Cleansing is an essential part of our skincare routines, yet many of us hardly pay attention to the type of cleanser that we’re using. All that matters is that it does its job, right? Wrong. Finding a pH-balanced cleanser might not be top of mind, but it could be the key to healthier and happier skin.
Whether you’re a “skinmalist” with a cleanse-tone-moisturise routine or a beauty enthusiast with an elaborate 10-step skincare ritual, it all starts with cleansing. Besides removing impurities, cleansing also preps skin to fully absorb the skincare that follows. But often, when it comes to choosing a cleanser, most of us seem to pay more attention to the ingredient list and neglect the other important factor: the pH level.
Everything has a pH value, and is either acidic or alkaline, depending on where it sits on the pH scale: Zero is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline, and 7 (where water lies) is neutral.
Skin is at its most functional at a pH level between 4 and 6, which is slightly acidic. This acidic environment is able to support the natural bacteria on the skin, keep out environmental aggressors and lock in moisture.
If your skin’s pH level veers towards the alkaline end of the spectrum, it can disrupt the skin’s barrier, resulting in it becoming inflamed, irritated, sensitive and dry. “As pH increases, inflammation in the skin is activated. Skin function is thus compromised, resulting in skin disease. Increased skin pH is noted in those with acne, eczema, fungal infection and contact dermatitis,” says Dr Lynn Chiam, dermatologist at Children & Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic.
That squeaky-clean feeling you love after washing your face might actually point to your cleanser having a high pH, as it is stripping away your skin’s natural oils and sebum. As a general rule of thumb: the fewer suds, the lower the pH.
‘But when the pH isn’t on the label, here’s what you should look out for: Opt for cream-, milk- or gel-based cleansers. These are known to create fewer suds and are gentler on the skin. Or avoid harsh soaps that foam and bubble a lot. These tend to be more alkaline in nature, and the foam also strips away the skin’s natural moisture.