What exactly is a pH level, and what is an “acid mantle?” Knowing the answers to these questions will help you become a smarter consumer—and ensure healthier skin for your child.
What is a pH level?
The term “pH” stands for “power of hydrogen,” and is used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution.
But if that sounds too complicated, all you have to remember is that you can tell how acidic (or not) a solution is by its pH level. The scale goes from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, and 14 being the most alkaline. In the middle is “7” which describes a “neutral” solution, neither acidic nor alkaline.
Solutions at the extremes of either end of the scale can be dangerous to humans, and can cause burns.
Here are some examples of acidic solutions:
Battery acid has a pH level of “0”.
Gastric acid, or stomach acids, have a pH level of “1”.
Lemon juice and vinegar have a pH level of “2”.
Orange juice and sodas have a pH level of “3”.
Here are some examples of more alkaline solutions:
Liquid drain cleaner has a pH level of “14”.
Oven cleaners have a pH level of “13”.
Soapy water has a pH of “12”.
In the middle, we have water, which has a pH of “7”.
So what does all this have to do with skin?
What is the Acid Mantle?
On the surface of the skin is a very thin, natural protective film that’s made up of sebum (skin oils), amino acids, fatty acids, lactic acid, water (from perspiration), and skin’s own natural moisture. This is called the skin’s “acid mantle.”
This layer is naturally acidic, with a pH level between 4.5 and 5.5. So that explains the “acid” part. “Mantle” means a type of cloak or envelope, so “acid mantle” is like an acidic cloak for the skin.
This layer is very important for the health of your child’s skin.
Here are a few of the things it does:
Fights off bacteria and viruses to reduce the risk of it getting under the skin.
Works with the skin’s own immune system to produce antigens that keep bad bacteria away.
Protects from environmental assaults like harsh weather and pollution.
Helps to keep skin hydrated.
It is obvious that we should do what we can to protect the acid mantle and help it thrive. Unfortunately, many cleansers do just the opposite.
How Some Cleansers Damage the Acid Mantle?
As you’ve seen above, “soapy” water is listed as a very alkaline solution, with a pH level of “12.” Compare that with the skin’s acid mantle pH level of between 4.5-5.5. Not a good match, is it? That’s the problem with most skin cleansers. They upset the natural pH balance of the skin.
Washing with soap and water or an unsuitable cleanser changes the skin’s naturally acidic pH to be more alkaline. This strips the skin of its natural moisture and fatty acids, disrupts the immune system, and leaves it vulnerable to attack by bacteria, viruses, pollution, and more.
Upsetting the pH balance also creates irritation, which can lead to redness and dry skin. When the acid mantle is messed up, bacteria find it easier to attack. Soaps and cleansers with detergents like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) damage the acid mantle and affect the skin’s moisture. Regular use can gradually wear away skin’s ability to regenerate a healthy acid mantle.
Symptoms of a Damaged Acid Mantle
How do you know if your child’s skin is suffering from a damaged acid mantle?
Here are some of the common symptoms:
Dryness and flaking.
Irritation and itching .
The Solution: pH-Balanced Cleansers
It is vitally important that the cleanser or body wash you choose for your baby’s delicate skin is pH balanced. Cleansers that are properly formulated to be slightly acidic, like skin’s acid mantle, work with the skin to cleanse without stripping, upsetting, and drying.
Though many cleansers and baby washes say they’re pH-balanced, be cautious. Some still have harsh detergents like SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) in them, which will work against the skin’s natural system.
If you or your child have dry and sensitive skin, it is even more important to choose an extra-gentle cleanser with a pH value of 5, and one that does not contain any harsh chemicals, sulphates or detergents.