Understanding skin health and how it functions is the key to healthy glowing skin. In part one of breaking down skin health and understanding the skin barrier we began by sharing the function of our barrier and what it does to help protect your overall health. Essentially, it’s the first line of defense against environmental factors that could enter your system.
Part of our skin barrier includes an important character that plays a huge role in helping your skin protect you from harmful invaders: the acid mantle, sometimes called the microbiome of the skin. This essential part of your skin barrier is vital to keeping out bacteria, pathogens, viruses but also keeping your skin moisturized and preventing transdermal water loss.
Let’s take a look at this invisible hero and why you want to care for and protect this essential character of our skin.
What is the acid mantle?
Our acid mantle is a thin film on the skin’s outer layer, composed of sweat and sebum secretions mixed with amino acids, lactic acid, fatty acids, and more. This blend creates a mildly acidic environment that serves as the skin's primary defense against potential irritants such as bacteria, viruses, and pollution. The acidity also restricts the growth of harmful microbes that prefer a more neutral pH. Our acid mantle sits on our skin with an average pH of 5.5. When the acid mantle is compromised, which can occur when the skin's pH rises or falls, it can lead to various skin symptoms and more serious skin issues.
How does the acid mantle work to protect you?
A healthy acid mantle is important for many vital functions. It helps the skin retain moisture and nutrients, keeping it hydrated and nourished. The natural acidic environment helps key skin proteins maintain their optimal structure, such as ceramides (the building blocks of our skin) that need to be structurally sound to form a protective barrier. The acidity also promotes desquamation, the shedding of dead skin cells to reveal fresh new ones, which is driven by enzymes that require a lower pH to activate properly.
Debunking popular skin myths and what to do instead
Skin Myth: Over-washing or using soaps will help to dry out the skin preventing pimples and bumps on the skin.
Overusing alkaline soaps and harsh surfactants can destroy the acidity, remove beneficial oils, and cause irritation. Inviting bacteria, viruses, pathogens that can cause many symptoms of a disrupted barrier. To protect the acid mantle, we recommend using gentle, low-pH cleansers that won't disrupt the skin's natural flora like our pH balanced face washes: Daily Face Wash, Renewing Face Wash, Gentle Cleanser, and Essential Enzymes. A friendly reminder to avoid sleeping in makeup and sunscreen which can also disrupt your barrier.
Skin Myth: Oily skin should avoid using oils in their skincare at all costs!
Contrary to popular belief, oily skin can use oils in a skincare regimen, you just want to use the right ones for your skin! Our Balancing Oil Cleanser is an acid mantle’s BFF especially for oily, sebaceous skin to help balance out sebum. Instead of rinsing away the natural oils on your skin with soaps, you’re only removing excess sebum, cleaning clogged pores and removing makeup, debris and SPF with ease. The biggest difference you may notice when you first start oil cleansing is not feeling that “squeaky clean” sensation that you get from using traditional soaps. But it’s not a bad thing! It means that the protective oils on your skin are still intact, protecting you against harmful things that can enter your system. Oils like jojoba oil are great for oily skin and all skin types as it’s the oil that’s chemically most similar to our sebum.
Skin Myth: Using physical scrubs, exfoliating the skin, using peels and acids will help clear your skin.
We caution against over-exfoliating, which can thin the stratum corneum layer that holds the acid mantle. Using chemical exfoliants (like our pomegranate and pumpkin enzymes in our Essential Enzymes or our Exfoliation Mask) sparingly and avoiding physical exfoliants will help your acid mantle stay intact.
Facials aren’t supposed to hurt! While using peels during a facial can initially give you glowing results, using these harsh chemicals often can strip away your skin’s natural defenses resulting in discoloration in the skin and breakouts.
Skin Myth: Drying out the skin with alcohols will give you clear skin.
You may remember products you’ve used in the past that sting, burn, and dry out your skin, specifically if you’re using these products to eliminate breakouts. Supporting the microbiome is equally important, and we suggest using targeted probiotic skincare products to nourish microbiome diversity, especially if you’re using a soap to cleanse the skin. Using a gentle toner like our Rose Water Toner or a hydrosol will help keep the acidity of our skin at our optimum levels. Not using a toner can cause the alkalinity of our skin to rise (pH 6 or above) creating an environment for bacteria to thrive. Your skin will feel tight, inflamed, or hypersensitive. Toners can help to keep your skin at its happy 4.75 - 5.5 pH!
Skin Myth: You don’t need to use moisturizer.
A protective moisturizer will also create an additional barrier for the skin, especially in the dry, cold months of the year, when our acid mantle can be compromised. If your skin is naturally oily, using a lightweight face cream or facial oil can help to support and aid your skin in functioning naturally. In the colder months, if you avoid using moisturizer your skin can show symptoms of a disrupted barrier.
Skin Myth: Using clay masks and letting them dry on the skin are great for getting rid of breakouts
For clients with pimples and bumps on the skin, we recommend antimicrobial ingredients like sulfur (in our Sulfur Mask) to reduce problematic bacteria without harming resident flora. You want to avoid letting masks dry on the skin as doing so may cause the barrier to become disrupted.
Skin Myth: Dermaplaning will help to give me a shiny, radiant glow!
While at first, you’ll get the glazed donut skin effect, in the long run, removing the acid mantle, your barrier’s precious BFF can cause long term skin symptoms and potential skin issues. That “peach fuzz” is actually an essential part of protecting your skin and keeping bacteria at bay!
Other things to avoid to protect your acid mantle
We believe the rise of the clean beauty industry is in response to traditional skincare regimens that can compromise the skin's natural acidity. Many conventional products contain synthetic fragrances, preservatives, emulsifiers, and cleansing agents that disrupt pH and irritate the skin. The clean beauty movement favors botanical ingredients and green formulations that work in harmony with the body's physiology.
Here are some ingredients to avoid to protect your precious acid mantle and microbiome:
SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)
The acid mantle is the skin’s first line of defense, supporting its structure, function, and microbiology. If we want healthy, happy skin, we must understand its critical importance in maintaining skin health. Compromise the acid mantle, and you open the door to dysfunction. That’s why we make its integrity central to our esthetics practice and products. Our cleansers use gentle PHs and our cream are made of plant-derived oils, extracts, and esters that nourish without depleting. Our nutrient compounds feature amino acids, polysaccharides, and minerals to nourish. Our pH-corrective serums, toner, and gentle peels use smart acid blends at low percentages for exfoliation without irritation.
Our role is to support the skin’s natural balance, not disrupt it with harsh ingredients or overzealous practices. The skin knows best - we just have to listen.