I used to have the oiliest skin living in inner-city Melbourne; all that dust, pollution, dirt and grime accumulated into an oil deposit on my face that probably could have employed and powered at least a dozen oil rigs. When I ran the back of my hand against my forehead at the end of the day to wipe off what I thought was sweat – I was horrified to find that it was actually OIL! I could feel it hanging off my face, like a sheetmask of DIRT.
BUT when I discovered the existence of facial cleansers – I felt like Napoleon Bonaparte setting his eyes on the Great Pyramids of Giza for the first time. As if I had discovered this amazing, beautiful, feat of human ingenuity but it had been there the whole time, just waiting for me to find it.
Crash course: Acidity vs. Alkalinity
A pH of 7 is the ‘neutral’ point on the scale, under 7 is considered acidic, and over pH 7 is considered alkaline. Anything you put on your skin, be it cleanser, toner, or even water WILL change the acidity of your skin – for better or for worse. And the more consistently you do so, the more your skin will gravitate towards that pH level.
For example, lemon juice and vinegar have a low pH of around 2, human blood with a neutral pH of 7.4, baking soda has a pH of 9.5 and the most alkaline heavy duty drain cleaners have a pH of 14, highest on the scale.
Some acids like AHA and BHA are beneficial as natural exfoliants, but the use of high pH products can and will increase the chances of breakouts, worsen acne and more…
High pH: Why you should avoid it!
Our skin, specifically on our faces, naturally has a pH of around 4.2 – 5.6 and is acidic by nature. This is GOOD acid, as it prevents harmful bacteria and other nasties from coming in contact with your skin, and prevents your skin from losing water (Also called TEWL; Trans-epidermal Water Loss). However, a pH that falls above 5.6 can damage the moisture barrier of your skin; what does this mean exactly?
A damaged moisture barrier means that your skins’ natural way of sealing in moisture is compromised, and as a result your oil glands go into overproduction mode to compensate for the lack of moisture on your face. Now this could also cause dryness, irritation and breakouts, but for me it meant OILY SKIN!
I never realized that oily skin is not a condition in itself, but a SYMPTOM of a damaged moisture barrier. As soon as I regularly switched over to a low pH cleanser, I found that my oiliness simply just went away. Yes – just went away. Doing this, combined with strengthening my moisture barrier with the consistent everyday use of a hydrating toner, aloe vera gel, and a nice thick moisturizer, I realized I had begun to heal my damaged moisture barrier. Now, a few months later, my skin type is now NORMAL instead of a combo of oily and dehydrated. Hallelujah!
What am I putting on my face?
In my skincare journey naivete, I purchased a Shiseido Perfect Whip, a cleansing foam marketed to produce giant fluffy foam bubbles to cleanse your face daily. I always noticed how tight and dry my face felt after using this, which I stupidly chalked it up to it doing its’ job properly.
Little did I know, that after doing some digging around on the products I was using on my face that this facial cleanser has a pH of 9.8! That’s right, even more alkaline than baking powder. Shiseido Perfect Whip seems to be the poster child of what you DON’T want in a facial cleanser – it’s just far too stripping and will compromise your skin’s natural protection against bacteria.
I was horrified and immediately stopped using it! I’ve now since demoted it to an excellent shaving foam for my legs, where the pH does not have to be too acidic. After apologizing to my face again and again for putting it through that ordeal, I set out looking for the perfect, affordable low pH cleanser.
I’m still on the lookout for that perfect one for me, with a few different cleansers in rotation for review. Now, at least armed with the knowledge of skin acidity and the importance of the right pH, I can put my best face forward in the journey for my perfect cleanser.