What pH Balanced Really Means

Thinking about the pH scale probably gives you flashbacks to high school chemistry class, when—let’s be honest—you may have spent a lot of time daydreaming. But now that “pH balanced” is a buzzword in the beauty industry, you’ve got a good reason to pay attention. Read on to see what you need to know.


pH is an abbreviation for “potential hydrogen,” and pH numbers range from 0 to 14 depending upon how acidic or alkaline (i.e., basic) a liquid is. In the 1800s, as scientists sought to identify the properties of particular substances, pH numbers emerged in relation to the different capacities for water to dissolve compounds: Acids were recognized as compounds that contain hydrogen and can dissolve in water to release hydrogen ions, while bases dissolve in water to release hydroxide ions. Hence, the term “potential hydrogen.”

A pH number below 7 reflects an acid, while anything above 7 is alkaline. Water has a pH of 7, so it’s considered neutral, while the pH level of milk is about 6, making it slightly acidic. Check here for a list of pH values of common liquids.

With Chemistry 101 behind us, what do these values mean for your skin and your beauty regimen?

pH Levels & Skin Health

Dermatologists suggest that the “acid mantle” (or your skin’s natural covering that discourages the growth of germs, toxins, and bacteria) is healthiest when slightly acidic. But sweat and secretions from the glands in your skin impact the mantle’s constantly changing acidity level, and pH varies across different areas of the body and from person to person, due to factors like age, sex, and rate of perspiration. Studies show that an overly acidic or alkaline pH level may result in blemishes, dryness, acne, or oily skin.

pH-Balanced Skin Care Regimens

While research has demonstrated that using cleansers (or even washing with water) can alter the surface pH of your skin, just remember that your skin’s pH is relative. In other words, because the outer protective layer of everyone’s skin is naturally varied, there’s no one-size-fits-all product that solves every concern.

In fact, almost all skin care products already have a pH range that fits within the standard designation of “pH balanced,” with many products falling between 4.6 and 5. The numbers vary depending on the product’s purpose (for example, an acne-fighting mask’s pH will be more acidic than a baby lotion’s, which needs to be gentle and as close to a pH of 7 as possible), but most typically fall within that range—otherwise, they’d be too harsh or irritating for anyone to use.