January 15, 2021 9 min read

pH of skin pH balanced skin care skin barrier

We've all heard the phrase "pH balanced," but what does it even mean? And why should you care about pH balanced skin? I'm glad you're here, because as a cosmetic chemist, this is one of my favorite topics and it also happens to be one of the most misunderstood. We're excited to put an end to myths you might believe about pH that are probably damaging your skin barrier.

In the context of skin and hair care (which is kind of our thing), it means keeping your skin as close to its natural pH as possible. Skin and hair are slightly acidic, with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Contrary to Pinterest articles and misinformed aestheticians, pH balancing your skin and hair does NOT mean using alkaline or highly acidic products and ingredients. While it might be "healthy" for your body to be on an alkaline diet, the same is most definitely not true for your skin.

Here we tell you a little bit about how your skin actually works, and how using products with the incorrect pH, harsh cleaning agents, over-exfoliating, and under-moisturizing can all compromise your delicate skin barrier.

After reading this blog, you'll know exactly what to do to pH balance your skin and nurture your skin barrier for long term skin health and vibrance.

Signs of a Damaged Skin Barrier

Damaged Skin Barrier

Here's the scoop: the majority of skin problems come about because of AND/OR along with a damaged skin barrier. Yes, really. Here is a list of some of the most common signs of a damaged skin barrier:

  • inflammation and irritation
  • rashes and dermatitis
  • rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis
  • roughness, flakiness, peeling, and cracking
  • sensation of tightness
  • overly sensitive skin
  • stinging or burning sensation when applying products
  • increased breakouts
  • skin infections, especially with bacteria and fungi

How Your Skin Actually Works + Protects Your Body

Skin Barrier

The skin is the body's largest organ and it is responsible for protecting us from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, along with regulating body temperature and for the sensations of touch, heat, and cold.

The outermost layer of our skin is our stratum corneum, which sits atop our epidermis. The stratum corneum is our body's primary barrier between the delicate internal workings of our body and our environment. But guess what? The stratum corneum is not solely responsible for your skin's barrier function.

There are three factors that serve as skin's line of defense and actually allow skin to function as a barrier. All three of these elements make up what we colloquially call the "skin barrier:"

  1. The lipid layer is an extracellular lipid matrix located in the stratum corneum. The lipid layer is responsible for regulating water loss through the skin and physically prevent the entry of various pathogens.
  2. The acid mantle is a very fine, slightly acidic film on top of the stratum corneum that is a mixture of water-based and oil-based compounds. The acid mantle, when healthy, inhibits the absorption and growth of unhealthy bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pathogens. The acid mantle's pH is between 4.5 and 5.5.
  3. The microbiome is an ecosystem of microbes that lives on the surface of the skin, responsible for fighting and neutralizing pathogens and also educating our immune systems against potential threats.

The Biggest Culprits of Skin Barrier Damage

A healthy skin barrier requires a nourished lipid layer, a pH balanced acid mantle, and a diverse microbiome. Your skin barrier can be compromised by a number of factors.

There are 5 main culprits of skin barrier damage.To learn more about each, click on the links below.

  1. Products With An Incorrect pH. That means regularly using products outside of the ideal 4.5 to 5.5 pH range that our skin and hair are.
  2. Harsh Cleaning Agents. Stripping moisture is a sure-fire way to weaken your skin barrier.
  3. Exfoliating Too Much. Overuse of physical or chemical exfoliants is common, and it is a one-way ticket to destroy your stratum corneum and skin barrier.
  4. Not Adequately Moisturizing. This is especially common for those with oilier skin types, but it compromises your skin barrier, especially the lipid layer.
  5. Ignoring Gut Health + Circulation. The most effective way to nourish your microbiome is by what you are doing for your skin from the inside out.

To learn more about each of these culprits and what to do instead to nourish your skin and support your skin barrier, keep reading.

Damaged Skin Barrier Culprit #1: Products With Incorrect pH

pH of Skin Care Skin Barrier

You would think that most skin care - whether it's made by big companies, indie brands, or from a DIY recipe - would be pH balanced. I mean, aren't there experts formulating these things? Unfortunately, there is a LOT of skin care out there that is alkaline or highly acidic. Remember, pH balancing means using products as close to skin's natural pH of 4.5 to 5.5 as possible.

Any product with water-based ingredients has a pH. However, oil does not have a pH (so oil-only products don't have a pH). If you're buying skin care from a brand - big or small - ask what the pH of their products are, especially their face washes and toners. FYI - face washes and toners are some of the most common offenders when it comes to products with incorrect pH.

If a brand doesn't readily know their product pH, that's a bad sign that they don't know what they're doing with formulation. If the pH is over 6.5, look elsewhere.

Instead, look for a brand that knows their product pH levels like the back of their hand. Here at Bright Body, every single one of our products is pH balanced for that ideal pH of 4.5 to 5.5. We test and retest every single product before nailing the final formula, because we know how important pH is.

If you're DIY-ing your skin care, buy some pH strips and test any goodies before you apply them. Pro tip: do not even try to DIY using castile soap or baking soda (they are very alkaline), and never, ever apply undiluted apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to skin or hair (they are far too acidic on their own).

If you're looking for more guidance on DIY, sign up for our VIP List and you'll get our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide To Holistic Skincare, which includes a list of foolproof DIY ingredients and 9 recipes to get you started.

Damaged Skin Barrier Culprit #2: Harsh Cleaning Agents

Stripping moisture via the use of harsh and sudsy cleaning agents is a huge problem with many conventional skin care products. If you have oily skin, it can be especially tempting to use products that give you that straight-out-of-a-wind-tunnel feeling. We've been conditioned by the beauty industry to think that the "tight" and "squeaky clean" feeling is a good sign. But it's actually a sign that you are damaging your skin barrier.

Not only is stripping moisture bad in and of itself, but the reality is that most products that contain harsh cleaning agents are alkaline in pH. Plus, stripping oils helps no one, no matter your skin type. Stripping oily skin causes the oil glands to go into overdrive to keep up, while stripping dry skin leads to extra fragile and rough skin. Oil is not the enemy, it's an essential part of a healthy skin barrier.

Instead of using harsh cleaning agents, look for products that are non-sudsing and free of sulfates. Here at Bright Body, we use gentle, baby safe cleaning agents in pH balanced formulas in any of our wash products for hair and skin. You'll feel clean but not stripped of moisture for soft skin with a super healthy barrier. Curious? Learn more about our bestselling Ayurvedic Facial Washes, cult favorite Body Wash, and salon-approved Shampoos.

Damaged Skin Barrier Culprit #3: Over Exfoliating

Over exfoliating is another common problem when it comes to both the products we're using and our habits when it comes to skin care.

First, there's the issue of super harsh physical scrub exfoliants like the notoriously damaging St. Ive's Apricot Scrub, which causes microtrauma to the skin and leads to inflammation and serious skin barrier damage.

Then comes the issue of strong chemical exfoliants in high concentrations in so very many skin care products. The number of skincare companies including lactic, glycolic, salicylic, and other acids in every single step of their skin care line is disheartening. Using strong acids multiple steps of your routine is a guaranteed way to get irritated, angry skin and a damaged skin barrier.

Over exfoliation - whether you're using physical or chemical exfoliants - places undue stress on your stratum corneum (that outermost layer of skin which also contains your lipid layer). Continuously scrubbing or dissolving this layer of skin causes a host of problems:

  • promotes inflammation and irritation in the skin
  • disrupts the microbiome
  • can cause an increase in breakouts and clogged pores
  • leaves your skin vulnerable to pathogens

Instead, we recommend being more conservative when it comes to exfoliation. Different skin types will need a different frequency and type of exfoliant, but we've got you covered no matter what.

Always follow the 5 Cardinal Rules of Exfoliants:

  1. When using a physical exfoliant, let the granules do the work. You do not need to use any pressure when using a scrub.
  2. When using a chemical exfoliant, start use every other day (preferably at night) and pay attention to how your skin changes after 1-2 weeks. Increase usage slowly and gradually, 1 day/week at a time.
  3. Do not use a physical exfoliant and chemical exfoliant within the same routine.
  4. At most, use an exfoliating product (whether it's a physical or chemical exfoliant) 1X per day. More than that is definitely too much.
  5. If at any point in using a physical or chemical exfoliant you notice signs of a damaged skin barrier, decrease usage.

Here at Bright Body, we make only gentle physical and chemical exfoliants that help smooth, brighten, and renew without damaging your skin barrier.

Our Facial Exfoliant is a fine-grain physical exfoliant made from coconut sugar and 5 whole herbs, co-formulated with Master Aestheticians. Let the gentle granules do the work and reveal soft, smooth, and soothed skin.

Facial Exfoliant Organic Face Scrub

The Illuminating Tonic is a chemical exfoliant made with mandelic acid, the gentlest of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Mandelic acid is one of the few acids suitable for all skin types (even sensitive skin) because the larger molecule size does not sink into skin too deeply - it only exfoliates what is on the very surface. The Illuminating Tonic will leave your skin plump and soothed all while fading dark spots, treating, healing, and preventing acne, and improving overall luster.

The Illuminating Tonic Mandelic Acid Serum

Damaged Skin Barrier Culprit #4: Not Adequately Moisturizing

Not adequately moisturizing is another common error when it comes to skin care and a healthy skin barrier. This is an especially tempting pitfall for oilier skin types, who think that cutting back on moisturizer will minimize the greasy feeling. On the other end of the spectrum, dry skin types often underestimate how much moisture they need, especially in the colder, drier months.

If your skin is not adequately moisturized, you're setting yourself up for a whole bunch of problems. Under-moisturizing oily skin causes your skin to go into oil overproduction mode to try to restore balance. Under-moisturizing dry skin can cause your skin to weaken, flake, and crack, leaving your skin more vulnerable to the entrance of pathogens. 

The lipid barrier in your stratum corneum needs high quality moisture (oil) to remain healthy and strong and play its key role in supporting the skin barrier. The acid mantle also relies on moisture to continue doing its protective job.

Moisturizing with the right high-quality oils helps balance your skin's natural production of oils for a healthy lipid layer and skin barrier. Our popular moisturizers are our Ayurvedic Facial Oils and Ayurvedic Body Oils. Each is available in 3 types to accommodate the needs of your unique skin, balance your skin's oil production, and nourish your skin barrier.

Ayurvedic Facial Oils For Acne Facial Oil Anti Aging

Ayurvedic Body Oil Organic Body Oil

Another element of moisturizing for a healthy skin barrier is using hydrating (water-based) products. After all, our acid mantle contains both oil and water-based compounds, so we must nourish both for a healthy lipid barrier. Our all-time bestseller Hydrating Gel is a fast-absorbing water-based moisturizer that nourishes your acid mantle and keeps skin hydrated all day long.

Hydrating Gel Water Based Moisturizer

Damaged Skin Barrier Culprit #5: Ignoring Gut Health + Circulation

We've talked a lot about nourishing the lipid layer and the acid mantle, and we couldn't finish a blog on the skin barrier without more thoroughly addressing the microbiome.

While skincare containing probiotics is one way to support the skin microbiome, it is certainly not the only way nor is it the most effective way (by a long shot).

The best way to nourish your microbiome is by taking care of your skin from within by prioritizing healthy digestion and circulation of lymph and blood. For more information on holistic skincare from within, please read this blog.


We hope this was enlightening and helpful! As always, don't hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns you might have.

Until next time,

Gabi Day, Founder + CEO