Skin pH and Skin Care Products

A balanced skin pH is very important for healthy skin. The pH of skin care products will alter your skin's pH. You can restore your acid mantle by using the right skin skin care products for your Baumann Skin Type.

I often see patients in my dermatology practice who have acne or rosacea flares because their skin pH is out of balance. Adjusting their skin care products to restore pH balance can solve this.

There is a lot to know about skin pH!

The bottom line is- pH matters and you need to build a skin care routine with both your skin type and pH in mind.

We can help! Our dermatologist developed custom skin care regimens take pH into account when we choose products for your custom routine.  

All you need to do is take the 3-5 min quiz and then we will help you build a skin care routine from many different skin care brands.

regimen steps affect skin pH

What is pH?

The pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a substance is.

The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, like water.

A pH lower than 7 is acidic and a pH higher than 7 is basic. 
The scale is logarithmic, so each number is 10 times more acidic or basic than the next number.

For example, a pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 7. A small change in pH can have a big impact on your skin.

Why does pH matter?

The skin’s condition and health is directly impacted by pH. Skin concerns can be made worse when the pH is out of balance

The skin's pH matters for many reasons.  When pH is outside of an acceptable range, enzyme function is altered. The acid mantle that protects skin depends upon pH helps to keep skin healthy

The acid mantle affects the ability to neutralize alkaline-based aggressors

and can inhibit or stimulate the growth of bacteria and  maintains the skin microbiome.

Both very high (over 13) and very low pH (under 2)  substances can cause a chemical burn on the skin.

pH meter to measure skin pH

pH and your skin

The pH of skin ranges from 4-6. A normal skin pH is around 4.7, which means it is slightly acidic. The normal pH of the skin—what we usually call the “acid mantle”  is usually below 5 because of different passive and active processes in the skin. (26,27) Some things we know contribute to the skin's low surface pH are lactic acid, which is naturally found in sweat and is produced during metabolic processes in the epidermis [38], and free fatty acids formed when lipids are broken down during the process of keratinization (39,40,41,42). Microbes on the skin also help maintain the acidity that provides the right conditions for many skin enzymes, while at the same time defending against pathogens (40).

 There is a a big difference in pH between the skin and the rest of the body. The external skins pH is around 4.7 while the body’s internal environment has a near-neutral pH of 7-9.

pH chart

Benefits of Acidic Skin

Healthy skin has a slightly acidic pH which is important for normal skin function.

This low pH benefits the skin in these ways:

• Protects against harmful organisms
• Maintains a healthy skin barrier
• Normalizes desquamation and exfoliation
Normalizes keratinization preventing clogged pores

What Can Change the pH of Skin?

The pH of the skin can be affected by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors include age, race, gender, body sites, and biochemical differences. (19)

Exogenous factors such as detergents, cosmetic products, occlusive dressings, and topical antibiotics also influence skin pH. (20)

How skin care affects skin pH

Skin care ingredients  or substances that have a high pH, like baking soda or soap, can disturb your skin barrier and dry out your skin.

Skin care product or substances that are very acidic, like lemon juice or vinegar, can cause stinging, burning, dyskeratinization, sensitive skin and acne. 

It is important to pay attention to the pH of the skin care products you use on your skin.

For example, vitamin C serums need to have a pH of 2 or 2.5 to be effective. However, this is acidic and can cause stinging for people with sensitive skin.

Hydroxyacid products are usually a pH of 3.5-4. Moisturizers are often a higher pH than 6, if they do not contain acid.

Every product that you put on your skin affects your skin's pH.

It is important to choose products that are right for your Baumann Skin Type.


How skin care products affect your skin’s pH

Cleansers only affect the skin's pH for less than 10 minutes. Leave-on products affect the skin pH the moist.

How particular products can change your skin's pH:

1. Moisturizers are often a higher pH than skin 
2. Foaming cleansers tend to carry a higher pH than skin
3. Cream Cleansers often have a pH higher than skin

What pH Should Skin Care Products Be?

A neutral pH for a skin care product is around 5.5.

The pH that you want your skin care products to be depends on many factors such as:

  • Your Baumann Skin Type

  • What product type (cleanser vs serum vs moisturizer vs sunscreen)

  • What skin care products come after it

pH strips to measure skin care product pH

How do cleansers affect skin pH?

All cleansers affect the skin’s pH, but it returns to normal within minutes to hours. (43-45)
Cleansers can be classified based on the type of surfactant or detergent used, so not all cleansers affect the skin pH the way way.  These types of cleansers have differing effects on skin pH:

  • Cleansers with non-soap-based surfactants are called “syndets” and are generally neutral or acidic (pH ≤ 7). 
  • Soap-based cleansers are typically alkaline (pH 10) and have a higher potential to irritate skin than syndets.
  • High-pH soaps can increase skin swelling and lipid rigidity.

Hand washing with soap can increase the pH on the palms by a mean of 3 units and this change can last for 90 minutes after washing. (11) 
Small and sustained pH increases from daily use of soap-based cleansers can adversely affect the skin’s barrier repair mechanism.

A study (10) found a significant correlation between the alkaline pH of cleansers and skin irritation. (1)

Popular cleansers and their pH:

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser pH = 5.3

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser pH= 6.2

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser pH = 5.5

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel pH= 5.5

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser pH= 5.5

SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser = pH 3.5

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser = 5.5

SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser = 5.5

Moisturizers and Skin pH

Moisturizers contain oils and waxs and other ingredients that determine the moisturizer's pH.

Moisturizers are left on so they have a great effect on the skin's pH.

What is a pH balanced moisturizer?

A pH-balanced moisturizer is usually a pH between 5-7 which is close to the pH skin and will not alter it dramatically.

Hydroxyacid moisturizers

There are many types of hydroxyacid moisturizers.

The pH of these moisturizers depends upon many things such as:
• The type of hydroxy acid
• The pKa of the hydroxyacid
• Concentration of the hydroxyacid
• Presence of buffering ingredients

Not all hydroxyacids are a low pH, but most are.

Examples of hydroxyacid moisturizers:

Serums and pH

Serums can change the skin's pH.

The pH of the skin also affects how well serums work, especially vitamin C serums.

This is why the way you layer products in your skin care routine matters!

These are the best pH levels for different types of serums:
• Vitamin C serum pH = 2.5-3.5. (closer to 2.5 absorbs better)
• Retinol serums pH= 5.0-6.0
• Hyaluronic acid serum pH = 5.0-5.5
• Niacinamide pH= 6-7.5 (higher or lower it converts to nicotinic acid)

Oils and pH

The pH of oils varies depending upon the oil type.

Here are some pH levels for natural oils used on the skin

Almond Oil pH = 5.5

Coconut oil pH = 7-8

Evening Primrose Oil pH = 7.5

Jojoba Oil pH= 4.5-5

pH in babies is higher than adults

Babies and skin pH

Newborns have a higher pH than adults and older children.
This elevated pH increases the activity of certain enzymes that help with the shedding of skin cells. As the baby’s skin pH decreases over time, other enzymes that help with skin hydration become more active. The average pH of a newborn’s skin is 7.08, which is higher than the average adult pH of 4.7 -5.7.

The pH of a baby’s skin decreases quickly in the first few days after birth and then more slowly over time. By 90 days old, the pH of a baby’s skin is similar to that of an adult. The pH can vary on different parts of the body and can be affected by things like diaper use and climate. Eczema and diaper dermatitis are common skin problems in babies and occur in areas with higher pH values.

After birth, babies have higher pH levels on their skin. (1)

Skin Conditions and the Effects of pH

Acne and skin pH

Sebum production levels do not seem to affect skin pH in acne patients. However, products that acne patients use to treat acne alter the skin’s pH.
For example, products with salicylic acid are often used to treat acne. They work by clearing pores and by lowering the skin’s pH.

Laboratory tests, have shown that the acne causing bacteria C. acnes grows well at pH values between 6 and 6.5 but its growth is reduced at pH values less than 6.

This is why low pH cleansers are good products to use when you have acne.

In a study of people with acne-prone skin, the number of facial inflammatory lesions was compared between those using an alkaline soap and those using an acidic syndet bar. After 4 weeks, the number of inflammatory lesions increased in the group using the alkaline soap and decreased in the group using the acidic syndet bar. (9) This very clearly demonstrates that the face wash you use to treat acne matters!

One study (29) looked at the differences in skin type and pH between people with and without acne. They also looked at the relationship between oil production and pH in these groups. They measured oil levels and pH on five areas of the face in 36 Koreans with acne and 47 Koreans without acne.

There was no difference in skin type or pH between the two groups. Oil levels were negatively related to pH on the cheeks in people with acne.

Aging Skin and pH

Older people have higher skin pH and reduced ability to balance pH. This can lead to a decrease in ceramides, which are important for skin barrier function. Higher pH can also increase the activity of enzymes that break down barrier lipids. Enzymes that make skin barrier lipids often need a low pH. (23)

Eczema and pH

A study of 100 children with eczema found that their skin had a higher pH than the skin of 21 healthy children.

The pH was higher in both eczema-affected skin and unaffected skin. Other studies have found similar results. (1)

There are several reasons why the pH of eczema-affected skin might be higher

There may be a reduction in certain amino acids and proteins that help create an acidic environment on the skin.

Sweat secretions, which contain lactic acid, may also be reduced in people with eczema.

Inflamed skin has a higher pH than normal skin. (33)

The impaired barrier function seen in eczema can be partially caused by changes in the synthesis and maturation of skin lipids, which depend on enzymes with an acidic pH.

People with eczema often have higher levels of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus on their skin. This bacteria grows best at a neutral pH and is inhibited at a pH of around 5.

The structure of Staphylococcus enterotoxins is also affected by pH. At a pH of 5, the structure of Staphylococcus enterotoxin C2 deviates from its normal form.

In laboratory tests, the adhesion of Staphylococcus aureus to human skin cells increased with increasing pH.

Skin pH affects the skin barrier several ways:

The skin barrier is greatly affected by pH changes.

These are the ways that pH affects the barrier:

enzyme activity changes

less orthorhombically packed lipids which weakens the barrier

decreases production and maturation of lipids

Itching and skin pH

Higher pH values are found in areas of skin with intense itching.
Serine proteases can cause itching by activating certain receptors in the skin. This can lead to further damage from scratching.

Skin stinging and pH

Studies have not shown a difference in pH between skin that stings upon exposure to lactic acid vs those that do not sting. (35)

Is the pH different in various areas of the body?

The pH of skin can vary depending on the area of the body.

Some areas, like the armpits and groin, have a higher pH than other areas. This can lead to the growth of bacteria that cause body odor. Deodorants with citrates can help reduce pH and prevent odor.
The chin area is believed to have the highest pH on the face. The forehead and upper eyelids have the lowest pH on the face. (33)

Do darker skin types have the same pH as lighter skin types?

Skin color can correspond with skin pH.
Darker skin has a more acidic pH than lighter skin. Skin of Color has better barrier function because darker skin has more lipids partially due to the lower pH.

A study has shown that darkly pigmented individuals (Fitzpatrick IV–V) have significantly more acidic surface pH compared to lightly pigmented subjects (Fitzpatrick I–II) (pH 4.6 ± 0.03 vs. 5.0 ± 0.04). (33)

Darker skin also has superior skin barrier function and integrity due to increased epidermal lipid content, increased lamellar body density, and lower pH.

Skin Microbiome and pH

The skin has different types of bacteria living on it. Some stay for a short time, some stay for a longer time, and some stay permanently.

These bacteria grow best when the skin is slightly acidic.

Bad bacteria, like S. aureus, grow better when the skin is neutral.

Sweat contains a substance called dermicidin that can kill bad bacteria. It works better when the skin is more acidic. Sweat also contains nitrate which can turn into nitrite and kill bad bacteria in an acidic environment. (25-28)

How to know if your skin’s pH is off?

Excessive dryness, peeling, eczema, itching, and acne have all been associated with pH disturbances in the skin.

Symptoms of a pH disturbance in your skin:
• Acne
• Clogged pores
• Dull skin
• Flaking, scaling, rough skin
• Increase susceptibility to skin allergies
• Sandpaper rash on the skin
• Skin irritation
• Skin purging
• Skin rash
• Stinging
• Sudden inability to tolerate skin care routine

How long does it take to return the skin's pH to normal?

How long it takes for the skin pH to return to normal depends upon what caused the pH change in the first place.

The use of plain tap water to cleanse the skin can increase skin pH up to 6 hours after application before returning to its natural value of on average below 5.0. (21)

Damage to the skin barrier such as that caused by soap or irritating foaming cleansers leads to an increase of pH that can take many hours for the skin pH to return to normal levels. (22)

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

How to restore and balance the skin's pH naturally?

The healthier you are, the more balanced your skin’s pH will be. These steps can help balance skin pH: • Healthy diet • Reduce stress • Sleep 7+ hours a night • Do not use soap on your skin • Avoid the sun • Wear SPF in the sun and always make sure you use the correct products for your Baumann Skin Type!

How to test the pH of skin care products.

The cheapest way is with litmus paper but it is not as precise as the pH meter we discuss in this blog.

How to lower skin pH?

Don't use soap to wash your face. Instead use a low pH cleanser such as a glycolic acid cleanser.

Why is skin acidic?

This blog discusses all the reason for the skin's pH, but one of the main reason that skin is acidic is lactic acid that is produced by eccrine sweat glands.

How to treat acidic skin?

Rethink your skin care routine and make sure you are using the right skin care routine for your skin type. Changing your moisturizer to one with more fatty acids will help increase skin pH.

What pH will burn skin?

A pH 1 or lower and 14 or higher will cause a bad burn. I do not recommend that you use any skin care products lower than a pH of 2.5 or higher than a pH of 11.

Best References and Scientific Publications on skin pH and pH of skin care products:

  1.  Ali, S. M., & Yosipovitch, G. (2013). Skin pH: from basic science to basic skin care. Acta dermato-venereologica, 93(3), 261-267
  2.  Gunathilake R, Schurer NY, Shoo BA, Celli A, Hachem JP, Crumrine D, Sirimanna G, Feingold KR, Mauro TM, Elias PM. pH-regulated mechanisms account for pigment-type differences in epidermal barrier function. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Aug;33(4):312-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2494.2010.00644.x].
  3. Seidenari S, Giusti G. Objective assessment of the skin of children affected by atopic dermatitis: a Study of pH, capacitance and TEWL in eczematous and clinically uninvolved skin. Acta Derm Venereol 1995; 75: 429–433.
  4. Eberlein-König B, Schäfer T, Huss-Marp J, Darsow U, Möhrenschlager M, Herbert O, et al. Skin surface pH, stratum corneum hydration, trans-epidermal water loss and skin roughness related to atopic eczema and skin dryness in a population of primary school children. Acta Derm Venereol 2000; 80: 188–191.
  5.  Sparavigna A, Setaro M, Gualandri V. Cutaneous pH in children affected by atopic dermatitis and in healthy children: a multicenter study. Skin Res Technol 1999; 5: 221–227.
  6.  Krien PM, Kermici M. Evidence for the existence of a selfregulating enzymatic process within the human stratum corneum: an unexpected role for urocanic acid. J Invest Dermatol 2000; 115: 414–420.
  7.  Steinhoff M, Neisius U, Ikoma A, Fartasch M, Heyer G, Skov PS, et al. Proteinase-activated receptor-2 mediates itch: a novel pathway for pruritus in human skin. J Neurosci 2003; 23: 6176–6180.
  8.  Korting HC, Braun-Falco O. The effect of detergents on skin pH and its consequences. Clin Dermatol 1996; 14: 23–27. 72. 
  9. Korting HC, Ponce-Pöschl E, Klövekorn W, Schmötzer G, Arens-Corell M, Braun-Falco O. The influence of the regular use of a soap or an acidic syndet bar on pre-acne. Infection 1995; 23: 89–93.
  10. Baranda L, González-Amaro R, Torres-Alvarez B, Alvarez, C, Ramírez V. Correlation between pH and irritant effect of cleansers marketed for dry skin. Int J Dermatol 2002; 41: 494–499.
  11.  Rippke F, Schreiner V, Schwanitz HJ. The acidic milieu of the horny layer: New findings on the physiology and pathophysiology of skin pH. Am J Clin Dermatol 2002; 3: 261–272.
  12.  Rawlings AV, Davies A, Carlomusto M, Pillai S, Zhang K, Kosturko R, et al. Effect of lactic acid isomers on keratinocyte ceramide synthesis, stratum corneum lipid levels and stratum corneum barrier function. Arch Dermatol Res 1996; 288: 383–390. 
  13.  Imokawa G, Abe A, Jin K, Higaki Y, Kawashima M, Hidano A.Decreased levels of ceramides in stratum corneum of atopic dermatitis: an etiological factor in atopic dry skin? J Invest Dermatol 1991; 96: 523–526. 
  14. Yamamoto A, Serizawa S, Ito M, Sato Y. Stratum corneum lipid abnormalities in atopic dermatitis. Arch Dermatol Res 1991; 283: 219–223. 
  15. Sasai-Takedatsu M, Kojima T, Yamamoto A, Hattori K, Yoshijima S, Taniuchi S, et al. Reduction of Staphylococcus aureus in atopic skin lesions with acid electrolytic water: a new therapeutic strategy for atopic dermatitis. Allergy 1997; 52: 1012–1016. 
  16.  Kubota K, Machida I, Tamura K, Take H, Kurabayashi H, Acta Derm Venereol 93 Skin pH: Basic science to basic skin care
  17.  Akiba T, Tamura J. Treatment of refractory cases of atopic dermatitis with acidic hot-spring bathing. Acta Derm Venereol 1997; 77: 452–454.
  18.  Fluhr, J., Bankova, L., & Dikstein, S. (2006). Skin surface pH: mechanism, measurement, importance. Handbook of Non-Invasive Methods and the Skin. Boca Raton, CRC, 411-420.
  19. Farage, M. A., Hood, W., Berardesca, E., & Maibach, H. (2018). Intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting skin surface pH. In pH of the Skin: Issues and Challenges (Vol. 54, pp. 33-47). Karger Publishers.
  20.  Schmid-Wendtner, M. H., & Korting, H. C. (2006). The pH of the skin surface and its impact on the barrier function. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 19(6), 296-302.
  21. Lambers, H., Piessens, S., Bloem, A., Pronk, H., & Finkel, P. (2006). Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. International journal of cosmetic science, 28(5), 359-370.
  22. Proksch, E. (2018). pH in nature, humans and skin. The Journal of dermatology, 45(9), 1044-1052.
  23.  Choi, E. H., Man, M. Q., Xu, P., Xin, S., Liu, Z., Crumrine, D. A., ... & Mauro, T. M. (2007). Stratum corneum acidification is impaired in moderately aged human and murine skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 127(12), 2847-2856.
  24.  Leyden JJ, Stewart R, Kligman AM. Updated in vivo methods for evaluating topical antimicrobial agents on human skin. J Invest Dermatol 72: 165–170, 1979. 
  25.  Korting HC, Hubner K, Greiner K, Hamm G, BraunFalco O. Differences in the skin surface pH and bacterial microflora due to the long-term application of synthetic detergent preparations of pH 5.5 and pH 7.0. Results of a crossover trial in healthy volunteers. Acta Derm Venereol 1990; 70: 429–431. 
  26. Schittek B, Hipfel R, Sauer B, Bauer J, Kalbacher H, Stevanovic S, et al. Dermicidin: a novel human antibiotic peptide secreted by sweat glands. Nat Immunol 2001; 2: 1133–1137.
  27. Chikakane K, Takahashi H. Measurement of skin pH and its significance in cutaneous diseases. Clin Dermatol 1995; 13: 299–306. 
  28. Weller R. Price RJ. Ormerod AD. Antimicrobial effect of acidified nitrite on dermatophyte fungi, Candida and bacterial skin pathogens. J Appl Microbiol 2001; 90: 648–652
  29. Kim, M. K., Choi, S. Y., Byun, H. J., Huh, C. H., Park, K. C., Patel, R. A., ... & Youn, S. W. (2006). Comparison of sebum secretion, skin type, pH in humans with and without acne. Archives of dermatological research, 298, 113-119.
  30.  Hachem, J. P., Crumrine, D., Fluhr, J., Brown, B. E., Feingold, K. R., & Elias, P. M. (2003). pH directly regulates epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis, and stratum corneum integrity/cohesion. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 121(2), 345-353.
  31. Plasencia, I., Norlén, L., & Bagatolli, L. A. (2007). Direct visualization of lipid domains in human skin stratum corneum's lipid membranes: effect of pH and temperature. Biophysical journal, 93(9), 3142-3155.
  32. Bonté, F. (2011, May). Skin moisturization mechanisms: new data. In Annales pharmaceutiques francaises (Vol. 69, No. 3, pp. 135-141). Elsevier Masson
  33.  Proksch, E. (2018). pH in nature, humans and skin. The Journal of dermatology, 45(9), 1044-1052.
  34. Issachar, N., Gall, Y., Borfll, M. T., & Poelman, M. C. (1997). pH measurements during lactic acid stinging test in normal and sensitive skin. Contact dermatitis, 36(3), 152-155
  35.  An, S., Lee, E., Kim, S., Nam, G., Lee, H., Moon, S., & Chang, I. (2007). Comparison and correlation between stinging responses to lactic acid and bioengineering parameters. Contact dermatitis, 57(3), 158-162.
  36. Schade, H.; Marchionini, A. Der Säuremantel der Haut (Nach Gaskettenmessungen). Klinische Wochenschr. 1928, 7, 12–14. 
  37. Surber, C.; Humbert, P.; Abels, C.; Maibach, H. The Acid Mantle: A Myth or an Essential Part of Skin Health. In PH of the Skin: Issues and Challenges; Karger Publishers: Berlin, Germany, 2018; Volume 54, pp. 1–10.
  38.  Ohman, H.; Vahlquist, A. The pH gradient over the stratum corneum differs in X-linked recessive and autosomal dominant ichthyosis: A clue to the molecular origin of the “acid skin mantle”? J. Investig. Dermatol. 1998, 111, 674–677
  39. Lambers, H.; Piessens, S.; Bloem, A.; Pronk, H.; Finkel, P. Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2006, 28, 359–370. 
  40. Sfriso, R.; Egert, M.; Gempeler, M.; Voegeli, R.; Campiche, R. Revealing the secret life of skin—with the microbiome you never walk alone. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2020, 42, 116–126.
  41. Fluhr, J.W.; Kao, J.; Jain, M.; Ahn, S.K.; Feingold, K.R.; Elias, P.M. Generation of free fatty acids from phospholipids regulates stratum corneum acidification and integrity. J. Investig. Dermatol. 2001, 117, 44–51. 
  42. Elias, P.M. Stratum corneum acidification: How and why? Exp. Dermatol. 2015, 24, 179–180. 
  43. J. Blaak, P. Staib, The relation of pH and skin cleansing. Curr. Probl. Dermatol. Basel, Karger. 54, 132–142 (2018).
  44. U. Assmus, B. Banowski, M. Brock, J. Erasmy, A. Fitzner, U. Kortemeier, S. Langer, S. Munke, H. Schmidt-Lewerkühne, D. Segger et al., Impact of cleansing products on the skin surface pH. IFSCC Magazine. 16, 17–24 (2013)
  45. .Hawkins, S., Dasgupta, B. R., & Ananthapadmanabhan, K. P. (2021). Role of pH in skin cleansing. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 43(4), 474-483.

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