Our bodies are just one big Goldilocks zone. In order to live our wonderful machine is required to make thousands of calibrations each day to keep us alive and thriving. Even our skin has a daily fight of keeping us from being too far on either the acidic side or the alkaline side. This is known as the pH balance. In chemistry, pH is a scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Since our skin is made up of at least 60% water, this qualifies as an aqueous solution. Our bodies and skin are super sensitive to pH levels and have quite complex mechanisms in place to maintain an acidic pH for the skin while keeping an alkaline pH for the body.
This balance is part of what is called homeostasis. Your body naturally makes this happen as long as there are no underlying conditions stopping it and you provide it with all of the tools it requires to get the job done. Our very survival depends on proper maintenance of homeostasis so it just makes a lot of sense to ensure that your body has all of the resources it needs to do its job properly. If you fail to do this consistently enough you begin to seriously impair organ systems, enzyme activity, kidney function, digestion, hormonal balance, immune system function, and skin barrier and hydration.
Creating Good pH Balance
So just to be clear, water naturally has a pH of 7.0. If we find water with a pH of 5.5 we would call this acidic water. If we found it with pH of 8.5 we would say this has alkalinity.
Human skin typically has an acidic pH of about 5. But this differs depending on which body part you are measuring, and individual factors such as age, gender, health, and disease conditions. Our bodies within our skin however typically needs to stay in a slightly alkaline state of 7.35 or so for the cells to work properly. Our cells are affected by even slight changes in pH. This can be caused by injuries to our skin, foods we eat and which beverages we drink, waste products of our cell metabolism, as well as our efficiency at removing those waste products. Luckily we do not need to think about maintaining our pH balance as our bodies have all the internally developed skills to do the job without our conscious intervention.
Some of the mechanisms your body uses to manage pH includes carbon dioxide elimination, chemical buffering, and urinary excretion. Chemical buffering involves the body utilizing its stores of enzymes, antioxidants, weak acids, and weak alkaline bases to blunt any sudden changes that it notices. Carbon dioxide is mildly acidic. So if there is too much in the blood, the blood becomes more acidic. This is managed by eliminating carbon dioxide through the lungs. Anyone who has done any exercise knows the feeling of significantly increased carbon dioxide in the blood stream and also knows what your body does next to get the levels back to normal.
Your urine will also be an outlet for getting rid of and controlling the levels of acid or alkalinity, but this will occur over days. Not nearly as fast as your lungs can regulate the blood via carbon dioxide.Your skin also has a system in place to keep its pH at the proper level.
It does this through secretions. Your skin has pores that are a combination of sweat and oil glands that work to keep your skin as healthy and pliable as possible. This constant use of secretions by the skin to manage pH is called the Acid Mantle Layer, which is a combination of fats, proteins, and perspiration that covers the skin’s surface. Your skin has a very long list of jobs to do to keep you healthy. Some of those include being the first line of defense in our immune system, regulating body temperature, eliminating cell toxins, synthesizing sunlight, and communicating sensations. And proper pH drives the efficiency of all of these jobs.
So How Does Skin pH Change As We Age?
As we age, our skin’s pH starts to become more neutral. This reduced acidity reduces the skin’s ability to fight off bacterial growth and infections. Aging also causes changes in our stores of collagen and elastin. Collagen gives our skin firmness and elastin gives our skin...elasticity. The rate of lost skin elasticity and firmness also depends on things like genetics, level of sun exposure, how regimented you are in your skin care, and how healthy your diet and liquid intake is. As all of these factors come to bear on your skin, over time the skin becomes less elastic and becomes drier. All of this combines to make the skin begin to sag and wrinkle. Then the skin gets more easily injured, takes longer to heal, and is often dried out more quickly.
This is why regular visits to your skin therapist are very helpful. Their therapies are designed to make sure your skin has every available tool to keep a healthy pH balance and maintain elasticity and firmness.