Does the pH of Your Cleanser Matter? Soaps and Face Washes

Ph and CleanersThe pH of cleansers and organic soaps has been the topic of several discussions these days. But should the pH of soap influence your buying decision?
Let's start by 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 is neutral.

How Is pH Relevant In Skincare?

Our skin has a natural thin protective layer commonly known as the ‘acid mantle’ or ‘skin barrier’. 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.

It is composed of the substances secreted by our sweat glands, sebaceous glands (which secrete sebum), and the fatty acids are broken down by the good bacteria that live on our skin. 

As the name ‘acid mantle’ suggests, our skin barrier is acidic. 

Healthy skin has a slightly acidic pH of 4.5 to 6.5 (3. 5 for scalp) which prevents harmful microbes from growing on our skin and protects skin against environmental stressors.

Different Types of Soaps

Not all soaps available in the market are true soaps. There are two key types of bar cleansers – Soaps (Natural Soaps) and Syndets (Detergent Soaps) and trust us, they’re not the same!

As per the FDA, to be regulated as a ‘soap’, the product must be primarily composed of the ‘alkali salts of fatty acids’ i.e., the substance derived by combing fats (oils) with an alkali like lye(sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide).
The term ‘syndet’, on the other hand, is derived from two words ‘Synthetic’ and ‘Detergent’. It refers to a cleanser made by binding synthetic detergents.
While both soaps and syndets are good cleansers, they tend to break down the natural protective oil layer on our skin(sebum) as they cleanse it. And yet the two are very different.


The pH of Different Soaps

As discussed above, cleansers can be broadly categorised as organic/natural soaps and synthetic detergents (syndets). The primary difference between these two categories is their manufacturing process.

The former is a simple reaction between a plant oil and a strong alkali and is always alkaline. Handmade organic soaps have a pH of 8 – 10 while some commercially produced 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 complex reaction based on petroleum and plant oils and has a pH lying between neutral to acidic.

Our handmade cold-pressed organic soaps are carefully formulated and have a pH between 8-9.

How Does Cleansing Affect The pH Of The Skin?

Whenever our skin comes in touch with an external substance that has different pH, it ends up altering the skin barrier’s natural pH level.
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 pH. However, as a face cleanser stays in contact with the skin for a very short duration, it only impacts the pH briefly.
Remember those lazy days when you wash your face and don’t follow up with a moisturiser? Your skin feels dry initially but starts feeling normal after some time. Ever wondered why? Well, that’s because your skin begins to rebalance the acid mantle and regains 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.
To sum up, it’s safe to say that our skin/scalp are awesome at maintaining their 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 damage your skin, the pH of most skin cleansers will not cause long-term changes in the natural pH of the skin.

What If The Skin Barrier Is Not Healthy?

Now that we understand the relationship between cleansing and a healthy acid mantle, let’s understand what happens when the skin barrier is compromised!

A compromised skin barrier means that skin is not able to rebalance itself by resecreting sebum after cleansing and the pH remains altered for a long duration. When the skin barrier is not healthy, cleansing must be followed up by toning to assist the skin restore its natural pH. For the face, flower waters like rose or lavender water. And for the scalp, an ACV rinse helps restore the acid mantle.

So 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 showed 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).

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 mantle's natural ability to rebalance and maintain its mildly acidic nature.

How Does This 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 your skin feel dry, a study carried out on the skin of babies showed that real soaps do not alter the skin’s hydration level.

In this study, babies were cleansed with a) water, b) mild acidic soap and c) normal alkaline soap. All three cleansers similarly impacted the infant’s skin. However, there were no differences observed in the skin hydration.

Another study compared 6 different types of cleansers varying from very alkaline to very acidic and found these observations–

  • There was a slight increase in pH with the alkaline soaps
  • All products had a drying effect on the stratum corneum (the outer layer of the skin), but superfatted soaps fared better.
  • TEWL (transepidermal water loss) measurements showed little change
  • All changes were completely reversible and all values returned to normal within 90 minutes after washing.

Is pH The Only Factor To Determine The Irritation Potential Of A Cleanser?

Absolutely not! One 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
  • The ingredients, their method of extraction, the 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 in how they are blended. So the best face wash for your skin could be one that is not pH balanced.

    Why Should You Try Our Gourmet Soaps?

    Our cold-pressed soaps are the best facial cleansers as they are gentle and help enhance the skin's ability to trap moisture owing to their high glycerine content.

    These are pure soaps made through a chemical reaction between oils, water and lye. And when combined, they transform into saponified oil (soap) and glycerine with no lye remaining in the final product.

    Glycerine, which is a natural humectant, makes our soaps hydrating. It penetrates the skin and retains water to keep your skin hydrated for several hours.

    Our cold-pressed soaps are also superfatted i.e., made with free fatty acids that compensate for the lipids and moisture that gets stripped during cleansing. Their mild alkaline nature helps wash off the dirt gently without stripping off the moisture.

    Lastly, our organic soaps are the best soap as they are Gourmet! These fresh, superfatted soaps are handmade using the centuries-old cold-process technique of saponifying oils with an alkali (lye). The soaps are then cured for 8 weeks to ensure no lye remains in the final product.

    If you are looking for a natural cleanser, we have a wide range of options. Try our organic face wash for oily skin or tan removal soap, all of which are certified organic by EcoCert France as per COSMOS V3 standards.


    • Retaining the acid mantel is only problematic in compromised barrier conditions." by Dr. Zoe 2011, Dermatology Times
    • (Takagi, Y., et. al. [2014], "The Long-Term Use of Soap Does Not Affect the pH-Maintenance Mechanism of Human Skin" in Skin Research and Technology)
    • (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. [2004], Personal Cleanser Technology and Clinical Performance. Dermatologic Therapy, 17: 36-38

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