What does pH balance mean?

We’ve been seeing a lot of products—especially cleansers and toners—do multiple things, including balance our skin’s pH levels. But what exactly does that mean? 

What is “pH” and what is its ideal “balance”?

The pH scale is a numeric scale, typically between 0 and 14, that measures how acidic or neutral something is. The skin, like every organ in the body, performs its best within a narrow ideal environment, especially when it comes to pH. Skin maintains its barrier best around 5.5 on the scale—which makes it slightly acidic. At this ideal pH, the skin is able to maintain a good protective barrier and, together with natural oils, moisturisers, and bacteria, function as a true protective defence organ.

Why is pH balance so important?

Any great deviation—either too high of a pH or too low—throws off the “ecosystem” of skin and causes inflammation and irritation, and disrupts the natural oils and barrier of the skin. Shifting the pH in either direction means that the “good” bacteria on your skin are no longer able to keep inflammation and other “bad” bacteria in check.

What are the signs of your skin’s pH being out of balance?

When people complain that their skin is too red, too dry, too itchy, too flaky, too oily—too anything—it’s potentially because the ideal balance of the skin is off and the pH has shifted, causing inflammation and unevenness in the skin's ecosystem. Although the concept of pH balance is still being extensively studied, the thought is that a pH that is too neutral causes drying and decreased hydration of skin, leading to eczema flares and potentially highlighting signs of aging (like fine lines, wrinkles), whilst skin that is too acidic creates increased redness and inflammation. Any deviation prevents skin from looking, feeling and performing its best.

What impacts your skin's pH?

The skin’s pH can be impacted by nearly anything: the skin care products you use, what you’re washing it with (classic soaps are too alkaline), how often you’re washing it, and even what you’re eating. Similarly (and more commonly), if you’re using products that are too acidic or too basic, you could alter the skin’s pH.

Here are some great pH balancing products we recommend:

COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner

Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner

Son & Park Beauty Water

How can skin pH balance be restored?

Probiotics can help restore the balance of skin and bacteria, both externally and internally, but it’s important to adhere to a good skincare routine and diet to decrease the disruption of the good bacterial flora and pH as well. Many topical skin care products today contain probiotics or state that they are pH balanced: Both of these techniques will help regain an ideal skin environment. In addition, remembering to treat your skin delicately (not over-washing or over-scrubbing) will help prevent the destruction of your skin's natural barrier and will help protect your skin so it can protect you.

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