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The Highs and Lows of pH

By: Kirsten Sheridan
Posted: June 9, 2008

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Although one of the most recognized mechanisms of the acidic stratum corneum is antimicrobial defense, that is only part of the story. Acidity plays a major role in restricting the initiation of the inflammatory response within the skin. Clients with skin diseases and disorders such as dermatitis display an elevated pH level. This is apparent in clients with inflammation, either from disease or from trauma. An elevated pH can stimulate cytokine activation; however, this alone does not create inflammation.

The acidity created by the acid mantle plays a role in preventing premature desquamation of the stratum corneum. In addition, it is essential in the formation of the epidermal permeability barrier.

Despite fantastic ingredients, new technology, education and a health-conscious world, there still are people who damage their stratus corneum—from skin pickers to soap junkies who can strip and dry the skin’s natural defenses by using harsh exfoliants, drying cleansers or too many products. Soap has an alkaline pH, which, when used regularly, dries the skin and leaves it feeling tight, as well as disrupts the acid mantle. Fortunately, this mantle is somewhat resilient and can repair itself in a matter of hours, but constant, prolonged abuse becomes increasingly difficult to repair.

To ensure a healthy, balanced protective barrier, selecting the right products is essential. Beginning with the cleansing process, advise clients to use a pH-balanced cleanser. This will go a long way toward ensuring the health of the skin. Manufacturers often add buffers to a formulation in order to counteract the negative effects of an alkaline pH, creating a pH value that is as close to healthy skin as possible. Clients should be encouraged to use pH-balanced products.

However, there are instances during skin care treatments in which the acidic environment created by the acid mantle hinders the body’s ability to gain the desired results. For example, this occurs when performing desincrustation. Whether done manually or by utilizing the negative polarity of galvanic current, a desincrustation solution should be used. These are slightly alkaline in nature, so they soften and dilate the follicles, making manual extractions easier. Built-up dirt and debris in the follicles are softened by a process called saponification. However, after performing extractions, it is essential to return the skin to its naturally balanced pH range, tightening the follicles and restoring the acid mantle to its former glory. Using the positive pole of galvanic or applying a product designed to rebalance the skin’s pH can achieve this.

Measuring pH