All of Those Products Are Making Your Skin Worse

July 30, 2019

Ask aestheticians and dermatologists what problem they’re seeing these days, and as often as not the answer is a broken-down skin barrier. Little wonder, then, that the new beauty buzzwords are “barrier repair” (and its cousin “barrier protection”).

A broken barrier — symptoms include inflammation and patchy, flaky skin — can eventually lead to other problems since it means the skin’s defenses are compromised. Besides sensitive skin, barrier dysfunction is also partly responsible for rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and acne, all of which are on the rise, according to epidemiological studies.

What’s to blame for the mass barrier malfunction? Too many creams, serums and other hope in a jar.

“It’s largely a product of our own obsession with squeaky clean and using product upon product upon product,” said Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York. Combine product overload with environmental assaults, and you have a recipe for skin barrier disaster.

Here’s how to avoid that — or to repair the damage.

What the Acid Mantle Is, and Why You Absolutely Must Protect It
The acid mantle is the protective film of natural oils, amino acids and sweat that covers your skin. Damage it with too much scrubbing or neutralize it with alkaline washes and you’re on your way to barrier problems: inflammation, allergies, breakouts.

Talk of the acid mantle (apologies!) means a lot of talk about pH, which, to the surprise of many a chemistry teacher, is the sort of thing beauty addicts love to discuss online these days. So, while alkaline water may be all the rage for health, you definitely don’t want to use it on your (acidic) face.

Cleansing your skin with anything alkaline interferes with the skin’s ability to repair itself and makes it less elastic, Dr. Bowe said. A high pH also encourages the growth of a bacteria called propionibacterium acnes that, as you may guess from the name, plays a major role in many forms of acne. That face wash that is super-foamy and lathery? There’s a fairly good chance it’s alkaline because the ingredients that give it those qualities are high pH.

Skin grows more alkaline as we age — activating enzymes that chew away, Pac-Man-like, at collagen — and acidic products can restore pH, protecting against droopy skin and the development of wrinkles.

This focus on acidity as the key to healthy skin is the theory behind such start-ups as Atolla, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which tests for factors including pH and sends monthly customized serums. It’s also why companies like Mr. Travis’s and Ms. Parr’s list pH on the packaging (something Dr. Surber, who is not connected with either, thinks all brands should do).

The phrase “pH balanced” is about as useful as the term “clean” or “natural” — which is to say, it means nothing. If you want a specific number, the company has to supply it. Not even a cosmetic chemist (or armchair cosmetic chemist) can guesstimate this based on ingredients, Dr. Surber said.

Read the full article on the New York Times.