Healthy Skin: The pH of Popular Soaps
If you are like most Americans, you buy your family the bar soaps, body washes, and face cleansers that are advertised on television commercials. But by using most of these products, you are drying out your skin's pH balance, which leads to a multitude of skin conditions and diseases, including premature lines and wrinkles.
How Acidic Is Your Skin?
Your skin's natural pH is about 5.5. Soaps with that are too basic (have a high pH) remove your natural oils and disrupt your pH balance.
The pH balance of several name-brand soaps and cleansers are provided below. Recommendations are also suggested for pH-balanced facial cleansers and body wash.
What Is My Soap's pH?
Soaps in general have a higher pH than your skin's natural acidity. The higher the pH, the harsher it will be on your skin's acidity levels.
The pH of Common Bar Soaps
Caress, Oil of Olay
Basis, Coast, Lever 2000, Lava, Safeguard, Shield
Camay, Dial, Irish Spring, Ivory, Jergens, Tone, Yardley, Nivea, and Zest
The pH of Common Facial Cleansers and Body Washes
Facial Cleansers and Body Washes
Cetaphil, Dial, Lever 2000, Neutrogena Rainbath, Softsoap
Testing Your Products
If you don't see your soap in the list above, you can easily test it yourself using a digital pH meter or litmus paper.
With a Digital pH Meter
I do not have any litmus paper (specially treated paper test strips used to evaluate the pH of a liquid), but Jerry (my husband) has a that he uses to test the soil of his garden. I used Jerry’s pH meter-pen to test some Nivea bar soap. digital pH meter-pen
I found that digital pH meter-pens are very easy to use. Here is how I tested the bar soap with the meter, and its resulting pH:
- I used distilled water for testing the soap, so the water's pH would not affect the soap's pH. (You can find distilled water in any grocery store or market). Pour a cup of distilled water into a pot (if using the stove) or a ceramic cup or dish (if using the microwave). You need to boil the water so it is hot enough to melt some soap shavings.
- While the water was heating, I shaved some soap chips off a bar of Nivea (green tea) bar soap with a potato peeler, and then added them to a small ceramic Pyrex dish.
- After that, I poured about an inch of the boiling water over the soap shavings so the water would melt them; then I stirred it.
- I waited for a little while so the water would cool off enough for me to test it with the meter.
- Once the soap-water mixture had cooled, I turned on the pH meter and stood it vertically in the dish of soapy water.
- The digital readout said that Nivea bar soap (touted as good for your face) is 9.9 on the pH scale—very alkaline and bad for your face!
- Lastly, remember to wash off the probe end of your pH meter with clear water and allow it to dry before storing.
With Litmus Paper
To test them, you simply have to wet the strip with the soap, wait for it to develop, and then compare the resulting color against a key to read the pH. To wet a strip with bar soap, first use a little water to create a lather. To wet a strip with a liquid soap, wipe off the excess product so that you can get a clear read. The video below demonstrates how.
Find the pH of Soap Using Litmus Paper
What Does pH Balance Mean?
A skincare product that is pH-balanced has roughly the same acidity as your skin so as not to disrupt its protective acid mantle.
The symbol pH stands for "potential of hydrogen" and is a method of measuring the acid or alkaline level of water-soluble liquids. The pH scale starts at 0, which is the most acidic measurement (ex: battery acid is pH 0).
As each number increases (pH 1-6), the acidity decreases tenfold; pH 6 is the lowest acid level.
Then, at 7 pH, liquids are neutral; distilled water has a pH of 7.
After 7 (neutral), pH 8 liquids have the lowest alkalinity, and with each increasing number, the alkalinity increases tenfold. Bleach has a pH of 13, while lye has a pH of 14 and is the most alkaline solution.
Our skin's pH is about 5.5, a little on the acidic side. This thin acidic film is known as the acid mantle and serves to block the entry of harmful bacteria and other environmental harmful things into the body and to retain natural oils for moisture.
When you use soap that is too alkaline, such as any deodorant soap you would buy in the market, that acid mantle is disrupted and your skin dries out, loses important oils, and can begin to crack. Skin is our body's first line of protection, so when it loses its mantle and becomes cracked, pathogens and other undesirable bacteria may enter our systems more easily.
As we continue using harsh soaps on our skin, we notice our skin becomes either dry or oily because it has lost its natural (pH) balance. Many people suffer countless skin ailments because they are using soap that has a pH of 9 or higher. Problems such as dermatitis, eczema, and other rashes could be solved by switching your soap to a pH-correct cleanser.
Soaps advertised on television commercials are touted as "gentle" or "1/4 cleansing cream," but in truth, they are very harsh and will dry out your skin or promote premature signs of aging, fine lines, and wrinkles.
That's why we need to use products that are specifically labeled "pH balanced" to maintain that acidity. pHisoderm, a brand that has been around since I was little, sells nothing but pH-balanced skin care products for all types of skin. Such products preserve both the natural pH balance of our skin and its acid mantle. Using pH-corrective cleansers will improve the condition of your face and can even help dry skin, acne problems, and other skin conditions diminish over time.
So Which Soaps Are pH-Balanced?
Below is a list of a few. There are so many soaps out there that this list is far from comprehensive—if you know of one that is not written below, please add it to the comments along with where you learned that it is pH-balanced.
Bar Soaps With a pH Close to 5.5
Redken for Men Acid-Balanced Cleansing Bar
Aveeno Moisturizing Bar With Colloidal Oatmeal for Dry Skin, Fragrance Free
Facial Cleansers and Body Washes With a pH Close to 5.5
Product or Brand
Clarisonic Refreshing Foaming Gel Cleanser
Alba Botanica Bath and Shower Gel, Honey-Mango
Body Drench Hand and Body Wash, Purifying
Other Tips for Healthy Skin
Besides a balanced pH, here are a few other things you can look for in your products, such as ingredients with beneficial vitamins and antioxidants. Also, correctly removing makeup and applying toner can help maintain your pH.
Vitamins C, A, and E are good to use topically on your face (and on your skin, in general). Look for products that use rose hips, citrus fruits, or strawberries—all ingredients high in Vitamin C and antioxidants that are used in face serums to repair and reduce signs of aging.
Berries such as blueberries and strawberries are also extremely high in antioxidants as well, so you will often see them (or derivatives) in facial products because they protect the skin from harmful "free radicals" that age and damage the skin.
Taking Your Make-up off
The most important habit you can get into—removing your make-up every night—is explained here.
Toners are a way to balance your skin's pH after using a face wash. This helpful video explains the right way to apply toner.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Miriam Parker