October 27, 2015

The Surprising Reason You Might Be Breaking Out

Naaila Khan

So you religiously exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize? Turns out, that might not be quite enough if you want the skin of your dreams. Like most things in life, balance is key when it comes to your skin - we're talking about its pH value. Let us explain!

Your skin is covered by a thin film of amino and lactic acids and oil, which protects it from external stressors like pollution and bacteria; it’s also known as the acid mantle. Your job is to keep it happy, and that depends on its pH (potential hydrogen) levels.

The pH scale measures your skin's levels of hydrogen concentration, and can be done using pH strips (those little pink ones that turn red or blue depending on the value and which you might remember from chem class).

The scale goes from 0 to 14 – anything over 7 is considered alkaline which points to drier, sensitive skin that’s prone to wrinkles and issues like eczema. (When you hear of products that ‘strip your skin of moisture’, they’re usually highly alkaline – like soap.) Thought it’s rarer, if your skin is on the other end of the spectrum, i.e. too acidic, you’ll find it’s often irritated, painful to the touch and susceptible to breakouts. So what's your skin’s sweet spot? An acid mantle at a 5.5 pH balance – and that’s where equalizing your skin through gentler products and diet becomes crucial.

If you want to get on it immediately, get yourself reliable pH testing strips at the pharmacy – you can either use them to check the alkaline levels of your products (though if your product is a thick cream or lotion, you might not get a super accurate result) or of your skin (dip it into your saliva to get an instant reading). If you can’t wait that long, here are some handy ways to tell where your skin lies on the pH spectrum.

You have alkaline skin if:

- It’s tight and dry after you wash your face,

- Your skin has some patches that are dry and flaky,

- You wake up with dull-looking skin with prominent lines,

- It stings when you apply products.

You have acidic skin if:

- Your skin doesn’t feel super clean even after cleansing, and is greasy all the time,

- You never find the need to moisturize because it’s so oily,

- It reacts to everything you put on your face,

- You’re tired of perennial breakouts,

- It’s almost always red and irritated.

If you have alkaline skin, you’re probably subjecting your skin to too much sun, bacteria or strong ingredients – go easy on the cleansing and scrubbing. If you think you’re at the acidic end, you’re probably piling on the peeling products to combat the extra grease – go easy on those.

If you haven’t ticked any boxes of these extreme symptoms, chances are your skin is doing just fine! A pH test always helps though, and so does consulting your derm for an accurate reading.

Second, ditch the harsh cleansers entirely and consider shifting to oil cleansers instead. Because oil has no pH level, it won’t affect the pH level of your skin, either. Cleansing oils ensure that you're only wiping away the dirt from your skin’s surface without disrupting the oils and thus keeping the precious acid mantle intact. (They’re also pro makeup artist Bianca Hartkopf’s favourite way to remove makeup!)

Another thing you could include in your regime? Toners. They're slightly acidic and mimic your skin's ideal acid mantle when it is at its best - plump and moist. They restore the skin’s pH balance and are also great face refreshers and makeup setters to boot.

Next, add alkalizing foods to your diet – your body has a pH balance too, and we’ve all heard the ‘you are what you eat’ adage. Antioxidant-rich foods like leafy green vegetables (kale and spinach are excellent, as well as avocado and broccoli), low sugar fruits, raw nuts and seeds such as chia, flax, pumpkin and sunflower are great.

And as always, stay away from acid-forming foods like sugar, dairy, red meat, alcohol and caffeine as much as possible.

Finally, there are loads of great products that are kind to your acid mantle. Here are a few!

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