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Though it would be convenient, not all skin care brands list the pH value on the label of their products, so it takes some sleuthing to figure out which are the best low pH cleansers, board-certified dermatologist Alicia Zalka, M.D., tells Elite Daily. Even if they do put the pH number on the bottle, you still should review the ingredients, since self-reporting pH numbers don’t guarantee the cleanser will be ideal for your skin.
A quick refresher: As Dr. Joyce Teng, M.D., PhD, tells Elite Daily, pH stands for "potential hydrogen" and is used to determine something's acidity level using a scale from 1 to 14, with 1 being very acidic and 14 being very alkaline (i.e. not acidic at all). “Our skin's healthy pH state is somewhere between 4 and 6 (i.e. weakly acidic). This is because a slight acidity allows our skin to effectively fight harmful bacteria and damaging free radicals.” So aim for cleansers that have a similar pH level to your skin (from 4 to 6) to prevent irritation, sensitivity, and dryness that can be caused by an imbalance in your skin's optimal pH levels.
Though you can purchase at-home pH test strips to test your skin care products, not everyone is up for that, so Dr. Teng suggests looking for cream, gel, or very lightly foaming cleansers to signal a low pH, and to avoid harsh surfactants and cleansing agents, such as the commonly-used cocamidopropyl betaine, which can strip the skin. It’s all about moderation, Dr. Zalka adds: “Too much acidity or alkalinity can both disturb the skin,” she says. She likes mild cleansers that contain an effective active ingredient, like an AHA or BHA, along with hydrating ingredients to strike the right balance (such as her very own cleanser with fruit-derived glycolic acid).
With all of that admittedly complicated information in mind, scroll on to shop five of the best pH balanced cleansers you can trust.
1. The Overall Best Low pH Cleanser
Cetaphil’s iconic Gentle Skin Cleanser is a creamy, non-foaming cleanser, and its formula is very much no-frills, says Dr. Teng. She likes that it simply cleanses and leaves your skin prepped for the next steps of your routine. This popular, budget-friendly cleanser can be used on your face and body, and is generally well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive. At just $12 for a 20-ounce bottle, it’s a great value, too.
2. Writer’s Pick: The Best Low pH Cleansing Gel
I am a huge fan of Naturium, including their high-quality, reasonably priced cleansers, which are all pH balanced and clearly labeled to make things easy for consumers. Their refreshing Niacinamide Cleansing Gelée 3% is made with — obviously — niacinamide (the latest “it” ingredient in the skin care world) and has a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5. The gel formula effectively removes makeup and sunscreen, and leaves skin feeling clean, but not stripped. It’s also vegan, fragrance-free, and cruelty-free.
3. The Best Low pH Cleanser For Acne-Prone Skin
CeraVe’s Renewing SA Cleanser is one of Dr. Zalka’s top picks in terms of an effective face wash for acne that won’t remove so much oil that it’ll dry out your skin and exacerbate your breakouts. Made with salicylic acid to clear out congested pores, this cleanser is balanced out by gentle, soothing ingredients like glycerin, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and the brand’s blend of skin-strengthening ceramides, which are found in all CeraVe products. This, too, can be used on your face and body, so it’s a great choice if you’re prone to breakouts on your back, chest, and bum as well.
4. The Best Low pH Cleansing Water
Harsh toners can dry out your skin, but this gentle cleansing water from Korean brand Etude House — which falls somewhere between a cleanser and a toner — won’t. Made with hydrating glycerin and green tea extract, it has a pH level of 5.5 and can be used either on its own for a light cleanse, or as the first step in a double cleansing routine on heavier makeup days. It’s also great for washing your face in the morning or after working out when you just need an extra-gentle cleanse.
5. The Best Low pH Body Wash
Dr. Teng serves as the Chief Scientific Officer for Evereden, so she can vouch for the brand’s vitamin-rich body wash if you’re on the hunt for a great, pH-balanced cleanser for your body. She explains that the lightly foaming wash uses gentle coconut and oat-based cleansing agents and hydrating ingredients, like sunflower seed oil and a full spectrum of fatty acids, as well as amino acids and pre/probiotics, to help fortify and strengthen the skin barrier. Meanwhile, the fragrances — which include peach, pomelo, and melon — are derived from natural ingredients.
Dr. Joyce Teng, M.D., PhD, Head of Pediatric Dermatology at Stanford Medical School and Evereden Chief Scientific Officer