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What pH means, and why it matters for your skincare

Do you have dry, tight, or flaky skin? This could be because your cleansers and moisturisers are too alkaline. Lynne Sanders, our founder and cosmetic scientist, explains what this means and recommends how to keep your skin in its natural balance.

“Our skin is naturally designed to fight infection and environmental stresses and its ability to do so is affected by its pH level.

As you might already know or remember from school days, pH is the measurement of acidity. The pH scale measures hydrogen concentration in aqueous (water-based) solutions on a scale from 1 to 14; 7 is neutral, anything over 7 (higher pH) is considered alkaline, under 7 (lower pH) is acidic.

Our skin has a thin, protective layer on its surface, called the acid mantle. This acid mantle is made up of sebum (comprised of free fatty acids) that are produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands, tiny ducts that lie next to the hair follicles.

The acid mantle serves to keep moisture in and stop the growth of harmful bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other pathogens, as well as maintain the durability and structural integrity of keratin proteins that are key to our cell structure and health.

To be most effective, the acid mantle should be the relatively acidic pH 5.5. Healthy skin bacteria, the “bacterial flora” that live around and on your skin cells, grow better in this acidic environment. They protect your skin by out-competing other invading microorganisms for resources.

Everything that our skin is exposed to, including some cosmetics, air pollution, cigarette smoke and sunshine, can disrupt the acid mantle.

When this happens, our skin becomes more prone to infection, acne, roughness, flaking, irritation, and dehydration. It is also thought that a non-optimal pH reduces skin's ability to ward off certain enzymes that destroy collagen and cause sagging and wrinkles.

Many bathroom staples including cleansers, soaps and moisturisers can be alkaline with a pH of 9 or 10. The foaming agents sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are frequently used in shampoo, hand soap and dishwashing detergent, and make your skin feel “squeaky clean” but in doing so they strip it of its acidic mantle.

This is why Cosmetics à la Carte does not offer a foaming cleanser and our entire range is sulphate-free.

Equally, strongly acidic chemical peels or scrubs that use salicylic or lactic acid in high concentrations can result in your skin becoming too acidic, creating other problems.

Instead of pushing your skin too far up or down the pH scale, support your skin’s natural protection with a pH-balanced (pH 5.5) product like Cosmetics à la Carte rose micellar water Total Lift Off to remove eye and face make-up gently. Here, a gentle non-foaming botanically derived cleanser from meadowfoam seed oil acts within a hydrating, pH-balanced solution to remove impurities and light make-up gently while maintaining the acid mantle.


If you have to use stronger cleansing agents to remove heavy, waterproof or long-wear make-up, and ensure skin does not get clogged, we recommend using pH-balanced Double Duty dual-phase cleanser or cleansing lotion Creamy Deep Cleanser, rebalanced with gently acidic facial rinse and toner Rosewater Tonic (pH 5.5), boosted with calming Rose Otto.

Follow up your cleansing and help strengthen the skin’s mantle with pH-balanced moisturisers like Rose Dew hyaluronic primer and moisturiser to the face, and Hydralift Eye Serum around the eye area.

And then, boost your skin’s acid mantle with natural plant oils high in the fatty acids that are essential for maintaining the skin’s barrier function. Cosmetics à la Carte Radiance Restoring Rose Oil contains Rose Hip, Rose Otto, Jojoba and Grapeseed Oils naturally rich in linoleic and oleic acids.

This information should not discourage anyone from wearing make-up and using skincare of a different pH than natural skin. A healthy skin will make its own adjustments without intervention. But if skin is challenged in any way, pH balance is one way to get skin feeling happier again, and enjoy a beautiful complexion.”