds are some of the best alkaline-producing foods. Swap caffeine for herbal teas like ginger or green tea. Drink plenty of green juice. Add lemon to your alkalized water. Eat smaller amounts of fats, meat, fish, pasta, and other grains. Eliminate processed and artificial foods, caffeine, white sugar, and white flour. Opt for high-quality oils such as cold-pressed virgin olive, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
To maintain the pH balance of skin, which is much easier to affect positively or negatively, be mindful of the pH values of your products. Cleanse with a non pH-disturbing cleanser and tone with a toner especially formulated to balance pH, like my Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner. Excessive alkalinity is not good on skin, which is why my cleansers and toners are slightly acidic (close to pH 5).”
What topical ingredients help balance the skin?
“We have a protective layer on our skin’s surface called the acid mantle. Everything that comes in contact with our skin (skincare, fragrance, acid peels, smoking, air, water, sun, pollution) can break down the acid mantle, disrupting the skin’s ability to protect itself. The acid mantle, when maintained at the optimal pH level, is designed to sustain the skin’s natural flora to fight bacteria and environmental stresses. It is made up of sebum that mixes with lactic and amino acids from sweat to create the skin’s pH. My Dr. Barbara Sturm Balancing Toner contains sugar biovector to regulate the natural pH value of the skin and to support the acid mantle. Beta-glucan and panthenol soothe irritated sensitive skin so it feels clean and balanced, while hyaluronic acid provides an intense moisture boost.”
Is there a risk of being too alkaline?
“Yes, the key is keeping a balance. For skin, the optimal pH is slightly acidic at just under 5. If you use skincare products with a higher pH than the natural, optimal skin pH of just below 5, it can cause skin sensitization, a breakdown in the protective acid mantle that fights bacteria and pathogens. For the body, which should have a pH around 7, too much alkalization in the body, called ‘alkalosis,’ causes a series of disruptions and symptoms, including muscle spasms, twitching, confusion, numbness in hands and feet, nausea, and inflammation. It’s called pH balance for a reason!”
Shop more of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s skincare products below.