The pores of our skin are made up of a combination of oil and sweat glands (sebaceous and sudoriferous glands) helping to keep our skin healthy and elastic. An excessive sebum secretion is often associated with oily skin and acne. This is particularly common in adolescents as the increased levels of sex hormones stimulate sebum production and secretion. When in balance, the combined excretion of oil and sweat from the skin’s pores has a pH of about 5.5.
The Acid Mantle, Age and the importance of the skin's pH
This slightly acidic layer, also referred to as the “Acid Mantle”, is our body’s first defence mechanism against bacteria invading it and is not a favourable environment bacterial growth to occur. This defence layer develops at puberty, which is why children are more susceptible to disease, viruses and fungal infections such are ringworm. The pH of children’s skin is closer to neutral (pH 7).
At puberty, however, we start to produce more hair on our bodies. Hair follicles have an associated sebaceous gland or glands which become active as hair growth increases, causing changes in the skin’s pH. The hormones that control sweat also become active and the whole surface of a teenager’s skin is totally different to that of a young child. This is our body’s way to increase our defence system.
The pH of normal, healthy human skin is somewhere between 4.5 and 6. However, this varies with age. Typically, newborns have a pH closer to neutral (pH 7) that quickly turns acidic in order to protect young children’s skin.
In the late teens to early 20’s, our Acid Mantle is well developed and provides good protection against potentially harmful, external environmental factors. Our skin usually looks healthy, heals quickly when injured and seems to take care of itself.
With increasing age however, the skin’s pH becomes more and more neutral, and thus more susceptible to bacterial growth. This reduced acidity kills fewer bacteria than before, leaving the skin susceptible to bacterial growth and infections. The skin weakens as a result and begins developing problems with increasing age. (Interestingly, the pH value rises beyond 6 when a person actually suffers from a skin problem or skin disease.)
The aging process of the skin causes biochemical changes in collagen and elastin, the connective tissues underlying the skin, which give the skin its firmness (collagen) and elasticity (elastin). The rates of loss of skin firmness and elasticity differs from individual to individual, depending on their genetic makeup, general health, over exposure to the sun, skin care regime, or lack there of, and other factors.
As the skin becomes less elastic, it also becomes drier; the underlying fatty tissue begins to disappear resulting in the skin beginning to sag. Our skin is less supple, and wrinkles begin to form. At this stage, our skin is more easily injured, heals more slowly and tends to dry out more quickly.
The role of pH in Acne
As outlined above, the skin’s pH is important and maintaining a slightly acidic pH of around 5.5 is critical.
The skin’s pH value is one of the major contributors to acne and other skin problems. Propionibacterium acnes is a bacteria that normally lives on the skin and is a normal bacteria found in all persons regardless of the presence or absence of acne.
However, in individuals prone to acne, the number of P. acnes is greatly increased. It has been found that the growth of this bacteria is very much dependent on the pH value of the skin and its growth is at its minimum at the normal skin pH of 5.5. A slight shift towards the alkaline pH would provide a better environment in which it can thrive.
Importance of the skin's pH: Do's & Don'ts
One of the major culprits that radically alter the pH of the skin, is soap. Ordinary, commercially available soaps are highly alkaline (pH range 9-11) and raise the skin’s pH to be much more alkaline. This can be adjusted by using products such as the Wild Herb Toner or Milk of Roses Toner, depending on your skin type. These toners restore normal pH of the skin and thus provide an environment not conducive to the growth of bacteria. In addition, soap dries out the skin, because of its high alkalinity.
Thus if you choose to use a commercially available soap, you must restore the pH of your skin to prevent loss of moisture and the excessive growth of bacteria. It is important to remember that this applies to the entire surface of your skin, not just the face.
Instead of using ordinary soap, you need to use products such as the Skin Renewal Gel from Wildcrafted Herbal Products, which cleanses your skin, removing dead skin cells and leaving your skin’s pH as it is meant to be. Following this with the use of a Toner will close the open pores, preventing blackheads and loss of moisture from the skin.
Other factors influencing your skin's pH
Another factor that helps in regulating your skin’s pH is the presents of microflora on your skin. Staphylococcus epidermis is involved in the breakdown of fatty acids, and is therefore partly responsible for the acidic pH of skin. The use of ordinary soap, not only changes the pH of the skin to be more alkaline, effectively removing the protective acid mantle, but also kills the bacteria responsible for creating, at least in part, the acidic pH of your skin – a double whammy.
It is therefore of great importance to have a good skin care regime in which high quality, natural skin care products are employed. There are a couple of simple steps to take before buying a particular brand of natural skin care products.
Identify the skin type(s) on the face. There are usually two or more. One skin type is usually isolated to the T-Zone (forehead and nose), the other applies to the rest of the facial skin.
Carefully select your natural skin care products. It is not good enough to choose products, which add natural ingredients to an otherwise non-natural base crème or lotion, as is the case in many supermarket brands. READ the label carefully, ask questions and if you are buying the products on-line, make sure there is a guarantee that allows you some time to evaluate the products before they need to be returned for a refund.
Also, look for ingredients you can not pronounce. For example:
Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES)
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), just to mention a very few. There are hundreds, yes hundreds more. This type of ingredient is not a natural ingredient and should not be in your skin care products.
Look for manufacturers that have qualified herbalists or naturopaths on staff. These people generally do not support the use of artificial ingredients because it goes against everything they teach their patients, friends and family. – For the most part, it’s a pretty good indication that the products are pure and natural, when natural therapists are in charge of the formulation of the products.
Your skin is not replaceable and is one of the most important organs with many major functions and roles to play in your health and well being. Look after it, invest in it. It will pay you back many fold and you'll radiate the benefits.
Danny Siegenthaler is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and together with his wife Susan, a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist, they have created Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products to share their 40 years of combined expertise with you.