Often when we think of products, our first thoughts are active ingredients, antioxidants and what is currently trending in the industry. What we forget is that these ingredients are just a fraction of what it takes to formulate a product. This can create confusion and controversy among those who specialize in skin care, whether they be the manufacturers or the estheticians.
Choosing Skin Care
Ideally, when choosing any product, one should keep at the forefront that skin is an organ, the largest organ of the human body. It is intricately connected to our tissues, other organs and body systems. Having a clear understanding of what the largest organ needs to be healthy should be the starting point in product use. Topically duplicating what the body does internally will always result in fewer contraindications and healthier skin. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done due to there being so many products on the market and a plethora of opinions on what a “good” product looks like.
Knowing the difference between science and sales will assist in better decision-making. Many products are formulated to make the skin feel better and temporarily look better, and let’s not forget to also smell better. Taking a science-based perspective on product choice is where things get more interesting and require an education that is not merely treating the dead layers of skin, but rather the skin organ. More questions and research are involved because the skin is being affected at a deeper level (See Questions to Consider Sidebar).
Clearly, there’s much to consider. With that being said, there is one more detail in choosing a product that doesn’t get the attention that it should. This very important detail can be the culprit for problematic skin.
Related: Ionizing Ingredient Efficacy
What is pH?
We hear about it. We even learned about it in esthetic school, but do we understand the importance of pH? The term pH balance has been marketed in skin care commercials and on the skin care packaging labels for years. The role it plays with skin is a missing link in the industry. So, exactly what does pH mean, and why is it so important with the products you use and the results you achieve?
Let’s start with the meaning of pH. pH stands for the potential of hydrogen. Our body naturally has pH levels to keep our organs and body systems balanced and functioning. All body fluids maintain a pH balance that is responsible for our well-being. pH is measured on a scale of 0 (most acidic)–14 (most alkaline). In other words, it is the measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in any substance. The first pH scale was devised in the early 1900s by Danish chemist, Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen for measuring acidity and alkalinity. There are several tools offered to measure pHs such as pH strips, pH pencils and pH meters. Each has pros and cons regarding the exactness of the pH level of a given product and the cost can vary.
What Makes the pH of Our Skin?
Our skin has what we call our acid mantle. This acid mantle is formed when your skin secretes sebum and breaks down fatty acids. It is responsible for keeping our skin healthy and moisturized. It does this by repelling bacteria and toxins from harming us, as well as protecting our internal organs from the environment that we are surrounded by daily. It is our first barrier to the world we live in, and it is truly working every second of the day to keep us balanced so nothing can harm us. A healthy lifestyle of diet, sleep and stress control will contribute to keeping the skin balanced and vibrant. The body is continually striving to balance pH.
Because chemistry comes into play with pH levels, it can be confusing and perhaps intimidating, particularly, if one does not have a chemistry background. Although, this may be the case, it is imperative estheticians understand the pH levels of the products they are using on their client’s skin, as well as the pH of the products they are recommending for their clients to use for home care. The good news is you don’t have to be a chemist. Understanding and simplifying pH balance allows professionals to guide their client’s skin treatments and, more importantly, their proper daily skin care regimen.
Gina Marie McGuire is a licensed esthetician, president of GINAMARIE Products and Continuing Educations Inc. She has over 30 years of experience in the skin care industry and has been educating professionals and the consumer for the majority of her career.