How The pH Of Your Skincare Could Ruin Your Skin

by Miki Hayes

There are plenty of factors that could lead to your skin not looking or feeling as good as possible, like sleeping in your makeup or skipping moisturizer. In fact, even your face-washing routine could have a hand in making your skin look worse. That's because the pH of your cleanser is capable of upsetting the balance of your skin. To learn a little more about exactly how the pH of facial cleansers affects your skin, I emailed with a couple of skincare experts.

Karen Ballou, founder of Immunocologie; Amandine Isnard, Head of Product Development for Eve Lom; and Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and Director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor of the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, all weighed in on the potential damage your cleanser could be doing to your skin, and what type of cleanser is best to use.

According to Dr. Tanzi, it's best to have a facial cleanser with a balanced pH. "Too acidic or too alkaline can be damaging to the protective layer of the skin," she says. Just in case you're unfamiliar with pH, the scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. A pH of less than 7 means the substance is acidic (the lower the number, the greater the acidity), while a pH of greater than 7 means the substance is basic or alkaline (the greater the number, the greater the alkalinity).

So what pH level is best for your skin? According to Ballou, skin has a slightly acidic pH balance, so anything too alkaline will disrupt it. She and Isnard both explain that traditional bar soaps tend to be very alkaline and are simply too harsh and drying on the skin. So if you're familiar with that tight feeling after washing your face, it's likely because your cleanser increased your skin's alkalinity above its natural levels. And the way your skin compensates for this is by producing more oil than normal.

A cleanser that doesn't help maintain your skin's acid mantle — the skin's naturally, slightly acidic protective barrier, Ballou explains — can lead to problems you may have thought were caused by something else (like excess oil production, dry patches, and breakouts). It's best to find cleansers lower on the pH scale. Ballou suggests looking for cleansers with ingredients like alpha or beta hydroxyl acids, as these help with "neutralizing and balancing the skin's pH level without affecting its hydrolipid barrier." If you're not quite sure where to start, here are a few cleansers that will help keep your skin balanced and may even help clear up some problems along the way.

1. Immunocologie

IMMUNOCOLOGIE Cleansing Lotion, $68, QVC

This natural cleanser balances skin's pH without affecting its moisture retention.

2. Eve Lom

Eve Lom Cleanser, $60, Amazon

This balm cleanser offers a deep clean to rid the skin of dirt, oil, and makeup without disrupting the acid mantle.

3. La Roche-Posay

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser, $15, Amazon

Soap-free with a measured pH of 5.5, this gel-based face wash will cleanse the skin without stripping it.

As Isnard says, "Skin with a balanced pH level appears healthier, looks plumper, and has a radiant glow." Sounds just like what I'm looking for.

Images: Miki Hayes (1); Courtesy of Brands