“I’m worried about trying new skincare products. My skin is so sensitive, it can’t tolerate anything right now!”
“I don’t understand why my skin always feels tight after washing!”
When we’re not gentle with our skin’s acid mantle (skin barrier), we weaken it, potentially leaving skin sensitive, dry, red, flaky and prone to infection.
We want you to achieve the best skin of your life, so part of obtaining this is understanding what your skin’s acid mantle is and identifying whether the products you’re using are actually hurting your skin barrier more than helping it.
It’s such a common tale — you’ve just become a new skincare lover who’s discovered chemical exfoliation and decided to use acids and Vitamin C serum on the same day for a month.
And what’s the result? You end up over-exfoliating!
If there’s damage to the skin’s acid mantle over time, your skin’s ability to repair itself becomes compromised and the floodgates for a plethora of skin issues open. And bad skin can weigh on your mental health just as much as the physical.
So, before you apply BHA, AHA and Vitamin C every day for a week, let’s explain what the acid mantle is and how you can repair it if you’ve done some damage.
What is the Skin’s Acid Mantle?
The skin’s acid mantle is a naturally secreted protective film over your skin made up of natural oils, fatty acids, amino acids and lactic acid.
It goes by many names — your skin barrier, moisture barrier, acid mantle or hydro-lipid film. Despite the many names, they’re all referring to the skin’s protective barrier that provides an acidic environment to keep bacteria from forming.
Here’s what a healthy acid mantle does:
- Protects our skin from bacteria, fungi, viruses, diseases
- Protects skin from environmental pollutants
- Maintains the integrity of our skin’s moisture barrier and microbiome (i.e. the healthy bacteria on our skin)
Your Skin Moisture Barrier’s Health is Determined by its pH Level
It’s pretty strange to think about, but yes, our skin is naturally acidic, ranging from 4.5-6 pH, depending on the individual. Think back to chemistry class when you may have learned about pH, which stands for Potential of Hydrogen. This measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is, ranging from 1 to 14.
Your skin’s pH is impacted by your age, genetics, sweat, skin moisture along with external factors like the products and medications you’re using. But don’t take it from us. This study looked at the pH of the skin’s surface and how vital maintaining a healthy balance of it is for a well functioning acid mantle.
What’s more is that changes in our skin’s pH level are reported to play a vital role in skin diseases like acne, contact dermatitis, psoriasis and more.
In nutshell, researchers reveal that the acid mantle keeps our skin moisturized while preventing harmful bacteria from coming in. It’s also suspected to be important in secreting enzymes that are vital for breaking down excess sebum in the skin, keeping it renewed.
Now that we understand the role of our skin’s acidic pH, you might have some answers if your skin has been acting up lately and you can’t pinpoint why.
Are You Damaging Your Acid Mantle? The Causes and Symptoms
You know when you get the squeaky-clean, tight feeling on your face after cleansing? While the recommended double-cleanse gets rid of the build-up dirt, oil and pollutants on your skin, it’s never meant to make it feel tight or dry.
If that’s the sensation you’re getting, it’s time to re-think the cleansing products you’re using or the frequency of their use.
The same goes for exfoliating products – are you overusing them and noticing changes in your skin? Here are signs of a damaged skin moisture barrier and reasons why you might have them.
- Skin has become increasingly sensitive
- All of your products sting when you apply them
- Breakouts in places you never get them
- Dryness and flaky skin
- Scaly skin
If you’re experiencing these kinds of skin changes lately, take a look at the following list of ways the skin acid mantle can be compromised.
Do you recognize any of these factors, or been in any of these environments?
- Used harsh toners, isopropyl alcohol, makeup wipes containing alcohol
- Used harsh skincare products like scrubs and/or bar soap (alkaline 7+)
- Used a chemical exfoliant like a BHA/AHA very regularly
- Used multiple exfoliants for long periods of time
- Been in air-conditioned /central heating environments drying out skin
- Experienced harsh weather or pollution
- Hot showers and baths (can be very drying)
- Sun damage
If you’re thinking ‘yes’ to these symptoms and situations, the good news is that through much love and babying you CAN and will repair your skin’s moisture barrier.
This process can take weeks, and we know, you’re probably horrified right now at what’s happening, but don’t worry, we’re going to show you how so you can feel confident in your skin again.
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How to love your acid mantle: The do’s and don’ts of repairing your skin’s barrier
1. Re-evaluate the pH of your cleanser: Make sure your cleanser isn’t stripping. Studies show that you need to use pH appropriate cleansing products, especially those with a pH of about 5.5 (or generally ranging between 4.5 and 6.0). The skin’s pH happy zone is between 4.5 and 5.5. Avoid foaming cleansers that typically have ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate – they dry out your skin (a lot of shampoos also have this ingredient in them). This might be making your skin feel itchy and dry.
2. Allows Follow up with a Toner: If you’re wondering why so many high-pH cleansers are highly reviewed and recommended, it’s because all cleansers are going to be a little alkaline to be able to clean off the residue and dirt on your skin. What’s more important than the cleanser is to follow up with a toner to reset your skin’s pH balance after your cleansing step! Products usually write pH levels on their website or the bottle, or you can get a pH testing kit on Amazon.
3. Adopt a minimal skin routine: Go back to basics. Use a 1) cleanser, 2) hydrating toner and 3) moisturizer once a day (good ‘ol Aquaphor is amazing for damaged, dry skin – Reddit skincare lovers would agree!). You can also find a 5-step Korean skincare routine here.
4. Use face oils and barrier restoring ingredients: Plant-based oils rich in ceramides and linoleic acids such as rosehip seed oil, evening primrose oil and shea butter will help keep moisture in your skin. Squalane and niacinamide have barrier-supporting properties too.
5. Stop all treatments: I know it’s hard but you need to cut out all your cherished treatments like your Vitamin C, collagen eye cream or other anti-aging products.
6. Sunscreen: Your skin will be easily irritated if it’s damaged, so daily use of a sunscreen with SPF 30 should protect it.
7. Going forward, stop over-cleansing: Cleansing is an important part of all our skincare routines to remove makeup and grime and keep pores nice and clear. However, for some skin cleansing twice a day is just stripping away your skin’s essential oils.
8. Avoid fragrances: It’s a good idea to stop spraying fragrances or applying perfumed products until your skin is back to normal.
9. Don’t take long hot showers and baths: This is something we should always follow, as long, hot showers dry out your skin.
Following a simple skincare routine is going to improve your skin, as long as you don’t over cleanse, over scrub or over-exfoliate. Let us know how your skincare journey goes, follow us on Instagram @kiseu.co and show us your skincare success stories!