Are Products With pH 5.5 Really That Important For Skin?

Soaps have become top of mind for everyone in the wake of the pandemic as handwashing with soap is of critical importance to keep oneself and family safe. Soaps not only serve to remove germs but also act to nourish and condition skin and provide a refreshing bathing experience. Soaps have many properties that are responsible for its goodness, but recently some advertisements have sought to draw undue attention to just soap pH.
But what is skin pH actually and how important is a soap’s pH level for the skin?

Does Skin Have A Perfect pH Value?

NO. pH refers to the amount of hydrogen ions contained in a solution and is expressed on a scale of 0-14 with 0 being the most acidic, 14 being highly alkaline and 7 being neutral. Human skin has a pH range between 4 and 6. The skin’s pH levels vary with different individuals based on factors like age, gender, ethnicity, pollution, humidity, sweat etc. Even on different parts of the body and at different times of the day, pH levels can vary for the same person! Hence there is no perfect pH value for skin. pH of skin usually changes slightly immediately after washing with any cleanser/soap whether it is acidic or alkaline. Even when one washes hands with just water (pH 7), the skin’s pH rises marginally to neutral levels but quickly returns to its original pH thanks to skin’s in-built ability to remain balanced. This is well documented in international scientific journals like Skin Research and Technology.

Can pH Of Soap Really Impact Skin Significantly?

NO. Is only a pH 5.5 cleanser suitable for skin? No - let’s debunk this myth. Product pH alone does not contribute to affecting skin, rather the entire composition of the cleansing product determines its skin interaction. Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) which is the governing authority that manufacturers must follow, has not specified pH as a criteria for making a perfect soap or bathing bar. Instead, the standards specify more holistic assessments such as the amount of ‘free alkali’ a soap may contain, clinical tests that need to be done under dermatologist supervision, etc. Scientific research shows that washing with any cleanser (acidic or alkaline) leads to a temporary increase in skin pH which is documented in international scientific journals like International Journal of Cosmetic Science to reverse to its original pH level within a short time after washing. Technical publications state that long-term use of acidic or alkaline cleansers does not significantly impact skin pH. This is because skin is equipped with its own in-built ability to revert to its original pH levels.

Common sense tells you: no matter what product you use, the last thing that your skin is exposed to while cleansing is water at pH 7.