Doctor’s orders: Is the pH of your facial cleanser important?

Even if you don’t have a multi-step skincare routine at your disposal, a facial cleanser is a must. It’s as fundamental as soap for your body.

Washing your face should be a comfortable experience that leaves your skin feeling refreshed. Despite the connotation that cleansing is removing the build-up of oil, dirt and pollutants on the surface of your complexion, it’s never meant to make your skin feel overly tight or dry. If your face feels like someone’s trying to pull it to the back of your skull after each wash, there’s something very wrong with the cleanser you’re using.

The issue likely boils down to the fact that you’re using a cleanser with a pH that is too high, or too alkaline. Healthy skin has an acidic pH, ranging around 4.2 to 5.6. This is because your skin has an acid mantle that keeps the pH low. Your acid mantle is a film secreted by your sebaceous glands. This coats your skin to keep bacteria, including those that perpetuate acne, and other harmful substances out. Using a facial cleanser with a higher pH will subsequently disrupt your skin’s acid mantle, which, in turn, allows for bacteria to breed and cause complexion issues to worsen.

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importance of low ph cleanser
The Su:m 37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick is a popular low pH option, formulated with actual rose petals for gentle exfoliation. (Photo: Soko Glam)

“A high pH cleanser also contains a lot of detergent-based soaps, and this doesn’t just strip off dirt, but also moisturising oils from the skin, causing irritation,” explains Dr Naelong Wong of Hada Labo Taiwan. Those with dry skin ought to be cringing right about now.

It all sounds like fear-mongering babble. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Factoring this into your choice of facial cleanser would mean an added step to watch out for, and it’s not the easiest since a pH level isn’t something most brands readily include on the label.

The Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser is another favourite, and its incredibly gentle too. (Photo: Glossier)

Since a facial cleanser is the beginning of your skincare regimen, having something that’ll bolster, and not hinder your acid mantle could be the answer you need to absolving skin issues like acne. Luckily, quick Google searches easily draw up pH levels of a multitude of cleansers on the market. For those not willing to make the swap just yet, Dr Wong suggests that using a pH-adjusting toner can balance the skin after a wash.

In short, the pH of your cleanser and toner — the dynamic duo of bare minimum skincare — is important, and it’s borderline unavoidable. Be good to your acid mantle, and make the swap to a low pH facial cleanser, and see just how it improves your complexion over time.

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