What are soaps?
Not all soaps available in the market are really soaps. There are broadly two types of cleansers – Soaps (Natural Soaps) and Syndets (Commercial Soaps) and trust us, they’re not the same!
As per FDA, to be regulated as a ‘soap’, the product must be composed mainly of the ‘alkali salts of fatty acids’ i.e., the material you get when fats and oils are combined with alkali such as ‘lye’.
‘Syndet’, on the other hand, is actually a blend of two words ‘Synthetic’ and ‘Detergent’. It is essentially a cleansing product made by binding synthetic detergents.
While both ‘Soap’ and ‘Syndet’ are cleansing agents, they tend to dissolve the natural protective fat layer on our skin as they cleanse it and yet the two are very different. Why? Read on!
pH and cleansers!
How about we start with understanding what pH stands for? pH or ‘potential hydrogen’ is a logarithmic scale that measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is! It ranges from 0 to 14 with values less than 7 indicating acidic nature, values over 7 indicating alkaline nature and 7 itself being neutral.
So how is pH relevant in skincare?
Our skin has a natural thin protective layer commonly known as the ‘acid mantle’ or ‘skin barrier’. It is composed of the secretions of sweat glands, sebaceous glands (which secrete sebum), and breakdown of fatty acids by the good bacteria on our skin. The primary function of the skin barrier is to keep good things like moisture in and bad things like pollution, dirt, dust, debris and grime out.
As the name ‘acid mantle’ suggests, our skin barrier is acidic in nature. A healthy skin has a slightly acidic pH i.e., 4.5 to 6.5 (for scalp its even low i.e., 3.5) which prevents harmful microbial growth on our skin and protects skin against environmental stressors.
pH of cleansers!
As discussed above, cleansers can be broadly categorized as organic / natural soaps and synthetic detergents (syndets). The primary difference in these two categories is the manufacturing process. The former is a simple reaction between a plant oil and a strong alkali and is always alkaline in nature. Milder soaps have a pH of 8 – 10 while commercials soaps may soar up as high as 13 and are hence harsher on the skin. The latter on the other hand, is a result of a rather complex reaction based on petroleum and plant oils and have a pH lying between neutral to acidic.
JC handmade cold pressed organic soaps are meticulously formulated and have a pH between 8 – 9.
How does cleansing affect the pH of the skin?
Whenever the skin comes in touch with an external component that has a pH higher or lower than its natural pH, it ends up altering the skin barrier’s natural pH level. However, as cleansers stay in contact with the skin for a very short duration, they only impact the pH briefly. Even water (with pH ranging from 6 to 8.5 depending on the source) tends to temporarily influence the acid mantle and thus the skin surface.
Remember those lazy days when you wash your face and don’t follow up with a moisturizer, the skin feels dry initially and naturally starts feeling normal after sometime? Ever wondered why? Well, that’s because the skin begins re-secreting the mantle and regain its natural pH. Every time skin is exposed to slight alkaline or acidic material outside its typical pH range, one with a healthy barrier will always rebalance itself within 15 to 30 mins. (According to Dr. Zoe Draelos, in an article published on April 1, 2011, in the "Dermatology Times,")
Do cleansers need to be pH balanced?
While we believe it’s a question of personal preference, at JC we choose not to alter the natural pH of our cold pressed superfatted cleansers. Why may you ask? Because all cleansers tend to alter the skin pH irrespective of being acidic or alkaline. A study shows that skin pH rises by 1.1 points if you wash with water alone. It rises by 1.2 points after washing with alkaline soap like ours and by 0.98 points after washing with a synthetic soap bar i.e., syndets (which are acidic in nature). Therefore, all cleansers, real or syndets, non – balanced or balanced, alter the pH of skin in a very close range.
The same study also proved that continuous use of real soaps doesn’t hamper the acid mantles natural ability to rebalance and maintain its mildly acidic nature. (Takagi, Y., et. al. , "The Long-Term Use of Soap Does Not Affect the pH-Maintenance Mechanism of Human Skin" in Skin Research and Technology)
Does temporary alteration in pH affect skin hydration?
Every time we bathe, the natural oils secreted by our skin also tends to wash away, the pH increases slightly and skin feels dry only for a brief duration till the acid mantle starts forming again and rebalances itself. So, while cleansing may temporarily make skin dry, a study carried out on babies has shown that real soaps do not alter skin’s hydration level. In this study, babies were washed with a) water, b) mild acidic soap and c) normal alkaline soap. All three cleansers impacted the infant’s skin in similar fashion however, there were no differences observed in the skin hydration. (Gfatter, R., P. Hackl, and F. Braun, 1997, Effects of soap and detergents on skin surface pH, stratum corneum hydration and fat content in infants: Dermatology, v. 195, p. 258-62.)
Cold pressed soaps, in fact, help enhance the skin's ability to trap the moisture owing to its high glycerine content. Pure soaps are the result of a chemical reaction between oils, water and lye and when combined, they transform into soap and glycerine with no lye remaining in the final product. Glycerine, which is a natural humectant, makes soaps moisturizing while cleansing. It exhibits excellent penetration and retention characteristics which keeps skin hydrated for long hours. (Ventura, S. A. and Kasting, G. B. (2017), Dynamics of glycerine and water transport across human skin from binary mixtures. Int J Cosmet Sci, 39: 165-178.)
Our well formulated, cold pressed soaps are super – fatted i.e., made with free oils / fatty acids which tends to compensate for the lipids and moisture that is washed off during cleansing. Their mild alkaline nature helps wash off the dirt gently without stripping off the moisture. In fact, one study compared 6 different types of cleansers varying from very alkaline to very acidic. The study found the following –
(1) there was a slight increase in pH with the alkaline soaps
(2) all products had a drying effect on stratum corneum (the outer layer of the skin), but soaps that were superfatted had less
(3) TEWL (transepidermal water loss) measurements showed little change
(4) all changes were completely reversible and all values returned to normal within 90 minutes after washing
(Mirela Moldovan and Alina Nanu. “Influence Of Cleansing Product Type On Several Skin Parameters After Single Use.” Farmacia, 2010, Vol. 58, 1)
While another study tested the ‘irritation potential’ of syndets and soaps with varying pH and discovered the following results –
- the least irritating syndet was with a pH of 7.53
- the most irritating syndet was with a pH of 4.61
- the least irritating soap was with a pH of 12.35
- the most irritating soap was with a pH of 9.36
(Abbas, S., Goldberg, J.W. and Massaro, M. , Personal Cleanser Technology and Clinical Performance. Dermatologic Therapy, 17: 36-38)
So now let us ask you the real question – is pH really the only factor that determines the irritation potential of a cleanser?
Absolutely not! The ingredients, their extraction, chemistry between the ingredients and the manufacturing process largely determines whether a cleanser will be mild or harsh on the skin. In fact, two soaps with the same composition may still work differently for you owing to the difference between the nature of ingredients, their source and extraction and how they are blended together.
Why should you try our Gourmet Soaps?
Our organic soaps are not just true soaps but they are also Gourmet! These fresh, super – fatted soaps are handmade using the age – old cold process technique and following the simple saponification reaction between fat and alkali (lye). The soaps are then cured for 8 weeks to ensure no lye remains in the final product.
JC soaps are gentle, hydrating and soothing on the skin owing to its rich fatty acids and glycerine content.
(Learn more about our soaps here – soap blog )
What if the skin barrier is not healthy?
Now that we understand the relationship cleansing and healthy acid mantle, let’s understand what happens when the skin barrier is compromised! Compromised skin barrier means that skin is not able to re-secrete the oils after cleansing and the pH remains altered for a long duration. When skin barrier is not healthy, cleansing must be followed up by toning to assist the skin restore its natural pH. For face, floral waters like rose or lavender water and for scalp an ACV rinse helps restore the acid mantle.
To sum up, it’s safe to say that our skin / scalp are awesome at maintaining their own homeostasis (the ability of our body to regulate and compensate for changes in the environment). Unless you are using harsh cleansers (that are extremely acidic or alkaline), which can actually damage your skin, the pH of most skin cleansers will not cause long-term changes in the natural pH of the skin.
Retaining the acid mantel is only problematic in compromised barrier conditions." by Dr. Zoe 2011, Dermatology Times
(Takagi, Y., et. al. , "The Long-Term Use of Soap Does Not Affect the pH-Maintenance Mechanism of Human Skin" in Skin Research and Technology)
(Dr. Zoe Draelos: "Dermatology" April 1, 2011).
(Gfatter, R., P. Hackl, and F. Braun, 1997, Effects of soap and detergents on skin surface pH, stratum corneum hydration and fat content in infants: Dermatology, v. 195, p. 258-62.)
Ventura, S. A. and Kasting, G. B. (2017), Dynamics of glycerine and water transport across human skin from binary mixtures. Int J Cosmet Sci, 39: 165-178.
Mirela Moldovan and Alina Nanu. “Influence Of Cleansing Product Type On Several Skin Parameters After Single Use.” Farmacia, 2010, Vol. 58, 1
Abbas, S., Goldberg, J.W. and Massaro, M. , Personal Cleanser Technology and Clinical Performance. Dermatologic Therapy, 17: 36-38