Acid Mantle 101: Why It’s So Important & How to Keep It Happy
Aug 13, 2018
In your skincare journey, you may have heard of the “acid mantle” and how a whole lot of havoc can happen to your complexion if you disrupt it. But what exactly is the acid mantle and how do you keep it intact and healthy so that it can do what it’s supposed to do? Here, we break it down for you.
*taps mic* Is this thing on?
Today, I come to you with a bit of a science lesson about probably the most important part of your skin that you maybeeeee didn’t know about.
What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s just your good ol’ acid mantle. Oh, that gentle, dear acid mantle. Back when I was a skincare newb, I had no idea just how significant and important it was to make sure that your acid mantle is intact.
So raise your hands if you’ve ever experienced the following:
1. Inflamed, red, irritated skin, especially after washing or cleansing
2. Tight, dry, flaky skin
3. Acne and whiteheads
4. Sensitive skin that flips the eff out, no matter what you do
Well, I definitely raised my hand. Before I figured out what my acid mantle was and how important it is, my skin was a crazy, temperamental mess. One day it would be perfect, but the next it would explode. I thought this was normal. It is not.
So let’s dive in to Acid Mantle 101, shall we?
What IS your acid mantle?
Your acid mantle is the natural, protective film that covers and protects your skin. It’s made up of water, essential fatty acids, natural oils, and amino acids. Think of it like a barrier or a shield — like Captain America, but for your skin. Captain Acid Mantle, if you will.
Cool. What does it do!?
When Captain Acid Mantle’s shield is working 100%, it helps to protect the skin from bacteria, dirt, pollution, harsh chemicals, etc. When your acid mantle is at its best, you should experience glowing, dewy, firm, and most likely, acne-free skin. When your acid mantle has been compromised, bacteria and all those other nasties can more easily make their way into the other layers of your epidermis. A compromised acid mantle also means you can lose a lot of hydration, too. Sooo basically, bacteria + dirt + loss of hydration = a recipe for disaster. This is where that dry, irritated, acne-prone skin nonsense comes in.
So I heard that the pH of your skin affects your acid mantle. Is this true?
Yes! The pH of your skin is the most important factor in making sure your acid mantle is in tip-top shape. Let’s do a quick refresher.
A neutral pH is 7. Anything above a 7 is considered to be alkaline, and anything below 7 is considered acidic. Your skin naturally leans towards the acidic side, the ideal pH being around 5.5.
The thing is, a lot of us are using products and chemicals that continually raise the pH of our skin. Harsh, high pH cleansers, for example, raise the pH levels of your skin, which over time can cause a big disruption in your the acid mantle. The acid mantle wants to stay nice and cozy at a pH of 5.5. When you keep using products that “turn up the heat” (aka raising that pH), your acid mantle goes, “WHOA IT IS HOT IN HERE!” and flips out and throws all of the blankets off of the bed. And then, guess what? Your skin is just out there, exposed to all the elements. A MESS.
So you want to keep your acid mantle nice and happy by making sure that you are consistently keeping the pH of your skin at about 5.5.
I got it. So how do I do this?
Well, the first step to making sure that your acid mantle is happy is to ditch those harsh foaming cleansers that we all know and love. Listen, I LOVE a good foam on my cleanser, but the truth is, it most likely has a crazy high pH level. If you’re unsure, you can do a quick Google search of your current cleanser to see if anything pops up. If you’re next level, you can order pH strips and test on your own. If the pH is less than 4 or more than 6, it’s MAYBEEEE not the product for you.
The only time there is some wiggle room on this is when you are using a chemical exfoliant. For an AHA or BHA to properly exfoliate the skin, the pH of the product should be relatively low, around 4 to 2. This is why while chemical exfoliants are That Bitch, you can definitely overdo it. Have you ever used an AHA for like five days straight and your skin is like WTF GIRL WHAT. Yeah. That’s what’s happening there.
So in an ideal world, you would use a low pH cleanser like the Purito Defence Barrier pH Cleanser or the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser, do a bit of mild exfoliation with the BHA/AHA product of your choice (which will temporarily lower the pH of your skin), and then pile on the hydrating essences, serums, and moisturizers to bring the pH level of your skin back to that 5.5 sweet spot. Over time, your acid mantle will stay consistently happy, and this should result in balanced, clear, and beautiful skin. A happy acid mantle really makes ALL the difference in your skin.
And now it is time for you to go forth and prosper, acid mantle queens and kings. Let me know if these tips helped you! xoxoxoxo
Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.