There’s one condition to blame for everything from zits to wrinkles, but most women don’t even know they’re suffering from it: an out-of-whack pH level. The fix: A nutritional diet and a great skincare routine with products that aren’t harmful to your skin.
Turns out, our skin functions (and looks) best in a middle-ground sweet spot too. Throw off its pH levels—by using the wrong products or eating the wrong foods—and your dermis will let you know it’s pissed. . .via wrinkles, inflammation, extreme sensitivity, or acne. (One thing this means for skin-product label readers: The phrase “pH balanced” is far more than a marketing slogan!)
Let us explain—in case you snoozed through pH day in chemistry class: Introduced back in the early 1900s, pH stands for “potential hydrogen” and is used to describe the acid-alkaline ratio of a substance, which ranges from 0 (the most acidic) to 14 (the most alkaline).
Why should this mean anything to you? Because the health of your body—and skin—is directly linked to maintaining the right balance between acidity and alkalinity.
“The skin’s barrier, which is known as the acid mantle, is responsible for keeping in lipids and moisture while blocking germs, pollution, toxins, and bacteria,” explains Patricia Wexler, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. “To work its best, the acid mantle should be slightly acidic, at a 5.5 pH balance. When it’s too alkaline, skin becomes dry and sensitive; you may even get eczema. You may also experience inflammation, which inhibits the skin’s ability to ward off matrix metalloproteinases [MMPs], the enzymes that destroy collagen and cause wrinkles and sagging.”
In fact, according to a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology that tracked women’s skin over an eight-year period, women with an alkaline stratum corneum (the skin’s outermost layer) developed more fine lines and crow’s-feet—and were more prone to sun damage—than those with acidic skin.
Though it’s rarer for skin to be overly acidic, the result is often angry breakouts (even for those of us who rarely get a pimple). When skin deviates too far south of that magical 5.5 number, it’s also stripped down to the point of being red, inflamed, and painful to touch.