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What Does It Really Mean to Have pH-Balanced Skin?

Ever since deodorant companies started using it in advertisements—“strong enough for someone else, but pH-balanced for you”—we were curious about pH. But truth be told, we were never gave it too much thought, until we discovered the pH of your skin can be an important factor outside of the underarm area.

If you’ve ever noticed that your complexion is looking slightly worse for wear, or is more dry or oily than usual, the pH (short for power of hydrogen) of your skin has probably been knocked off its kilter from environmental aspects, diet, or simply picking the wrong product. “Healthy, radiant skin with the proper pH has an even color and tone, very little to no redness, and no dry patches or flakes,” says Marisa Vara Arredondo, who founded Phace Bioactive after searching for a remedy when her own skin had become inflamed. As it turns out, the pH was the culprit, and Arredondo launched her line to fill the need for products that balanced both the acidic and alkaline levels in her skin.

“Skin, or at least the outermost layer of it, is slightly acidic. The acidic layer helps retain moisture, serve as a protective barrier, and inhibits inflammation from harmful chemicals and bacteria,” she explains. “If you use a soap that’s too alkaline, it will break up the acid in your skin, causing dryness and inflammation.” This could speed up signs of aging, so a product close to your skin’s own pH level of 4 to 5.5 is ideal.

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Unless you’re already using the Phace Bioactive line, most products don’t have the pH listed on the bottle, but many will have the term “pH optimized” printed somewhere on the label. If not, either grab litmus papers to test the exact levels in the products you use now, or ditch your current face wash for a cleanser that isn’t too harsh. Products that burn your skin are too acidic, ones that are overly-drying are too alkaline, and you’ll want to avoid anything that lists detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate, or emulsifiers like DEA, TEA, and MEA on the ingredient list.

Arredondo suggests that another easy way to achieve balance is to amp up your sun protection, perhaps by slathering on a day cream with SPF, like the Phace Bioactive Soothing Day Cream + Primer ($ 86; phacebioactive.com). Sun isn’t the only damaging culprit though.  Arredondo notes stress, lack of sleep, acidic food consumption and lack of exercise can all throw pH off track. It’s not just what goes on the face that matters, she claims. Per Arrendondo, go for foods “like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fruits, and avoid acid-forming villains like caffeine, sugar, dairy, meat, processed grains, yeast, and alcohol.” Balance here we come.

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