The American Academy of Dermatology notes that acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is the most common skin condition in the United States. The AAD estimates 40 million to 50 million people a year experience acne, and the majority of those afflicted with the skin problem are teenagers and young adults. Though experts don’t completely understand the cause of acne, research has revealed some main triggers, one of which is a pH imbalance.
The pH level of the skin, or the power of hydrogen, is the balance of acid and alkaline, with a range of 1 to 14. A measurement lower than 7 is considered acidic, while readings higher than 7 indicate alkaline. The body functions optimally at a neutral level, however, normal skin is slightly more acidic at 4 to 6.5. This environment is known as the “acid mantle,” and one function is to help skin cells grow and function. Obtaining healthy skin pH level is “akin to breeding cells in a test tube,” says Dr. Michelle Copeland, author of “The Beautiful Skin Workout.” She notes that if the pH conditions aren't right, the skin cells won't multiply. Another primary function of pH is to kill bacteria before it enters the body, according to the National Skin Care Institute.
Acne and Bacteria
The presence of bacteria is a major factor in the development of acne. When the skin has too much oil, clogged pores and inflammation, bacteria are left to run rampant, especially when the pH level is too alkaline. Acne and skin infections can occur when the bacteria enter through microscopic fissures in the skin, says Dr. Copeland.
What you put on your skin and what you put into your body can affect the skin’s pH level. While it is unproven by research that greasy or fatty foods will cause the skin to break out, a 2003 study led by Esther Boelsma of the Department of Nutritional Physiology in the Netherlands did report that “changes in baseline nutritional status may affect skin condition,” specifically the intake of monounsaturated fat, which raised the participants' pH levels by 6 percent. Furthermore, the study, which appeared in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," suggested that topical serum containing vitamin A reduced pH levels by 3 percent.
Obtaining Proper Balance
Consistent cleansing with a pH-balanced product twice a day is one of the most important components of skin health. It’s equally imperative to exfoliate dead cells from the skin to promote new cell growth, as well as tone the skin with a product that has a pH level somewhere within the 4 to 6.5 range.
The use of skin care products not appropriately pH balanced will cause shifts in the skin’s environment that could take up to 14 hours to return to normal. Another prime suspect in the development of pH-related acne and infection is the use of abrasive scrubs or tools to exfoliate the skin. Dr. Copeland recommends using only your hands with a non-abrasive cleanser to wash skin.
- “The Beautiful Skin Workout”; Dr. Michelle Copeland; 2007
- National Skin Care Institute: Skin Care Treatment with the Correct pH Balance Helps Dry Skin
- "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition": Human Skin Condition and its Associations with Nutrient Concentrations in Serum and Diet