Your acid mantle, that is. The acid mantle, which contains lactic acid, amino acids, and fatty acids, is a thin, somewhat acidic layer on the skin that provides a barrier against pollutants, the elements, and bacteria. A normal person’s skin has a pH of between 4 and 6.5, and it’s recommended that cleansers stay around a pH of 5.5 just to make sure the skin isn’t stripped.
The problem is that most cleansers available in the United States have a pH of 9.5 to 10.5. Let that sink in. Even “gentler” cleansers, such as the oft-recommended Olay cleansers (their Foaming Face Wash — even the sensitive skin version — and Emollient Cleansing Lotion) have a pH of 6 to 7.36. The much-touted Cetaphil cleanser has a pH of 6.7. Not good, especially for those who suffer from dry or sensitive skin.
So what happens if the acid mantle is damaged by the detergents in overly harsh cleansers? The skin’s functional barrier is altered, leaving you more prone to damage and infection, and it takes anywhere from a couple of hours to over twelve hours to restore the balance, and by then you’ve washed your face again. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m not saying you have to throw your cleansers into a bonfire and perform a spiritual cleansing of your bathroom counter to rid the air of nasty pH levels. If your skin gets on well with your current routine, awesome! But if you’re having troubles, pH could be the root of the problem.
Non-stripping cleansers include:
Dermalogica Exfoliants: 3.4-3.9
Dermalogica Cleansing Bar: 5.5
Earth Science Clarifying Facial Wash: 5-5.5
Earth Science ADE Creamy Cleanser: 5
Earth Science Apricot Facial Scrub Cream: 5
Earth Science Aloe Gel Cleanser: 5
Neutrogena Deep Clean Facial Cleanser: 3.8-4.6
Neutrogena Deep Clean Cream Cleanser: 2.8-3.8
Olay ADS Daily Renewal Cleanser: 2.9-3.25
Olay ProVital Revitalizing Cleanser: 2.9-3.25
Paula’s Choice (All): 5.5