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113: Why The pH of Your Skin Is So Important To The Microbiome Living There

Did you know that the pH of your skin is directly tied to the organisms that are able to live on your skin?

As you already know, a healthy skin microbiome is crucial to avoiding things like a leaky skin barrier and unwanted bugs (like Staph Aureus) from taking over.

What helps determine the makeup of the skin microbiome is directly tied to the pH of the skin.

If the environment becomes too acidic or even too alkaline, problems can ensue.

In this episode, I'm going to share with you some really cool details about your skin's microbiome AND how the pH of your skin can spell trouble if it shifts away from the optimal range.

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In this episode:

  • Type of organisms living within a healthy skin microbiome
  • Different zones of the body alter the microbial makeup
  • Why the pH of your skin so important
  • Ways your skin's pH can be altered
  • Can disruption of your skin's pH change its microbiome makeup?
  • pH of different cleansers and natural oils

Quotes:

Your skin's pH needs to be between 4.5 to 5 making it more of an acidic environment. It should NOT be alkaline (no matter how popular alkalizing the body seems to be online).

Maintaining a healthy pH balance is so integral for this skin is because it has a direct connection between what organisms are able to grow and thrive on your skin.

Microscope looking at a microbiome

113: Why The pH of Your Skin Is So Important To The Microbiome Living There (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #113 of the Healthy Skin Show!

In today's episode, I'm going to share with you all about your skin's microbiome and the pH of your skin. This topic is important because skin rashes can be caused by skin microbiome dysbiosis — or an imbalance of the microbes living there.

So how important is the pH of the skin environment to what thrives on your skin?

Before I answer this question, let's talk about what makes up a healthy microbiome. The “skin bug community” is a really interesting mix of about 1 billion organisms per square inch that includes bacteria, fungi (aka. yeast), mites and viruses. It's definitely not JUST bacteria!

As far as bacterial organisms living on your skin are concerned, there are 19 different phyla bacteria that are found on the skin.  Three to four predominate — Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes.

A common fungal organism found on the skin is called Malassezia. This is often the target of frustration for people with seborrheic dermatitis or tinea versicolor.

Mites include something known as Demodex mites. Overgrowth of these mites can also be a root cause issue triggering chronic rashes.

Believe it or not, the specific ratios of these organisms differ depending on what zone of the skin on which they live. There are three different zones on your skin — sebaceous (also known as oily), moist and dry and flat.

Pretty cool, huh?

Your skin's microbiome is considered a lipidome, meaning that the organisms thrive on fats or lipids.

It's a real departure from the microbiome of the gut that instead of consuming fat is geared towards fermenting fiber (aka. prebiotics).

And what's equally interesting, but probably not entirely surprising, is that the skin's microbiome changes throughout your entire life. So what you were initially born with or had as a baby or a child is different from your teenage years and as an adult.

Woman thinking about the PH of her skin

What Is The pH Of Your Skin?

One integral piece of the healthy skin “puzzle” is the environment in which the bugs on your skin live.

How alkaline or acidic the environment is makes a huge difference! Let's talk about what pH is so that you truly understand the significance of what I'll share with you in a few moments.

If you don't know what pH is, I'm willing to bet that you're familiar with the terms acid versus alkaline. These two opposites exist on a scale from 1 to 14.

An acidic substance would be at a pH of 1 to 6 on that scale.

Meanwhile, something is considered neutral at a pH of 7.

Lastly, alkaline is from a pH of 8 to 14.

Obviously, something at a pH of 1 is super acidic whereas a pH of 14 would be the most alkaline.

I totally understand that a scale from 1 to 14 doesn't seem like it would make that big of a difference if one thing was a pH of 5 and another thing was a pH of 8.

But the reality is that each step up or down is a pretty drastic shift in pH that can directly impact not just biochemical reactions, but also the ability of certain bugs to live there.

With all of that in mind, the skin's ideal pH needs to be somewhere between a 4.5 to 5 on the pH scale.

That's a pretty tight window!!

To put that into perspective, let's look at a few common items to see where they fall on the pH scale.

Water is typically somewhere between 6 to 8.5 so it's more alkaline than the pH of your skin.

Soap tends to be even more alkaline – between 9 to 10.

For example, Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille liquid soap is a pH of 9.3 while their Pure Castille bar soap is a pH of 9.8.(1)

So if you're already having problems with your skin microbiome and you use products that are a different pH, can that impact your skin's pH?

The short answer is YES (and not in a good way).

If you constantly use products that are more alkaline than that of your skin, it is possible to increase the alkalinity of your skin and shift it away from that 4.5 to 5 sweet spot.

You may have read information about alkalizing your body online. People will swear up and down that you want everything in your body to be alkalized.

But the truth is, that's not based in fact.

Your skin (as well as your colon) should not be alkaline.

And I'd argue that constantly alkalizing your skin could have incredibly harmful effects for your skin's microbiome.

I'll explain this further in a moment with a simple example, but first let's look at some natural oils that you might be using on your skin to help moisturize your skin.

Natural plant essential oils

Can The pH Of Natural Plant Oils Shift Your Skin's pH?

You now know that what you wash your skin can impact the pH of your skin.

But what about the products that you use to nourish and moisturize your skin?

Can they alter the pH of your skin? Even natural plant oils?

Yes… yes they can.

So imagine for a second that you completely soap up your body every single day with a very alkaline soap.

Then you apply an oil (or product) that is also very alkaline.

Do you see the problem here?

This is one of the reasons that experts and I do not recommend the use of coconut oil as a topical moisturizer is that it's pH is too high. Coconut oil is a pH of 8 making it too alkaline for your skin.

There are other reasons that I don't recommend coconut oil for the skin — you can read them HERE.

Other plant oils that are recommended here on Skinterrupt tend to be better on a number of points, but one of the reasons has to do with their pH.

Olive oil is at a pH of 6.8.(2) It's certainly higher than that of your skin, but it's closer than the pH of coconut oil.

Avocado oil is a pH of 5.5.(3)

Hemp seed oil is around a pH of 6.(4)

Maintaining a healthy pH balance is integral for your skin because it correlates to what's able to grow and thrive on your skin. That's why it's best to avoid excessive alkalizing of your skin so that you don't inadvertently invite in bugs that you don't want growing there.

Mad driving with hand on stick shift

Shift In pH Can Drive Skin Rashes Like Acne

Back to that example I mentioned earlier about what can happen when your skin's pH balance shifts away from that optimal range…

As teenagers, you're told to wash your face with what tends to be pretty harsh cleansers and soaps in an effort to not end up with acne.

The particular bacteria that play a role in the development of acne called P. acnes. When P. acnes is exposed to human sebum that your skin naturally produces, it turns the sebum into something that's highly inflammatory for your skin.(5)

I came across a study that looked at different bacteria that live on the skin. Researchers wanted to see what pH most favored these particular bacteria allowing them to thrive.(6)

The paper noted that P. acnesgrew much better in the pH 6.0 to 7.0 range which is more alkaline than the skin's ideal pH. Turns out, P. acnes grew better in that particular range than in an environment that was more acidic or alkaline.(6)

And it was noted by the authors that alteration of the skin's pH balance occurs due to the use of face cleansers that increase the alkalinity of the skin ultimately leading to an imbalance of bacteria.(6)

That's why it's important to tend to your skin just as you would a garden. The pH of the soil matters just as much as the pH of your skin.

Disturbances to the pH can be one of the reasons why the microbiome becomes dysbiotic.

To be clear, I don't think that pH alteration is the ONLY reason driving skin rashes or skin microbiome dysbiosis. There is often a combination of reasons that I uncover in my clinical practice that ultimately create the perfect environment for the skin rashes to emerge.

It can feel easy to quickly blame a cleanser, moisturizer, oil, food you ate, hormones, or an allergic exposure when you're skin goes nuts. But remember that repeated exposures over time that shift the balance of your skin can also play a role.

And this underscores why you can't just focus on the inside OR the outside when it comes to rashes!

A two-pronged approach addressing both the outside-in and the inside-out is the most balanced way back to healthier skin. And ultimately will help you maintain healthy skin once the rashes stop flaring.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the Comment Box below that way we can keep the conversation going! I would love to know what you think about this, and if you find this pretty eyeopening!

Make sure to share this episode so that we as a community can educate each other and make smarter choices.

Thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode!

Woman reading reference book in a library

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.lisabronner.com/skin-health-ph-and-dr-bronners-soap/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17941122
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6600360/
  4. https://www.hempseedoil.eu/files/Hemp_Seed_Oil.pdf
  5. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2110826-how-lack-of-oxygen-makes-bacteria-cause-acne-and-how-to-stop-it/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1503605

Your skin's pH needs to be between 4.5 to 5 making it more of an acidic environment. It should NOT be alkaline (no matter how popular alkalizing the body seems to be online).


Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.


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