Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.
We generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the pH of our skin and the products we use. Potential of hydrogen, or pH, refers to how acidic or alkaline something is on a numeric scale ranging from 1 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline). For example, highly acidic lemon juice has a low pH of around 2, while baking soda is naturally alkaline with a pH of 8. A pH of 7 is neutral (like water), meaning anything below is considered acidic while anything above is considered alkaline.
Our skin has an average pH of about 4.7, with individuals varying between 4-6 based on a number of factors. The ideal pH for skin is considered to be 5.5 to best support our skin barrier, or acid mantle. When the pH of our skin gets too high or too low, it disrupts the natural oils and bacteria that help form our barrier and could potentially lead to irritation and greater exposure to environmental factors. Normally pH gets out of balance from using too many, or too strong, of products.
Here are some common skincare products and ingredients along with the pH range where they function best:
- Cleansers: pH 4.5-7
- Serums: pH 4-6
- Moisturizer: pH 5-7
- Sunscreen: pH 5-7.5
- AHA/BHA Exfoliants: pH 3.2-3.9
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): pH 2.6-3.2
- Retinol: pH 4-6.6
Our skin’s pH is influenced by many factors — particularly the climate we live in, what we’re cleansing with, and which products we’re using. Because the skin is a great self-regulating organ, it’s pretty good at balancing its own pH, as long as the products you use support a healthy skin barrier.
Cleansers have historically tended to be more alkaline, but there’s now plenty of lower pH options that can prevent your skin’s pH from becoming unbalanced after washing. Certain active ingredients like AHA/BHA exfoliants and some forms of Vitamin C perform best at a lower (more acidic) pH. This is important to keep in mind when layering active ingredients from different products, as they may cancel each other out or lead to potential irritation if their pH is heavily impacted.
If you’re using a cleanser that’s too alkaline for your skin and/or too many highly acidic ingredients, your skin’s pH level can begin to veer into unhealthy territory. The key to correcting course is switching to a lower pH cleanser and supporting the compromised skin barrier with ingredients like Ceramides, Niacinamide, and Hyaluronic Acid.
At Atolla, we view your skin’s pH as a valuable gauge of your skin’s overall health. Our Skin Test allows you to measure your pH levels at home and upload the results to your account. We factor this in when custom formulating your cleanser, serum, and moisturizer to keep your skin’s pH in check and ensure you are getting the most out of your routine. Your cleanser label will let you know what pH range we formulated for your product. “Low pH” means your cleanser is designed to help your skin get back into the healthy range. “Healthy pH” means your cleanser is designed to maintain the range that you’re at!