If your skin is chronically dry, tight, and irritated, you may be the victim of a damaged skin barrier. And when we’re talking about the skin below your neck, bar soaps and other harsh body washes are Public Enemy Number One of your skin’s pH level: A crucial, but often overlooked, component of maintaining proper skin barrier function. The best pH-balanced body washes will help return your acid mantle to its ideal balance, resulting in calm, properly hydrated, and gently cleansed skin.
As you may recall from chem class (apologies for the flashbacks), pH scales measure the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. One is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline, and 7 (where water lies) is neutral.“The pH of your skin lies between 4.7 and 5.75, which is mildly acidic,” Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist at LM Medical, tells Elite Daily. According to Dr. Rabach, that slightly acidic environment helps keep bacteria in check, aids moisture retention, and generally keeps your skin barrier in good working order. She says that using products with a high, alkaline pH — i.e., stripping body washes, which are most body washes out there — can compromise your skin barrier and allow harmful bacteria to make its way in, or cause an overgrowth of endogenous bacteria. In turn, that can trigger irritation and water loss, or skin conditions like rosacea, acne, and eczema.
It makes sense, then, that cleansers with a pH level equal or close to the skin’s are the most beneficial. (Cleansers that are marketed as “pH balanced” typically have a pH level of around 5.5.) These pH-balanced body washes tend to be free of synthetic fragrances, alcohols, and aggressive sulfates, which can strip your skin. Instead, they’re loaded with barrier-building ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and rely on gentle, plant-based surfactants to do the cleaning work.