There is so much more information on the anatomy and biology of the skin, but I want to highlight why it is important from a cosmetics point of view.
The skin’s natural pH is around 5.5. Thanks to an advertising campaign and brand name of one of the multinationals, most people know this, but that is where the understanding and knowledge ends. Why does it matter? What effect does a different pH have on the skin?
Most cosmetics are in the pH range of 5 to 7. This is the ideal range for most products. The main reason you do not want to disturb the pH balance of your skin is that you want to protect the acid mantle, which is the barrier on your skin. The acid mantle is the surface layer on your skin. It is made up mainly of sebum and perspiration. This coating protects the skin from damage, including from sun and wind exposure, and from dehydration. It inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi, reducing the risk of acne, allergies, blemishes and other skin problems.
So, when you apply a product with a higher or lower pH, you disrupt this layer. This leads to damaged skin. Your skin will become dry and itchy, and could even become more sensitive. Long term use of higher or lower pH products leads to severe damage like eczema which becomes more difficult to treat.
It is very important to understand this. A lot of home remedies for skin care do not take this into account. This is where these home-made products fall short.
Let’s take a simple example of where many bloggers will say to use lemon juice on your skin as a toner, or apple cider vinegar. It’s acidic right? So it should be fine. No, it isn’t. It is too acidic. The pH ranges of lemon juice is around 2.5. That is much lower than 5.5. So, what are you doing? Destroying your acid mantle and causing skin damage. If you think of those chemical peels used in a salon, they are also around that pH, but in that environment it is being applied by a professional, and it is always followed by a neutralisation step to normalise the skin pH again. It is only on for a few minutes to activate the skin peeling. The neutralisation step is the most critical part.
Many home-made products are also not tested for pH. If you make a normal cream at home, with standard water from your tap, the product will come out at around pH 8. That is also too high. It may not feel bad on your skin, but over time you are damaging your skin.
The story that usually goes with these products is that, if you experience irritation initially, it’s only because your skin is detoxing from all the chemicals you have been putting on your skin. That is not the case. It is irritating because you are damaging your skin. Your skin in a healthy state detoxes itself daily. Irritation is a sign of something being wrong.
Many recipes in the book will have citric acid in them. This is to make sure the products that you make will be in the right pH range. As long as you are adding what is in the recipe, it will fall within the healthy range of pH 5 to 7. The worry has been taken care of for you. Simple.
The next thing that is important with cosmetics is that cosmetics are designed to only work on the surface of the skin. All these scary stories about the chemicals penetrating the skin and getting into the blood stream are also mostly false. Your skin is not a sponge that absorbs anything. It is actually very difficult to get anything to penetrate the skin. Just ask your pharmacist. That is why most effective medication is taken either in tablet form or injected. Topical creams do not have the same effect.
By legal definition, a cosmetic is also only allowed to work on the surface of the skin. If it goes further in then it must be registered as a medicine.
This is then also why, once you stop using a cosmetic, the effect goes away after a while. You have to keep using the products for them to continue to be effective as they cannot do any permanent changes to the skin.
The products that will go the deepest are the skin tone corrector type of products. They will work on the basal layer of the epidermis where the melanocytes are. These products reduce melanin production to even out skin tone. There are different ways that this is achieved but the basic result is lighter or more even skin.
This is a very general look at the types of products available. It does depend on what active is used and how it works as to where it goes in the skin.
Remember, in the beginning I said that there are no blood vessels in the epidermis. The epidermis is the contact point of the skin where cosmetics will be used and this is as far in as they will go. There may be some that will go into the dermis, but they will be carefully formulated as not only is it difficult to get into the dermis but there are blood vessels and the ingredients chosen will be chosen with the same care as pharmaceutical ingredients.
So, next time you read that scary blog about your cream giving you cancer, think again and consider the facts before the fiction. One of the things that really upsets me about some cosmetic companies is how they’ve used misinformation to market their own products rather than being ethical and actually educating their consumers on good choices versus spreading misinformation.