Your skincare can be the cause of skin woes. Yes, you read that right. If you're not aware of the importance of using pH-balanced skincare, you may be doing your skin more harm than good. So we spoke with Drunk Elephant's founder Tiffany Masterson to learn more about the skincare's pH level, what the acid mantle is, and more. Here’s what we found out.
What is pH-balanced skincare exactly?
"When we say ‘pH-balanced skincare’, what we mean is that their formula is calibrated to complement the pH level of the skin or at least not disturb its pH level," Tiffany explained.
The pH scale measures the balance between the acidity and alkalinity of a substance; it ranges from 0 to 14. Anything below a pH of 7.0 is considered acidic, and anything above 8.0 is alkaline.
Our skin is naturally acidic and has a pH level of 5.5. So it's important to keep your skin at this level so your acid mantle a.k.a the skin barrier stays stable — more on that later.
This knowledge makes it easier for you to shop for skin-friendly skincare, especially if you have sensitive skin. "You generally only want to use skincare products that have an acidic pH in the neighbourhood of your skin’s pH level, which makes them more compatible with your skin," according to Tiffany.
"If you use products that are very alkaline — a pH level of 9.0+, for example — you can disrupt the pH balance of the skin, which can result in inflammation, redness and breakouts. If you use products that are too acidic — under 3.0, for example — you can also create irritation and inflammation." The key is to find that sweet spot so your skin stays balanced and healthy.
pH balance and the acid mantle
You can't talk about pH-balanced skincare without knowing about the acid mantle, which is commonly referred to as the skin barrier. "The skin barrier is responsible for keeping substances out (pollution, dirt, bacteria), and it’s maintained by an acidic balance of lipids and other substances that keep it pliable and smooth — so it is vital that you maintain its health because it is literally keeping you healthy," Tiffany said.
"Your body almost always does a great job at keeping its pH levels balanced. Your acid mantle does too when allowed," she added. "For example, if you’re using products that are too alkaline, you can absolutely swing the pH level of your skin in a way that isn’t healthy. Alkaline cleansers are the most common culprits." The best example of this is a classic bar of soap, which has an alkaline pH level of around 9.0.
Alkaline cleansers, which typically also contain drying surfactants, damage the skin by wearing away your skin barrier and allowing other ingredients to penetrate deeper than you want them to go. Cue bursts of skin sensitivity.
So what can we do to avoid this from happening? "The best way to respect and maintain the pH balance of the skin is to look for products that are pH balanced to be acidic but not below 3.0, or that won’t disrupt the pH level of the skin."
The lowdown on shopping for pH-balanced skincare
So how do you know if a product is pH-balanced or not? The first thing to look at is the product’s information, which you can find on its box or website. Some brands will share the pH level of their product alongside the ingredients list.
"To know the accurate pH level of a product, you really need a digital reading device... That’s a lot to ask of the consumer, so really, this info needs to be provided by the brand."
Tiffany says you can use pH strips to "get a general idea of pH levels" or to see if a formula leans more to the acidic or alkaline side, but these aren't very specific measurements.
You can also look at the ingredients list. "It always comes back to the ingredients you use, how they’re formulated and, just as important, what you choose not to use," Tiffany explained. She also said to avoid the “common categories of irritants” which generally include harsh cleansing agents, fragrances or dyes, essential oils and drying alcohols. You should also stop aggressively using active ingredients (like retinol, chemical exfoliants such as alphahydroxy acids and betahydroxy acids) and over-cleansing your skin.
Chemical exfoliants and maintaining your pH balance
This doesn't mean you cannot and should not use chemical exfoliants like alphahydroxy acids and betahydroxy acids altogether. "It’s normal for skin’s pH to fluctuate slightly, and when it’s healthy, it balances itself very quickly," Tiffany clarified. “What isn’t normal is big pH level swings,” she added, which happens when you use these products more often than what is recommended. “That’s unhealthy, disruptive and promotes inflammation.”
Where to find pH-balanced skincare products in Singapore
Now that you know how using pH-balanced skincare products can benefit your skin, here are some products that you can find in Singapore.
Drunk Elephant Drunk Elephant Lala Retro™ Whipped Cream
This Drunk Elephant moisturiser has a pH level of 5.5, exactly the same as our skin. It has a rich, creamy texture and is packed with six rare African oils and a plant ceramide complex that reinforce the acid mantle. You’ll also find hydrating sodium hyaluronate cross polymer and antioxidant-rich fermented green tea in its nourishing formula. Check out our review of this here.
It’s priced at SGD86 per 50ML at Sephora.
Porcelain pH-Balancing Essence
This essence boasts anti-inflammatory, rejuvenating and repairing properties thanks to its high percentage blend of sodium hyaluronate, horse chestnut extract and tea tree extract. It helps keep sebum production in control and your skin hydrated all day long.
It’s priced at SGD35 per 8ML on the brand’s website.
fresh Soy Face Cleanser
This gentle facial cleanser contains soy proteins that lift away skin impurities and leave your skin clean, smooth and fresh. It’s also formulated with borage seed oil, aloe vera gel, and cucumber extract that help keep your skin calm and nourished.
It’s priced at SGD63 per 150ML on the brand’s website.
Here are some low pH cleansers you can consider switching to for a skin reset.
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